Saturday 10 August 2019

5* BOOK REVIEW | '"I Will Not Be Erased": Our stories about growing up as people of colour' by gal-dem

Hey guys, and happy Saturday! I know it's been a while since I've written on here but trust me, bigger and better things will be coming your way soon...

In the meantime, though, what better way to come back on my blog than to review a truly excellent and powerful book, to start your weekend off with a bang?! Today I will be reviewing I Will Not Be Erased": Our stories about growing up as people of colour by gal-dem, which is a bloody amazing online and print magazine created by women and non-binary people of colour. I Will Not Be Erased is a collection of essays by gal-dem's writers, which explore growing up as POC, and reflect on their experiences with tender, touching hindsight. 

Many thanks to gal-dem and Walker Books for kindly sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review <3

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

Fourteen joyous, funny and life-affirming essays from gal-dem, the award-winning magazine created by young women and non-binary people of colour.

gal-dem, the award-winning online and print magazine, is created by women and non-binary people of colour. In this thought-provoking and moving collection of fourteen essays, gal-dem's writers use raw material from their teenage years – diaries, poems and chat histories – to explore growing up. gal-dem have been described by the Guardian as "the agents of change we need", and these essays tackle important subjects including race, gender, mental health and activism, making this essential reading for any young person.

Whilst I am clearly not the target audience for this book (being a cis, hetero, white woman for those who don't know the face behind the blog!) I was completely taken in with the gorgeous writing inside this book. I love personal essays, and each essay in this book had its own treasure that I felt very fortunate to be able to explore. Although it would be wrong of me to say I could relate to every experience in this book, I believe it is really important to submerge yourself in other people's experiences (especially as a cis, hetero, white person) as told by themselves, and not written by, say, other cis, hetero white people. The fact that these personal essays included snippets from the writers' childhood diaries, poems and online messages made the whole experience so much more poignant for me. 

I thought all of the essays were brilliant, but there were a few that particularly stood out for me: '"You Speak Well for a Black Girl": Black is who You Are' by Niellah Arboine, 'My Cousin Medyaï' by Kuchenga and 'The lesson of Dance School: The Dream that Wasn't a Dream' by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff. The illustrations in the book that accompany the essays are as beautiful as the writing... the drawings convey so much joy, and for me represent what the whole book is really about: celebrating POC, taking up as much space as possible, space that for so long has been reserved for a select few.

Reading these essays were such a rich experience, and it was a huge priviledge to read them. It made me reflect a lot on my life growing up, and the people I knew surrounding me, and how I had a totally different experience to maybe, some of the girls in my West London school. I had within me and surrounding me so much priviledge that I didn't even recognise, let alone appreciate. Thank you, writers of gal-dem, for this extraordinary book. 

Buy I Will Not Be Erased here.

Check out gal-dem here.

Until next time :)

Wednesday 12 June 2019

London's BIG READ 2019 | 'Only Love Can Break Your Heart' by Katherine Webber

Hey guys, and happy Wednesday! Today I am stoked to be talking to you about a really exciting event coming up - London's BIG READ - a brilliant initiative that is designed to bring the capital together through reading books that expand our understanding of our community and express the diversity of this great city (I may live in Oxford now, but London will always be the place I call home!) 

A range of titles including poetry, middle grade and YA, have been selected to be part of London’s BIG READ 2019, the winter will be announced at a gala fundraising dinner in September.  The shortlisted books are all available to buy from the LIBRARY members club, with £1 from each sale going to the Children’s Literacy Charity and a further £1 going to the Ndoro Children’s Charity. 

Londoners will be able to vote for their favourite book online at from World Book Day through to 30 June. 

 You can check out all of the brilliant shortlisted books on their website, but for now I'm going to be reviewing one of the fantastic YA books on the shortlist - Katherine Webber's Only Love Can Break Your Heart

I was kindly sent a copy of this book by Literally PR, in exchange for an honest review and sharing with you all this great initiative! <3

Check out the blurb below...

From the author of the acclaimed Wing Jones comes a 'break-up' book about a Japanese-American teenager, set in the Palm Springs desert, California. Perfect for fans of Nicola Yoon's Everything, Everything and Sara Barnard's Beautiful Broken Things.

Sometimes a broken heart is all you need to set you free…

Reiko loves the endless sky and electric colours of the Californian desert. It is a refuge from an increasingly claustrophobic life of family pressures and her own secrets. Then she meets Seth, a boy who shares a love of the desert and her yearning for a different kind of life. But Reiko and Seth both want something the other can’t give them. As summer ends, things begin to fall apart. But the end of love can sometimes be the beginning of you.. 

Only Love Can Break Your Heart is a beautifully written, intensely heartbreaking novel about falling in love, family and heartbreak, set against a backdrop of the mysterious and haunting Californian desert. It follows Reiko, who is struggling to put back the pieces after her sister's death, alongside trying to figure out who she really wants to be. She knows that everyone at school and her family expect her to be Homecoming Queen - she is Reiko Smith-Mori after all - but no crown can fix what happened to her sister, who was supposed to be the one who had it all...

I loved the main character Reiko; she was authentically teenage and made lots of mistakes, but also a lot of good choices. I particularly enjoyed her relationship with her parents and her little brother, Koji, and her best friend Dre. I loved the dynamics between these characters so much that I think we could have actually gone without Seth, who was the other principle character in the book, but then again their relationship did a lot in terms of shaping the plot and who Reiko turned out to be. 

Webber's writing is flawless; I loved her style with Wing Jones and it got even better than this. Her writing smelt like long, hot summers and cold starry nights. I thought the desert backdrop really added to the magic of the story, and drew me into the book even further.

I guess it's no suprise to you guys that I will definitely be voting for Only Love Can Break Your Heart for London's BIG READ - but what book will you be voting for?! Let me know in the comments below or over on my Twitter!

Don't forget to check out London's BIG READ here:

Until next time :)

Friday 7 June 2019

BOOK REVIEW | 'We Are Not Okay' by Natália Gomes (****)

Hey guys, and happy Friday! Today I am thrilled to be bringing you another book review, this time a review of a book I have wanted to read for a really long time - We Are Not Okay by Natália Gomes. As soon as I read the blurb I knew this book was right up my street - and it totally lived up to my expectations. 

We Are Not Okay is about growing up, shame, secrets and the danger that keeping them can bring. The novel follows four very different girls with very different problems, but it all comes circles back to the pressures that we put on young girls in our society today, and the harm that this pressure can do. Faultlessly told and worryingly authentic, We Are Not Okay is a powerful reflection on our society, and how rotten it is beneath the surface. 

I was kindly sent We Are Not Okay by Nina Douglas, on behalf of HQ Stories, in exchange for an honest review :)

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

13 Reasons Why meets John Green and Jennifer Niven in We Are Not Ok - a powerful novel about what happens when girls are silenced.

If only they could have spoken out.
Lucy thinks she’s better than the other girls.
Maybe if she’s pointing fingers at everyone else, no one will see the secret she’s hiding.

Ulana comes from a conservative Muslim family where reputation is everything. One rumour -
true or false – can destroy futures.

Trina likes to party. She’s kissed a lot of boys. She’s even shown her red bra to one. But she didn’t consent to that
night at Lucy’s party. So why doesn’t anyone believe

Sophia loved her boyfriend. She did anything for him, even send him photos of herself. So why is she the one being pointed at in the hallways, laughed at, spat at when it was him who betrayed her trust?

I thought the characterisation in this book was excellent, and the different narratives worked really well. I love stories that share multiple viewpoints, especially when they are all diverse. We Are Not Okay is an excellent and powerful mouthpiece for girls' voices, on issues that plague our society such as peer pressure, slut-shaming, sexual assault and body image. I found it really powerful, and wish I had it to hand as a teenager, although I had a better time at school than these characters!

The writing was fresh and authentic and the dialogue was also spot-on. Gomes is excellent at representing teenagers and bringing them, and their voices, to the forefront. Every character had a distinct voice, and I liked the dynamic between the characters as well, particularly one friendship that blossomed towards the end. I will definitely be checking out Gomes' other books now; her writing style is flawless, and I'm a sucker for a character-driven, emotional, brilliantly-told story.

Check out Natália Gomes here:

Until next time :)

Tuesday 4 June 2019

BOOK REVIEW | 'The Deepest Breath' by Meg Grehan (****)

Hey guys, and happy Tuesday! I am back from my adventure in New York and ready to share more book reviews with you guys! Today's review is a lovely little book I devoured before I went away - The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan. The Deepest Breath is a gorgeously written story, told in verse, following eleven-year-old Stevie and her discovery that she likes girls, specifically her friend Chloe. Stevie always shares everything with her Mum, but will she understand this secret?

Thank you to Nina Douglas, on behalf of Little Island Books, for sending me The Deepest Breath in exchange for an honest review :)

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here..

Stevie is eleven and loves reading and sea-creatures. She lives with her mum, and she's been best friends with Andrew since forever. Stevie's mum teases her that someday they'll get married, but Stevie knows that won't ever happen. There's a girl at school that she likes more. A lot more. Actually, she's a bit confused about how much she likes her. It's nothing like the way she likes Andrew. It makes her fizz inside. That's a new feeling, one she doesn't understand. Stevie needs to find out if girls can like girls - love them, even - but it's hard to get any information, and she's too shy to ask out loud about it. But maybe she can find an answer in a book. With the help of a librarian, Stevie finds stories of girls loving girls, and builds up her courage to share the truth with her mum. Written in accessible verse 'chapters' and in a warm and reassuring style, The Deepest Breath will be of special relevance to young girls who are starting to realise that they are attracted to other girls, but it is also a story for any young reader with an open mind who wants to understand how people's emotions affect their lives.

This was a stunning and beautifully-written story that really captured my heart. I think the story-telling medium of verse worked really well with Stevie's voice, and her exploration of herself that took place in this book. Grehan writes in a way that is remarkably tender and honest, and Stevie's childlike reflections on herself were realistically written. 

I share Stevie's facination (and terror!) of sea creatures and the sea, so I very much enjoyed these musings and they added to the whimsical beauty of the book. Another part I loved was the relationship between Stevie and her Mum - one of honesty, of friendship and care. Reading these parts were very emotional, in both senses of the word. The ending was perfect and tender and real, and brought everything I loved about the book together for me. 

The Deepest Breath is a perfect LGBTQI+ read for anyone of any age, but particularly young children as it perfectly captures that sense of confusion that young people feel at understanding their identity. It also advocates trusting, safe relationships between children and the adults that care for them.

Check out Meg Grehan here:

Until next time :)

Thursday 23 May 2019

BOOK REVIEW | 'Dry' by Neal and Jarrod Shusterman (****)

Hey guys, and happy Thursday! Today I am happy to be bringing you another book review, this time Dry by father and son duo Neal and Jarrod Shusterman. I have read the first two books of the Arc of a Scythe trilogy and am eagerly (note: chomping at the bit) awaiting the final book - so I was super excited to hear about this book.

Also - a father and son writing a book together! How cool is that?!

I was kindly sent Dry by Walker Books in exchange for an honest review :)

Dry is a powerful, suspensful, rip-roaring novel that is terrifingly too close to reality. California's water has run out. The 'Tap-out' is here. It started slowly at first - short showers, no sprinklers, no overindulgence. Now indulgence is a thing of the past. The water is gone, and Alyssa finds herself suddenly with the responsibility of her and her brother's lives, when her parents leave in search of water, and don't come back. It is on their journey that Alyssa sees for herself what desperation can do to humanity, and how hard it is to remain humane.

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

This story really put things into perspective for me. The idea having something we need so much, yet take so much for granted, suddenly being taken away... it was sometimes too hard to read about. Make sure you read this book with a tall cold glass of water! It is undeniable that Shusterman is a master storyteller, and now it is clear that his son holds the same power! Everything from the plot to the characterisation was perfectly crafted, alongside the undertone that we as the readers should take everything in this book very seriously. We are holding onto our planet by a thread. Everything is dangling on a knife edge. If we don't protect our planet, it will no longer continue to protect us.

I loved Alyssa, and felt like she was a very realistic depiction of a teenage girl. I have read reviews where readers have criticised her for 'making poor choices' and... what? I would like to see what these people would do if they were in the same position. I, for one, would not have survived as long as Alyssa, Garrett, Kelton and Jacqui. I thought this group had such a great dynamic and all the intricacies in the group were so well described. I think the different narratives definitely added to this - it was really interesting to read about their different reactions to the horror that they were faced with. The authors did a particularly good job (as Shusterman does with Scythe) at showcasing the various moral difficulties to the reader, and revealing the philosophical aspects. 

Alyssa and Jacqui were by far my favourite characters, and I found their 'frenemyship' facinating. Shusterman is really good at writing female characters. The dialogue was characteristically Shusterman-sharp, and the plot brilliantly fast-paced. As I could have expected, there was a plot twist near the ending, and everything ended up coming together in a way better than I could have expected.

Once again, Shusterman has proven his mastery in storytelling, and now we know that his son can step up to the plate as well! I'm looking forward to seeing what's next for them...

Check out Neal Shusterman here:

Until next time :)

Monday 20 May 2019

BOOK REVIEW | 'Chinglish' by Sue Cheung (****)

Hey guys, and happy Monday! Today I am very excited to be reviewing an excellent book I read over Easter (please excuse my late blogging, it's been a hectic couple of months!) But this past weekend was the first calm weekend in a while, and what better way to spend it than blogging! 

This year has seen the UKYA industry thinking a lot about #ownvoices and diversity in its books. It's something I'm really passionate about, and there are so many books I have on my TBR and wishlist that are written by and champion BAME voices. I want to make a conscious effort to diversify the books I read, not only because these books are bloody brilliant regardless, but because it's so important to familiarise yourself with different cultures and backgrounds to your own.

Along these lines, I was super stoked to receive a review copy of Chinglish by Sue Cheung, kindly gifted to me by Andersen Press. This book sounded so interesting and I couldn't wait to read it, and I'm pleased to say I was not disappointed. Chinglish follows Jo Kwan and her new life in Coventry - it's 1984, and Jo is growing up in a crazy world with her crazy family. Her brother was sent to live with her grandparents (Jo doesn't know why), and that's not the only thing that's bothering her. This was meant to be a new start, but her family's new flat is right above the Chinese takeaway her parents run. Jo's new school has it's fair share of bullies, but her art classes keep her sane. Can Jo achieve her dreams even when it feels like everything is getting in her way?

Intrigued? Check out the blurb here...

It is difficult trying to talk in our family cos: 
a) Grandparents don’t speak English at all
b) Mum hardly speaks any English
c) Me, Bonny and Simon hardly speak Chinese
d) Dad speaks Chinese and good English – but doesn’t like talking
In other words, we all have to cobble together tiny bits of English and Chinese into a rubbish new language I call 'Chinglish'. It is very awkward. 

Jo Kwan is a teenager growing up in 1980s Coventry with her annoying little sister, too-cool older brother, a series of very unlucky pets and utterly bonkers parents. But unlike the other kids at her new school or her posh cousins, Jo lives above her parents' Chinese takeaway. And things can be tough – whether it's unruly customers or the snotty popular girls who bully Jo for being different. Even when she does find a BFF who actually likes Jo for herself, she still has to contend with her erratic dad's behaviour. All Jo dreams of is breaking free and forging a career as an artist.

Told in diary entries and doodles, Jo's brilliantly funny observations about life, family and char siu make for a searingly honest portrayal of life on the other side of the takeaway counter.

Chinglish is one of the best #ownvoices stories out there in UKYA right now. Chinglish was belly-achingly funny, heartbreaking, tender and unflinchingly honest all at the same time. I couldn't put it down; I cared deeply for Jo, and loved hearing about her life through her diary entries (often accompanied by wonderful sketches). From the 2011 consensus 0.7% of people living in England and Wales are chinese, but I feel like the British Chinese are astonishingly under-represented in books, movies and TV (particularly YA!) So Chinglish was a really interesting read for me, and it was great reading about this perspective. 

Jo was a great protagonist and the way she presented her life was extraordinarily and vibrantly detailed - from the descriptions of her eccentric family (and various animal lunacy, including exploding goats) to 1980s Coventry. I particularly enjoyed her interactions with her sister, Bonny, and her friend Gurdeep whose parents run the corner shop. I also adored Tina, because who doesn't need a friend like her?! 

Chinglish is an unapologetically honest account based on the author's own life, and this is perhaps why the story is told so well. It opened my eyes up to a world very different from my own, and this just goes to show why it's so great to champion diversity in books. This novel had everything in it - characters that jumped off the pages, heartache, humour and a good sprinkling of reality - this is life as real as it gets. There are plenty of upsetting moments, but I was so relieved about the way the book ended.

I'm really excited to see what Sue Cheung does next - Chinglish like a tall glass of water, and is exactly what the UKYA genre so desperately needs right now. 

Until next time :)

Friday 3 May 2019

MR TODD BLOG TOUR | 'Mr Todd's Reckoning' by Iain Maitland | The Simple Reason Why It's Easy To Write Evil Characters...

Hey guys, and happy Friday! Today I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mr Todd's Reckoning, a brand new book by Iain Maitland. This book promises to be delightfully creepy and is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat! Back in 2017 I read and adored Sweet William which is another crime thriller by the same author, and this book promises to be just as tense and electrifying!

Check out the blurb here...

Norman Bates is alive and well… He's living just next door

Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men are slowly driving each other insane. One of them is a psychopath.

The father Mr Todd is at his wits’ end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home... with him. Frustrated. Lonely. Angry. Really angry.

The son Adrian has no job, no friends. He is at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where?

The unholy spirit in the safety of suburbia, one man has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again.

And I am very excited to have Iain Maitland himself on my blog today to talk about why it's easy to write evil characters, and why as a reader it's easier to sympathise with them than you might expect... 

I write dark literary thrillers that feature evil characters – Raymond Orrey in Sweet William, Mr Todd in Mr Todd’s Reckoning and a serial killer in Gayther & Carrie (the first in my detective series out early next year).

The books go to some dark places not just physically - into cellars and forests and other creepy locations - but also deep into the minds of the characters themselves. You get to share their thoughts and feelings, actions and reactions – you experience the journey that they take into mayhem and murder.

Now this might disturb some readers – but it doesn’t faze me at all. That’s because none of these characters see themselves as evil. In fact, if you were to ask them, they’d all see themselves as good, decent people. 

Raymond Orrey in Sweet William just wants to snatch his son back from foster parents and run away to the South Of France to live happily ever after. He thinks he’s the best dad in the world. He’d do anything – just anything – for his little boy.

Mr Todd has a clearly defined view of what’s right and what’s wrong in this world. He sees himself as a good guy and it’s those around him who are bad people. Everything he’s done – and is going to do – can be justified.  

It’s the same with the serial killer in Gayther & Carrie. He culls - as he views it – bad men; the baddest men of all. In fact, he considers himself a hero, someone who is on a mission to rid the world of these ‘baddest of bad men’.

That’s the thing, you see – what you and I might see as evil might be viewed quite differently from inside someone else’s head. And that makes it relatively easy to write – it’s just a matter of rationalising what they think and do as being perfectly normal. 

Take Raymond Orrey from Sweet William for example – he’s just escaped from a psychiatric unit to go and find his toddler son who’s being looked after by what he believes are cruel and uncaring foster parents. What will he do if those parents get in his way? What would you do if you thought your child was suffering? 
It’s the same with the serial killer in Gayther & Carrie 1 – he knows bad men who do bad things to children. No-one else seems to be doing anything. Nobody else seems to care. They seem to be turning a blind eye. He – alone – can stop this. Should he save the children? What would you do – turn away?

Mr Todd is an intelligent, thoughtful and reasoning man. As the book starts, I rather think that you will like him, sympathise with his situation and empathise with his feelings. Of course, that may change as the book progresses into the darkest places. You may by the end perceive him to be evil personified. But he doesn’t and that, perhaps, is the most frightening thing of all.

Thank you so much, Iain, for appearing on my blog!

Make sure you guys check out the rest of the spots on the blog tour <3

Buy Mr Todd's Reckoning here:

Check out Iain Maitland here:

Check out my review for Sweet William here

Until next time :)