Book Review

Book Review: Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny Mclachlan

Published 6th April 2017 by Bloomsbury.

32021893Goodreads Synopsis: Science geek Meg is left to look after her little sister for ten days after her free-spirited mum leaves suddenly to follow up yet another of her Big Important Causes. But while Meg may understand how the universe was formed, baby Elsa is a complete mystery to her.
And Mum’s disappearance has come at the worst time: Meg is desperate to win a competition to get the chance to visit NASA headquarters, but to do this she has to beat close rival Ed. Can Meg pull off this double life of caring for Elsa and following her own dreams? She’ll need a miracle of cosmic proportions…

My Review: I’ll admit I’m one to judge a book by its cover. Though I hadn’t read any of McLachlan’s books previously, I was really drawn to this. How beautiful is it?! Anyway, I’m glad I did decide to give it a go because this is now definitely up there in my favourite reads of 2017 so far.

Stargazing for Beginners tells the story of Meg, an teenage aspiring Astronaut, who is hesitantly entering a competition to go to Houston. Just two weeks away from her competition, Meg’s mother suddenly leaves for a humanitarian cause, rendering Meg in a difficult situation, juggling school, her aspirations and her baby sister. It’s a crazy concept, but I absolutely adored it. I became really emotionally invested in the story; I didn’t expect to become so attached.

I cannot fault McLachlan’s characterisation at all: it’s fantastic. Every person in the book felt so real to me, from Meg and her quirky family members to the pupils at her school. I particularly loved reading about Meg developing a relationship with her baby sister, in light of her mum leaving. So much of this book was unexpectedly poignant and beautifully written.

One of the things I loved most about Stargazing for Beginners is it’s portrayal of feeling like an outcast at school. Meg sticks out, being overly passionate about science and labelled a geek. She’s such a relatable character, appealing to read about for anyone who’s ever been through the horrible experience of Secondary school 🙂 It was really moving to see Meg develop a network of friends over the course of the story. And, of course, it was fantastic that one of those friends was portrayed with Cerebral Palsy, a physical disability affecting movement. Disabled characters seem to be pretty underrepresented, particularly in terms of genuine portrayals – so this was really awesome to see.

Stargazing for Beginners has such a wide appeal. Its themes of family and space are written about so wonderfully, it’s hard not to fall in love with the story. I tend to read books with darker or slightly older themes, so I wasn’t sure how much this would appeal to me, but I fell in love with it. The story is so uplifting and touching, I can’t imagine that any kind of reader would dislike it.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Stargazing for Beginners. It’s perfect for anyone, of any age, looking for a feel-good read. Witty, moving and memorable, this is bound to sweep you up as it did with me. Having really enjoyed this, I’m very excited to see what McLachlan writes next!

My Rating:

I received a copy of Stargazing for Beginners via the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Discussion

Confession: I Have Too Many Books (My Book Culling Tips)

Over the years I’ve bragged quite a bit about my fancy colour coded bookshelves. I often buy books because they look pretty. And I’m a sucker for a special edition. 

It’s very clear that I’m, uh, enthusiastic about holding onto books. When I counted how many I owned last year, it totalled around a thousand. Crazy, I know. I’m being constantly warned that if another book crosses the threshold of my room, the ceiling below will literally collapse. 

(don’t worry, this gif is looping, there is an end to my book collection!)

For the past sixteen years of my life, when anyone has questioned my book buying habits (very often), I’ve been quick to jump to my own defence. THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS TOO MANY BOOKS! I’ll yell, lovingly guarding the bookshelves (which seriously need dusting) that occupy half of my room. 

Last year, in a completely spontaneous decision, I managed to sort a box of books that I could part with. It was a painful process. I discarded books then frantically grabbed them back, unwilling to let go. It’s safe to say I’m obsessive about my books, even if I know I’ll never get around to reading them. It’s like a comfort; my room is surrounded by reading material I could never run out of. I’m reluctant to depart from books I’ve read too, even though it’s unlikely I’ll never read them again. They’re like snapshots lining my walls, from different points of my life, a huge collection of memories.

I decided a few weeks ago that I needed to try again, because the situation in my room was quite frankly ridiculous. In addition to the shelves lining one wall (and the two in the hallway…) I had stacks of books strewn across the floor, and proof copies piled beneath my bed so much so that they were practically holding it up. It had to change! I give in – sometimes, there *is* such a thing as having too many books. I needed some space. 

I didn’t even let myself think about what I was doing. My “to-read pile” is actually three “to-read-bookshelves” and although I would love to get around to reading everything, it’s unlikely I ever will. Studying is intense, my interests are changing, and I just don’t have the time. Some of these books were simply collecting dust, unloved, and I realised someone else could be enjoying them. 

Over the course of two hours, I had seven bags of books to shift. What?! Here’s where they’ve gone off to, and why I decided to take them there:

  • WeBuyBooks: there are lots of companies that will buy books from you, such as Ziffit, but I found this app to be the most accessible. Simply download it to your phone and use the camera to scan barcodes; it’ll tell you if they’ll accept it, and if so how much for. Prices can range from about 20p to £3.00, so if you’re looking for some extra money, it’s a great option, especially when you’re culling a lot of books. I totalled just £10 on here, which isn’t a massive amount, but I mean, it’s pretty good for half an hour of zapping books!
  • The train station: stations around me often have shelves inside, where second hand books are left for other commuters. I really like how these circulate. Books can end up anywhere! Someone might pick one up just to flick through on a commute and leave it somewhere else, or another person might discover it and fall in love. So if you’re near a station, why not drop some off?

(also: book culling was a great way to get some use out of my many bookish tote bags)

  • My school library: libraries across the country are lacking in funding, and school ones hardly get any budget. Yet they’re thriving places that would greatly value new books to inspire teenagers’ reading. Five of my seven bags are headed for my school’s library, and I’ve made sure those bags include the newest titles I’ve decided to part with. I hope children in the years below me enjoy them; maybe they’ll find their new favourite book. It’s especially a good idea to donate to school libraries in areas where not a lot of children read. From my time at school, I know that the majority of the year groups don’t read for fun. It’s important to inspire that. 
  • Charity shops: none of my books this time around went here, but it’s worth a mention for all the other times I’ve chosen these places. Living near a high street with a countless number of them, charity shops are easy to donate to and often willing to take new books. And of course, you’re helping another good cause! Good on you. 

Thinking of getting rid of some books? Here’s some other ideas:

  • leave them on trains, buses and benches with notes
  • Donate to community centres and local schools, especially for fundraisers
  • Recommend some to friends or family members who might be interested
  • Sell them online, through eBay or sites like Ziffit
  • Give them away, through your blog, Twitter or Instagram

And if you’re wondering? I got rid of about 200 books, yet my shelves are still full. I DON’T KNOW HOW EITHER. I better do another book cull soon.

Book Review

Book Review: Release by Patrick Ness

Published 4th May 2017 by Walker Books.

31194576Goodreads Synopsis: Inspired by Mrs Dalloway and Judy Blume’s Forever, Release is one day in the life of Adam Thorn, 17. It’s a big day. Things go wrong. It’s intense, and all the while, weirdness approaches…
Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

My Review: Coincidentally Mrs Dalloway was near the top of my to-read pile, when I was offered this, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s book! I’m definitely going to have to go back and read it now, as I’d love to compare this contemporary re-imagining properly.

This story follows Adam, through an incredibly eventful single day, as secrets come to light and Adam navigates the complexity of losing people close to him. I’ve never read a book with such a short time span, and I found it really refreshing. It was compelling and addictive; I was completely swept up in this pivotal day in Adam’s life, reluctant to put the book down.

Alongside Adam’s story, another narrative follows the ghost of a girl recently murdered nearby. It was such a bizarre and haunting twist to the story. One that didn’t hugely make sense to me at times, but undoubtedly gave me chills. I think I need to actually reread Release and take it all in again, as the second narration and ambiguous ending has definitely stayed with me but I don’t quite know why. I finished this feeling like I missed something; maybe that’s because I read it in such a short space of time. Even if it’s only set over a few hours, it’s a book to spend time with to pick up everything.

I absolutely adored this book for the multitude of themes it discusses. The protagonist is living in a deeply religious family that won’t eventually accept him, whilst he’s navigating a complex love life, as a boy he loved is leaving the town. There’s so much more on top of that; I love how well everything is explored. It’s brutally honest about some terrifying stuff.

Patrick Ness’s books are always so unique and remarkable, and I consistently adore his characters. Again, in Release, I became so attached to Adam (and Angela) while I read. They’re incredibly memorable characters. I keep talking about the time frame of this book BUT  I think it’s incredible how in-depth the characterisation is, and how every small part of the story is explored, despite it only being based in one day. From Adam’s family religion to his friendship with Angela; everything is so memorable. It’s really stayed with me.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Release. It was inventive and unique, with some truly memorable characters and events. I really connected with the main narrative, and found the ghost story line very haunting, but I feel like I didn’t take it in properly; it felt like a story of its own. I would really like to give this another try though and enjoy it more!

 My Rating:

I received a copy of Release from the publisher, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Blog Tour · Guest Post

And Then We Ran Blog Tour: Katy Cannon’s life in photos

I’m super excited to be sharing a guest post with you today, from Katy Cannon! Her latest book, And Then We Ran, is released this week. One of the reasons I enjoyed it was there’s an emphasis on photography, as the protagonist is trying to pursue her goal of becoming a photographer after she realises she has a talent for capturing photos of people in the moment. So, here’s Katy with twelve photos from her life up until writing!


Sometimes, I think that I remember events more from the photos of them than my actual, admittedly slightly dodgy, memory. Of course, that’s part of the joy of photos – they enable you to relive precious moments over and over.

My latest book, And Then We Ran, is peppered with photos throughout. The heroine, Megan, plans to leave home and become a professional photographer – if she can just pull off the craziest scheme of her life to make it happen. You know how it is: one thing leads to another, and suddenly you’re eloping to Gretna Green with your childhood best friend.

When life gets really interesting, it’s important to take time to remember the details. And that’s where photos can really help.

So, here’s the story of my life, in twelve photos.

1. I was born out in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, where my Dad was working at the time. (That’s him, burying a friend on the beach for my amusement.) Apparently I really liked to dip sausages in the sand to eat them, and chasing cockroaches down the corridors of our building.

2. We moved home to Britain when I was a toddler, settling in Surrey, but visiting our family in Wales often – especially for Christmas! Christmas is truly the MOST wonderful time of the year in my family, and we celebrate it extensively. Here I am, in my Christmas finest, with my three older cousins.

3. When I was eight, we moved home to Wales again in order to be closer to family, just before my youngest brother was born. Because the house we were supposed to be buying fell through, we ended up living with my grandparents (at their home, known as HQ) for a full year before moving into our new house. Here I am with both my brothers, outside our new home, sorting through boxes of books we’d been storing in the garage.

4. Moving home to Wales meant we got to spend a lot more time with our family – even after we moved out of HQ!. Here I am (in the alarmingly bright coral dress on the end) at my maternal grandparents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary. We like a celebration in my family, and fifty years of marriage is a very good reason, after all.

5. I finally left Wales again to go to university in Lancaster – which I loved. This photo was taken at my twenty first birthday celebrations, with my university housemate – who is now my daughter’s godmother and a lifelong friend.

6. My friends continue to be huge influences in my life. Many of my closest friends I met in school or sixth form, and I’m lucky to still have them around today. These are the sort of friends you can call and say, “This might sound crazy, but I’ve got an idea,” and know they’ll generally go along with it – or talk you out of it if it’s downright stupid. Everyone needs friends like mine. This photo was taken on one of our Boxing Day walks (we’re up to fifteen now, I think). It’s a tradition that every Boxing Day (or thereabouts) whoever is still home for Christmas (and can’t come up with a good excuse) has to tramp around Erddig Park in whatever weather Wales in December decides to throw at us. We always follow the same route (one year we tried to do it in reverse and ended up in a mud pit. We don’t talk about it) and end up at the same pub, for a very large – and well deserved – lunch.

7. Even after I left Wales, I still consider myself firmly Welsh, and adore everything about the country. And since I’m also a bit obsessed with history, that means I love castles more than almost anything. This photo was taken on one of many, many holidays I’ve spent in Pembrokeshire (where a lot of And Then We Ran is set) at Carew Castle. (It’s a great castle, definitely in my top ten. Yes, I have a top ten of castles. Doesn’t everyone?)

8. In fact, my husband even proposed to me up a hill, at a Welsh castle. (Dinas Bran – well, the desolate ruins of – in Llangollen. In December. In minus 4 temperatures.) We got married at home in Wales the following November. Here we are with the best man. I’m laughing because my heels are sinking into the mud. Also I was ridiculously happy.

9. And then, over the next ten years, we had two kids. Here they are, in a picture perfect family portrait of the sort every mother hopes for. Oh well, at least it’s realistic.

10. Okay, okay, here’s a slightly better one. If you ignore the fact that my son as just thrown up on my hand. (These are seriously the best family portraits I have.)

11. Being a writer has basically been my ambition since I was a child, and the fact that I actually get to write books for a living still astonishes me daily. I think this photo captures the moment that sank in properly for the first time. Here I am, at the Hay Festival in 2014, signing copies of my first YA novel for people who actually wanted to read it and not just because they were related to me. It was a pretty intense moment for me. (Also, after this, my daughter and I went back to the Green Room where she proceeded to sing songs from Frozen at Benedict Cumberbatch for half an hour while he tried to learn his lines. On the off chance he ever reads this blog, I feel I should apologise.)

12. And, I’m pleased to say, the joy of being a writer doesn’t get old. Here I am in Southend-on-Sea just a month or so ago, having photos taken by my publisher for the promotion of And Then We Ran. Plus they let me play on the tuppenny falls while we were there. Is it any wonder I look so happy?

 

Book Review

Book Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I’ve seen so many articles, tweets, Tumblr posts about acts of police brutality against African Americans in the US, I’ve lost count of the amount of names I’ve seen listed. It’s upsetting. It’s horrible. It shouldn’t be happening. And it’s difficult to raise awareness about it, beyond sharing something on social media – so I really want to share this book as widely as I can.

Published 6th April 2017 by Walker Books UK. 

32613366Goodreads Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl’s struggle for justice.


My Review: I was so eager to read this, from the minute I learned what it was about. The Hate U Give is focused on Starr, a girl my age, who is in the car with her childhood friend when he’s killed by a police officer who had no reason at all to shoot. Grieving Starr is thrown into the most difficult situation, where she has to decide whether to stay silent or to speak out, even if it puts her life at risk.

What happens to Starr’s friend, Khalil, is frighteningly similar to so many deaths I’ve read about – and it’s frightening to think that this happens regularly. It really opened my eyes to the situation of prejudice and racism in America, as before I was aware but not aware enough, as most people sadly are.

The story is heartbreaking, and might be difficult for some to read as it touches on so many relevant themes today – but that’s why this book has to be read. It’s unflinchingly powerful and brave.

The narrative is compelling, and I grew to really love Starr throughout the novel – it’s told in her very realistic voice. She’s torn between what to do, because remaining silent about what she witnessed and raising her voice. She’s also torn between two different ‘lives’ she’s living: her hometown and the mostly-white populated private school she attends. Starr lives with so much internal conflict, and I really empathised with her because I can imagine so many people are in the same situations.

I became really attached to Starr’s family, and Thomas writes so much detail into each character that I can’t stop thinking about them. Starr’s father is one particularly well developed, unforgettable character – an ex-convict who found his way out of gang culture, determined to protect his children and also build up his life with the store he now owns. There’s something about all of the characters that’s incredibly inspiring – their stories stay with you for a long time.

The best thing about The Hate U Give is how unapologetic and real it is. I’m really excited to see how it translates into a visual story, too! The movie rights have been sold, with Amandla Stenberg to star – which is the most incredible news. I really hope this book, and a movie in the future, helps to raise awareness. Not only is this a captivating story – it’s a powerful and unforgettable message about an ongoing issue.

Overall, I obviously recommend The Hate U Give to everyone, especially if you’re not very informed on current events in America and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It’s the most memorable and moving book you’ll read this year.

My Rating:

four and a half

I received a copy of The Hate U Give from the publisher, via Lovereading4kids, in exchange for a review. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

Book Review · mini reviews

Mini Reviews: Man Up and Queer

My aim this year is to read more non-fiction – I started off the year with two great reads from Icon Books, which were both related to topics I study in school (being a sociology and media student). It’s been a while between reading these and writing about my thoughts, so enjoy these mini reviews!

Man Up by Jack Urwin

Published 2nd June 2016 by Icon Books.

29611402Goodreads Synopsis: Jack Urwin’s father died just before he turned 10. Being male, he never really learned to talk about this with any kind of sincerity. His grief stayed with him through his teens, slowly becoming depression.
Now 24 and a journalist whose recent Vice article A Stiff Upper Lip is Killing British Men – described as ‘fabulous’ by Irvine Welsh – became a viral sensation, Urwin explores what it means to be a man now.
He traces crises of masculinity from our grandfathers’ inability to deal with the horrors of war, to the mob mentality of football terraces or Fight Club, and the disturbing rise of mental health problems among men today.

My Review: Do you ever read something, and even before you’ve finished, you want to yell about it from the rooftops and push it into everyone’s hands? Well, that’s how I was with Man Up. This title is absolutely fantastic.

The social construct of masculinity is something that’s interested me a lot, as someone who is dedicated to discussing issues about gender and equality. It’s very hard to talk about, especially when there’s so much misinformation about the topic, and how it intersects with feminism (heads up: feminism is about gender equality. It requires focus on all genders). This is where Urwin’s book comes in; books like this are rare.

Urwin himself has felt the impact of masculinity; his father suffered in silence with an illness, and the writer himself struggled to cope with this because boys aren’t encouraged to be open about their feelings. Following the writer’s viral VICE article, this book explores gender in great depth, from historical events that have constructed how we view masculinity today, to the issue of male mental health and the alarming rates of men committing suicide. Books like this, topics like this, are more important ever, and I know Man Up will help to open up a conversation about it.

Urwin’s writing is what makes this book so memorable. He writes so clearly about such a complex issue, with a hint of wit sometimes and the right emotions in all the right places. This book is so accessible; it can be read and understood by people without much prior knowledge of the topic of gender, and that’s why I’m so grateful for it. I’ll be recommending this endlessly, in the hopes it encourages readers of all genders to become more engaged in the conversation.

My Rating:

five

Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

Published 8th September 2016 by Icon Books.

28957268Goodreads Synopsis: From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do; how these ideas get tangled up with our culture and our understanding of biology, psychology and sexology; and how these views have been disputed and challenged.
Along the way we look at key landmarks which shift our perspective of what’s ‘normal’ – Alfred Kinsey’s view of sexuality as a spectrum, Judith Butler’s view of gendered behaviour as a performance, the play Wicked, or moments in Casino Royale when we’re invited to view James Bond with the kind of desiring gaze usually directed at female bodies in mainstream media.

My Review: I absolutely adored this! I own a few Graphic Guides on my A Level subjects, and haven’t actually gotten around to them yet – but Queer went to the top of my to-read pile as soon as I knew about it. I’m currently studying sociology, and I’m really interested in learning about sociological theories – queer theory is totally overlooked in my school’s course, which is saddening. I was really excited to use this as some wider reading, and it was such a brilliant read!

It’s so easy to devour this in one sitting, but I think I need to re-read it to fully digest all of the information that’s packed into it. The graphic element of it kept me engaged and interested with every chapter; the illustrations are fantastic, often witty, always useful in providing visuals for theories. Queer explores many key theorists and concepts across history, in great detail, despite sections being quite brief. I didn’t actually realise how fact-heavy this would be, and I’ll admit I didn’t take in as much as I thought I would – but that’s why I’m really looking forward to reading this again. It’s also a fantastic resource for, well, all things queer. I’m excited to use it as a reference in the future, as I’m hoping to write an extended project on queer theory next year.

My Rating:

four

I received both books from the publisher. In no way at all did this affect my thoughts.

 

Discussion

Where Have I Been?!

This post might confuse some people, because I haven’t technically been absent from this blog – at least, it hasn’t looked like it. There have been posts around every two weeks so far this year, so there aren’t exactly cobwebs. But I feel like there are. I haven’t actually really written any posts this year; everything from January and February was written around Christmas, and scheduled. In addition, I’ve not done anything hugely creative. Up until a few months ago, I was regularly posting discussions and infographics and things beyond simple reviews.

For anyone who follows me on other social media, though, you may have realised I’ve slipped into the shadows of the internet, in terms of this blog. I used to post on Instagram at least once a week, and Tweet obsessively; that’s dried up now. I tweet probably once every few days, and that’s mainly an automatic thing when a scheduled post publishes.

So what happened? Why have I slowly been disappearing over the last few months?

I thought I’d do a personal post while I have the time now, to let you guys know what’s been happening. Life is busy!

img_6311
Here’s one of the products of my recent messing around on Photoshop.
  • I’ve been developing another interest. It’s no secret that I’m hugely into photography, and since beginning to study it, I’ve been pushing myself in my own skills to improve my personal work as well as assignments for school. My free time is even more limited now, so reading time often becomes time where I’m planning, shooting, teaching myself a new skill or editing. If you’re interested in this, you can see what I’ve been getting up to on my Flickr page! It’s not a huge thing, but this is an online space I’m increasingly falling in love with, as I can see my progression. I also have another blog where I post sets of photos.
img_3595
This was taken at Wieden + Kennedy, the endlessly awesome advertising agency I had the chance to spend a week with in October.
  • My career ideas are changing. From literally since I can remember, until the start of secondary school, I wanted to be a writer. That changed in secondary school, where for about five years, I was completely dedicated to becoming a future publicist or an editor. Now? I’m not so sure! It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with their career; it’s still something I would love to pursue, and still seriously consider. However, since starting to study photography and media, and after spending a fantastic week at an advertising agency, my ideas are all over the place! I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what I want to do next; I’d love to still work in publishing, but my options are widening to photography, videography and advertising too. This has meant I’m devoting more time to exploring these interests, and looking into career paths.
  • AS Levels are hard work, man. I thought I’d find it easier to make time for this blog after GCSEs, but even though you study less subjects at sixth form, it feels like three times the work. My school runs mock exams literally every month, and I’m constantly under pressure from that and the immense amount of homework I get. I’m studying English Literature, Sociology, Media and Photography; the first three require a lot of essay writing and revision. My time at sixth form so far, personally and academically, has been incredibly tiring and stressful. Most evenings, by the time I’ve finished homework, I’m ready to sleep!
collage
Some photos from my mini Tegan and Sara tour – meeting them and their support acts Alex and Ria!
  • February half term! Usually, in my half terms, I’ll read and review lots so this blog remains active during term time… but I spent February’s week off very differently. If you’ve read this post, you’ll know I’m a huge Tegan and Sara fan, and I have a separate part of the internet where I express that! During the half term, I went to London and Manchester two days in a row, to see them live, along with many friends I’ve made within the community. It was an incredible experience, but a hugely busy one! It was really fun to do something so far out of my comfort zone.

So, there’s four bullet points that sum up a lot of why I haven’t been around much. I do miss blogging and reading, and I especially hope I’m able to balance schoolwork better with blogging, because it’s just as important to me and it’s something I love to do. I’m not going to be taking a break from here – and I’m certainly not quitting! Reviews and whatever else I can manage to write will still be going up as often as possible, and hopefully I’ll be back properly soon.

Thank you to everybody who reads, likes, shares and supports what I write here! I am so grateful for all of you.