Non-Fiction · review

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

“It’s possible that in ten years, every word in here will send me into fits of humiliated paralysis. But the crazy wants out. Let’s do this.”

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Blurb: “Even before she made a name for herself on the silver screen starring in films like Pitch Perfect, Up in the Air, Twilight, and Into the Woods, Anna Kendrick was unusually small, weird, and “10 percent defiant.”
At the ripe age of thirteen, she had already resolved to “keep the crazy inside my head where it belonged. Forever. But here’s the thing about crazy: It. Wants. Out.” In Scrappy Little Nobody, she invites readers inside her brain, sharing extraordinary and charmingly ordinary stories with candor and winningly wry observations.”

Like probably many others, I discovered Anna Kendrick through Twilight and Pitch Perfect. I’m not really that person who is a fan of a celebrity to the extent where I’m willing to read a book about their lives, but there’s something so down-to-earth about the way that Anna Kendrick presents herself during interviews that I am willing to watch literally anything she’s involved in.

In Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna discusses fashion, sex , relationships and her path into acting (which started as a child in theatre – something I didn’t actually know). She talks about what actually goes on behind the scenes at those flashy award ceremonies and how, even though you may star in really successful films, you might not actually earn that much.

One aspect I really like was that the photos from key points in Anna’s life were sprinkled throughout the chapters rather than being lumped together in the middle of the book. It felt like the photos being with the corresponding stories Anna shared really added something special and helped me get more immersed in the memories she was sharing.

Overall it’s an honest, insightful read with a sprinkling of Anna’s witty humour that might just have you laughing out loud.

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contemporary · review · young adult

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

“I always said if I saw it happen to somebody I would have the loudest voice, making sure the world knew what went down. Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, then I’m sure you’ve heard about The Hate U Give. At the time of writing this post, the book is celebrating its sixth week at the top of the NYT Bestseller list and is still receiving overwhelming positive reviews.

The Hate U Give is a debut novel following Starr Carter who is stuck between two worlds: she goes to a posh predominantly white school during the day but she lives in a rough neighbourhood. One night Starr witnesses her friend, Khalid, being shot by a police officer. Inspired by the black lives matter movement, this is a raw and brutally honest narrative about what it means to be on the other side of a media story; to be mourning the loss of yet another person to police gun violence in America.

Starr is an utterly compelling character, bound to keep the reader hooked through the emotions she feels after Khalid’s death and the events that follow; including the court case at which she has to testify.

Every time the police showed up in the plot I found myself staying still and even holding my breath as if somehow breaking either would have an effect on the story. It shocked me into the reality of the situation. There are groups of people out there who fell threatened by the police and see them as something to avoid, not do anything to provoke, rather than someone they can go to when they need help. And that is truth: there are people out there when The Hate U Give is their everyday lives and that is terrifying and needs to change.

Starr’s friends at her school also need their moment in the spotlight because they added extra layers to this story. Hailey is a textbook High School girl and openly makes racist comments and refuses to apologise for them. She reflects so many people I’ve come across in the past few years as I’ve opened myself up to learning about other cultures and experiences. The other friend, Maya, is Chinese and also suffers a Hailey’s sharp tongue. I feel she represents a lot of people I know personally and I related to her a lot. She’s the type of person that acknowledges bad things but stays quiet. In a world of Maya’s we need to endeavour to be a Starr.

It’s very rare that I find a Young Adult contemporary where the protagonist drives the story. The Hate U Give is the opposite. I was walking along with Starr Carter every step of the way and I will continue to carry her story in my soul.

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contemporary · review · young adult

Under Rose-Tainted Skies – Louise Gornall

“The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding.”

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Blurb: “Agoraphobia confines Norah to the house she shares with her mother.
For her, the outside is sky glimpsed through glass, or a gauntlet to run between home and car. But a chance encounter on the doorstep changes everything: Luke, her new neighbour. Norah is determined to be the girl she thinks Luke deserves: a ‘normal’ girl, her skies unfiltered by the lens of mental illness. Instead, her love and bravery opens a window to unexpected truths…”

In the autumn of 2014 I was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and it felt like such a relief to finally find a doctor who believed what I was going through. I wanted to see anxiety discussed more within books, especially Young Adult, as there’s still so much stigma around mental illness. Surprisingly, it’s quite hard to find books that accurately depict what it is like living with anxiety and I was pointed in the direction of Under Rose-Tainted Skies.

The story follows a girl called Norah who has agoraphobia, OCD, Anxiety and spends her life living within the safety of her home. She frequently sees her therapist, Dr Reeves and has a mother who bends over backwards to look after her. One day, a new boy called Luke moves in next door and the story takes off from there.

I really didn’t want this to be one of those “cute boy cures mental illness” stories and from very early on it started to lean that way. Luke is a very forward boy: coming over to introduce himself, offering to drive Norah to school (after she lies that she goes to public school and accidently names the one he attends) which naturally makes her curious about getting to know him. However, over the length of the novel it didn’t feel like a realistic balance of the process of a relationship while one of the partners deals with severe anxiety. There were points in the narrative where Norah even talks about how “weird” she used to be as if the issues she faces every day have suddenly evaporated. As someone who is in a long term relationship and deals with anxiety every day, it just felt hurtful at times that she seemed to flick it off like a switch in certain situations. She uses Luke, in a way, as a goal to aim for in improving her life which is brilliant to see but falls flat in the actions.

She lays out boundaries that she doesn’t want Noah to cross but inevitably does and leads to a messy outcome which angered me. However, he did go on to fully research agoraphobia, anxiety, OCD and how to help someone you know dealing with any of those and comes back to Norah and mentions some of the things he learnt which is really good character growth.

The other characters I really liked were, as mentioned earlier, the mother who has quit several jobs in order to be flexible so that she can look after her daughter. Good mothers are something I feel is rarely seen in Young Adult so it was great to see a YA novel showcasing a mother who really does want the best for their child. The therapist, Dr Reeves, was wonderful, insightful, and understanding; even going as far as to conduct a therapy session in a car outside the building because Norah is too afraid to leave it.

I came out of this reading experience feeling depleted. So many other bloggers had recommended this book to me and sung its praises that I felt almost as if I’d missed the point. But I couldn’t get past the message that in some aspects it showed that maybe your mental health problems can be solved simply by meeting a boy.

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contemporary · lgbt · review · young adult

Radio Silence – Alice Oseman

“If nobody is listening to my voice, am I making any sound at all?”

 

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Blurb: “Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.
But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken.

The story follows a girl called Frances who is very much a model student: she’s the head girl, has really good grades and is on track to securing a place at Cambridge University. On the side she is a devoted fan to a YouTube based podcast called Universe City and spends the gaps between studying not only listening to the show but also creating fan-art for it. When she is approached by the creator to make official art for the show it feels like a dream come true and she finally learns the identity of the person behind Universe City and they become close friends but things quickly turn sour within her beloved online community.

I was reccomended this book on the basis of it having a bisexual character. Frances identifies as bisexual and unlike many books which claim to have one but is never stated, Frances outright says that she identifies so and the way in which it was portrayed felt very authentic; it was just another layer to the story rather than being the main focus.

This is a novel that any reader can relate to: from the stress of exams, choosing universities and even in some cases questioning whether your choice of degree is actually something you want to. Radio Silence does a fantastic job or depicting what it feels like to be young and facing big choices that are intended to set your life on a certain path. I also really like that Oseman showed how university isn’t for everyone.

In a modern age where so many people are connecting via online communities based around something they love, the podcast side of it is very relevent today and shows just how quickly things can become toxic when select members start to stir things.

While there were many elements I liked and appreciated within the plot, overall the story just fell flat for me. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and, honestly, I haven’t really thought about it since I put it down.

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review · young adult

Margot & Me – Juno Dawson

“I wonder, when writing diary entries such as this one, if we in some way hope they’ll be found.”

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Blurb: “Fliss’s mum needs peace and quiet to recuperate from a long illness, so they both move to the countryside to live with Margot, Fliss’ stern and bullying grandmother. Life on the farm is tough and life at school is even tougher, so when Fliss unearths Margot’s wartime diary she sees an opportunity to get her own back. But Fliss soon discovers Margot’s life during the evacuation was full of adventure, mystery… and even passion. What’s more, she learns a terrible secret that could tear her whole family apart…”

The story is centred on a girl called Felicity (Fliss for short) who is uprooted from her life in London and moved to a farm in Wales where her mother is suffering from cancer. The plan is to stay there temporarily until her mother recovers from the illness which would be much easier to deal with if Fliss didn’t have to put up with her horrid grandma called Margot.  During Fliss’s exploration of her new home she comes across a diary that belonged to Margot during World War II and decides to start reading.

When I pick up a new book from an author I consistently read, I always look for improvements in the quality and writing. Juno Dawson does not disappoint. This book was just on a new level to anything she’s ever written and really did have a Hollow Pike feel to it. Unlike a lot of Young Adult books, Fliss really did feel like a teenager and a lot of the comments she made about things, including Margot, had me out-loud laughing at times. There was a really good balance between the past and present and it didn’t feel like you were lingering too long in the present world or the diary world. It was nice to see the barriers between Fliss and Margot slowly start to dismantle as the story progressed.

This book is a perfect example of how we may dismiss someone because they’re a polar opposite to us only to learn that actually we have a lot more in common than we originally thought.

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contemporary · review

Holding – Graham Norton

“Someone had robbed her of her happiness, and now that they had found his body, she knew exactly who to blame.”

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Blurb: “The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of­ two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste. So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former­ love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.”

I am always unsure when I hear that a celebrity, not from a literature field, announces that they are writing a book; especially when it’s a piece of fiction. I guess it’s just the sceptical side of me thinking that the person in question is more likely to succeed because they have a ready-made audience there. But that could be said of any kind of art.

Holding is set in the remote village of Duneen in Ireland where not much exciting happens. When a body is dug up by builders at an old farm, the residents come to life with questions of who it might be and who did it. Old memories are brought to the surface and tensions start to rise.

As to be expected this is a slow read at times but that reflects the setting; living in a small village myself I know just how uneventful things can be. The sluggish pace does leave room for Norton to sprinkle back story over the pages and help build up a better picture of the residents from policeman PJ Collins to Brid and Evelyn who have quite a bitter history together. The narrative doesn’t stick solely to one character like I originally thought it might which works really well in giving the reader a movie-montage style view of the lives of these people. While the discovered body is the crux of the snowballing plot, the story is about much more than that. It shows the power of secrets and just what happens if we keep them for too long, as well as if we let them slip free.

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fantasy · review · young adult

Coral And Bone – Tiffany Daune

“Every day is filled with impossibility, until you have chosen to see the possible. Once you make the shift to see, life is a less frightening journey.”

 

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Blurb: “Halen knows the sparks igniting under her fingertips are dangerous. She has spent her entire life trying to quell the tingly feelings that make her destroy things, but now that she is back in Rockaway Beach, where she watched her father drown, the flames have become impossible to tame. Halen is trying to hold on, but when she is thrust into a mysterious new world, the underwater realm of Elosia, she unravels the secrets of her past and can’t help but ignite.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Coral and Bone follows a girl called Halen who moved back to Rockaway Beach a few years after the death of her father. Halen’s mother hopes returning will bring them solace and the strength to move on with their lives, but Halen has started hearing things that no one else can and the ability to produce sparks from her fingers. When a stranger rescues Halen from a swarm of mermaids, she learns more about her life than she never knew possible.

There are many books I read where the characters outweigh the plot and this is one of them. While the plot is fascinating and unravelled in ways I never could’ve predicted, Halen is very much the driving force of this novel. At the start of the books there is an illustration of her which just made the character feel more real in my mind. The actions and choices she made throughout the story felt like ones a real person would make and I found it so incredibly easy to latch onto her along this adventure.

The world and backstories were delivered through dialogue which stopped the book from falling into info-dump territory which happens all too easily in fantasy/folklore based novels. Also I am a complete sucker for the “training trope” so when there were scenes where Halen was learning to control and harness her powers I was practically jumping up and down with excitement.

The only downside is that frankly the mermaids weren’t around often enough. I would have loved to see more of them.

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children's fiction · contemporary · review

Awful Auntie – David Walliams

“Aunt Alberta is the most awful aunt who ever lived. Would you like to meet her?”

 

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Blurb: “From larger than life, tiddlywinks obsessed Awful Aunt Alberta to her pet owl, Wagner – this is an adventure with a difference. Aunt Alberta is on a mission to cheat the young Lady Stella Saxby out of her inheritance – Saxby Hall. But with mischievous and irrepressible Soot, the cockney ghost of a chimney sweep, alongside her Stella is determined to fight back… And sometimes a special friend, however different, is all you need to win through.”

The story follows Lady Stella Saxby who wakes up from a coma to find that her wealthy parents are dead and she is left in the care of her horrid Aunt Alberta and an owl called Wagner. As Stella starts to adjust to a world without her parents, she soon learns that maybe everything isn’t how it first seemed and soon plots an escape with the help of her ghost friend Soot.

All I can say is that I finally understand why David Walliams is constantly topping the charts and making himself comfortable there. Awful Auntie is an injection of fun and downright goodness. It reminded me a lot of Roald Dahl’s The Twits and was a fantastic mix of humour and mystery.

The characters are well-fleshed out and the forgetful butler, Gibbon, had me rolling in my seat at times. I just loved how he wandered around completely unaware of the situation going on around him.

If you’re looking to get into David Walliams’ work and unsure of where to start with his incredible catalogue, Awful Auntie is a sure winner.

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contemporary · review · young adult

Wing Jones – Katherine Webber

“But when I’m running, I don’t feel like an idiot. I feel free, like anything is possible. Like I’m not running from something, but for something.”

 

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Blurb: “With a grandmother from China and another from Ghana, fifteen-year-old Wing Jones is often caught between worlds. But when tragedy strikes, Wing discovers a talent for running she never knew she had. Wing’s speed could bring her family everything it needs. It could also stop Wing getting the one thing she wants.”

Wing Jones was a book that initially didn’t interest me despite the incredibly hype surrounding it and it wasn’t until streams of positive reviews flooded in that I decided to put aside my preconceived notions about YA Contemporaries aside and give it a chance to change my mind.

The story follows a bi-racial teen called Wing Jones who struggles with fitting in, and nobody at her school tries to make it easier for her. When her brother is involved in a car accident leaving many dead, Wing finds herself being blamed for the actions of her brother all while having to deal with the negative coverage in the media. Looking for a way to cope with her feelings, she ends up running only to discover she’s actually very talented at it.

There are elements of magical realism in the form of the lioness and a dragon that seem to accompany Wing throughout this traumatic period of time like a sort of Mary Poppins “I’ll be there until you no longer need me” way. I found this addition to be really interesting.

Despite all the glowing reviews, this book fell flat for me. It didn’t feel like much happened or that the story ever really got going and the ending just left me feeling incredibly underwhelmed, almost as if I’d wasted time reading it. And sadly this is becoming a theme with a lot of the new releases I’ve delved into so far this year.

I will say that I loved how the events of this story led to Wing finding a positive outlook for her to focus on and work out her emotions through, rather than it falling to something easily more negative. It really shows that we may all have some secret hidden talent that we haven’t unlocked yet.

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children's fiction · contemporary · review

See You In The Cosmos – Jack Cheng

“My name is Alex Petroski and my house is in Rockview, Colorado, United States of America, Planet Earth. I am eleven years and eight months old and the United States is two hundred forty-two years old and Earth is 4.5 billion years old. I’m not sure how old my house is.”

 

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Blurb: “11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

See You In The Cosmos follows Alex Petroski who is making recordings on his ipod which he plans to send into space via SHARF (Southwest High-Altitude Rocket Festival). He shares stories from his life along with “in the moment” narratives, accompanied by his dog Carl Sagan, named after “one of the greatest astronomers of our time.”

The narrative is told as if the reader is the one listening to the recordings – with each chapter indicated by “new recording” and the time length of the recording – and that is an aspect that really works to this novel’s advantage. From the outset it instantly feels like you’re connected to Alex as he shares stories from his life and the build up to this festival where he plans to end his collection of recordings. It feels, in a way, as if you’ve stumbled upon someone’s secrets and you’d been entrusted with them and that’s a feeling I haven’t experienced in fiction for a very long time.

It was nice to see the online community for space lovers transfer into the reality when Alex arrives at the festival and notes which people he recognises online because it’s always been wonderful when that’s happened in my personal life and just shows how much you can build up relationships online with people who share the same interests.

Given how much the importance of the rocket festival was stressed, it threw me off when that event took place a quarter of the way into the story. The main bulk is more of a road trip where Alex starts to have new, exciting experiences, make new friends and find ways to glue together the pieces of his broken family.

Fundamentally See You In The Cosmos is an example of just how quickly life can change but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone because you never know what you might find… and it’s pretty cool to have a dog companion join you for the ride.

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