Posted in Non-Fiction, review

When They Call You A Terrorist – Patrisse Khan-Cullors

“We are not terrorists. I am not a terrorist. I am Patrisse Marie Khan-Cullors Brignac. I am a survivor. I am stardust.”

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Blurb: “A poetic and powerful memoir about what it means to be a Black woman in America—and the co-founding of a movement that demands justice for all in the land of the free.”

Note: I am fully aware of my position of privilege and that there are some aspects it’s not my place to discuss. If you know of any own voices reviews, please let me know and I will add them here.

I discovered this book after Patrisse Khan-Cullors was a special guest on the bookish podcast Mostly Lit and I found her incredibly compelling to listen to. When she read a snippet, I knew I needed to hear her story in full and, of course, I decided to go with the audiobook as I feel this is the best way for me to consume non-fiction.

When They Call You A Terrorist is split into two parts: the first focuses on Patrisse’s life growing up, while the second documents what led to her becoming a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. I expected it to be centred on the latter but as I continued to listen, I became so invested in Patrisse’s life. She talks about growing up in her neighbourhood, her family and how she started to notice particular things as she got older such as how the white girls at her school face no reprimands for smoking weed whereas she ends up in handcuffs. She openly addressees how frequently people she knows are stopped by the police because they happened to match the description of someone who robbed a store, and if the same sort of thing happens to white people. For example: “how many skinny white blonde men have been pulled aside simply because they matched a description?”

Her brother, Monti, forms a lot of the narrative which I found incredibly difficult to read. Frankly, the treatment he’s received is absolutely disgusting and just highlights how much of a stigma there is around mental illness.

As someone who has seen the movement of Black Lives Matter from the media side and conversations online, it was really interesting to see the “behind the scenes” of how the movement started and grew to something more than could possibly be imagined. What I took away from this book, besides the important discussions on diversity, is the reminder that Patrisse Khan-Cullors is just a person. When you think of big movements fighting for change and hear the name of/see the person leading at the front, it’s easy to forget that they are a real person with feelings and life experiences just like everyone else. She talks candidly about struggling with her sexuality, loss, and growing up.

The phrase “it’s a difficult read but it’s so important” is thrown around a lot in refers to books dealing with current events. But if you’re looking for just one to read, I highly recommend you listen to Patrisse’s story.

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Posted in adult fiction, review

The Beautiful And The Damned – F.Scott Fitzgerald

“In this state he considered that he would one day accomplish some quiet subtle thing that the elect would deem worthy, and, passing on, would join the dimmer stars in a nebulous, indeterminate heaven half-way between and immortality.”

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Blurb: “Anthony and Gloria are the essence of Jazz Age glamour. A brilliant and magnetic couple, they fling themselves at life with an energy that is thrilling. New York is a playground where they dance and drink for days on end. Their marriage is a passionate theatrical performance; they are young, rich, alive and lovely and they intend to inherit the earth. But as money becomes tight, their marriage becomes impossible. And with their inheritance still distant, Anthony and Gloria must grow up and face reality; they may be beautiful but they are also damned.”

The Beautiful And The Damned is the second book that F.Scott Fitzgerald released and has been labelled “too pessimistic” due to its themes of love, money and social commentary. Many critics believe that Fitzgerald drew from his own marriage with his wife, Zelda, to populate the story.

Readers are first introduced to Anthony. A typical New York socialite biding his time until he can finally claim his inheritance. We are guided through his back story and told of his hopes and worries before he finally sets his eyes on Gloria and he is instantly besotted. From the outset, it feels like we are supposed to root for Anthony: he’s very likeable and often engages in deep discussions, showing his vulnerability.

Gloria, on the other hand, is not pleasant to endure. From the initial introduction, it is clear that she is the type of woman who wants to rebel against what is expected of her in the time period: She is young and beautiful and wishes to stay that way forever. She doesn’t want to marry and gains much enjoyment from having several men vying for her attention. While Anthony works on ideas about how to win her heart, she is very much open to whoever she can get her hands on; much to Anthony’s dismay.

This is very much a character driven story. It’s a quiet story about two people who fall in love, get married and then start to really see the other person. It’s a deep insight into how well we really know the people around us. Once he gets the girl, Anthony’s anxious side suddenly arises and he often mistreats Gloria when she is in one of her moods. Gloria is insufferable: complaining constantly about Anthony’s failures to get a job, how she is going to age, how having children will ruin her body. Her interactions with Anthony seem to read as her deciding to marry him in order to shut up everyone else in her life.

While The Great Gatsby precedes this novel (it was published three years after The beautiful  And The Damned), I feel that a lot of my enjoyment from this book is down to the comparisons I could make between Anthony and Jay Gatsby, and Gloria and Daisy. I can only assume that their relationship is what lit the spark for Fitzgerald to pursue a new story that would become one of the most successful books he ever wrote.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Out Of The Blue – Sophie Cameron

“It was our 9/11, our Princess Diana, our JFK. You’d always remember where you were when you heard about Being No. 1.”

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Blurb: “When the angels start falling from the sky, it seems like the world is ending. Smashing down to Earth at extraordinary speeds, wings bent, faces contorted. Not a single one has survived.”

I first became aware of Out Of The Blue when Sophie Cameron was a guest on the weekly Twitter book chat #UKYAChat and was fascinated by the concept. This is a book that captures the reader from the first line, luring them in with little bread crumbs of information building up to the bigger picture.

The protagonist, Jaya, is introduced just as her life is uprooted to Edinburgh for the summer because her father believes that is where the next Being will fall. It was interesting seeing how the world had adapted to these sudden Beings falling from the sky and the various ways individuals reacted made it feel so real; like it could actually happen in our world and this plot is how things would unfold.(My particular favourite was the  angel theme restaurant) I like that there’s no real explanation as to why this suddenly started happening and the readers are really felt to create their own interpretation of what the falls could mean. For example, Jaya links their meaning to the recent death of her Mother.

Through a series of events, Jaya ends up witnessing the fall of a Being that survives and she is forced to hide it from sight, determined to help the creature find a way back home. It was compelling to witness Sophie Cameron weave together a story like this which featured a language barrier and how Jaya was able to build up the Being’s trust despite that block in place. I found it simply hilarious when the Being – soon named Teacake – started to randomly parrot adverts it had heard on the radio.

It’s important to note that Jaya is gay and this isn’t made a big deal of in the story; it’s simply part of her identity. It was interesting to see the parallels between her and her ex (Leah) as it just highlighted the many ways individuals have been affected by the strange phenomenon.

The narrative does lull in the middle as Jaya works out what to do but really picks up in the final third which left me screaming at many pages. Out of The Blue will make readers think about their place in the universe and really how small our lives can be in the grand scheme of things.

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Posted in Audiobook Of The Month

Audiobook Of The Month | Always And Forever Lara Jean

I’ve finding it really hard to believe how far we are into the year, but when my audible credit renewed, it brought the promise of a new month and a new book.

After seeing the trailer drop for the film adaptation of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, it seemed only right to step back into the trilogy and finish it off; something which I’ve actually been trying to avoid because I love these characters so much.

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Always and Forever Lara Jean is the third and final book in the series. Readers see the loveable Lara Jean applying to colleges and dealing with the typical problems teens face in their senior year. She’s navigating how her relationship with Peter Kavinsky will work outside of school life and just in general seeing her life start to shift.

My absolute favourite thing about listening to all of the books on audio is that the narrator, Laura Knight Keating, just brings so much life to the character. She gives Lara so much personality that she feels like she could be the girl living next door, I’m rooting so much for her, and I don’t think I could finish off the series without hearing how she narrates Peter’s dialogue. I’m just utterly in love.

At the time of writing this post, I am 34% in but it feels like I’m trying to pace myself a lot more because I want to savour this last bit of time with the characters before I have to say that dreaded final goodbye. For that reason, not much has happened apart from that Lara has been thrown a curveball and I’m just waiting to see how she’s going to deal with it.

Have you read the Lara Jean series?

Who’s your favourite character?

Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Noah Could Never – Simon James Green

“Sometimes having something really nice in your life was worse than not having it, because it made you worried you were going to lose it. And losing something is worse when you know just how wonderful the thing is.”

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Blurb: “Noah and Harry are now officially boyfriends, but is Noah ready to go all the way? It’s no help that a group of cosmopolitan French exchange students have descended on Little Fobbing – including sexy Pierre Victoire, who seems to have his eye on Harry! Meanwhile, Noah’s paired up with a girl … who, most outrageously, is not even French. But that’s not all: the police are monitoring Noah, and he can’t tell if it’s because his dad and secret half-brother, Eric, have made off with his gran’s fake diamonds; because his PE teacher is receiving mysterious cash infusions from Russia; or because drag queen Bambi Sugapops is hiding out at Noah’s house in the midst of a knock-down, bare-knuckled drag feud. Will Noah ever catch a break?”

Noah Can’t Even was a book I discovered in 2017 by pure chance, through an author interview with another reviewer. It was brilliant, hysterical and found its way onto my list of favourite books for the year. So, naturally, when I heard the news of a sequel, I was impatiently counting down the days until its release.

I honestly don’t know where to start with the protagonist, Noah Grimes. He is over-the-top, constantly battling this pressure to be better than he is, sarcastic and unintentionally hysterical, as well as painfully cringy at times. Frankly the list of reasons I love this character is just too long to cover here. There are many situations that Noah ends up in that could only happen to him: from ending up travelling to London with a drag queen, getting landed with a French exchange student who isn’t even French, and (in possibly my favourite scene in fiction ever) having to chase around a goose that has swallowed some family diamonds.

After reading the synopsis when it first came out, I was very worried as sequels can go drastically one way or the other. Initially, it felt like there were too many things happening for such a short book to fully explore. But, I can confirm that it all just slots together and works perfectly. As I said, it could only happen to Noah and there were times when I couldn’t breathe for how much I was laughing as some of the events taking place.

Admittedly, I don’t tend to go for books with male protagonists. Which is weird to say but it just so happens that the books I pick up don’t tend to have them at the forefront a lot. Anyway, it was nice to see Noah and Harry establishing their relationship together but also seeing how Noah dealt with that shift: he tries to go to a gym to get buff so that Harry will love him more, worries that he’s not good enough and feels that ever recognisable pressure when it comes to sex. (I mean, of course he’d get a boner in math class, hanging from the monkey bars in gym class but heaven forbid he get one when it comes to being intimidate with his boyfriend!) While it was all delivered in the typical exaggerated way, it was nice to see that side to Noah more.

My new favourite side character had to be the drag queen, Bambi, who just seems to adopt Noah and take him on this random adventure to see her show. Some of the lines she came out with had my in absolute stitches and, as mentioned earlier, the goose scene is one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.

Noah Could Never takes every element I loved from the first one and mixes it in with brand new adventures that left me with the biggest smile on my face.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Love, Hate & Other Filters – Samira Ahmed

“Filming is the way I see things. Really see them. I can capture what is important to me at a particular moment. That way, I keep it forever.”

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Blurb: “Maya Aziz dreams of being a film maker in New York. Her family have other ideas. They want her to be a dutiful daughter who wears gold jewellery and high heels and trains to be a doctor. But jewellery and heels are so uncomfortable . . .  She’s also caught between the guy she SHOULD like and the guy she DOES like. But she doesn’t want to let Kareem down and things with Phil would never work out anyway. Would they?  Then a suicide bomber who shares her last name strikes in a city hundreds of miles away and everything changes . . .”

I can never tell if I am going to like contemporary books or not so, rather unfairly, I always go in with really low expectations. I’d heard a lot about this book so also worried that the hype may play a factor. But I didn’t need to worry so much because this book is actually really good.

The reader meets the protagonist, Maya, at a really turbulent point in her life: she’s trying to get through high school, applying to colleges and facing ever growing pressure from her parents to find the “perfect Indian boy.” From the outset her voice was so strong that it’s just impossible not to feel for some of the situations she finds herself in. Maya is really into films and takes her camera literally everywhere with her, describing it as her “shield” and this is an aspect of her character that I could personally relate to: she has a passion for something creative that some of her family don’t see as a feasible career and try to dissuade her from going ahead with it. But Maya has a strong mindset of what she wants to do and isn’t budging. I’ve faced something similar in my own life so seeing that play out in this book was all too much like reading my own story.

I’m not normally one for love triangles but I actually didn’t mind it. Phil is a white boy that Maya has crushed on forever and Kareem is the ideal match in her parent’s eyes. Each relationship was based on something different and I really liked how both of the boys fuelled a different side of her and that Maya was able to open up to them about her life in different ways.

We’re in a politically difficult time with the rise of terror attacks and Islamaphobia which is something that Ahmed addresses in the introduction of this book and why she feels representation is important. The latter half of this book focuses on the terrible racism Maya is subjected to after a terror attack happens and some of the scenes are really difficult and horrible to read. Even more so when we remember that this happening outside of a fictional setting.

However, it just felt like there was too much of a disconnect between the love triangle aspect and the thread I just mentioned. Which could be argued as “that’s how life happens it’s not entirely focused on one thing” but it felt like the story took a sudden jump which was just a bit disorientating.

Overall, Love, Hate & Other Filters is a book that will remind readers what it feels like to fall in love and the importance of standing up to injustice.

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Posted in discussion, Uncategorized

Things I Learnt As A Bookseller

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Working in a bookstore was always something I wanted to do, regardless of for how long it would be. I’ve been fortunate to work as a Seasonal Bookseller, two Christmas’ in a row, at a high-street bookstore, and I thought I would share some of the things I learnt during my time there.

 

HOWEVER MUCH YOU THINK YOU READ, IT’S NOT ENOUGH

It’s pretty self-explanatory that you have to read a lot of books. But no matter whether you read 10 books a month, or 10 books a week, it is NOT ENOUGH. The book industry is constantly moving and unless you grow fifty pairs of eyes and arms, it’s pretty hard to keep up with.

 

THERE IS HOMEWORK

As someone who is very rigid when it comes to genre, you have to do a lot of relying on what other booksellers are into. If someone asks about cookbooks, it’s easily to palm that person off on your co-worker that spends all their free time baking cakes. But when a customer comes up to you with a book from the new releases section and wants to know whether it’s any good, reviews are your best friend. I spent a lot of time when the store was quiet just reading summaries and reviews of the latest releases I had no interest in reading, just so I would look like I knew what I was on about.

 

SENIOR BOOKSELLERS ARE WALKING ENCYLOPEDIAS

I lost track of how many obscure questions customers asked me where I stared back at them blankly, not sure they were talking about something real, only for a co-worker to go “oh yes I know all about that, let me show you out selection.” If you get to work as a bookseller, or the next time you go into a store, take time to talk to them. They have an endless supply of knowledge about books and various topics. I’m convinced some of them aren’t human.

 

PREPARE FOR BIZARRE INTERACTIONS

Following on from my previous point, I have my fair share of odd stories to share. My personal gem is a woman who told me she was looking for a book (handy as she was in a bookstore) and told me she “didn’t know the name of it, or who wrote it but it was on tv as a serial killer drama at the moment and she thought the cover was a light green colour.” Hoping I could narrow the search down, I asked if she knew what channel the show was on. To which she said “how the bloody hell should I know?” And walked off.

 

YOU WILL WANT TO TIDY EVERYTHING

Long after you’ve left your position (if a temporary one), and knowing the secrets of brand standards, you will struggle to avoid reorganising in stores. I have a bad habit of putting books in series order on a shelf, tidying tables before that horrible “I don’t work here” moment dawns over me and I scamper out of the store to safety.

 

SHELVING IS HORRIBLE

Is this 5-8 fiction or 9-12? Is it a biography? Travel? Am I going to leave it on this trolley for someone else to deal with? Absolutely. The only way to solve this problem is by paying attention to your surroundings and learning where everything is. There is no shortcut and it’s often a struggle to shelve books when the store is open. Also, you’ll probably get something wrong and see a senior bookseller grumbling to themselves as they move a book to the right place.

Posted in children's fiction, fantasy, review

Brain Freeze – Tom Fletcher

“I had eaten WAY too much ice cream WAY too fast, and we all know what happens when you do that… BRAIN FREEZE.”

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Blurb: “Izzy’s grandpa was an ice-cream man, and he used to tell the BEST stories. There was the one about giving a 99 Flake to a pharaoh in Ancient Egypt – and another about feeding fab lollies to a hungry T.Rex. But what if they weren’t just stories? What if his blue ice-cream van had a secret magic of its own?”

When I saw that Tom Fletcher was in the line-up for this year’s World Book Day it was an absolute no-brainer that I was going to pick it up. Despite being painfully biased towards this individual, each story he’s churned out has been jam-packed full of such creativity and imagination that I knew Brain Freeze would be no different.

Unlike his previous books, this short story sees the protagonist going off on an adventure solely on their own which I thought was an interesting route to take in this ice cream themed, time travel adventure. But as the story progresses, the reader sees the Brain and Tummy become personified into characters of their own; providing their own form of narrative to push the plot onwards. I found this aspect quite funny as the Brain steers Izzy to where she needed to go (sometimes pointing out the obvious) while all Tummy talked about was… well… food.

Fletcher always adds a bit of depth to his stories, which can sometimes be surprising to see in a story aimed at Children. There’s a very sad element to this story and the route of Izzy’s love for ice cream comes from a place of wanting to keep the memory of a loved one alive; something I think anyone who’s lost someone can relate to. Even in a fun little adventure story, there was that grounding that rounded off Izzy’s character and made her feel real.

As usual, an honourable mention needs to go to Shane Devries who, once again, provided that extra bit of magic and humour with his illustrations.

My only issue with Brain Freeze was more of a personal one. I don’t often read first person books and this was the first of Fletcher’s stories to take that form and I just feel that the story would have worked better in a more aerial view.

Brain Freeze is clever, magical and will leave you hungry for a big bowl of ice cream.

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