Book Spotlight | Far From The Tree by Robin Benway

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

tree

I think USYA gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes. There’s a bit of a vibe that UKYA is a gritty, honest, dirt-under-the-fingernails look at what it’s like to be a teenager, while USYA is more like…902010 or something, with main characters played by 30 year olds that look nothing like anyone we went to school with.

As someone whose entire YA education came in the form of books sent over to me by my Auntie Fee from New York, I take issue with this. While I could slam a list onto the table, let’s look at something I read recently, courtesy of the March Wildest Dreams book box.

Far From The Tree is the story of three siblings, all given up for adoption by their mother, who find each other in their teenage years. Each of them has a different set of circumstances and background. They team up to find their birth mother, and in the process must find out where they fit into the world.

While they find each other at particularly difficult times in their lives – teenage pregnancy, the foster care and adoption system, relationship problems, family break-up and mental health are all big players in this store – the plot mainly centres on their growing relationships with each other. I hate the word “heartwarming” because it makes me cringe so hard I want to chew my own knuckles off, but it is. It’s well written, and the characters are defined by their relationships with each other, rather than their circumstances, which is nice.

I’d 100% recommend this to any young person – fifteen year old me would have binged through it. It wouldn’t have been one of my favourites (I didn’t cry like everyone else seemed to, but then I am a robot) but I can appreciate a book about finding your place in the world as much as anyone.

Rating: ***

 

How I Know It’s Spring: The Scotland Edition

Scotland is famous for many things. Tartan, whisky, deep frying anything we can get our hands on, crap weather…

Fortunately, after a winter that’s lasted for several years and a snowstorm so bad it shut down the country, it’s starting to look like spring. How can I be sure, when I live somewhere you have to dress for all four seasons in one day? Well, I’ll tell you!

It hasn’t snowed for over a week

Particularly relevant this year. Scotland has a reasonably temperate climate at the best of times, and I live on the coast so it’s even milder, but it snowed this year for longer than I can remember. Now the temperatures are consistently above zero! Nothing is frozen! SPRING.

beast
Oh Beast from the East, I do not miss you.

I’ve turned the central heating off

IT IS REAL. As someone who likes the house to be roughly the surface temperature of the sun, you know the seasons are changing when I turn the heating off for good. I’m sure the people who come round to visit and end up sweating profusely on my sofa are glad.

It’s sunny, cold and windy instead of cloudy, cold and windy

Before lambs, leaves and daffodils, spring is here when the sun reappears and the country either whips off their shirts or crumbles into dust. It has happened (finally), and the temperature is starting to hint towards double digits, but make no mistake: it’s still freezing. It’s Scotland, of course it is.

hill

I’m not scared to pee at work

My office may have a dog, but I’ll tell you what it doesn’t have: central heating. I am delighted that the temperature is increasing purely because I don’t have to wait until I’m cultivating a kidney stone to brave the toilet.

And, in that vein…

It’s time to stop wearing thermals

I came to this decision after dragging myself up the hill after work yesterday, sweating profusely. Now that I’m not attempting to set myself on fire with the aforementioned propane heater, it might be time to scale back the layers.

edinburgh

The last Christmas song has been removed from my playlists

There’s always one I forget in the January purge. This year it was Ring Out Solstice Bells by Jethro Tull.

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Spring is here! As we say in Scotland, taps aff. Enjoy the heatwave that’s apparently happening.

Not here, of course. We’ll settle for moderate cloud.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books My Mum Owns That I’m Totally Stealing

My mum likes books. She’s at least partly to blame for the way I am. The benefit of this is that it means I can use my parents’ house like a library, and everything she owns I like to think I can claim part-ownership of. It works both ways, but she has more room for books than I do, so…

With this in mind, here’s ten books that I’ve used this privilege to either steal or reserve.

Lion by Saroo Brierly

lion

You can read my Book Spotlight post about this book here. Spoiler alert: I loved it.

All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

all the light

I finished reading this yesterday, after several days of nearly missing my stop on the train on the way home from work. ATLWCS switches between the two characters and two points in the war without ever being disconcerting or confusing, and it’s so heart-wrenchingly pure, underscored by the awfulness of the war. It doesn’t have a word out of place. Beautiful book.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphant

You can read what I thought of Eleanor Oliphant here.

Knots and Crosses – Ian Rankin

knots and crosses

Few things bring me shame quite like the fact that I’ve never read an Ian Rankin book. He was born 15 miles from where I live, for god sake! My fiance bumped into him coming out of Tesco in Edinburgh! Maw, please shove this book into my grubby hand next time I come round.

Never Let Me Go

never let me go

I mentioned this in last week’s TTT post. I picked it up thinking “Huh, I’ve heard so many people talk about this book, I might as well read it” and then realised very quickly that I HAD at some point read it, but I had retained absolutely nothing except the bare minimum, enough for the whole experience to be entirely deja-vu. Another surreal layer to a surreal book.

Northern Lights – Phillip Pullman

northern lights

My friend Roisin had the 10/10 idea of starting a book club for the MtG UKISA judge community and this is the first book we’re reading. I am delighted, since I haven’t read any of the His Dark Materials series.

Yes, you read that correctly. Please do not cast me out into the darkness.

This is what I’m currently reading, and I understand than the book is much better than the film (Golden Compass remains one of the most disappointing cinema experiences I have ever had)

The Snow Child

snow child

I swear down every time I drift towards the bookshelves my mum as good as breaks into song over how much she loves this book. I feel like I’m morally obligated to read it, if only to stop her gently weeping every time I admit I haven’t yet.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

caged bird

I’m sure I read this years ago, but I remember nothing of it.

Sunset Song – Lewis Grassic Gibbon

sunset song

I’m on a binge of anything Scottish at the moment, half inspired by my job and half by Outlander. My mum’s owned XXXX Scot’s Quair for about as long as I can remember and she’s been telling me it’s gorgeous for as long as I can remember, but Scottish history was so cripplingly dull in school (WHY did they do that, what an injustice) that I never fancied it. Now that I’m in the mindset to read it I’m going to pinch it.

The Cider House Rules – John Irvine

cider house

I’ve been meaning to read this for years. ONE DAY MOTHER. ONE DAY.

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Have you read these? Should I break down the door to my parents’ house right now? TELL ME.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Loved but Will Never Re-Read

“Loved” isn’t the right word. If I really loved a book I won’t have an issue re-reading it. Here’s ten books that I enjoyed well enough but wouldn’t be upset if they went missing.

Wuthering Heights

wuthering

I didn’t dislike Wuthering Heights. I was expecting more gothic-horror-ness than I got out of it, I found the characters so distinctly unlikeable there were only two I liked (fortunately one of them was the primary narrator) and I couldn’t make myself even slightly care about what happened to them. I really must look up some analysis of it because I’m sure I’m being dense about what it all MEANS but for now, I remain underwhelmed.

Game of Thrones

game of thrones

I’ve read the first book twice, made it to halfway through the second and admitted defeat. Will I go back to it? Probably. High fantasy isn’t usually my jam, but I’m discovering a slight taste for it. Will I read the first book again? Unlikely. Twice was quite enough, thanks. Plus I’ve seen the first series of the TV show. I know the story.

Never Let Me Go

never let me go

I loved this book, but reading it was a very bizarre experience. Not just because it’s got a pretty effed up plot hiding behind the beautiful writing, but because I am ninety-nine percent sure I have read this book twice now. I couldn’t have told you what happened or what was going to happen during the last read-through, but the sense of déjà vu that came with me as I read it was so pervasive that it made the book very surreal.

At least this time I can remember that I’ve read it.

Fangirl

Fangirl

I really liked Fangirl. Anxiety and struggling to find your place in the world at university? Hello. But it was long, and if I’m ever going to read a long book again, it needs to batter me round the head and leave me lodged in between worlds until I don’t know which way is up. As much as I enjoyed it, Fangirl didn’t. Sorry, Rainbow Rowell fans. Please don’t egg my house.

Blackbird

blackbird

I bought Blackbird purely on the fact that it’s based in Scotland (Orkney) and I am absolute trash for anything set in Scotland. It was enjoyable enough, but I was expecting more mystery than I ended up getting, and the setting wasn’t enough to catapult me there and keep me.

The Fandom

the fandom

One of the most hyped books I’ve seen in the UKYA sphere. It wasn’t a bad book, but it a) had had its flames fanned so much that it couldn’t help but fall a bit flat, and b) wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I find myself turned off more and more by dystopian-future books, and that was what the Fandom turned out to be for me, above all else.

The Hunger Games

hunger games

Ditto. Although I promised Sean I’d read them again because he says the second one is incredible and I’ve only read the first, so this might be cheating.

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

loneliest girl

TLGITU is another case study for not going on the internet, ever. All I heard about before I read it (which, in fairness, took me a long time after I first noticed it and then bought it) was about how SHOCKING the TWIST was, and when you’re reading a book and you know a twist is coming, you inadvertently turn into Poirot. Now that I’ve read it all the way through, I think the impact will probably be even less.

The Cursed Child

cursed child

Yes, I didn’t hate this the first time I read it. But I think my brain has rejected it as canon, because I can’t remember much about it. Maybe it’s an absolute belter on the stage, but I remain unconvinced, and I can’t work up the motivation now to have another go.

The Square Root of Summer

square root summer

Enjoyable enough. It’s a holiday book: would read it on the plane, but I’m not going to start climbing the walls raving about it. Not for me.

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What’s on your list? What sort of burglars are robbing my house and taking ten specific books? Weigh in!

Book Spotlight | Lion by Saroo Brierly

 

lion

I’d read a few really, really bad books and it had left me with whatever the reading equivalent of a hangover is. The last thing I wanted was to read another book – but I have a bit of a thing for reading other peoples’ stories, the more dramatic the better.

Originally published as A Long Way Home, Lion is the story of Saroo – accidentally separated from his family at the age of five, adopted and raised by a Tasmanian family and, with the help of the internet and his friends, he found his way home again.Some of the coincidences that led Saroo from India to Tasmania and back again are so hair-thin that it genuinely chilled my blood. I read it on the train to work and it had me chewing on my fingers, even though I knew how it ended, and that’s how I KNOW that a story has worked its way into my soul.

Hangover cured.

The part that really blew my mind was how Saroo found the home he was ripped from twenty years previously, when he was a boy with memory of little more than the neigbourhood he grew up in and a couple of basic landmarks. We’ve all booted up Google Maps and typed in our own postcode and zoomed right in on top of our house, but using it to traverse the length and breadth of India looking for one single, unrealistically small landmark. I dare you not to get as heavily invested in the search as Saroo was himself.

If you want to have your hairs all stand up and your heart melting into a big gooey puddle at the same time, read this book. But make sure you’ve got the best part of a day free.

What I’ve Done in March

Working in an office that has minimal natural light is hard. It screws up the brainio and makes my emotions feel like they’ve done a half marathon with no training. A couple of weekends ago my brain hit the wall. I dragged the duvet onto the couch and slept for nearly 24 hours.

But it’s reminded me what anxiety feels like, and it’s reminded me why I’m so thankful for SSRIs.

edinburgh-carlton-hill-landscape-scotland-161863

On SSRIs anxiety is like that funny noise your car makes, enough for you to notice it but you can turn the music up and drown it out and continue driving without worrying that something’s going to snap and send you into oncoming traffic.

Anxiety is driving down the motorway in the rain with no brakes.

pexels-photo-414564

When it hits, I want to not feel guilty every time I speak to my friends, my family, because I’m annoying. I want to not have something open and sit with my thumb hovered over the keyboard before I interact, thinking do I need to? Do I REALLY need to say something? Don’t I think I should just be quiet and not remind people how irritating I am?

I want to be on top of my life without feeling the strain. I want to be able to come home from work after twelve hours out of the house and write and play games and sit on the couch with Sean and laugh at stupid videos without looking at a floor I haven’t hoovered and crashing into pieces, and I want to be able to stay on top of everything without burning myself out.

I want to make everything better. I want to make the world better. I want to open eyes and heal hearts.I want to reach out and touch people who are suffering. I want to sleep away days at a time because people are so awful to each other. I want to do something about it. I can’t.

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I’ve been AWOL recently while I unpicked the weirdness in my brain that the dark was doing. Normally when I feel like this it’s a sign that I need to go back to the doctor and get another round of medication. But surprise! It was just the lighting. Now I know about it I can stop every couple of hours and take a breather on the steps. It helps.

Take a breather. Go outside.

Music Spotlight | Genesis – Mama

Can’t you feel my heart?

When I was little, my parents had an CD called “The Best Rock Album in the World…Ever!” It was my favourite. I listened to Crazy Crazy Nights by Kiss over and over. More Than A Feeling was my jam.

There were two songs on this album that gave me the first taste of what music can do, because they were so dark and insidious sounding to my four-year-old brain that they genuinely terrified me. One was Inside by Stiltskin.

The other was Mama.

Originally believed by some people (including the band’s manager) to be from the point of view of a foetus pre-abortion, it’s actually about a young man who has an Oedipal obsession with an older prostitute. It’s been over twenty years since I first heard it and between the sinister drum track, the synth, that laugh and what sounds like Phil Collins having a nervous breakdown halfway through it still makes the back of my neck prickle every time I listen to it.

Here’s the video. C R E E P Y.

Anyway, I know it’s deeply uncool for some reason but I really like Phil Collins. Peace.

International Women’s Day – MtG edition!

Happy International Women’s Day! I can already hear the eyes rolling like marbles in the heads of several men. This is your periodic reminder that if you put half as much effort into supporting the issues that are raised during International Men’s Day that you do into being so offended by IWD, the world would be a much better place.

(It’s November 19th, by the way.)

Anyway, in honour of the occasion let’s talk about some of my favourite and most inspirational women in the Magic: the Gathering community.

Magic: the Amateuring

I stumbled across the Magic: the Amateuring podcast on the back of an article by host Meghan Wolff about women in Magic and the subsequent…well, you all know what happened next.

(Episode #126 of Magic: the Amateuring discusses this and many of the issues raised in Meghan’s article about the various – often very subtle – ways in which women are treated differently and in some cases made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable, so if you’re on the “why are the women complaining AGAIN” side of the fence, I would recommend listening and please, educate yourself.)

Maria and Meghan are my heroes. They’re hysterically funny (I’ve had to leave the office and sit on the toilet midway through listening to an episode because I can’t stop giggling) damn good players and two of the strongest advocates I can think of for opening doors in the game. My favourite moment is hearing Maria go on an impassioned rant in the above podcast about how being a Pro Tour competitor isn’t a necessity for someone to be a strong member of the coverage team, and how there are numerous women out there who are MORE than qualified to take on that role, and now she does Pro Tour coverage for Wizards of the Coast. SLAAAAAYING.

Stef Dolan

HI STEF! Stef is the first woman in Scotland (and to date, as far as I know, the only female player in Scotland) to win a Pro Point. Aside from that, she’s a huge cheerleader both for Team Murphy’s Vault and for the Magic community on the whole, and I think she’s great.

Plus she loves Stormbreath Dragon, which is everything I look for in a friend.

sbdg

Dana Fischer

Okay, so Dana Fischer is only seven years old, but she’s my hero. She’s a seven-year-old Magic player, a regular on the US GP circuit. Her goal is to be the youngest player to reach day two of a GP, and I have absolutely no doubts that she’ll achieve that. She is the future. Get on board.

Chandra Nalaar

Because COME ON.

chandra flamecaller

 

Actually…now that I think about it, literally all of you.

Y’ALL. (I wish I could stop saying y’all. Nobody says y’all in East Scotland.

It’s never easy going into a space that’s traditionally been aimed at a male population (look at some of the early cards and some of the current playmats if you need convincing), especially as it’s a space that some men feel obliged to defend like it’s their firstborn and anyone who isn’t A Man is a dingo, but I like to think we’re slowly improving. And we’re doing it! Yay us.

Special shout out, by the way, to all the ladies in the UKISA judge community – Liz, Roisin, Erin, Sophie, and everyone else I have shamefully forgotten. We are killing it.

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I am, as I’ve said multiple times, incredibly lucky to be part of a community that isn’t full of assholes. The Scottish community on the whole is 99% of the time is awesome – very inclusive, very willing to stand up and and shout if they see otherwise. We’re lucky here. But I’m aware, both from witnessing and hearing peoples’ stories, that the same isn’t true for all communities.

And that’s why I do why I do. It would be easy for me to let someone else take charge of what we do at Forth Magic, someone with more experience in tournament organising and judging, or someone with more experience competitively who’ve been to a variety of tournaments and seen what’s good and what’s not.

But I want people to see the fact that I’m here, I’m standing up and making myself the first person people likely interact with if they’re coming along to the events or just enquiring. If the fact that I’m there is enough to make even one woman feel better about coming along, that’s a success.

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I stream on Twitch and I’m learning to be a better drafter on MODO. Sometimes my friends come round and we drink and draft. If you want to see my cats and hear a Scottish accent you can find me at twitch.tv/worstartist. Slam that follow button and you’ll see when I’m back on my bullshit. PEACE.

Top Ten Tuesday | Favourite Book Quotes

I’ve been out of the Top Ten Tuesday habit recently. Two and a half snow days last week has thrown my sense of time completely, so I’m currently hashing out a post on my lunch break. I only have six, because that’s all I have time for. Fight me.

…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” – On The Road (Jack Kerouac)

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. – The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Sleep tight, ya morons! – The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)

  • I was about as miserable at school as Holden Caulfield was, so I scrawled this on the back of my shirt in Sharpie on my last day. I thought I was so cool.

When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time. You’d be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside—walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It’s the saddest thing I know. – Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)

They were a gloomy suite of rooms, in a lowering pile of building up a yard, where it had so little business to be, that one could scarcely help fancying it must have run there when it was a young house, playing at hide-and-seek with other houses, and forgotten the way out again. – A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

  • This description of Scrooge’s house tickled me to death when I read the book over Christmas. I was never a big fan of the classics but some of Dickens’ lines in this were glorious.

Can I help you?” said the footman. Richard had been told to fuck off and die with more warmth and good humour. Neverwhere (Neil Gaiman)

  •  I LOVE THIS LINE. I love Neil Gaiman.

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So that was a rather hasty TTT effort. What epic quotes have I missed? How’s your Tuesday going? Will I get my finger out over the weekend and learn what day it is? Why is it so cold? Talk to me!

 

Book Spotlight | Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Jandy Nelson meets Friday Night Lights: a sweeping story about love and family from an exceptional new voice in YA. 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

Oh, Wing Jones. For months you sat on my bookshelf, a purchase from the Edinburgh Book Festival, a signed copy I fell upon the same way I did my first bowl of mashed potatoes when I had norovirus.

I can’t believe I had solid gold sitting in my living room since last summer.

I don’t throw the word “perfect” around a lot, but as someone who’s an aspiring YA author, when I eventually manage to string enough words together to constitute a book, god I hope it’s even half as good as Wing Jones. It’s perfect. It’s got everything: romance, drama, an overcoming the odds story, loveable characters from all walks of life. Wing has to overcome adversity on a phenomenal scale, whether it’s the tragedy that strikes her family or her own personal tribulations, and she does it in such a very human very that turns into something else entirely. You feel Wing’s exhilaration in every single line on every page.

It’s a story about finding who you are and what you love and how it can free you, and I wish I’d had it when I was in school. This should find its way into the hands of every young person.

Plus Wing’s grandparents are my favourite and I would windmill slam money down for a book where they go on adventures with each other.

Rating: *****