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!

The Cows

The Cows – Dawn O’Porter

For serious though, did anyone expect me to just ignore the opportunity to read Dawn O’Porter’s new book? I loved Paper Aeroplanes SO MUCH and just look at this, just look at the blurb and tell me you aren’t excited? Honestly, the first paragraph was pretty much enough to have me flicking through pages joyously.

COW n.
/ka?/
A piece of meat; born to breed; past its sell-by-date; one of the herd.
Women don’t have to fall into a stereotypes
THE COWS is a powerful novel about three women. In all the noise of modern life, each needs to find their own voice.
It’s about friendship and being female.
It’s bold and brilliant.
It’s searingly perceptive.
It’s about never following the herd.

Have you, like me, been endlessly searching for some good old women’s fiction with feminist undertones? Yes? Well, hold on to your hats cos I think this might be it. I mean, there are moments in this that are a bit… Over the top, but overall this was a well written, topical novel that has feminist themes and enforces the idea that all women are worthy and equal, not just to men, but to each other, in a way that isn’t hard going or text book like.

The Cows presents us with three very different women (one of whom is a blogger, like a super successful one, not someone needlessly shouting into the void like myself) all of whom are struggling with society’s ideas of what their lives should be like based on their gender. We have Tara, the working single mum, who has to deal with being in a male dominated work environment constantly being made to feel guilty about the fact that she has a child to look after and then there’s her daughter, who also makes her feel guilty about wanting to have and enjoying her career, who has an unconsensual video taking of her and how that affects her life. We have Cam, the aforementioned blogger, who has to deal with disdain from her sisters and her mother because her life dream isn’t to settle down and have children but to have experiences and relationships with lots of different people on her own terms and then we have Stella mourning the loss of her sister, desperately wanting to retain her femininity and settle down with a child.

At its core, this is a story about women fighting for things they want and along the way our three main characters have to deal with viral videos, online trolls, relationships with friends, family and lovers and the need for people to be individual and accepting of everyone. It questions feminism and equality by showing deep rooted prejudices, Tara regularly finds herself being put down by the men she works with and then realises that she does this to other women, feeling herself above them without knowing anything about their lives. Cam similarly likes to talk a good game about being a feminist, but inadvertently offends those with different views to her.

The Cows is an addictive, fast paced read that doesn’t hold back on its message. There are a lot of subjects people might find taboo, abortions, sex, periods, that sort of thing and if you are one of those people, probably one to avoid, but if not – you need to grab yourself a copy of this asap.

The Cows is out on 6th April, so get yourself to a book shop!

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.

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.

Seven days of you

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Seven days of you – Cecelia Vinesse

I was sent this by the folk over at NetGalley and I was super excited because TOKYO. I love all things Japanese. Like, hand me something Kawaii and I am all over it. I love anime, I love the snacks, I love it all so when I saw that this was a book about a girl leaving Tokyo I was like sign me the frick up.

Sophia has seven days left in Tokyo before she moves back to the States. Seven days to say good-bye to the electric city, her wild best friend, and the boy she’s harbored a semi-secret crush on for years. Seven perfect days…until Jamie Foster-Collins moves back to Japan and ruins everything.
Jamie and Sophia have a history of heartbreak, and the last thing Sophia wants is for him to steal her leaving thunder with his stupid arriving thunder. Yet as the week counts down, the relationships she thought were stable begin to explode around her. And Jamie is the one who helps her pick up the pieces. Sophia is forced to admit she may have misjudged Jamie, but can their seven short days of Tokyo adventures end in anything but good-bye?

Ok. Where to start?
So, while there were a few things about this that made me roll my eyes, this was essentially a cute, teenage, angsty romance novel. If those are up your street, stick around because this is out at the beginning of March and you might want to know a little more about it.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first shall we?
This is the story of Sophia, who though technically born in Japan, is from an American family who has spent her life moving around between the state and Japan, her dad has left the family and now lives in Paris and now having spent the past five years in Tokyo at a school she loves, in a city she loves and with a group of friends she loves, she is faced with having to move back to America, a country that she now has nothing but distance memories of. Sophia spends the first half of the novel upset about the fact that she will be leaving her two best friends, Mika and David and the fact that another of their friends, who had left for America a year ago on a bit of a sour note, was now back and diverting their attention away from her. That and she and him have history and she really doesn’t have time for this when she is leaving in a week and is very sad about it. However, it doesn’t matter how many times Sophia tells me she how much she loves Mika, I just don’t believe it. They are awful to each other. We learn that she has long harboured a crush on David. David is also a horrible person who doesn’t appear to really care about Sophia at all. The pair of them also for some reason call her Sofa… Which, like… is a bit of a weird nick name to give someone… Don’t get me wrong, I love my sofa, it’s very comfy and I enjoy sitting on it, but I don’t think its a particularly good nickname for a person.
Aside from the fact that the group’s friendship didn’t come across as good as the narrator would have us believe, it doesn’t make nearly as much use of the incredible city that is Tokyo.
Tokyo is known for being a vibrant, exciting city and really, this book could have been set anywhere and it wouldn’t have made any difference. Tokyo could have been a central character in this book and it is really underused and being that I am so interested in the place and its culture, I think that’s a real shame and it did hamper my enjoyment a little.

That said, if you ignore the gaping hole where Tokyo should be and the slightly toxic friendship group, this is a fairly enjoyable angsty teen story. You have a pinch of family drama (divorced parents, bitter older sibling, moving away from home), you have the school drama, you have the friendship drama (moving away from friends, realising they’re already far away from you, people coming in and out of your life) and relationship drama (falling for someone when you’re leaving in seven days is a bitch right?). It is a little generic, but sometimes that’s all you want. If you want something easy to read, with a tried and tested formula that is entertaining and pleasant enough then this is the exact thing you’d look for.

Seven Days of You is released in March this year, so if you happen to have holidays planned this summer (lucky you) this might be something for you to consider, you always want something easy to read and a bit fun to take away with you!
Thank you Netgalley for the chance to read the book, and thanks in advance to the first one of you that can recommend me books set in Japan that actually takes advantage of its fascinating culture!

Ultimatium

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Ultimatum – K M Walton

This is the first of K M Walton’s books that I’ve read, but I am sure as heck going to find me some more to work through because my God, this is someone that can write teenagers and grief and the different ways to deal with grief and this book was just so harrowing yet addictive!

Oscar is misunderstood. Ever since his mother died, he’s been disrespected and bullied by his family, and he seeks refuge in his art. Vance is a popular athlete and wishes his brother would just loosen up and be cool. It was hard enough to deal with their mother’s death without Oscar getting all emotional. Vance just wants to throw himself into partying, to live.
But when their father’s alcoholism sends him into liver failure, the two boys must come face-to-face with their demons-and each other-if they are going to survive an uncertain future.

Essentially, this is the story of a very broken family and I am kind of a sucker for stories about broken families. We have shy, sensitive Oscar who likes art and music and is constantly treading on egg shells around his older brother, Vance, who is sporty and outgoing, both of them very aware of their differences and how little they have in common. Life at home for Oscar gets worse after the death of their mother because neither his father or his older brother understand him and he doesn’t understand them and then that father drinks himself to death and these two broken teenagers need to learn to live together and work together if they’re going to get anywhere in this world and the whole thing is just so gloriously well written.

This is narrated by both Oscar and Vance. Oscar is telling you the present, the two of them sat together in a hospice essentially waiting for their father to die and trying to figure out what the hell he is going to do after that happens, because all he has is Vance and he is fairly sure Vance hates him.
Vance tells you the past, the events leading up to this moment of him and his brother sat in a hospice, of his fears about the future and what the hell he is going to do about it just being him and Oscar because he is fairly sure Oscar hates him.

Its all so angsty and I love it.

Vance and Oscar are both really well rounded and fleshed out, they’re so wildly different but also surprisingly similar with their own voices and motivations. You see from each of them their grief and their guilt and their fear over this situation and the whole thing pretty much takes place either in Vance’s memory or Oscar’s present in the hospice.

What we have isn’t a plot heavy story, in fact, there isn’t much of one, this is character driven from the first to the last page. It is a journey of discovery and development for these two boys. Oscar spends the book realising that he is loved and valued, even if the other men in his life don’t know how to show that, he is acknowledged by his peers and they do care about him as his own person, not just as Vance’s little brother and then we have Vance, who goes from desperately trying to hold onto his fragile idea of masculinity just so his dad would love and accept him to realising he can be his own man and still have that connection with his father, that life is about more than self destructing and that Oscar isn’t the enemy.

Something this book does well is conflict and reflection, not just between the two boys, but within themselves. Oscar feels guilty for wanting the whole thing to be over because he does love his father, he does want him to survive and he feels guilty about being so far removed from Vance. Again, we see Vance’s guilt, his reflecting on how he could have dealt with things differently, how he and Oscar could have grown together instead of apart.

It can be quite a difficult read at times, so for those of you who need them, a few trigger warnings, you have character death and descriptions of drug and alcohol misuse, and although these things are plot points, the book isn’t really about that. It’s about family and mending what you think is broken beyond repair.

Oooo I do love a family drama!

This book was given to me by the lovely folk at Netgalley and will be available from March this year!