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.

 

Blog Tour

STORIES FROM THE EDGE Blog Tour: Guest Post from Keren David

I am sosososo ridiculously excited to be welcoming Keren David to The Bibliomaniac today, author of one of my favourite reads of last year.

David is one of the eight Edge Authors on the blog of the same name. These fantastic writing talents have just released an anthology of short stories – STORIES FROM THE EDGE. It looks amazing, and I can’t wait to read it!

Without further ado, here’s Keren David discussing her short story, which is linked in with her previous novel, This is Not a Love Story:


Blog Tour · Book Review

Changers Blog Tour: Book Review + Unselfies!

Today the Changers blog tour is stopping here at The Bibliomaniac! Enjoy my post ^_^

CHANGERS BOOK REVIEW

Published 12th January 2016 by Little, Brown.

27256347Goodreads Synopsis: Changers book one: DREW opens on the eve of Ethan Miller’s freshman year of high school in a brand-new town. He’s finally sporting a haircut he doesn’t hate, has grown two inches since middle school, and can’t wait to try out for the soccer team. At last, everything is looking up in life.
Until the next morning. When Ethan awakens as a girl.
Ethan is a Changer, a little-known, ancient race of humans who live out each of their four years of high school as a different person. After graduation, Changers choose which version of themselves they will be forever – and no, they cannot go back to who they were before the changes began.
Ethan must now live as Drew Bohner – a petite blonde with an unfortunate last name – and navigate the treacherous waters of freshman year while also following the rules: Never tell anyone what you are. Never disobey the Changers Council. And never, ever fall in love with another Changer. Oh, and Drew also has to battle a creepy underground syndicate called ‘Abiders’ (as well as the sadistic school queen bee, Chloe). And she can’t even confide in her best friend Audrey, who can never know the real her, without risking both of their lives.

My Review: As soon as I heard about Changers, I was so eager to read it – and it really didn’t disappoint. As it’s now out in the UK, I can’t wait to see what other people think of it!

The premise of the book reminded me of Every Day by David Levithan, which was why the book piqued my interest. However, getting into it, I realised it’s definitely quite unique – Changers is a rather interesting blend of contemporary and fantasy, as the Changers are actually an underground, secret species of humans.

I wasn’t too sure on the beginning – the scene where Ethan wakes up as Drew seemed a little cheesy in its dialogue and stuff, but the story definitely does improve. With many scenes conveying the general awkwardness of high school and growing up, it’s almost possible to forget the fantasy element in places! I really love how Changers openly discusses identities – I think the premise of this whole series is a brilliant, accessible approach to an important topic for teenagers.

Drew is an incredibly relatable character – taking out the shape-shifting element, she’s such a realistic teenage character. She’s working out life, high school, crushes, and forming her own opinions about the world around her and the situation she’s been thrown into. I really liked how the authors made sure she was still very ‘Ethan,’ the person she was before her Change – Ethan’s identity is still there and the blend of two very different high school students is so interesting to read about.

Overall, Changers is a really great (and relatively short) read that I would undoubtedly recommend to anyone who wants an engrossing story. It’s got a really important message at its core, woven into the plot, and I just really love the whole concept. I’m excited to read book two, and see what the protagonist’s next Change has in store for them!

My Rating:

four

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

CHANGERS UNSELFIES

In Changers, there is a references to a site called wearechangers.org, which is set up by a separate group of Changers who are kinda rebellious. wearechangers.org is actually a website, run by the authors of the book, and coincides with the book’s message about identity and aims to spread positivity and empathy. I think it’s such a great idea!

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Checked out the website? Awesome, so you might have seen the #unselfies project on there. This is my favourite thing about the movement – the idea of turning the camera away and ‘focusing your attention outward.’. So, here’s my #unselfie!

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i thought this photo i took would be a cool unselfie because  ooh calm waves and disrupting the norm and ooh metaphors

Enjoyed this post? Check out more about Changers on the rest of the blog tour stops, and be sure to share your own #unselfie online and on the wearechangers.org project!

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Book Review: All of the Above by James Dawson

Published September 2015 by Hot Key Books.

23156540Goodreads Synopsis: When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who’s the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the ‘alternative’ kids take Toria under their wing. And that’s when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band – and it’s instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there’s Polly…love and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles.

My Review: I’ve been excited about this book for such a long time. I’ve been a fan of James Dawson’s books ever since his first horror novels – to see him delving into another genre is really exciting, and he’s done so excellently!

I adore how Dawson writes his characters, and All of the Above definitely has some of his best. I loved the friendship group the story is centered around so, so much – each character was really unique and although the book wasn’t that long, each character was really well developed and explored. Kudos to James for writing a great story where characters just happen to be queer / PoC, without the story being entirely about that. We need more books like this.

I really loved Toria, she was an incredibly relatable protagonist – from her tumblring to her exam pressure, to her process of figuring life out, she just really resonated with me, so I’m sure she’s going to be well received by other readers. Polly was an awesome character: Strong willed, stubborn and completely wild, she felt like a mash-up of John Green’s Margot and Alaska, though was completely unique.

The romance side of the book is brilliant – Toria falls for the local band’s lead singer, Nico, and for a while things are going great. But Polly, Toria’s best friend, is beginning to mean something else to her. The relationships felt so raw and realistic. I think the ways they progressed was perfect, and beautifully written.

The back of the physical copy of the book says “It would be neater, wouldn’t it, if this was a story about self harm or sexuality or eating disorders or ridiculously hot bass players, but it’s a story about all of them. Yeah, it’s a mess. And it’s about to get messier.” Sidenote: Most fantastic blurb ever. And the fact that ‘it’s a mess’ is the reason this book stands out. So much happens. There are parts that will make you grin from ear to ear. There are parts that hit you really hard, parts that will make you cry. Some elements are wrapped up perfectly at the end. Some things are never resolved. But that’s the best thing about it – it’s not sugar-coated and nothing is perfect. And that’s what makes this book perfect.

Overall, All of the Above was an exceptional book, and I can tell it’s going to be loved and related to by a lot of teenagers. As much as I loved James Dawson’s horror YA, (and would love to read more of the genre from him again) I can tell his ‘phase two’ is going to be awesome. Dawson covers so many topics in this book, and so well, it’s admirable. I really recommend this, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

My Rating:four

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

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Book Review: Paperweight by Meg Haston

Published 2nd July 2015 by Hot Key Books.

24917415Goodreads Synopsis: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Struggling to deal with her brother’s death and a past she refuses to confront, Stevie knows she has problems. But she’s still furious about the fact that she’s been packed off to a health clinic, in the middle of nowhere, where mobile phones are banned and communication with the outside world is strictly by permission only. The regimented and obtrusive nature of the clinic and its staff is torture to the deeply private, obstinate Stevie – and don’t even get her started on the other ‘inmates’. All she wants is to be left alone…
But as Stevie is about to find out, life is full of surprises. And she will prove herself stronger than she knows – even when her past finally catches her up in the most shocking and brutal way possible.

My Review: I’ll have to admit that I didn’t know much about the plot of this one – I quite largely was interested in it because of that beauuutifullll cover – but once I’d started Paperweight, I couldn’t put it down. I meant for it to be a quick read for a train journey – and it turned out to be one of my favourite reads of the year so far!

Paperweight starts with Stevie’s induction at a clinic for people with eating disorders. As the story progresses, with every day spent there, we get to look inside Stevie’s head to see her memories of what’s ultimately brought her there, and how she is dealing with it – because it’s a heartbreaking and harrowing story of love, loss, rivalry and secrecy.

The plot was unpredictable, a little hard to read at points because it became so sad – but, in all, a truly unique story. It was paced well and I raced through the book, as there was never a dull moment or a point in which I didn’t feel invested in the story. The realistic themes of anorexia, bulimia and death are treated well in the novel I think – though I’m not sure this is everyone’s cup of tea.

I connected with Stevie straight away. She had such a strong and believable voice; a personality driven by her eating habits that felt very painfully real. As the story progresses, Stevie lets the reader in on the reasons why she is where she is now; and it’s a complicated, unexpected tangle of secrets and drama. What I really liked about Stevie was that I never quite knew what direction Meg Haston was going to take her character in – I wasn’t expecting the romance side that became apparent but I loved the fact that Stevie’s identity was never labelled or questioned!

I have never read anything by Haston before (According to Goodreads she has written a few seemingly YA titles before!) but I would jump at the chance to read similar YA from her in the future. Her writing is brilliant; a talent I hope doesn’t go unnoticed when this is released. Writing about topics like she has here can be tough, but she has done so admirably. On top of the heavy themes, she’s written such unforgettable characters, the chemistries between which are well developed and raw-feeling.

Overall, I highly recommend Paperweight – I know that because of a lot of sensitive scenes it won’t be for everyone but it is an incredibly poignant read by a writer I hope to see more from. Stevie’s story has stayed with me long after I closed the pages – it ends on the perfect note. I’m so glad I picked this book up!

My Rating: 

five

 

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

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Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

Published 1st January 2015 by David Fickling Books.

23058402Goodreads Synopsis: Two boys. Two secrets.
David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.
On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.
When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long.

My Review: It’s pretty hard to collect my thoughts about The Art of Being Normal! I knew, from the many tweets I had seen about it, that it was going to be a stunning novel, and it was. I was speechless after finishing – I had no idea it was going to be that amazing.

I was so glad The Art of Being Normal it was receiving so much hype when I first heard about it last year, as not only is it a debut UKYA novel, but it’s also a story of growing up as a transgender teenager – a topic that is very rarely discussed in YA fiction. I think the only YA book I’ve read that centres around a character’s gender in a similar way is Pantomime by Laura Lam.

I have never read a book that tackles such a rarely-discussed subject so fearlessly. Lisa Willamson’s story is brutally honest, and very real-feeling. I definitely had moments where I was tearing up a little. The writing was strong, beautiful and engaging; from the first words I was swept up in David’s and Leo’s stories. I really felt like I was there, alongside them, or experiencing their situations first-hand.

The plot developed so well. I don’t think I’ve ever found an apt situation to use the phrase “the pages practically turned themselves” – but with The Art of Being Normal I can deifnitely use that. I never go through a book of this length in a day, but I literally couldn’t put it down. I was reading to and from school; during class; all through the evening. So many aspects just captured me: From the interesting social divide between characters, to the familiar UK school setting, to the very unexpected twists.Williamson has an unbelievable talent for storytelling and I’m very eager to see what she writes next.

Leo and David are characters whose stories I think I’ll always remember. They’re both in secondary school, of different social classes and circumstances, but they’re both struggling to cope with many issues. They were incredibly relatable & real feeling, and I was rooting for them all of the way. They develop so much over the course of the story. My favourite thing about the book was David and Leo’s chemistry and how it changes especially at moments like that reeeally big plot twist that I did not see coming…

Overall, The Art of Being Normal is most definitely one of the most powerful début novels I’ve ever come across. It was riveting, eye-opening, and had some perfectly crafted characters. I can tell we’ll be hearing a lot more from Lisa Williamson in the future; her writing voice is incredible. I’m so glad a story like this has gotten so much attention because stories like this need to be read by everyone.

My Rating:

five

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

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DIVERSITY IN YA: Book recommendations!

I was sitting at my computer, procrastinating by scrolling through my twitter feed, last Friday night. I was completely stuck for blog post ideas: I’ve been so behind with blogging because the first term at school has been hectic, to say the least!

I’ve been very aware of the inspiring, brilliant #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on Twitter since it launched, but seeing tweets from that evening’s #SupportWNDB talk were the deciding factor that led to me making this post. Also, that I haven’t done a infographic post in quite a while. I hope you enjoy it!

There were a lot of books to pick from to fit onto this quick graphic, but picking out of my recently used Goodreads shelves… I honestly didn’t actually find it difficult to narrow it down, to pick only a few titles with diverse characters; of colour, a different cultural background, an LGBT* identity or disability. I think that proves that a) I really must seek out more diverse books, and read those sitting on my TBR, and that b) the WNDB campaign is so necessary: I’m so glad it’s encouraging and publicising books that otherwise wouldn’t be as visible.

Anyway, I’m aware I’ve rambled on a bit, and this post was meant to be just an infographic… (:

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I hope you liked the infographic! I would love to take any recommendations on books similar to these (or completely unique ones of course!) and hear what you thought of these titles. There’s a lot of amazing sounding YA/MG fiction that’s out next year also, like Lara Williamson’s The Art of Being Normal (A very hotly anticipated one!) – are there any titles you are looking forward to reading?