Sunday, 11 August 2019

REVIEW: ...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne

Photograph by me

Title: ...And a Happy New Year?
Author: Holly Bourne
Publisher: Usborne
Release Date: 1st November 2016
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Page Count: 224
Original Language: English
Format Read: Hardcover
Other books in series: Yes! The Spinster Club series
Movie Adaptation: N/A

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

Same bench. Same view. Same girls. and yet totally different girls...
Evie, Amber and Lottie are having a New Year party to remember.
10... 9... 8...
For the first time since leaving college, all three girls are back together. It's time for fun and flirting, snogs and shots.
7... 6... 5...
(And not tears or tantrums or terrible secrets.)
4... 3... 2... 1
Because everything's going great for these girls - Spinster Club forever! Right?

I freaking love Holly Bourne. She was amongst the first panel of authors I ever saw at an event, and her books mean a lot to me. I read her during my first year of university, which if anyone has been keeping up with the blog for a couple of years knows, it wasn't the greatest time of my life. 

The Spinster Club girls rock. I love their passion, their loyalty to one another, and their feminism. Feminism is tough to talk about, and even harder to write about, because there will always be someone in the back of the room who says stuff like "women have all of the rights now!" "why can't you just call it equality?" "stop being angry man-hating, bra-burning, frigid women!". 

Obviously, feminism is a lot more nuanced than this. But my point is, Holly Bourne writes about feminism brilliantly. She's one of the best in the business. 

I'll be completely honest with you. This book (which is number 3.5 of the Spinster Club series, marking it's end) is not my favourite of the lot. I love the Spinster Club, and I adore how Holly writes, but this one just wasn't for me. There was a lot of crying and arguing, which is pretty realistic to what goes on at teenage house parties where alcohol is involved, but the character development just wasn't there for me like it was in the other books.

Perhaps this particular book in the series just wasn't for me - like I say, I love the other books. Despite this, I found myself really enjoying it, and as always, Holly's writing keeps me on that emotional rollercoaster - which is exactly what a book is supposed to do. 

That rollercoaster is pretty fun. 

Don't let me put you off reading this book. I still gave it 4 stars on Goodreads! As with every book series, not everyone will like every single book. However, this doesn't stop you from loving the series as a whole, or loving the author. 

I will always love the Spinster Club!

Friday, 9 August 2019

REVIEW: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Photograph by me

Title: Persepolis
Author: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Vintage
Release Date: 6th March 2008
Genre: Graphic Novel / Memoir
Page Count: 343
Original Language: French
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: Yes! 

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandfather of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. 

This has been on my shelf for a LONG time. A few years ago I had a big graphic novel haul, and Persepolis was one of the novels I bought. Like all book bloggers, I have a huge 'to-be-read' pile, and so I decided to see if I could read this in a day.

Let's just say that it wasn't a difficult task. I absolutely devoured this book.

This was such an educational experience for me. I'm a white, British woman, so my history lessons in school were limited to Western wars. However, Satrapi documents her life during the Iran-Iraq war. Since a lot of my blog readers are around my age, and probably know as little about it all as I did before reading Persepolis, I thought I would break it down:

  • Iraq invaded Iran on the 22nd September 1980, in an attempt to replace Iran with a Persian Gulf state.
  • Iraq also wanted Iran's oil. This is a very important detail.
  • The US, Britain, France, Soviet Union, and most of the Arab countries supported Iraq.
  • There were also a lot of border disputes (Iranians needing Visas to leave the country for example, which were very rarely handed out).
  • There was devastation in Iran. Bombs, chemical weapons, and targeted attacks on civilians were just some of the tactics used by Iraq to annex Iran.
  • It is estimated that over 500,000 Iraqi and Iranian soldiers died, as well as many killed and injured civilians. 

This is the short version, but there is so much more to the story. What Marjane Satrapi does is invite the reader to come inside her childhood home, and not only see the reality and attitudes during this war, but the private reality and attitudes between herself and her family and friends. 

At age 14, Satrapi is sent by her parents to Austria to study. They let her go, away from the death and destruction and fear. 

However, away from the war, her life is still full of fear, destruction. This time, loneliness is added to the mix. 

This graphic novel is just incredible. The way she brings everything to life - the falling bombs, her mental health, the timeline of the war itself - I felt like I had to know what happened next. I needed to stay with her, until the very end. 

She discusses all of the taboos that Westerners take for granted too. From wearing a veil correctly to having sex with your partner before marriage, or even just walking with your partner down the street. 

As well as the raging war, there was a social war on women. The way all of this is revealed and goes hand-in-hand with each other is fascinating. 

There is no doubt in my mind that everyone reading this blog post should go and read Persepolis when you're done. Educate yourself, understand what your country did or didn't do in relation to the war, and read the stories of the Iranian people who had to live through it all.

You may get upset. You may get angry. You may get passionate. These are the responses you should have. Read this book, and hope that no one has to write an autobiography like this again. 

Thursday, 8 August 2019

REVIEW: Geography Club by Brent Hartinger

Photograph by me

Title: Geography Club
Author: Brent Hartinger
Publisher: Harper Tempest
Release Date: 1st March 2003
Genre: Teen Fiction
Page Count: 226
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: Yes! 

Buy: Here, Here

I read this as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

Russel is still going on dates with girls, Kevin would do anything to prevent his teammates on the baseball team finding out. Min and Terese tell everyone they're just really good friends. But after a while, the truth's too hard to hide - at least from each other - so they for the "Geography Club". Nobody else will come. Why would they want to? Their secret should be safe.

I have already seen the movie adaptation of Geography Club, but it was a few years ago, and I came across the original book while searching for material for my university dissertation. So, I decided to take it off my shelf and try it.

I was not disappointed.

This is a book about LGBT teens, all from different cliques in high school. They find they're way to each other, and after an awkward conversation in a pizza place that turns into a magical one, they form the Geography Club. Of course, no actual geography is learned here. It is a cover-up for a safe place for them to meet and not be caught together.

This book is about way more than just gay teens hiding from straight teens. And strangely, the Geography Club is much more than a secret gays-only club. It is about life in high school. Actually, strip that back, and its about being a teenager. 

Its about how hiding who you are can impact other people's lives, and that sometimes you'll do anything to keep a secret... even hurting other people who are struggling.

Another theme in this book, which is really important, is bullying. Brian, the least popular guy in school, is subject to torture every single day by the jocks, who just happen to be friends of Kevin - Russel's secret boyfriend. The book lets us see how Russel deals with this situation, as he's caught between wanting to stop the bullying, but not wanting to upset Kevin.

I was completely blown away by the care and grace in which these serious topics are talked about and explored. Geography Club is about tough subjects, but the writing is also seriously funny and engaging. Sexuality, bullying, dating, friendship, and sex are written about freely, and in such a real way.

I highly recommend the book and the movie adaptation! 5 stars, obviously. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

REVIEW: We should all be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Photograph by me

Title: We Should all be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: 4th Estate 
Release Date: 9th October 2014
Genre: Speech
Page Count: 48
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback

Buy: Here, Here

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge on Twitter.

"The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognising how we are. Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves, if we didn't have the weight of gender expectations."

This book is adapted from Adichie's TEDx talk about how gender is perceived in the twenty-first century, and how feminism is perceived especially in Lagos, Nigeria. She notices these injustices, however small - a waiter greeting the men and not the women in the party, presenting a tip and it being assumed that the man was in charge of the money in the relationship, and 'feminism' being seen as a dirty, man-hating word.

I have had this book on my shelves for some time, and I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it. 

Not only does Chimamanda talk about how women are unfairly treated, but how sons are raised to be afraid of emotions and told that they are superior to women:

"We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage."

"We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak, a hard man."

This should be required reading for everyone. It is an introduction to feminism, accessible for everyone, and so effective in helping us to understand where the roots of the problems are when talking about gender roles and gender expectations. 

I loved this. It is a short read, but such a powerful one. 5 stars!

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

REVIEW: Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

Photograph by me

Title: Kindred Spirits
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release Date: 25th February 2016
Genre: Teen and YA Short Story
Page Count: 62
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

Buy: Here (It's only £1!!)

If you broke Elena's heart, Star Wars would spill out. So when she decides to queue outside her local cinema to see the new movie, she's expecting a celebration with crowds of people who love Han, Luke and Leia just as much as she does. What she's not expecting is to be last in line of only three people, to have to pee into a collectable Star Wars cup behind a dumpster or to meet that unlikely someone who just might truly understand the way she feels.

I read this book as part of my #14books14days #14daybookchallenge.

First of all, I just want to say how CUTE this book is. We all have that one movie series, or book series, or hobby or something else that we are obsessed with. I should know, my social media handles and blog name is BOOK FANGIRLING. We have this wonderful culture of going all-in on what we love and sharing that love with people from all over the world, and this is the exact love we feel from Elena.

I didn't grow up with Star Wars. My younger brother loved it when he was little, so I watched the originals with him whilst asking a million questions. It's safe to say I never really 'got' Star Wars, and my brother got very annoyed with me. 

No matter how little I know about it, Elena shares her love of Star Wars with Tory, Gabe, and the reader. So I ended up waiting in the line with them, and being excited for the characters each day they got closer to seeing the movie. I loved this aspect of the book.

Ultimately, this is a story about three people waiting in line to see a film. But underneath is this wonderful commentary on human behaviour; how awkward we are at establishing relationships, how common ground can save a conversation, and how everything links back to love. 

One of my favourite recurring moments was Elena's mom driving past the movie theatre every few hours, handing Elena various items such as a plate of food, a hot water bottle, and a huge cup of coffee to make her need to pee during the night, trying to get her to come back home. This is exactly the sort of thing my mum would do... if she even allowed me to camp outside in the first place!

Kindred Spirits is a short and accessible book, full of positivity, the brilliant side to fan culture, and of course... a lot of pee.

5 stars!

Sunday, 4 August 2019

REVIEW: No one is too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

Photograph of book by me

Title: No One is too Small to Make a Difference
Author: Greta Thunberg
Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 30th May 2019
Genre: Speech Collection
Page Count: 68
Original Language: English
Format Read: Paperback

Buy: Here, Here 

I'm sure everyone knows who Greta Thunberg is, but if not, I am going to tell you about this wonderful human being. 

On the 20th August 2018, Greta decided to skip school in protest of the Swedish government for not playing their role in helping to combat climate change. This started a School Strike for the Climate, which involved her sitting outside the government building for 3 weeks during school hours. Over the past few months, more than 20,000 students from over 200 cities have staged protests in support of Greta. 

She will not stop until the adults listen. 

No One is too Small to Make a Difference is a collection of her speeches at marches, the UN Climate Change Conference, the World Economic Forum, and so on. At only 16 years old, she is travelling the world (not by plane - by train, bus, and eco-friendly boats using renewable energy) and telling some of the world's most powerful people to stop stalling and to start saving our planet. 

As well as dropping some shocking, but scientifically true facts (like the IPCC stating that we have to aim below a 1.5 degree celsius warming target), her speeches also address the bad press she has received about not going to school. In response, she says this:

"We are school-striking because we have done our homework."

Photo of Greta Thunberg [belongs to The Independent]

This is a brilliant collection of her speeches, which reveals a lot of climate statistics. I'm going to write some here, because Greta (and I) want you to panic:

  1. We need to limit our planet warming to only 1.5 degrees celsius over pre-industrial levels.
  2. In the next 12 years, we need to cut our CO2 emissions by 50%.
  3. Developed countries like Sweden and the UK need to reduce their emissions by 15% each year.
  4. These figures do not account for equity (letting third world countries industrialise while we cut our emissions).
  5. We are going through a sixth mass extinction, with around 200 species going extinct every single day.

If this doesn't scare you, nothing will.

Of course, the point that Greta makes is that it isn't just individual people that need to change. Her plea goes out to governments, industrial companies, the powerful people who own the 100 companies most responsible for world climate change. They are the people who can make the biggest difference, and our responsibility as individuals is to make adjustments to our lives, however small, that can reduce our carbon footprint. 

I am so happy that young people like Greta Thunberg exist. I knew about global warming and our impact on the planet already, but reading Greta's book has educated me even more. Seeing the science and the numbers on the page is incredible. We all need to read this.

And if you don't think we should be listening to a 16 year-old girl? Well, neither does Greta:

"... I agree with you, I'm too young to do this. We children shouldn't have to do this. But since almost no one is doing anything, and our very future is at risk, we feel like we have to continue."

So, adults. Let's do something.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

REVIEW: Grave Matter by Juno Dawson

photo by me

Title: Grave Matter
Author: Juno Dawson
Illustrator: Alex T Smith
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Release Date: 15th October 2017
Genre: Young Adult Gothic
Page Count: 96
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Paperback
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

Buy: Here, Here, Here

I was sent a review copy of Grave Matter in 2017 for an honest review from the publishers. I decided to read it as part of my #14books14days #14dayreadingchallenge and this was my choice for day two!

Since the crash, since Eliza died, Samuel can't find a way to go on. His need to see his love again is overwhelming, and so he ventures into the strange, terrifying world of Hoodoo. Samuel is about to make a pact with powers he cannot comprehend, let alone control...

This is one of the shorter of Juno Dawson's novels, because it is part of a super-readable young adult collection. This makes it more accessible to readers of all ages who want to dive into YA, and the pages are even a thick pale yellow, so you can't see the 'ghost' of the words on the other side of the page. This allows people with dyslexia to access young adult books too, because they can not often read on plain white paper. I think this is a brilliant idea!

Grave Matter is one of those gems that grabs you from the start, and keeps hold of you until the very end. I love gothic literature, and to see the classic themes in a young adult book made me so happy! The illustrations done by Alex T Smith are incredible, and they really brought the story to life. This is one of my favourite pieces of art from the book:

photo by me

The Milk Man was my favourite character - he had a name that wouldn't arouse suspicion. Everyone knows a milk man is harmless! Yet you never really see a milk man; they come very early in the morning, know every street in every neighbourhood. One minute they are there, the next they are gone. This is like The Milk Man in the story. He knows everything and everyone, disappears in a flash, and has the recipe for the drink that can bring a loved one back to life.

The message he sends is clear:

"Where there is life there must also be death - for every gift a sacrifice."

But will Samuel listen?

I think this is a perfect book for readers of all ages and abilities, and I gladly gave it 5 stars on goodreads! Although, I could never give Juno Dawson anything less.

See you tomorrow for day three of my challenge!

Friday, 2 August 2019

REVIEW: Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit

photo by me

Title: Anna and the Swallow Man
Author: Gavriel Savit
Publisher: Random House Children's
Release Date: 26th January 2016
Genre: Young Adult historical fiction
Page Count: 240
Original Language: English 
Format Read: Hardcover
Other books in series: N/A
Movie Adaptation: N/A 

On the 6th November 1939, Anna's father had to go away for a few hours. He left shortly after 11 o'clock. He did not come back again.

I bought this book a couple of years ago, and I thought it would be the perfect first read for my #14books14days challenge. I was not wrong.

Anna is a seven year-old girl living in Krakow whose father went away and never came back. Locked out of her home, she hides in the bushes of the streets until a tall, lanky, mysterious man approaches her. He hands her a cookie, she asks him some questions, and their journey together begins. She knows him only as Swallow Man, as he can speak Bird, and he makes Anna give up her name to survive. 

This is a story about how you can run away from war, but can never run from who you are.

I absolutely adored this book. I didn't know what to expect, and yet once I started I couldn't stop reading it. You feel as though you are running through the forests with the characters, feeling the same hunger in your stomach as them, and catching the chill of the wind as they bed down for the night. More importantly, you feel as though you want to hide under a cushion with the book in hand, keeping Anna, Swallow Man, and Reb Herschel from the Wolves (German soldiers) and Bears (Soviet soldiers). 

You walk beside them, and see how life is from their ill-fitting shoes. Normally, we wouldn't be that happy about a strange man taking a young girl away from her hometown and into a forest to cross borders, but he makes Anna feel safe, and so we feel the same safety. He looks after her; forages for food, befriends people in towns to secure gifts, and becomes her father without question. 

As the book says: a daughter is no good without a father, and a father is no good without a daughter. 

Although the cover may lead you to believe it is a children's book, it can be found in the young adult section of bookshops. This book is suitable for people ages 13 and over, as there are some strong images of death and (attempted) child sexual assault. This paragraph is heartbreaking to read, but so important:

"It was all she could think of when they first came upon one of the mass graves. Perhaps it was the angle of the light, or perhaps the snow was similarly powdery and sparse, but more than likely what made her think of the discarded office equipment was the peculiar blend of organisation and chaos that reigned there."

There are some more graphic scenes, but if you think you can handle reading it, I would fully recommend it. 5 stars!

Anna knows the Swallow Man is heading for somewhere specific, but we don't find out until the very end. I won't spoil it for you, but here is the biggest lesson to come out of this book, which the Swallow Man himself tells us:

"Human beings are the best hope in the world of other human beings to survive."