The Year they Burned the Books

The Year they burned the books – Nancy Garden

It has been far too long since I’ve read a book by Nancy Garden, I read Annie on my Mind about a million years ago and although it was a little dated, I did enjoy it and am a little ashamed its taken me this long to pick up another of her books. As this book from the nineties is being re released I grabbed a copy from Netgalley!

When Wilson High Telegraph editor Jamie Crawford writes an opinion piece in support of the new sex-ed curriculum, which includes making condoms available to high school students, she has no idea that a huge controversy is brewing. Lisa Buel, a school board member, is trying to get rid of the health program, which she considers morally flawed, from its textbooks to its recommendations for outside reading. The newspaper staff find themselves in the center of the storm, and things are complicated by the fact that Jamie is in the process of coming to terms with being gay, and her best friend, Terry, also gay, has fallen in love with a boy whose parents are anti-homosexual. As Jamie’s and Terry’s sexual orientation becomes more obvious to other studetns, it looks as if the paper they’re fighting to keep alive and honest is going to be taken away from them. Nancy Garden has depicted a contemporary battleground in a novel that probes deep into issues of censorship, prejudice, and ethics.

I am sad to say that there are still people who have to live in this kind of community, where their education and their rights are diminished every day by fundamentalists, so even though this is a rerelease of an older book and feels a little dated in places, this is still a little bit too fresh in terms of the rampant homophobia that Terry and Jamie experience throughout the book.

What we have here is the perfect starter novel for anyone looking for YA LGBTQA+ fiction, Nancy Garden presents such interesting characters in these books. Jamie, our main character, is an intelligent high school student who decides to start running her own paper alongside the school paper to try and keep the town informed on the news she isn’t allowed to report on due to the censorship imposed by an extreme church group. The book deals with her struggles, not only with her sexuality, but with the issues of truth and opinion and the difficult line between the two, as well as the ideas of community and what brings people together and tears them apart. All tropes that Nancy Garden does so well.

Though this isn’t necessarily ground breaking or diverse, especially when surrounded by books released more recently, The Year They Burned the Books is still sadly relevant and is a story that needs to be told.

Also, that cover is vewy nice.

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The Librarian of Auschwitz

The Librarian of Auschwitz – Antonio Iturbe (translated by Lilit Thwaites)

You probs already know this, but I will read anything and everything about the events of WW2, the rise of the Nazis and the extraordinary bravery displayed by those that were persecuted under Hitler, so naturally when I saw this, I had to pick it up. Also, its a translation and I’ve never read anything that wasn’t originally published in English before. (At least I don’t think I have…)

Based on the experience of real-life Auschwitz prisoner Dita Kraus, this is the incredible story of a girl who risked her life to keep the magic of books alive during the Holocaust.
Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the librarian of Auschwitz. 
Out of one of the darkest chapters of human history comes this extraordinary story of courage and hope.

This is a mostly fictionalised account of the lives of a selected number of prisoners living in the family camp that was created as part of Auschwitz-Birkenhau, it features some of the notable inmates that I learned about when I visited a few years ago (maybe that’s a story for another time) as well as some of the more infamous names from the SS. It mostly follows the story of Fredy Hirsch, who managed to convince the commanders to allow him to set up a school in the camp and into which some books were smuggled, which were looked after by 14 year old Dita. Most of the inhabitants of this part of the camp were arrivals which had been marked for ‘special treatment’ and was one of the few places where children were allowed to live, rather than being sent straight to their deaths. It was a place of particular interest to Dr Mengele, who if you haven’t heard of, I recommend looking up, especially if you need a face to put to the word evil.

Like I said at the beginning, this version is a translation, so there are a few moments that feel like they’ve lost their context or features a strange word choice, I kind of wish I was more proficient with languages so I could read the original, but alas, languages aren’t really something that schools focus on in England. More’s the pity. I think this might be the first book I’ve ever read that has been translated into English and I’d love to expand my reading habits into more translated books if any of ya’ll can think of some to recommend.

The Librarian of Auschwitz is endlessly fascinating and heartbreaking and bitter sweet. It gives a detailed account of camp life and is unapologetic in its telling of the more harrowing moments the prisoner’s endured there. We learn about these incredibly brave people, like Fredy Hirsch, who wanted to make life as normal for the children in his care as possible and like Dita Kraus, who miraculously managed to survive the camps and after the war made her way to Israel. I wish there were more books like this telling the stories of those who were voiceless for so long and it is so important that we remember and we learn from these events, so we can make sure that such horrors are not repeated.
It is certainly a great book for those studying the period or with a particular interest in Nazi Germany and the occupation of Europe, it’s also interesting as many of the characters you come across in this book are of Romani descent, as well as Jewish and it also gives a little insight into places like Prague, which are often left out of history lessons.

Otherworld

Otherworld – Jason Segal and Kirsten Miller

I have no idea where to start with this! Do you ever read a book where you like it, but not as much as you wanted to? So like, it was alright, but that sounds too much like I disliked it, which I didn’t… Man, do I have thoughts!

The company says Otherworld is amazing—like nothing you’ve ever seen before. They say it’s addictive—that you’ll want to stay forever. They promise Otherworld will make all your dreams come true.
Simon thought Otherworld was a game. Turns out he knew nothing. Otherworld is the next phase of reality. It’s everything you’ve ever wanted.
And it’s about to change humanity forever.
Welcome to the Otherworld. No one could have seen it coming.

I first heard of this book while persuing the proofs available to win at YALC back in the summer and I remember being mind blown that Jason Segal had his name on a book cos like, that’s Marshall from HIMYM (turns out he’s actually a bestselling author WHO KNEW?!?)

It was while I was at YALC that I first heard the premise and got a bit excited for this book, I’d read and loved Ready Player One and this sounded similar and there was a lot of hype about WarCross at the time too, so I figured books about games were going to be the new big thing. Well my experience of gaming is pretty much limited to Donkey Kong and Mario Kart 8 (I’m an insomnia, so Mario and I are very well acquainted) and now having read two books about gaming, I’m quite happy for it to stay that way. This is a great critique on technology being too relied on in society and the dangers that come from having so much information available and spending too much time in a virtual world instead of a real one. The action that takes place within the game and the mystery surrounding The Company and the Otherworld really drew me in. However, the romance wasn’t so great and I just didn’t really care about it and the story itself isn’t really that fresh or new, especially if you’ve read Ready Player One.

If you have read Ready Player One, this won’t be anything new to you. There is a VR game, our main character spends a lot of time there desperately trying to beat the game in order to finally be with the girl he loves. The world building in regards to the game is a bit similar, but much more nefarious and there is also an irl mystery going on, which kept the book moving, but did keep getting bigger and bigger and it was starting to test the suspension of disbelief a tad. Like, being faced with what humans would do when they’re living a virtual reality as opposed to real life is a big enough concept, but then there was also a conspiracy with the Company and the mystery surrounding all the people from the same town with the same rare medical needs, there’s so much going on with this book!

The adventure and the world building were amazing. Literally you can’t even pause for breath because the story whizzes along – its not really a book you can get bored of in that sense. It does fall short with the characters and the narration though. Because its not a character lead story, you don’t really get to connect with them. Simon is our protagonist, but I literally couldn’t tell you anything about him personality wise and I certainly didn’t care much for him. The same with Kat, I barely knew her, so I wasn’t that fussed about the romance or really understood why Simon was so motivated by her. Especially because come the beginning of the book, Simon has just returned from several months away at boarding school, during which time, Kat has stopped talking to him for reasons that were completely unknown for the majority of the book and don’t really make that much sense when they’re revealed. We’re also told in the first chapter that Simon has been been expelled from school and is on an FBI list because his room mate used his computer to do a spot of hacking, something that Simon took the blame for… Though why anyone would take the blame for something that serious, I’m not entirely sure. Why, considering this information, he was allowed early access to Otherworld is also a bit lost on me… It was kind of hard to understand his motivations at times. Most of the story’s big questions get answered in literally the last three chapters, this is a series so I’m guessing all the finer points will be ironed out later, but I did spend most of the book being like, come on, why was Kat a target? How does it make financial sense for The Company to be doing this? And so on. Also some of the reveals were a bit on the convenient side, so I’m hoping for a plot twist in later books.

Look, I said I had a lot of thoughts, it’s difficult when you enjoyed a book but also see problems with it. Basically, I liked this, it has a lot of good stuff going for it, but some of the pacing is weird and the characters aren’t that fleshed out. It reminded me a bit of the Death Runner series in that sense, lots of action, not enough character building. Also, and I swear this is the last thing I’ll mention that annoyed me, there is a moment really early on where Simon overhears two girls trash talking Kat, so he mansplains feminism and slut shaming to them and then hacks their phones and threatens to release their nudes. Like brah? You have not grasped the fundamentals of not slut shaming.

Anyway, Otherworld was a riot, thanks to Netgalley for the hook up and I’m interested to see where this will be going.

 

Secrets for the Mad: Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons

Secrets of the Mad: Obsessions, Confessions and Life Lessons – Dodie Clark

Right, let’s get this out of the way, Dodie Clark (or doddleoddle or just dodie as she is also known, no caps makes you super edgy online as my twitter follwers will attest) is a musician and YouTuber. She posts original songs, usually accompanied by a ukulele and more recently, she’s been making videos documenting her experiences with Derealisation and now she’s written a book about that experience. Having dealt with mental health issues myself, I am always interested to read more about how other people work though their struggles, which is why I was so interested to get a hold of this.

When I feel like I’m going mad I write.
A lot of my worst fears have come true; fears that felt so big I could barely hold them in my head. I was convinced that when they’d happen, the world would end.
But the world didn’t end. In fact, it pushed on and demanded to keep spinning through all sorts of mayhem, and I got through it. And because I persisted, I learned lessons about how to be a stronger, kinder, better human – lessons you can only learn by going through these sorts of things.
This is for the people with minds that just don’t stop; for those who feel everything seemingly a thousand times more than the people around them.
Here are some words I wrote.

So given that we’re all aware that we’re supposed to dislike books by YouTubers and given that I have mixed thoughts about the few books I’ve read that happened to have been written by YouTubers, what did I think of this?

Well…
The editor’s letter at the beginning of this mentions Sylvia Plath and I eye rolled so hard it hurt. I love Sylvia Plath and I hate when people are like ‘ohh like I’m cool and edgy, like Sylvia Plath’. Trust me, I have met people who genuinely say things like this.  So, even though I was interested to read this, that one sentence had me backing away slowly. But then I pulled myself together and skipped through to the only words that matter, the ones Dodie put in there and by god. If you were put off reading this because of the whole she’s a YouTuber, this is a way for publishers to make money off of her millions of young subscribers then push that thought out of your head. This isn’t Sylvia Plath, but it is, for the most part, beautiful and heart breaking and warm and endearing. Dodie writes in such an unflinchingly honest way about her experiences with mental health, emotional abuse and well… life, its refreshing and captivating.

The reason I was so interested to read this was, as I said, because I am interested in how people cope with their mental health, though this book is also about life lessons and observations, the opening chapters do deal with Dodie’s mental health experiences and the way she writes about it is captivating. As is the advice she gives about obsessions, growing up and love. Though there were times when I was left wondering who the intended audience was, some of the pages were written in a way that transcends age, others were clearly twenty something to twenty something and some spoke to the younger audience that I know Dodie has. In one way this is a plus, people of all ages can read and enjoy this book, in another I’m worried about how it will be marketed, I wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on what is a solid read because no one is sure who to sell it to.

Despite only being in her early twenties, this was a great memoir. Normally I’d be like, live a little first, but honestly, there was more than enough material here to keep me engaged and essay like anecdotes were interspersed with song lyrics, journal entries, submissions from people who know Dodie well,  doodles and photographs – i had an egalley of this but the paper/hard back would be a much better reading experience and would allow you to better understand the stories the doodles, journal clippings and selected photos tell.

Also I feel there needs to be a special mention for the dedication at the beginning because it was hilarious.

All in all, though I wouldnt say this book was perfect and there were some moments that were stronger than others, this was a thoughtful, endearing memoir and though I really want to make a 6/10 reference, I think it deserves more than that!

Come Sundown

Come Sundown – Nora Roberts

I was sent this by the publicist working on the book and I’ve FINALLY got around to picking it up. Sorry. I’ve had this sat in my inbox for far too long. Honestly, a book that begins with a girl relieving herself behind a tree has to be one met with intregue and from there it only got better, who doesn’t love a murder mystery set on a ranch in the south of the USA?

Bodine Longbow loves to rise with the dawn. As the manager of her family’s resort in Western Montana, there just aren’t enough hours in the day – for life, for work, for loved ones. She certainly doesn’t have time for love, not even in the gorgeous shape of her childhood crush Callen Skinner, all grown up and returned to the ranch. Then again, maybe Callen can change her mind, given time…
But when a young woman’s body is discovered on resort land, everything changes. Callen falls under the suspicion of a deputy sheriff with a grudge. And for Bodine’s family, the murder is a shocking reminder of an old loss. Twenty-five years ago, Bodine’s Aunt Alice vanished, never to be heard of again. Could this new tragedy be connected to Alice’s mysterious disappearance?
As events take a dramatic and deadly turn, Bodine and Callen must race to uncover the truth – before the sun sets on their future together.

I would say this was a mystery rather than a suspense novel and follows four generations of the same family, beginning in 91 with Alice Bodine and then going to her niece, Bodine, who has never met her thanks to a rather horrible thing that happens to her right before the book begins and features members of their extended family and community.

It reminded me a lot of American soap operas, kind of Dallas like but with elements of the The Room thrown in. It swung between being melodramatic and creepy, I was never really sure which was going to come next! So if that sounds like it might be up your street, give this a go, but do be warned, you know I like to give you trigger warnings, there is abduction, murder and sexual assault in this. Some of it is hinted at, mostly its not that subtle.
A great thing about this, if like me you’re new to Nora Roberts, is that this is a stand alone. Why is that good news? Well, the woman has written over 200 books, many of which are in a series. So, if you wanted somewhere to start, this is the perfect book for that.

Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror – Cara Delevingne (and Rowan Coleman)

She’s a model, an actor, a singer, she has the most impressive eyebrows in the western hemisphere and now she’s a novelist, is there a pie Cara Delevinge doesn’t have her fingers in?

Friend. Lover. Victim. Traitor.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
Sixteen-year-old friends Red, Leo, Rose, and Naomi are misfits; still figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Life isn’t perfect, but music brings them together, and they are excited about what the future holds for their band, Mirror, Mirror. That is until Naomi vanishes before being pulled unconscious out of the river.
She’s left fighting for her life in a coma. The police claim it was a failed suicide attempt, but her friends aren’t convinced. Will Naomi ever wake up? What -­ or perhaps who -­ led her to that hospital bed? And how did Red, the self-styled protector of the group, fail to spot the warning signs?While Rose turns to wild partying and Leo is shrouded by black moods, Red sets out to uncover the truth. It’s a journey that will cause Red’s world to crack, exposing the group’s darkest secrets. Nothing will ever be the same again, because once a mirror is shattered, it can’t be fixed.
Cara Delevingne, the voice of her generation, explores identity, friendship and betrayal in this gripping and powerful coming-of-age story. For fans of WE WERE LIARS, THIRTEEN REASONS WHY and THE GIRLS.

Most people say this is like Paper Towns, I think its more Pretty Little Liars set in London crossed with Paper Towns, if you mix those together, you have a Riverdale-esque teen mystery with actually a very impressive premise, a believably teenage narrator and is actually a fairly decent first novel full of twists and turns, which although had a few moments that felt a little contrived, kept me on my toes the whole way through. (Though, admittedly, I did figure out who the bad guy was fairly early on, but I was hoping that I was wrong!)
This is the story of a teenage band, Mirror Mirror, featuring Rose, Red, Leo and Naomi. Perhaps Cara Delevingne was inspired by her turn as Margot in the film version of Paper Towns, for we’re told that our missing student, Naomi begins life very much like Margot, forever running away and then reappearing, however, this time around, she was happy, had friends and unlike her previous disappearances, had a complete change of character beforehand. The four kids are pushed together and end up becoming best friends, who are then rocked by what happens to Naomi and our narrator, Red, teams up with Naomi’s sister to try and figure out what happened to her and why.

This features a diverse cast, enough twists and turns to keep you guessing even if it does get to PLL levels of ridiculous at times. IDK if you’ve seen PLL but seriously, how many underground bunkers are there in Rosewood? There were moments that were getting close to that in this book, but I still found it enjoyable. Much like PLL I guess.

Red can be read as trans or as androgynous and actually, their narration doesn’t lead you to believe in any particular gender until their identity reveal, which I really liked, their sexuality and gender identity weren’t made a big deal of and while I’m not trans or non binary myself, and someone who is might think differently, I think their character was great. Cara seems to be part of the write what you know club, as she acknowledges Red and Rose’s middle class privilege without letting it diminish or take over from other problems they experience during the book.

Its actually really teenage, which some books featuring teenagers seem to forget to allow the characters to be, while Red and co are dealing with their own individual issues and the mystery surrounding Naomi they also spend a lot of time concerning themselves with bullies and Instagram and all that kind of thing, I read the egalley of this but I think the paperback would be great because it includes Insta and Snapchat posts and text communications between the characters which is a little lost in the kindle edition.

While I don’t know how much of this CD wrote herself, I think it is a strong debut novel. Some reviews seem to really hate it, but I thought it was an enjoyable and gripping novel, if a little convoluted and rushed towards the end. There is a little q and a section with her at the end where she talks about the possibility of writing more and I certainly wouldn’t discourage it!

Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

It feels like everyone and their mum has read this book, like to the point where it has even spawned a super popular television show! I’d been debating buying it for some time after failing to locate a copy at the library and then as if Penguin had heard my prayers, they sent me a copy! How wonderfully kind of them! So here we go, my thoughts!

A murder . . . a tragic accident . . . or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead.
But who did what?
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Right, first things first, I haven’t seen the TV show yet, so I don’t know how to two compare, is it any good? Let me know!
Secondly, I have waaaaaay too many thoughts for this review to be in anyway coherent, so you know. Brace yourself.

One of the first reviews you find on Goodreads for this book starts with: Probably the funniest book about murder and domestic abuse I’ll ever read and honestly, I think that’s the best way to describe this book… Though with a slight amend, I didn’t think this book was funny, not in the laugh out loud sense anyway, there were a few moments of smirking into the pages, but overall, I found it kinda flippant and shallow in its approach to the core subjects, kind of like the characters within I guess, but it certainly isn’t a serious book about domestic abuse, murder, bullying and the other issues this story. The other thing this book manages to do is be subtle and obvious all at the same time. How is that possible? Does it translate well onto screen? You’re so distracted by the Renata vs Madeline is my kid a bully story that the big issues seem to come flying at you when they’re presented, even though on closer inspection, they were there the entire time.

So here’s the thing, when this book starts, we have what is essentially a lot of tedious playground related nonsense. A group of yummy mummy types bunching together and ganging up on each other, being bitchy and using their children to get at each other and I found myself wondering what exactly everyone was raving about with this book. Like I usually don’t have any time for women tearing each other down, but there was something about the interview extracts littered throughout and the count down to trivia night that made me stick with it. What we have is several stories of differing seriousness being interwoven with a few more trivial life moments. Like on the one hand, Madeline’s vendetta against Renata and her grudge holding against her ex after everyone else has moved on is a bit distracting when you have Celeste and everything going on in her life and the trauma that Jane is unsuccessfully dealing with and come the end when the truth is out and the full story revealed you’re struck by its brilliance, it’s ‘why didn’t I see that coming?’ even though it is there from the very beginning.

Basically, there are many things about this book that annoyed me, but there are also many things that surprised me and captivated me and I think I’ll be hard pressed to find anything else like it.