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Top Ten Books I Want To Read But Haven’t Got Yet

A fabulous blog entitled The Broke and The Bookish hold a weekly feature/web-meme/ link up entitled Top Ten Tuesday. Each week has a different theme where bloggers from around the world contribute their own top ten and are able to discuss each other’s choices. This week we are looking at top ten books that you want to read but don’t currently own.

Sally Heathcote: Suffragette- Mary M. Talbot, Bryan Talbot, Kate Charlesworth
I cannot praise Dotter of her Father’s Eyes more highly. It’s beautifully drawn and is both a biography (of Lucia Joyce) and an autobiography (of Mary Talbot). This story follows the plight of the suffragettes through the fictional storyline of Sally Heathcote. It looks great- it’s just quite expensive. My local library has a good collection of Talbot’s work so I am hoping that they will get this one in soon.

Ms Marvel
I follow Things Matter (brilliant blog- give it a look!) and this raised my awareness of the new Ms Marvel- Kamara Khan. I find comic buying to be quite an expensive exercise so I’m waiting until the graphic novel is released (even though graphic novels are expensive too) but I am really excited for reading this.

The She-Hulk Diaries
I love She-Hulk and am really intrigued to read this prose novel which I think is meant to appeal to a chick-lit reading audience. Marvel have also brought out a book based on the character of Rogue which seems to be very YA-based. I’m really interested in trying to get hold of a copy of either of these and see what they are like.

Anna and the French Kiss- Stephanie Perkins
I’ve read lots of good reviews and heard lots of hype about this book and know that it won’t be long until I crack and decide to buy it!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Stephen Chbosky
The Virgin Suicides- Jeffrey Eugenides
I read a sample of both of on my kindle and really liked what I read but they were a little higher than the kindle price point I have placed as my self-imposed limit so I’m going to wait for the copies in the library.

The War of The Worlds- H.G.Wells
I read The Time Machine years ago but have never got around to reading this despite the best of intentions.

This Book Will Save Your Life- A.M Homes
I really enjoyed May We Be Forgiven so would like to read more books by this author.

We- Zevgeny Zamyatin

I really enjoy reading dystopian texts and have heard that this is a really fantastic one.  I’ve not read any Russian Literature (although I am also planning to read Anna Karenina at some point).

Battle Royale- Koushun Takami

Just like We, Battle Royale is a much-loved dystopian text.  I’ve seen the film but have never read the book.  After reading Confessions by Kanae Minato, I have decided that I want to read more Japanese books so this seems like a good place to start.

Have you read any of these? What do you think? What are you wanting to read?

zombie

REVIEW: The Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse- Lauren Wilson

Thanks to NetGalley and BenBella Books for a preview copy (26 pages) in return for an honest review.  Please notice that this review is based upon a short extract and that the book will be much longer.

My husband and I hold regular ‘Board Meetings’ just to ensure the general day to day running of our relationship and finances are going well.  Partly for organisation and partly because it amuses Mr Holpepper, I insist on writing an agenda for these meetings.  An item I place on every agenda is ‘Planning for the Zom-pocalypse’.  Generally we either don’t get to this item because we end up spending the whole meeting looking at IKEA catalogues and writing a wish list, or Mr H decides it’s a silly thing to discuss and we then bicker for a while about Zompocalypse preparedness. 

Well, it seems like I am not the only one who worries about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse.  Lauren Wilson and Kristian Bauthaus have created a beautifully laid out and illustrated guide to ensuring you can still have a cooked meal whilst the swaying, baying crowds moan outside your hiding place.  The illustrations are just absolutely perfect- the pictures of rotting flesh are disgusting enough to resemble zombies, but not bad enough to put you off your food.  The illustrations of food look tasty but I do like my cookbooks to feature photographs of the food.  Then again, in a Zombie Emergency will I be bothered about the aesthetic value of my food? Probably not.

The introduction is funny, witty and yet states the importance of preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse (often referred to in the book as Zpoc).  The advice on survivalist cooking would definitely be useful for those wanting hot food in a Zpoc situation.  It would also come in handy beforehand for those who enjoy roughing it when camping, as opposed to the type of camping I do which involves running hot water and an on-site restaurant!!  The tips on how to judge temperature would be important for any budding wilderness camper! 

I love the information on sprouting beans and am definitely considering going this as it would be a great healthy snack and quite fun to do.  I’m not sure how readily available the MRE’s would be to American citizens.  I’m in the UK and I’m pretty sure I would struggle to find army food packages.  I have always been interested in foraging and found the section on seaweed and kelp to be very interesting.  However, you would really have to have planned ahead and have a large amount of kelp in your freezer.  There is no way in the middle of a zombie apocalypse that I am going to be traipsing about on Formby Beach looking for seaweed!! 

I like the idea of this book and the layout is aesthetically pleasing but it just felt like there was something missing.  It was too informative to be entertaining and the recipes didn’t seem easy enough to come across to be helpful.  When the Zombies come I’m going to go “to the Winchester, have a pint and wait for things to blow over!

sean of the dead

Genevieve Holpepper is (Not) Mad

My last blog post was a review of the funny and touching Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad by Hayley Long. Whilst I was writing the review I wanted to relate some of my own experiences of mental health issues and discuss in relation to the depiction of Lottie, but it took away from the review. So I’ve decided to write a separate post inspired by Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad where I can write in a more personal manner about my own feelings and emotions relating to the issues in the book.

The book takes the form of fifteen year old Lottie’s GCSE English Coursework (Personal Writing). Lottie talks at length about her home life, her friendships, her NOT fancying of Gareth Stingecombe (me-thinks the lady dost protest too much!) and her job at a shoe shop. However, in the course of her reflections it becomes apparent that some of Lottie’s actions and reactions to other people and events are a little more extreme than most people would experience. It eventually transpires that Lottie has had a mental disturbance which leads to her hiding in bed and ultimately in her own wardrobe.

I had my own ‘mental disturbance’ (as Lottie puts it) recently (a few months ago) and found myself hiding in bed constantly and on one occasion I tried to run away and was found in tears on the road outside a Tesco Metro. Please don’t get the wrong idea about the running away- I have a nice life and am very lucky to have good friends and a very caring, kind, gentle and understanding husband. Ultimately this is why I didn’t get any further than Tesco- I wanted to run away but knew I couldn’t really do this without him.

Why was I running away? I’ve been through a range of bereavements over the past few years and was scared of anyone else I loved dying or getting ill. I felt like I was personally responsible for not worrying enough about them. And believe me… I was worrying a lot!! I couldn’t stop thinking that if it were possible to worry about everyone enough I could stop their problems from happening. Unfortunately when bad things did happen I couldn’t cope and felt it was my fault even though I can’t control other people’s health by worrying! Part of me knew it was totally irrational but I couldn’t control it.

Lottie, at one point, becomes extremely scared that her house is going to fall down. She doesn’t know why and can’t control it. The more she thinks about it to try and control her worries, the worse it gets. This is exactly what I experienced. I was worried about more bad stuff happening to me and my family and felt that by worrying I could handle things if they happened. Unfortunately, worrying is a vicious cycle and the more I worry the less in control I feel.

In the book, with help Lottie returns to school. She does have to face other teenager’s responses to her mental health but she has great friends in Goose and Gareth who are extremely supportive in her getting back to her usual self. I’m very lucky in that I have a very supportive family, circle of friends and workplace. I’m going to be returning to work (on a phased basis) in September and I am really nervous… but I know I can do it with help. I just need to learn how to ask for this help when I need it.

In some ways, I feel that getting a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder has actually helped me to understand what is going on in my own head and to be able to identify when I am struggling. I know I’m a little quirky and eccentric at times but as Lottie says “I reckon the best proof of sanity is being able to identify a bit of madness in yourself and be OK with it.”

REVIEW: Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad- Hayley Long

My name is Lottie Biggs and in three weeks time, I will be fifteen years old. At school, most people call me Lottie Not-Very-Biggs. I’ve never found this particularly funny . . . My current hair colour is Melody Deep Plum which is not as nice as Melody Forest Flame but definitely better than the dodgy custard colour I tried last week . . .

And this is my book – it’s about important things like boys and shoes and polo-neck knickers and rescuing giraffes and NOT fancying Gareth Stingecombe (even though he has manly thighs) and hanging-out with your best friend having A BLATANTLY FUNNY TIME. It is definitely not about sitting in wardrobes or having a mental disturbance of any kind!

Thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan Children’s Books for a free copy in return for an honest review.

lottie bigs

A few days ago I took part in a #BookChatLove discussion hosted by Emma Louise- @EmmaisWriting- over on Twitter.  This week the discussion was about YA fiction.  One of the questions focused upon why we choose to read this genre and what we look for in the YA books that we read.  I personally look for the fiction I read (YA or otherwise) to have characters that I can believe in, regardless of whether I like them or not.  I want to believe their story and motivation.  I want to be plunged into their world… and specifically with YA, I want to be taken back to being a teenager and reliving those exciting/painful times.

Well, I definitely got all of that from Hayley Long’s Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad.  The front cover screams of fluffy, frothy teen comedy romp… and the beginning definitely promises this too but it’s so much more than just that.  Lottie is depicted as a typical mid-teen girl: obsessed with appearances, fashion and boys.  Indeed, Lottie is a typical teen… it just happens that she also is struggling with mental health issues.  The depiction of this in the novel is very subtle at first.  She acts as many teen girls do- stroppy with her mum, having ‘existential’ moments- but gradually we realise that her problems possibly run deeper than a normal teen strop.  There are hints of anger problems and previous exclusions from school and extreme reactions to events and people. 

I found the portrayal of Lottie’s mental disturbance (as she herself refers to it) to be very sympathetic and realistic.  Long encourages the reader to relate to Lottie personally and then slowly introduces elements of her anxiety/depression that then begin to snowball until Lottie is unable to cope.  The subtle introduction of her mental health issues means that the reader can recognise that she is still basically a regular teen.

I loved the depiction of other people’s responses to Lottie’s problems.  Her mum was so caring and lovely yet understandably worried and gave her both time alone and the support to begin having conversations about her mental health.  I loved the conversation that Lottie had with her best friend Goose where she tried to explain the difference between a typical teenage down day and depression.  Her drawing of herself as Munch’s ‘The Scream’ certainly reflected my own experiences of having a brain that just won’t shut up!

Hayley Long uses the book as an opportunity to look at the type of language used to describe mental illness and focuses on the use of ‘schizo’ as a derogative term.  At the beginning of the novel, Lottie uses this term herself to describe other people and during her own problems worries that this is the way that she will be seen by others.  Through discussions with her mother and her doctor Lottie learns about the etymology of the term and realises how painful words can be.  Again, this is done in such a sensitive way that it doesn’t come across as overly didactic but just as part of Lottie’s journey.

I’ve certainly focused a lot on the mental health issues… probably because of my own recent experiences… but this book is certainly not an anxiety memoir or a tract on teen depression.  Lottie Biggs is (Not) Mad is wildly funny and really took me back to being a teen.  I loved the details of Lottie’s fixation on James Dean (posters everywhere) but then her disdain when her mum gives her a DVD-set of Dean’s movies for her birthday! I remember having posters on my wall of bands whose music I hadn’t heard and at University I had a picture of Steve McQueen in ‘The Great Escape’ but I only got around to watching this about two years after I left uni!!  Lottie’s friendships are very believable and I know that I would have idolised Goose as a teen and probably absolutely loved Gareth!

The layout of the book is fantastic.  The book takes the form of Lottie’s GCSE English Coursework (personal writing) and is filled with little drawings and doodles that help to tell the story and show her emotions/feelings.

I really enjoyed this book and will be checking my local library to see if they have the other books in the Lottie Biggs series so I can continue to read about her exploits.  I would highly recommend this to teenagers but also to adults who want to relive their painful teen years!

 

STORIES FOUND IN SONG: Labelled with Love- Squeeze

I have such a soft spot for narrative songs.  I reckon this is probably due to the large amount of country and western songs I was exposed to at a young age.  My Mum adored old-school country music which is absolutely jammed full of stories.  I grew up listening to Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town, Harper Valley PTA and A Boy Named Sue so it’s probably only natural that I have a tendency to search out songs which tell a tale.

My Dad wasn’t as interested in country music as my Mum was but he did really like Squeeze. Now, Squeeze have been known to write a story song or two (see Up The Junction) but my favourite is probably the one which most resembles a country song in style- Labelled with Love.

Melody-wise, I find it to be beautiful- the smooth rise and fall of the vocal line over the country-style syncopated guitar and piano. Just gorgeous… but what gets me the most are those lyrics.  The lyrics begin with a pen portrait of an old lady who has no joy left in her life, except that which she finds at the bottom of a whiskey bottle.  She has no family or friends living in her area (they’ve all gone off to live by the seaside- probably somewhere like Bridlington or Bournemouth) and her neighbours find the look and smell of her to be sickening.  It’s really sad but there are probably lonely people like this living in all of our neighbourhoods.  Placing this heart-breaking description over the plinky-plonky happy sounding country and western guitar chords creates a sense of pathos.

The song then goes back in time to tell about her wartime romance with an American GI and their subsequent marriage and move to his ranch in Texas.  Unfortunately the reality of living with a Texan pilot didn’t live up to the earlier air-raid excitement and she basically ended up looking after him whilst he was drunk.  For a while I used to take the lines “he became drinker and she became mother” literally but I now believe that the lyrics mean that she was less of his wife and more of a mother-figure to him, needing to nurse maid him through his alcoholism.  She knew that his drinking would lead her to either need to mother him or end up drinking herself- “she knew that one day she’d be one or the other.”  Also, the fact that his death led her to return back to the UK makes me think that they hadn’t had children.

I find the lyrics in the chorus to be the most heartbreaking:

Drinks to remember, I me and myself
And winds up the clock and knocks dust from the shelf
Home is a love that I miss very much
So the past has been bottled and labelled with love.

I’ve been trying to write a paragraph about the lyrics of the chorus and why I find them to be so moving and heart-wrenching all at once but I find it too hard.  All I will say is that I feel they are a clear description of the pull that alcohol can have on the lonely and depressed.

 

adam

REVIEW: Adam- Ariel Schrag

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Adam Freedman—a skinny, awkward, inexperienced teenager from Piedmont, California—is sent by his parents to join his older sister Casey in New York City, he is hopeful that his life is about to change. And it sure does. It is the summer of 2006, a year of gay marriage demonstrations and the rise of transgender rights, and Casey has thrust herself into that scene. Soon, Adam finds himself part of a wild lesbian subculture complete with underground clubs, drinking, and hot older women everywhere he turns. It takes some time for him to realize that many in this new crowd assume he is trans—a boy who was born a girl—or why else would this baby-faced guy always be around?

Then Adam meets Gillian, the girl of his dreams — but she’s a lesbian and couldn’t possibly be interested in him. Unless—it occurs to Adam—passing as a trans guy might actually work in his favor…

I do try to write reviews without spoilers but there are some points I feel I need to make and I can’t make them without spoilers.  I’ll shout out the spoiler when I get up to it!!

I’ve always had an interest in the portrayal of gender and sexuality in fictional texts and spent a lot of my degree and PGDip in Children’s Literature thinking and writing about this.  I’ve written essays about gender performance and cross-dressing in Antony and Cleopatra, queer theory and second- wave feminism in ‘Bill’s New Frock’ and ‘Marvin Redpost: Is He A Girl?’ so when I first read the blurb of Adam I knew it was a book I really wanted to read.  

I’ve been reading a lot of YA fiction recently and a lot of these books have involved coming-of-age narratives.  One thing I’ve found about YA fiction is that often the main characters are likable and you are encouraged to build up a relationship with them.  Often female readers are invited to identify with the female protagonist and fall in love with the male main character. So it came as quite of a shock to read about Adam who I can’t imagine many people falling in love with- he’s immature, sexist and transphobic.  However, he may not be likable but he’s very believable.  I remember seventeen year old boys from when I was younger and I can imagine a lot of them having the same feelings and ideas that Adam puts forward at the beginning of the book.  OK, the part where he and a friend watch his sister having sex with her girlfriend is grimy and a step beyond the bounds of realism, but it does help to paint a portrait of a character who just wants to fit in and would do anything in order to do so.

The book wasn’t enjoyable in the way that you would find a traditional romantic novel enjoyable. However, I found it to be completely and utterly un-put-down-able.  I wanted to watch Adam’s development from a rude and unlikable character to a more sympathetic figure.  From being around his sister Casey and her lesbian and trans friends Adam begins to learn more about gender and sexuality. Due to Adam’s naivety at the start of the book he is introduced to vocabulary and concepts that are new to him.  Sometimes this overt ‘teaching’ of Adam (usually by his sister) comes across a little too didactic but, to be honest, it probably is the way an older sister would teach her younger annoying brother.  

I found Adam’s idealisation of Gillian to almost push her into the trope of manic-pixie-dream-girl which was annoying at first.  However, this is often how people (especially teenagers) see their potential love-interests… as a concept first and then a fully-rounded person later. I know I did when I was that age.  As the book progressed I learned more information about Gillian which showed me that she wasn’t just the MPDG that Adam (and I) initially saw her as.

SPOILER HERE… LOOK AWAY IF YOU WANT TO KEEP EVERYTHING SECRET

I did find the portrayal of Adam’s relationship with Gillian to be particularly problematic. I felt that the book skimmed a little too much over Adam’s revelation of his true gender identity and let him get away with things far too readily.  Would she really accept it so readily? Would it be that simple? Also I wasn’t sure that I believed Gillian’s move from disavowing ever having sex with a cis-gendered man to then being in serious relationship with one (not just a boy like Adam, but a fully grown man) by the end of the novel.

I liked the relationship between Adam and Ethan and would have actually liked to have known more about Ethan’s relationship with his ex-girlfriend. I thought it was a really important plot point how Adam jumped to conclusions that they broke up because she found out that Ethan was transgendered when really she knew all along and their break up was due to her addiction to prescription drugs, and would have like to have spent longer on this storyline.

YOU CAN LOOK BACK NOW!

Although this book follows a lot of the tropes of YA fiction- coming-of-age, love story, subplots involving friendship and family relationships- it features a heck of a lot of explicit sex scenes and swearing.  The scene in the sex club was particularly graphic and definitely marked the difference between this and the YA books I’ve read recently.  I think it is more for adult audiences or older teenage readers. I think it’s not a book without it’s controversies and problems but the fact that there is a book that shows so much sexual and gender variety and allows for discussion about these issues is extremely powerful and important in itself.

boymeetsboy

REVIEW: Boy Meets Boy- David Levithan

To be together with someone for twenty years seems like an eternity. I can’t seem to manage twenty days…

How do you stay together?

Paul has been gay his whole life and he’s confident about almost everything. He doesn’t have to hide his feelings like best friend Tony or even cope with loving the wrong guy like his other best friend Joni.

But heartbreak can happen to anyone. Falling in love changes everything.

I wanted to love this book so much.  I’d read that it was a book about a romance between two boys which sought not to be an “issue” novel.  It wasn’t necessarily about the difficulties of coming out or homophobia but instead was set in a utopian town where inclusion and diversity were normal parts of life.  This sounded brilliant! A light read with a background setting that shows us how things should be. Unfortunately, I think Levithan took elements of this utopia too far and the setting went from being a realistic utopia to an almost-parody of right-on-ness.

I’m fine with the idea of Boy Scouts breaking away from the national organisation (due to the ban on gay leaders) and calling themselves Joy Scouts but I felt that cheerleaders on motorbikes was at best pandering (“OK, we’ve included gay, lesbian and drag queen characters in the narrative but no-one’s really butch- quick, let’s stick some cheerleaders on Harleys!) and at worst a health and safety nightmare.  That’s a law suit waiting to happen! What school would allow this? And in the gym of all places!!!  If it’s not going to cause health issues it’s at least going to scuff up the floor!!!  There were a few points in the narrative where I felt that Levithan took this whimsy too far and it just ruined the idea of this utopia for me.

I also wasn’t keen on the idea of a town where it’s OK for a kindergarten teacher to ‘out’ a five/six year-old child in their school report.  The character himself states that he didn’t even know the word until he read it on the report.  Two other characters, Seven and Eight (Steven and Kate), have been in an exclusive relationship since they were in the second grade.  Should we be sexualising children at such a young age? Just let kids be kids.  I don’t think that this element of the narrative is utopian- just worrying.

So, I did find that there were issues with the setting… but what about the story itself? Well, it’s basically a nice light teenage love story.  Like a gay story from Sweet Valley High.  And that’s great! It’s the sort of story that teenagers are presented with all the time between heterosexual couples but it just happens to be that both characters are male.  It wasn’t a hugely dramatic story.  You could tell what was going to happen a mile off but it was a well-written romance.

The main character, Paul, possibly wasn’t the most interesting person in the narrative but I don’t think it really mattered as he was the viewpoint that we saw everyone else from.  I loved the character of Infinite Darlene (both the quarterback and homecoming Queen) but was confused by the description of her as a drag queen when I think she ultimately read more as a trans girl.  We never saw her out of drag and even when on the football field she was wearing nails and lashes.  However, maybe by dwelling on this I’m missing the point.  We’re not meant to read this novel and label characters- just accept them for who they are.  I really liked her and loved the vulnerability that she showed at times.  I also liked Paul’s friendship and acceptance of her, even though he was somewhat wary of her whirling dervish qualities.

When I got off my high horse and stopped moaning about school reports, dancing in bookshops and motorbikes on a polished floor I really did enjoy the book.  Not to the levels I thought I would, but it was a light, diverting read.  This was the first novel that David Levithan wrote and I look forward to reading more of his work.  I am particularly interested in reading his new novel, Two Boys Kissing, as I’ve heard really good things about this.