Things I Should have known

Things I should have known – Claire LaZebnik

I feel like I inhaled this! It helped that I was left alone on a sunny Saturday and had nothing to do but sit in the breeze and read this! So what we have here, is a fun, engaging, easy read about teenagers and high school romances with a difference, because it also has characters on the autism spectrum and idk about you, but I haven’t come across many books about kids on the autism spectrum.

Things Chloe knew: Her sister, Ivy, was lonely. Ethan was a perfect match. Ethan’s brother, David, was an arrogant jerk.
Things Chloe should have known: Setups are complicated. Ivy can make her own decisions. David may be the only person who really gets Chloe.
Meet Chloe Mitchell, a popular Los Angeles girl who’s decided that her older sister, Ivy, who’s on the autism spectrum, could use a boyfriend. Chloe already has someone in mind: Ethan Fields, a sweet, movie-obsessed boy from Ivy’s special needs class.
Chloe would like to ignore Ethan’s brother, David, but she can’t—Ivy and Ethan aren’t comfortable going out on their own, so Chloe and David have to tag along. Soon Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan form a quirky and wholly lovable circle. And as the group bonds over frozen-yogurt dates and movie nights, Chloe is forced to confront her own romantic choices—and the realization that it’s okay to be a different kind of normal.

So the thing is, the bare bones of this is about kids dealing with stuff, and what is a YA novel if not a book about kids dealing with stuff. I’ll start with our narrator, Chloe. Chloe’s older sister Ivy, is autistic, so she kind of has to parent her a bit, add to this mix the fact that her dad died of cancer and her mum has remarried someone that although means well, Chloe isn’t all that keen on. Despite this, Chloe is sociable and fairly happy with her high school life, she has lots of friends, gets good grades and has a super cute athletic boyfriend, all the standard teen drama stuff. The story really kicks off when Ivy sees Chloe with her boyfriend and comments that she’ll never have a boyfriend which makes Chloe decide to play matchmaker by sizing up the other kids in Ivy’s class at a school for teens with special needs and picking one at random, who just happens to be the younger brother of one of her classmates. Who she doesn’t like. Do you see where I’m going with this?
David and Ethan’s story is equally as interesting even without the added dimension of Ethan and Ivy seeing the world differently. They live in a world where their parents are living separate lives which barely involve either of them and their new step mother in particular has difficulty accepting Ethan.
While there are some aspects of this story that are a tad predictable, of course Chloe is going to form a special bond with the guy she’s hated this whole time, of course there is going to be bumps in the road of her match making, there is a lot to like about this book, namely the fact that it deals with autism and it deals with LGBTQA+ aspects of autism.

The only other book I’ve read with a similar character to that of Ivy and Ethan is the Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, which is a great book, if you’ve not read it before, but this is the first one I’ve come across featuring autistic teenagers trying to navigate dating and socialising. Slight disclaimer – I don’t know many people with autism, so I don’t know if they would have a different opinion on how well Ivy and Ethan are portrayed and I would love to hear their thoughts on this book, but for me, I thought it was well done and about time that characters like Ivy and Ethan were featured in books and on TV. It was also great seeing Chloe and watching how protective and caring she is and how she reconciles how frustrated she gets with Ivy and the situation and the guilt that follows. I just feel that now having finished it, that this book was so heartwarming and well presented and I want to see more stories like this.

Windfall

Windfall – Jennifer E Smith

If you’ve stumbled across this blog before and any other reviews I’ve done for books by Jennifer E Smith there may be a touch of repetition involved here, sorry not sorry. The thing is, I LOVE Jennifer E Smith’s writing style, I love her stories, they are cute, fluffy balls of YA goodness and lets be honest, everyone loves a comforting romance story now and again and she is the queen of comforting, cute, fluffy, YA romances.

Alice doesn’t believe in luck—at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she’s been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday—just when it seems they might be on the brink of something—she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes.
At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune. As a kid, Alice won the worst kind of lottery possible when her parents died just over a year apart from each other. And Teddy’s father abandoned his family not long after that, leaving them to grapple with his gambling debts. Through it all, Teddy and Alice have leaned on each other. But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy’s newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall.
As they try to find their way back to each other, Alice learns more about herself than she ever could have imagined… and about the unexpected ways in which luck and love sometimes intersect.

Much like I said before and in literally every other review of Smith’s books I’ve done before, (she isn’t a relative. At least I don’t think so… Anyway, the point is that there is no bias here.) I might have to reel in the fangirling and much like her other books, this is similarly a romance between two teenagers facing a bit of adversity with some fluff thrown in for good measure.
This time around, we have troubled teens Alice and Teddy. Alice, an orphan who has been living with her aunt and uncle and cousin, Leo, for the past nine years during which time, she has befriended and subsequently fallen for her best friend, Teddy. Who, in typical Smith fashion, has his own baggage. He is currently living in a cramped one bed apartment with his mum following his dad abandoning the pair of them with huge gambling debts.
The story begins on Teddy’s eighteenth birthday, Leo and Alice both buy him gifts that can only be legally used by eighteen year olds, a pack of cigarettes and a lottery ticket and that lottery ticket, well. That’s when the excitement begins.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am attempting to keep the inner fangirl under wraps. I don’t know how much I am able to express how much I love this woman’s books BUT as much as I enjoyed this, I have to be honest, it isn’t my favourite of hers (I think This is What Happy Looks Like will always hold that title), but don’t let that put you off, this had so much going for it. The teen romance and angst is there and the connection between Alice and Teddy is slow building and then there is the added drama of being a high school kid with nothing suddenly getting a ridiculous amount of money and how they handle that situation. Storywise, there is a lot going on here and in some ways, Windfall has a bit more substance than some of her previous stories, because of the different elements being presented, I guess, there just isn’t as much fluff as usual and I do love me some Jennifer E Smith fluff. So if like me, you love the cute romances of This is What Happy Looks Like or The Geography of Me and You, then be warned that Windfall isn’t on the same level.

Windfall had a lot of serious issues that were dealt with well, survivor’s guilt, death, coming into money and trying to process what to do with it, plus there was the whole unrequited love with your best friend thing…. These three main characters had a really wonderfully written friendship, I love stories about friendship and watching relationships blossom and Jennifer E Smith does these so well!

Basically, I love this woman, I love her books, this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be but I enjoyed it anyway, so check it out! Windfall is published at the start of May, so keep a look out!

Hello me, it’s you

Hello me, it’s you – Various

I picked this up for review after seeing the blurb, you all know I’ve been trying to read more non fiction, and I love books in letter format, this is a compilation of letters from a group of young people aimed at their younger selves about their mental health issues and for once, I don’t have to provide trigger warnings, because the blurb does it for you!

“Keep smiling and being you. Don’t let the world change you”
Hello Me, it’s You is a collection of letters by young adults aged 17-24 about their experiences with mental health issues. The letters are written to their 16-year-old selves, giving beautifully honest advice, insight and encouragement for all that lays ahead of them.
This book was produced by the Hello Me, it’s You charity, set up by the editor, Hannah. Hannah was diagnosed with depression and anxiety whilst at university and found comfort in talking to friends about their experiences, realising she was not alone in her situation. This inspired the idea for the charity and book. Through the creation of materials such as this, the charity aims to provide reassurance for young adults (and their families) who are experiencing mental health issues and give a voice to young adults on such an important topic. The result of that will hopefully be a reduction in the negative stigma surrounding mental health and an increase in awareness of young people’s experiences. All profits go the Hello Me, it’s You charity, for the production of future supportive books.
Trigger warning: Due to it’s nature, the content of this book may be triggering. Contains personal experiences of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, trichotillomania and other mental health issues, as well as issues such as assault.

I always cringe a bit when I hear something referred to as being an ‘important’ book, but I’m going to make an exception for this one, because I think there is something very important about breaking down the stigma of mental health among young people, not just for those experiencing it, but those that have never been through it. From the moment I started reading this I thought, yes, this is a book I wished already existed, what we have is a group of anonymous writers talking about a series of different experiences and despite all of them being somewhat horrific, (trust me, been there, wouldn’t wish it on anyone) every single letter shares stories of hope, redemption, acceptance and ultimately survival. Each letter is uplifting in a weird kind of way and provides something positive to those dealing with mental health issues.
Having said that, I recently watched a video from Hannah Witton (she’s great, check her out if you haven’t already) about how she can sympathise with people with depression, but not empathise, having not been through it herself, and I think that is a problem for a lot of people in my life and the lives of the letter writers, we have well intentioned people around us, but they don’t know what to say, or how to make it better, this kind of book is exactly the sort of thing that those people need.

Really, I think this and Reasons to Stay Alive should be compulsory reading in school, if it helps one person going through a mental health crisis, that is enough and if it helps those who aren’t help someone that is, that’s even better.

Yes, Please

Yes, Please – Amy Poehler

Here we are, another episode of Leah actively continues on her quest to read more non fiction.

In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book full of words to live by.

Fun fact, I went to the library the day after International Women’s Day and grabbed this off the shelf of female authors before they started dismantling it, partly because I’ve heard it’s a good book but also because I have two goals and they are to read more non fiction and to read more female authors, so I figured I’d tick two things off at once and I had a jolly good time doing it.

So, Amy Poehler isn’t someone who’s work I’ve seen a  lot of, of course I’ve seen Mean Girls and of course I catch snippets of SNL and obviously we all love Parks and Rec, but other than that, I don’t think I can even name any other project she’s been involved in. If you’re like me and don’t know that much about her work, don’t expect too much of her life story from this book, this was more of a collection of essays anchored in experience than an autobiography and was honestly a really enjoyable way to find out more about being a woman in Hollywood and a woman in the entertainment industry. I’ve said before that autobiographies are great because they’re a really accessible form of non fiction and they’re even better when they’re about someone you already have some knowledge or an appreciation of, but I think this style of biography, if we can even call it that, might be my new favourite form of non fiction.

Aside from the fact that Amy has a really engaging and witty voice, the book is really nicely put together, the pages are all glossy and there are images and diagrams, more like a scrap book than a traditional piece of prose, we get lists, scripts, life advice and all sorts which made it seem much more like sitting down and having coffee with someone than just listening to them dictate their life history to you. Real talk, I did spend a lot of time just flicking through and stroking the pages. They feel nice and I like bright colours, don’t judge me!

Basically, if like me you’d like to read more non fiction but you’re not really sure where to start because its a big, intimidating genre, this is a great step in the right direction. A biography without being too much of a biography, mini essays about a range of subjects and badass women doing badass things and teaching you a bit about life on the way, what more could you want?!

If anyone else has read this or can think of similar style books, let me know, I want to consume them all!

The Dead Inside

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The Dead Inside – Cyndy Etler

I was sent a copy of this from Netgalley, I figured if I wanted to continue my quest to read more non fiction, getting a memoir in in January would be a good way to start, this was difficult reading and you know me and my trigger warnings, there are going to be LOADS of them in this review.

For readers of Girl Interrupted and Tweak, Cyndy Etler’s gripping memoir gives readers a glimpse into the harrowing reality of her sixteen months in the notorious “tough love” program the ACLU called “a concentration camp for throwaway kids.”
I never was a badass. Or a slut, a junkie, a stoner, like they told me I was. I was just a kid looking for something good, something that felt like love. I was a wannabe in a Levi’s jean jacket. Anybody could see that. Except my mother. And the professionals at Straight.
From the outside, Straight Inc. was a drug rehab. But on the inside it was…well, it was something else.
All Cyndy wanted was to be loved and accepted. By age fourteen, she had escaped from her violent home, only to be reported as a runaway and sent to a “drug rehabilitation” facility that changed her world.
To the public, Straight Inc. was a place of recovery. But behind closed doors, the program used bizarre and intimidating methods to “treat” its patients. In her raw and fearless memoir, Cyndy Etler recounts her sixteen months in the living nightmare that Straight Inc. considered “healing.” 

I don’t really know how to start with this, it’s kind of hard to review a memoir, like, this is stuff that happened to someone and they are presenting you with themselves, not characters and plot for you to critique. Also, this isn’t really the kind of book you enjoy, its the sort of thing you experience. That said, Cyndy’s story is extraordinary and very eye opening. As well as that, the subject matter of this is pretty harrowing in places.

The book starts in Cyndy’s mid teens, she is living with her mum and step father, who she has a very abusive relationship with and chronicles the moments leading up to her incarceration at Straight Inc, which is primarily a drug rehabilitation centre, where she found that she and her fellow in mates were treated terribly. I think the thing that makes all this so harrowing is the fact that its all true, these are things that actually happened. Cyndy actually was abused by her step father, something her mother seemingly didn’t notice or didn’t mind. She was regularly assaulted by the group of people she was hanging out with and when she enters the Straight programme, things go from bad to worse. I don’t want to talk to much about it, I think the power in the words lies in their shock factor, but I will just say that this isn’t an easy book to read, it certainly isn’t light bed time reading, it is, as I said earlier, an experience.

As always, when I read something and talk about it here, I do like to warn you guys if I think it might be triggering, so just so you know, we have brainwashing, sexual assault, drug abuse and domestic abuse. So if any of those things affect you, probably best to give this book a miss. If though you, like me, fancy spreading your wings into the realms of memoirs and non fiction and want something with a bit more substance than your traditional celebrity autobiography, do consider this. While it was harrowing and difficult, seeing how Straight Inc was run, seeing how the brainwashing worked, was fascinating, in a morbid kind of way. My one criticism of this was that I felt the ending didn’t have much closure, though goodreads tells me there is a sequel, so I’m hoping that everything will be wrapped up there.

Anyway, thank you to Netgalley for sending a copy over and should Cyndy see the reviews for this, I’d like to thank her for sharing her story and I sincerely hope that she is in a much better place physically and emotionally now.

Great Bookish Bakeoff – Ginger apple cake

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The cakes I bake and the books I read while baking them.

Is anyone else devastated that we’ve now had the last ever bake off as we know it? Whatever happens with the future of baking on TV, these posts will continue because I bloody love cake.

So, here’s the story, I was perusing Facebook, as you do, and I saw a post from someone who had made a cake using a box mix and a can of sprite, so naturally, I had to give that a go too, behold my dairy free ginger apple cake!

You will need:
A mixing bowl
Two round cake tins
A sauce pan
A box of Betty Crocker ginger cake mix
Some icing sugar
Cold water
Three apples
Cinnamon
Brown sugar
A can of sprite

First, pour the box of cake mix into a mixing bowl and gradually add the sprite, stirring as you do until you get what resembles cake mix. Split this into two and put them into your cake tins (either line them with baking paper or grease them, whatever!) pop them in the oven on 180 for 25 minutes.
While that’s baking, chop and skin your apples, put them in a sauce pan with cold water, sugar and cinnamon, pop a lid on the pan and leave to boil for 20 minutes or so, which should give you enough time to read something!
I was reading an ARC sent to me called Saying Goodbye to London, honestly, I was finding excuses to not read it, I don’t know if it is the writing style or if it is how unlikable the characters are, but I was struggling. So, I figured I’d reward myself with cake if I got through a couple of chapters.

Once your cake is done (take a moment to be amazed that it worked because I totally did), leave it to cool and see to your apples, what you should have is stewed apples and these are what you are going to stick the cake together with. Create your cake/apple tower and leave it to completely cool before making standard icing, gradually adding water to icing sugar until you end up with smooth icing, drizzle over the top and voila! You have a dairy free cake that tastes like cake and no need to go out finding eggs or oil! Next time you fancy cake but don’t have any of the key ingredients, don’t fret as long as you have something fizzy and a packet mix, you are good to go!

Relativity

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Relativity – Antonia Hayes

Hello and welcome to not only a review of this wonderfully charming book, but also to day three of the Relativity blog tour! Thank you to Little Brown for sending me a copy of this and letting me be part of the tour, I was certainly sold by the blurb alone, but in case you aren’t, let me tell you a little more about it.

Ethan is an exceptionally gifted young boy, obsessed with physics and astronomy.
His single mother Claire is fiercely protective of her brilliant, vulnerable son. But she can’t shield him forever from learning the truth about what happened to him when he was a baby; why Mark had to leave them all those years ago.
Now age twelve, Ethan is increasingly curious about his past, especially his father’s absence in his life. When he intercepts a letter to Claire from Mark, he opens a lifetime of feelings that, like gravity, will pull the three together again.
Relativity is a tender and triumphant story about unbreakable bonds, irreversible acts, and testing the limits of love and forgiveness.

 If you know me IRL, you’ll know why I was sold at the first line of the blurb.
Anyway, I don’t even know where to start with this. This book is charming. It is endearing. It is delightful. It is heartbreaking. It is bittersweet. It seamlessly pieces together three strands of the same family each with their own distinct voices and agendas, all while tying in the theme of life, the universe and interconnectivity. Firstly, we have Ethan, Ethan likes science and is wicked smart, but Ethan is on the cusp of becoming a man and he wants to know why the other kids think he’s weird, he wants to know where he came from and who he is. Which makes things hard for his single mother Claire, who really doesn’t want Ethan’s dad back in his life, no matter how much she might have once loved him and when you find out why and what she is protecting Ethan from, it’s kind of heartbreaking.
Then there is Mark, the dad in question, who you both sympathise and despise as the story starts to unravel.

At its heart, Relativity is a warm, tender, family drama that leaves you feeling a bit fuzzy inside. Its unlike anything else in this genre I’ve read before, you have the coming of age aspect to Ethan’s story line, the redemption of Mark and the development of Claire, but with added substance, the physics theme and how it ties together really makes this stand out and actually, I don’t think there is an audience that it doesn’t cater for. You want something to lose yourself in, Relativity is for you. You want a book about families sorting out their differences, Relativity is for you. You want something out of this world, something intelligent with discussions about particles and theoretical physics, Relativity is for you. Its a novel that starts with the universe and ends with gravity and whether you are a nerd or not, you’ll be hard pushed not to see the beauty in its pages.

I don’t really know what else to say other than Relativity is a real gem of a read.

I haven’t done this in a while, but it even gets the Nick Fury Seal of Approval.

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