Book Review: All About Mia

Anyone who’s known me over the last couple of years should know by now that I’m a massive fan of Lisa Williamson. Her debut novel, The Art of Being Normal, is one of my favourite ever books, as well as a book that I think is astoundingly important in putting trans people at the centre of the narrative. It was the first book I’d read that featured a trans protagonist and yes, I acknowledge that maybe that should have come from a trans writer, but I don’t think that takes anything away from just how good The Art of Being Normal is. (Seriously, read it.) So, as you might expect, I was awaiting Lisa’s next book with bated breath. I was lucky enough to win an early copy of All About Mia in Non Pratt’s twitter giveaway and I devoured it in a matter of hours. In case you hadn’t guessed, I was not disappointed.

all-about-mia

One family, three sisters. GRACE, the oldest: straight-A student. AUDREY, the youngest: future Olympic swimming champion. And MIA, the mess in the middle. Mia is wild and daring, great with hair and selfies, and the undisputed leader of her friends – not attributes appreciated by her parents or teachers. When Grace makes a shock announcement, Mia hopes that her now-not-so-perfect sister will get into the trouble she deserves. But instead, it is Mia whose life spirals out of control – boozing, boys and bad behaviour – and she starts to realise that her attempts to make it All About Mia might put at risk the very things she loves the most.

All About Mia is just gorgeous. I loved the entire family at the centre of the novel, especially the parents, but Mia is obviously the character we get to know best. She’s a typical middle child, and although she’s a bit of a whiny brat sometimes, there is also some truth in the way she feels. And middle child or not, I think we’ve all been in that position where it seems like everyone is out to get us, or that no-one appreciates the things we do. Throughout the book, Mia slowly comes to realise the truth of this too – her siblings and parents have their own issues that they need to work through and she’s not the only one struggling. More than that though, Mia learns that she doesn’t have to struggle alone and that if she shares her problems instead of ignoring them then she’ll find life much easier.

I loved the relationships between the characters. Although Mia now resents Grace, you can see that this wasn’t always the case, and you can also see how much it hurts Grace that it is like that now. Audrey is adorable – she loves her older sisters without question and just wants them to get on like they used to. And their parents, struggling with Grace’s announcement, Mia’s wild child ways and Audrey’s swimming schedule, while trying to plan a wedding, are so clearly Good People, still madly in love, even after 20 years together, and desperately trying to be good parents. I adored them, even when I didn’t like what they were doing. I mean, I was slightly horrified that Mia’s mum was the same age as me, because the thought of having a 19 year old daughter is terrifying, but I adored the two of them just the same.

In case you hadn’t realised yet, All About Mia went straight on to my favourite books list. It’s diverse (Mia is mixed race), it’s funny and it’s moving (I cried happy tears). I wanted to re-read it as soon as I’d finished it to be honest. It’s out this Thursday, 2nd February and you need to go and buy it.

5/5

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Book Review: Forever Geek

Oh, Geek Girl. I can’t believe this is the end. You’ve made me laugh and you’ve made me cry and now here we are at the final book in the series and I’m not sure what I’m going to do without a new book about Harriet Manners to look forward to every year. When I was approved for Forever Geek on Netgalley, I tweeted that I was both desperate and reluctant to read it. I needed more Harriet and Team JINTH/JRNTH in my life, but I didn’t want it to be over either. Sadly, not reading it wouldn’t have stopped it being the last book in the series, so I gave myself a shake and sat down for one last adventure with Harriet. And I have to say, Holly Smale has finished the series on a high. A high that made me sob for 20 minutes, but a high nevertheless.

forever-geek

 

My name is Harriet Manners and I’ll be a geek forever…

Harriet Manners knows almost every fact there is.

Modelling isn’t a sure-fire route to popularity. Neither is making endless lists. The people you love don’t expect you to transform into someone else. Statistically, you are more likely to not meet your Australian ex-boyfriend in Australia than bump into him there.

So on the trip of a lifetime Down Under Harriet’s to-do lists are gone and it’s Nat’s time to shine! Yet with nearly-not-quite-boyfriend Jasper back home, Harriet’s completely unprepared to see supermodel ex Nick. Is the fashion world about to turn ugly for GEEK GIRL?

It’s time for Harriet to face the future. Time to work out where her heart lies. To learn how to let go…  

One of the things I’ve really enjoyed over the Geek Girl series is seeing Harriet grow up. Even though the entire series only takes place over about 18 months or so, it’s clear to see that Harriet has changed. She’s making an effort to focus on other people. She’s trying (although not always succeeding) to think before she does things. Yes, she’s still impulsive, she tends to forget that there could be other explanations than the one she’s come up with, and she can be wilfully blind sometimes, but she loves her family and friends more than anything else in the world and she will always do what she can to help them. It might not work, but then that’s why there are six books and two novellas. And in Forever Geek, there’s a real focus on Harriet’s relationships with Nat, with Nick and Jasper, and with her step-grandmother Bunty, and it’s lovely. Harriet and Nat’s friendship, in particular, is shown to be a) incredibly important, and b) able to survive anything.

It’s true that Harriet can sometimes be annoying. I’m still not sure how she can misunderstand *so* much, *so* badly. But she’s a teenage girl, in the middle of a world she still doesn’t really know, and maybe, just maybe, if her parents had told her the real reason for the trip to Australia things wouldn’t have gone quite so wrong (I mean, she’s nearly 17 at this point, she should have been told at least some of it), so it’s understandable. Also, a large part of Harriet’s charm is her clumsiness and ability to charge in head first without knowing all the details. My only real gripe with the book is that we don’t really get to see much of Harriet’s parents and her other friends, but I will happily sacrifice that for the time spent with Nat and Bunty.

So all in all, Forever Geek was the perfect ending to the Geek Girl series. With the re-introduction of Nick and Yuka, it’s also nicely cyclical and gives a real feeling of closure. Just make sure you have some tissues with you when you read it!

5/5

ARC received via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

Forever Geek will be released in the UK on 9th March 2017

Book Review: Good Me Bad me

There had been a lot of buzz around Good Me Bad Me, by Ali Land, prior to its publication. It has apparently already been translated into over 20 languages, which is pretty good going for a debut novel that’s only been out a month, so when it came up on Netgalley, I was clicking that button as quickly as possible, even though it’s not my usual kind of book. I was glad I did.

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‘NEW NAME .
NEW FAMILY.
SHINY.
NEW.
ME.’

Annie’s mother is a serial killer.

The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.

But out of sight is not out of mind.

As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly.

A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.

But Milly’s mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.

Good me, bad me.

She is, after all, her mother’s daughter…

Good Me Bad Me is a fascinating look at how Milly has been affected by her mother’s actions. It’s written in the first person so we see and feel everything the way that Milly does, from her memories of what her mother did to her and other children, through her guilt of still wanting to please her mum, to her fear that maybe she’s exactly the same. Land drip feeds us information, never really showing us the full picture, just Milly’s interpretation of it, which makes the book gripping and leaves us desperate to know what’s going to happen.

Milly is such a great character. She’s clearly (and understandably) traumatised by the time she’s spent with her mum, but she can’t stop herself remembering and using the lessons she learned. The fact that she’s been placed in a foster family that has its own issues doesn’t help, because it just makes them easier to manipulate. Every time we learn something new about Milly’s childhood though, we’re horrified afresh, and so we never lose sympathy for her.

There were a few things I found annoying, mostly Milly’s way of thinking in very short, truncated sentences, but it is entirely possible this is a quirk of the ARC formatting and isn’t in the finished book. And there is a certain group of characters who are so mean that it’s difficult to have any sort of empathy with them at all. But these are minor points, and overall I really enjoyed this book.

4/5

ARC received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Book Review Mini Catch Up

In an attempt to catch up on my reviews, this post is going to cover two middle grade books I read recently – The Crooked Sixpence by Jennifer Bell and Ned’s Circus of Marvels by Justin Fisher. One of those I enjoyed much more than the other!

The Crooked Sixpence

The Crooked Sixpence introduces us to Ivy and Seb as they discover their family history is a lot more magical than they could ever imagine. When their grandmother is rushed to hospital, a series of events results in the two children finding themselves in Lundinor, a secret underground city, and embarking on a search for a great uncommon treasure.

I really enjoyed this book. Ivy and Seb (but especially Ivy) are interesting characters, and Lundinor and its inhabitants are fascinating. I also liked the concept of uncommon objects, and the central mystery of how the children were related to this world, and what had happened to the Wrench family, kept the plot going. I am definitely interested in reading the sequels, and would happily recommend this book.

4/5

Ned’s Circus of Marvels

Oh, this book could have been so much more than it was. I found it really hard going, and there were a number of times I almost put it down. Having said that, the last quarter of the book was genuinely exciting, but that just made the first three quarters look worse to be honest.

Ned’s Circus of Marvels is another story of a child discovering their magical heritage, in this case Ned, who finds out his boring father isn’t that boring at all, but has been protecting him from people who would like nothing more than to kill him. If you have a phobia of clowns, I really recommend not reading this book by the way! Having been found by the bad guys, Ned is sent off with the Circus of Marvels, a travelling troupe consisting of magical creatures and performers.

My main problem with the book was that it just wasn’t very well written. It was way too long, and full of cliches and it just wasn’t enjoyable to read most of it. The characters didn’t really hold my interest either. There was no need for the secrecy which caused most of the problems and Ned was annoyng most of the time. I don’t think I’m going to be picking up the next book.

2.5/5

Book Review: …And A Happy New Year?

I am so behind with my book reviews it is unbelievable. The good news is I’ve been reading a lot, and some of the books have been amazing, but I do find it difficult to keep up with blogging and reading. Basically, this is to arn you there might be a little flurry of posts in the next couple of days as I try to catch up and at least post all my British Books Challenge reviews before the end of the month. (Incidentally, how is it the end of January already?)

and-a-happy-new-year

Evie, Amber and Lottie are having a new year party to remember.

For the first time since leaving college, all three girls are back together. It’s time for fun and flirting, snogs and shots.

(And not tears or tantrums or terrible secrets)

Because everything’s going great for these girls – Spinster Club for ever! Right?

So I read …And A Happy New Year? a couple of weeks ago when I was ill because I wanted to read something that was quick and that I was pretty certain I would enjoy. I was right on both counts. And A Happy New Year? is a novella that closes Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series, and things aren’t quite right between the three girls we’ve come to know and love. Each of them has a secret from the other two, so you can imagine what happens when they all meet up at Amber’s New Year’s Eve party for the first time since they left for university.

Friends keeping secrets from each other is one of my least favourite tropes, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this. After all, these girls already know that keeping secrets doesn’t turn out well, but I did really enjoy it. I was sad that the three of them already seemed to be growing apart after just a few months away but it was clear from the story why that was happening and that it could be fixed. And the ending was perfect for the series. I would love to know what happened to them as they grew up, but it’s also nice to be able to draw my own conclusions.

As a novella, it is short, but it worked, and I’m very glad I finally got around to buying it.

If you’ve read the series (and if you haven’t, you should!), what do you think happened to the Spinster Club after uni? Leave me a note in the comments!

4/5

Book Review: Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars

And suddenly it’s been over a week since I posted. How did that happen? Turns out getting ill and losing the energy to do anything but read is great for your Goodreads challenge, but not so good for productivity elsewhere. Never mind eh?

miss-treadway-cover

How do you find a missing actress in a city where everyone’s playing a role?

A mystery, a love-story and a darkly beguiling tale of secrets and reinvention set in 1960s London.

Soho, 1965.

In a tiny two-bed flat above a Turkish café on Neal Street lives Anna Treadway, a young dresser at the Galaxy Theatre.

When the American actress Iolanthe Green disappears after an evening’s performance at the Galaxy, the newspapers are wild with speculation about her fate.

But as the news grows old and the case grows colder, it seems Anna is the only person left determined to find out the truth.

Her search for the missing actress will take her into an England she did not know existed: an England of jazz clubs and prison cells, backstreet doctors and seaside ghost towns, where her carefully calibrated existence will be upended by violence but also, perhaps, by love.

For in order to uncover Iolanthe’s secrets, Anna is going to have to face up to a few of her own.

Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars was one of the books that I read when I was ill. Or finished, rather, as I’d already started it, and boy did it take me a long time to get through it. That’s not because it was bad – I enjoyed it while I was reading it – it just seemed very dense. I definitely felt it didn’t live up to its promise, and it seemed to be trying a bit too hard.

I did think that some things were done well. The racism that Aloysius faces as a black man in 1960s London is portrayed as the horrendous thing it was, and Anna’s reluctance to get involved with him rang true for that character, although I’m not sure I could ever forgive her for abandoning him in the police station. I also liked the way the detective was introduced as a ‘good’ man and then we saw all the compromises he has made, and how his family has suffered, so that by the end of the book I seriously disliked him.

Talking about the end of the book – what was that?! It suddenly refers back to two characters who have barely been mentioned as if we’re supposed to care about them, but what it did was completely throw me out of the story. If it had ended with the first part of the epilogue, I suspect this review would have been more positive. I assume it’s being set up for some sort of sequel or companion novel, but I’m not sure I’ll be bothering with it.

My main problem with Miss Treadway was that I thought it could have been so much more. A missing film star and her secrets should have been a thrilling story, and it wasn’t. I can understand that Miranda Emmerson probably wasn’t trying to write a thrilling story, as she’s clearly more focused on the characters, but I personally would have preferred a stronger plot.

3/5

ARC received via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Let Them Eat Chaos

It seems a bit strange to be reviewing Let Them Eat Chaos as a book when it was written as a performance piece, but I read it as a book and so it shall be reviewed as a book. I’d love to see/hear it being performed one day though, because it was stunning on the page, and I can only imagine it’s even better performed.

let-them-eat-chaos

Let Them Eat Chaos, Kate Tempest’s new long poem written for live performance and heard on the album release of the same name, is both a powerful sermon and a moving play for voices. Seven neighbors inhabit the same London street, but are all unknown to each other. The clock freezes in the small hours, and one by one we see directly into their lives: lives that are damaged, disenfranchised, lonely, broken, addicted, and all, apparently, without hope. Then a great storm breaks over London, and brings them out into the night to face each other–and their own last chance to connect.

Tempest argues that our alienation from one another has bred a terrible indifference to our own fate, but she counters this with a plea to challenge the forces of greed which have conspired to divide us, and mend the broken home of our own planet while we still have time. Let Them Eat Chaos is a cri de cœur and a call to action, and, both on the page and in Tempest’s electric performance, one of the most powerful poetic statements of the year.

I love poetry, but I don’t read a lot of it because there always seems to be another novel to read. Let Them Eat Chaos has reminded me that I should make an effort to read more, because when it’s done well, poetry can be so powerful, and that’s the best word to describe this. In the stories of seven people in London who are all awake as the clock hits 4.18am, Kate Tempest paints a picture of today’s society that is often uncomfortable but always honest. You may not agree with the opinions voiced by the characters, but you will recognise the hopelessness they’re feeling because we’ve all had moments like those. However, despair and hopelessness are not the message the poem leaves us with. Instead, a rare moment of connection restores our hope as it does the characters’, and Tempest exhorts us to wake up and love more. That’s the message I’m taking away from this work.

The poem is so beautifully written that I cared about the people we met within a couple of lines. More than that, I understood them, even when I didn’t agree with their ideas. It doesn’t matter that it’s set on a London street, because it speaks to everyone’s experiences. It’s a wonderful piece of writing that once again I haven’t done justice to in my review, but I urge you to find a copy, read it, and take its message on board. There is still hope – we just have to find it. Wake up and love more.

5/5

Copy of the book received from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The One Memory Of Flora Banks

one-memory-of-flora-banks

Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life.

With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway, the land of the midnight sun, determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

I first heard about The One Memory of Flora Banks at YALC last July, where Penguin had set a large part of their stall up to promote the book. Part of this was offering free ice cream that had been made in front of me and that kind of thing tends to stick in the memory (ironically, given the theme of the book), so when the book came up for request on Netgalley I was clicking that button faster than I had ever clicked before. I wasn’t disappointed, because Flora Banks is a humdinger of a book.

Right from the start I wanted to learn more about this teenager who could only remember a few hours at a time. I was intrigued at how she coped with the world – after all, when her memory resets, she thinks she’s only 10 years old and yet she’s also coping as a seventeen year old – and with the introduction of a boy who likes her. I really had no idea where the story would go, and Flora’s journey to Svalbard is so fraught with tension that I was almost biting my fingernails. Plotwise, most of what I would like to talk about is spoilerific, so I won’t do that, but I would like to say that Flora’s determination to follow her dream was actually quite inspiring. She was not going to let anything get in the way of what she wanted and yes, maybe she was a teeny bit obsessive about it, but that was part of her character and I liked that she had that flaw. I also loved the supporting characters, especially Jacob, her brother.

I really liked the structure too. As it was from Flora’s first person POV, every time her memory reset we got to see what that was like, and how things could change subtly depending on what Flora had written in her notes (or how she chose to interpret those notes). It made it clear that Flora was an unreliable narrator, which just added to the mystery, but also made me realise how difficult it must be to navigate this world without any of the information we take for granted.

It’s a very difficult book to review without spoiling and so this has not done the book any justice at all, but if you take anything away from this post, let it be this: you need to read The One Memory of Flora Banks. It is such an intriguing, clever and unusual coming of age tale that you will not regret it.

4/5

ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review

Bookish Resolutions in 2017

Can you believe the first week of 2017 is almost done? Fortunately that means the first week back at work after two weeks off is also done and I can relax and enjoy my weekend, which feels much needed, even after a four day week!

I decided I wanted to talk a little bit about my bookish resolutions for this year in this post, because I have a few of them and writing them down somewhere might mean that I actually stick to them. So without further ado:

1. Read more diversely, particularly concentrating on own voices. I’ve always prided myself on reading a wide range of diverse books, and then this year I looked back at my list and realised I was fooling myself. Most of the books I read are written by straight, cis, white people. Yes, most of them are by women, but frankly that’s not good enough. So this year I am going to make more of an effort to seek out those own voices books.

2. Make some progress on the TBR pileOr piles, as is actually the case. My bedroom is like an obstacle course because of the wobbly piles of books all over the place. I need to make an effort to read those books, instead of buying more. Will I do this? No, probably not. New books are so shiny and I can think of three books I want to buy when I’m in town tomorrow and I’ve pre-ordered another two online this evening. It’s not looking good, is it?

3. Read my kindle books. Because if the kindle tbr pile was in physical form, there wouldn’t be any room for me in my house. I’ve let it get ridiculously out of control because I went off reading in ebook format and back to my shiny paperbacks, but I can never pass up a bargain and the 99p kindle deals were just too much for my willpower. I need to catch up before I forget what I own.

4. Write all my overdue Netgalley reviews. The books end up on my kindle, and I think the above entry makes clear that that is not the best place to be if they want to be read. Desperately need to do this.

5. Keep up with the reading challenges. So I have my Goodreads challenge (150 books! Eek!) and the British Books Challenge, but I decided that wasn’t enough, so I’m also going to be completing the Queer 52 Challenge, which also ties in nicely with point 1 above. The challenge is to read either 12, 24 or 52 queer YA books this year, depending on the level you choose. I think 52 is probably beyond me, so I’m quietly aiming for 24. I’m also not necessarily following the list that is posted on the website, as it’s very US-centric and I’d rather concentrate on UK authors, but they do say any queer YA counts.

6. Become an active member of the bookish community. Because the bookish community is a wonderful, supportive place, particularly the YA section, and I want to be more of a part of it. I’m trying, but I’m also failing at the moment, so I need to put actual time aside to contribute.

So six. Six seems reasonable, and they should all tie in to one another. Let’s see what happens!

Have you set any bookish resolutions this year? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review: The Last Beginning

the-last-beginning

Sixteen years ago, after a scandal that rocked the world, teenagers Katherine and Matthew vanished without a trace. Now Clove Sutcliffe is determined to find her long lost relatives. But where do you start looking for a couple who seem to have been reincarnated at every key moment in history? Who were Kate and Matt? Why were they born again and again? And who is the mysterious Ella, who keeps appearing at every turn in Clove’s investigation?

For Clove, there is a mystery to solve in the past and a love to find in the future.

More or less this time last year I read The Next Together and loved it. I was desperate for this sequel, but by the time it came out in October I had other priorities and it’s taken me until now to get around to reading it. I was actually a little disappointed though – it didn’t seem to flow, I wasn’t anywhere near as attached to Clove as I was to the various Katherines and Matthews in the first book, and the explanation it provides for the reincarnation aspect seemed a little hand-wavey.  I also found it difficult to relate what happens to Clove to the incidents it references from The Next Together and I would definitely recommend re-reading that before starting The Last Beginning. However, despite all that, I found myself unable to put it down, which is why I ended up still awake and reading after 1 am on a work night. I kept promising just one more chapter, but it would then end on a cliffhanger so I had to carry on!

I also enjoyed the love story aspect, although it did seem to happen quite suddenly. I particularly liked that the main character is a lesbian, and she just is. It’s not a major part of the story, she just happens to have a female love interet. Clove is already out, with no drama (and a supportive family), and her only problem is that she fancies her straight best friend. I think we need more stories where the LGBTQ main character’s sexuality is merely another aspect of their character and not the driving force of their story and source of drama (although don’t get me wrong, there’s a need for those stories too). I did think Ella, the love interest, was a little bit annoying though, which was a shame, but she was called on it within the story, so it was obviously intentional!

Despite my problems with it, The Last Beginning is practically the very definition of a page-turner. I was desperate to know what happens, and in the end that trumped the issues I was having.

3.5/5