Book Spotlight | I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman

For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

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I love Alice Oseman. Radio Silence and Solitaire are both books I wish I’d had when I was in high school. Instead of trying to look at them from the perspective of the current young adult audience, these books resonate with Younger Me in a big way, and it’s both heartbreaking and pretty therapeutic.

I Was Born For This is both completely different and exactly the same.

It’s the story of how pervasive and consuming pouring your heart and soul into something can be. A band, a TV show, a book…it’s an authentic look at how how important, and how destructive these things can be when they become everything. It’s also a testament to the friends and communities that build up around things can be to someone who’s lonely or struggling. It can save lives.

So why only four stars?

This didn’t resonate with me in the same way the previous two did, which is not a fault of the book. Most of my fandom adventures were solitary, borne of loneliness in school and mental illness, and I didn’t have anywhere near the experiences of Angel and Juliet. If I’d been more heavily involved? Hell yeah, I can see another version of me in this book.

Overall, not my favourite Alice Oseman book because it didn’t hit my buttons in the specific video-game-puzzle-solving order like the previous two, but still a gr8 book. Alice Oseman is one of the very best YA authors around, and I have absolutely no doubt that pretty much everyone who’s ever used the internet will see themselves in the pages.

Rating: ****

The Notebook

I found something on the train a few weeks ago.

I’d been deliberating on my way to the station about whether to buy a new notebook – I’d had an idea for a story, and it had taken hold like a limpet. It seemed like the fates had aligned to make a decision for me when I found one down the side of a seat.

When I flicked through it, I saw it wasn’t newly-bought,  an escapee from a plastic bag. It was full of what looked like study notes, tiny doodles of creatures I didn’t recognise, and intricate, swirling letters, scripted over and over again in various shades of ink.

It was suddenly awfully heavy in my hands. I was holding someone’s notes, sure, and it’s awful to lose them midway through a semester, but it was more than that.

I felt like I was holding someone’s soul as well.

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I’ve got more notebooks than I really need, all because I thought I needed blank pages to be the conduit for what I felt. Most of them are half-filled, bought for some project that never came to fruition, one burst of creativity that moved me so fiercely that I felt I might die if I didn’t transfer it to paper.

I tend to want to keep them pristine. One smudged line or poorly formed letter and it takes me out of the mood.

This is why I mostly write on the computer. Mistakes are clean.

But in those scribbles on the train I saw more than just notes and doodles from a dry class. I saw that place where things come from, a place deep in your soul. Whoever owned that notebook had bared themselves on the pages, moved by some force that I can’t explain or even adequately describe, a force that transcends brain and mouth and motor function. And mistakes.

I’d forgotten what that felt like.

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Looking in that book was like being caught in someone’s bathroom when you’re not supposed to be there. But it reminded me that those notebooks that I have stuffed in drawers aren’t just taking up space. I bought them because something was in me that was fighting to get out, something bigger than I am, and I wasn’t taking advantage of it. I was too bothered by making sure it was a work of art. A sign of one of my biggest flaws: if I don’t do it perfectly first time, it isn’t worth doing at all.

Which isn’t the way this game works. So thank you, whoever lost it, for reminding me of the beauty of filling a notebook, of carrying one around for when I need to catch my feelings.

I’ve got mine.

Swim Until You Can’t See Land.

What if I’m never thrown that rope?/And what if that tear in my side just pours and pours and pours?

Scott Hutchison’s songs are intertwined with miserable nights I’ve spent disassociated from the rest of the world. Yes, I Would when I thought things would never get better. Candlelit when I thought I’d never be loved again. Swim Until You Can’t See Land when I’d come out into the sun like some newborn baby animal, blinking at the future. The Twist when it was all too much.

The songs were a revelation in times of trouble, a twanging cord of kinship between me in my bedroom and this man who was able to articulate every nuance of emotion I was feeling but couldn’t speak.

It’s a lonely experience when you struggle with your mental health. It hurts in places you can’t put your hands on to heal, places you can’t even pinpoint, leaving you chasing ghosts. I’ve spent the past two days thinking about all the times I’ve listened to the same Frightened Rabbit song on repeat because they’ve spun my feelings into a fine silk thread and used it to stitch up my wounds.

I’ve feel like I’ve lost a friend. I never met him, but Scott Hutchison knew me better than I knew myself. He told me what I was feeling when I couldn’t unravel it, helped me lay it out and work through it. I hope that, wherever we go after we die, he is at peace now. And I hope that somehow he’ll know that everyone who listened to Frightened Rabbit carries a tiny piece of his music in their soul. I know I do.

And while I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth.

Book Spotlight | The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

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Do you ever read a book that you just know you’d have LOVED in high school? The Sun Is Also A Star is one of them. The journey of two teenagers over the course of one day, brought together by fate and rippling their way through New York City, it’s one of my. favourite reads so far this year

Normally the “instalove” trope is one of the things that makes me want to peel off my own face in frustration, but TSIAAS made it work, through science and poetry. It was the epitome of the heady, intense love of teenage years, when the world shrinks to the point of two people. It should have been tacky, but it wasn’t. It was heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

There were a couple of scenes that I didn’t really enjoy, mainly because they seemed unrealistic to me and kind of pulled me out of it, but the rest of it was pretty spot on. Full of hope and joy and the real tugging sadness of growing up. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Shelve it under “Books I’d Give My Kids To Read”.

Plus Natasha listens to Nirvana and Soundgarden. MY GAL.

Rating: ****

Book Spotlight | The Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

When Lyra’s friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him. 

The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies – and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.

Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her – something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights..

northern lights

Confession time: prior to this month I hadn’t read any of this series. I’d picked up bits and pieces of this book, and I’d seen the film (which put me off completely for several years, that shit was BAD), but everyone from Twitter to my mum has been telling me to read it for years so THANKS UKISA BOOK CLUB for giving me the push I needed.

Thus I borrowed my mum’s copy (which I’m pretty sure was mine, once upon a time) and read it, and boy do I have thoughts.

First of all, I want to know exactly what Philip Pullman is.

I like to think I’ve got a vivid imagination. Fantasy authors in general blow me away but this was on another level. Books like this make me feel like a dribbling mess. The worldbuilding so deep and the characters are so deliciously evocative that I’m led to the conclusion that Mr. Pullman either isn’t human or can see some otherworldly shit that mere mortals cannot.

Second of all, this is the darkest effing book. They kidnap kids and rip away their souls so they can make a magic bridge to a hidden world? They keep their souls in a room in little cages?

Damn.

Lyra is a great heroine, not least because she has no superpowers, she’s “The Chosen One” but she’s not allowed to know it, and therefore neither are we. It makes a change from Harry Potter, for example, where we find out bits and pieces of Harry’s fate at the same time he does, but there’s a nice little undercurrent of menace on top of all the other dark stuff because we know something Lyra doesn’t. DELICIOUS.

In conclusion: disgustingly creepy villains, an incredible world, ARMOURED POLAR BEARS and a flawed heroine. I loved it. Now I want a daemon, although god knows I’ve got a cat with separation anxiety so I have some idea what it’s like. I bet Pantalaimon doesn’t rip up carpets or pee in Lyra’s washing basket though.

Final thought: Iorik Byrnison is a BAMF and I love him. Please come back in a later book Iorik.

Rating: ****

Six for Sunday: Favourite Books People Never Seem To Know About.

MY DUDES. My time has come.

Six for Sunday is a weekly book meme hosted by Steph at Alittlebutalot. There are so many books that I never see getting any love, so strap in, I’m about to take you on a trip through six of them.

The Entire Pellinor Series – Alison Croggon

I found these books in a charity shop and have been heavily obsessed ever since. I love all of the characters, I love the plot, I love the setting, I love how heavily the arts influence the world and the lives of the people who live there and it’s just GLORIOUS.

Guitar Girl – Sarra Manning

Guitar Girl

This was one of my first, if not THE first YA book I ever owned, and I love it. My dream as a fourteen year old was to be in a band, despite having only the bare minimum of musical talent, so I lived vicariously through other mediums. Molly, the lead protagonist (and singer) of Guitar Girl writes songs about Hello Kitty and working a dead-end job and is pretty much a straight up BAMF. All the characters are so flawed and precious and it’ll break your heart and make you want to form a three-chord band. AND SO YOU SHOULD.

The Impossible Knife of Memory – Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson is my hero. Speak is a book I bang the drum for at every opportunity, but The Impossible Knife of Memory is a brilliant book. It’s the story of Hayley and her war veteran father who suffers from PTSD and traumatic flashbacks, and the struggle as they move back to their home town after a nomadic life. LHA’s books are always so authentic, and her characters so acerbic and vulnerable and Hayley is no different.

What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows – Nora Raleigh Baskin

What Every Girl (Except Me) Knows

Nora Raleigh Baskin is also a QUEEN and one of the staples of my early YA reading. WEGEMK is a book about a young girl who has grown up with her father and older brother and is desperate for a stepmother so she has someone to teach her the things that all the other girls learn from their mothers. It’s a gorgeous wee book about friendship and growing up as a girl and finding out who you are. I loved it when I was eleven and I love it now.

Dogger – Shirley Hughes

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This is a book that very few people seem to remember. I loved Dogger when I was really young, although it BROKE MY HEART because I was an overly sensitive child. Thank god it has a happy ending.

Based on the name people seem to assume that I’m making this book up but I’m not. Promise.

If Only They Could Talk – James Herriot

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I basically swallowed these whole as a child. I’m pretty sure everyone will have heard of James Herriot, but I’m not sure how many people have read his books. They’re incredibly sweet, a glorious trip through the Yorkshire countryside, and they’re so hysterically clever and witty that I challenge you read this without at least cracking a smile.

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I’m now in the mood to read all of these again. Except maybe Dogger. Probably not going to pull Dogger out on the train.

What books haven’t I heard of that I should have? Please open my eyes.

Book Spotlight | The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton

A soc has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. 

The Outsiders

The Outsiders is widely accepted as the first ever “proper” Young Adult book. It was published at a time when books for young adults were, as author S.E. Hinton says, “Mary Jane wants to go to the prom with the football hero and ends up with the boy next door and has a good time anyway.”. Or horse books.

It’s the story of a gang of “greasers”, who have a long-running rivalry with the “Socials” or “Socs” – who’re essentially the jocks in this scenario. Think Grease, but with fewer cars and lots of drama and bloody fighting instead of pink ladies and singing. Hinton was sixteen years old when she wrote it. Respect to her. When I was sixteen I could barely get out of bed and she wrote a friggin’ classic.

The Outsiders has been banned in a number of schools because it portrays gang violence, underage smoking and drinking and a bunch of other “sensitive stuff”. Ironically, Hinton points out in the edition of the book that I have that “every teenager feels that adults have no idea what’s going on”. GEE.

Banning books is dumb. Books like this can open up discussions and give young people an avenue to feel like they have a voice, instead of feeling adrift. Hinton was a teenager when she wrote The Outsiders, articulating the gritty, grubby, very real issues she was seeing in her school and neighbourhood. More than a few of these are still relevant today.

Stay gold, Ponyboy.

Rating: *****

Ten Songs, Ten Memories

Inspired by Rhianna at Love Forty Down, I’ve compiled a wee list of ten songs that carry particular memories for me. My life has been soundtracked for as long as I can remember, and there are so many songs that pick me up and dump me unceremoniously in places that I’ve been…some that I would rather not be any more.

But we won’t talk about that. Let’s do some fun ones!

Crazy Crazy Nights – Kiss

This was my favourite song when I was about four. I used to sit on the living room floor with my dad’s enormous headphones on my little head, a copy of The Best Rock Album In The World…Ever in my hands. I’d read the track listing trying to match words like Genesis and The Cult and Alice Cooper to the songs, but Kiss were my favourite./

Just The Way I’m Feeling – Feeder

I had a miserable time in high school, so much so that it all kind of blends from day ayo dy. My clearest memory is sitting on the bus on the way home feeling completely numb, summer rain on the window, listening to this song.

Like a G6 – Far East Movement

I was a student when this came out, so naturally it was on in the student union every single night. It’s strange, really, the physical reactions that memories produce. I can’t hear this one without the taste of dry ice and cheap vodka building up on my tongue.

I’m glad I’m a gin drinker now.

Drop The Pilot – Joan Armatrading

When I was little (like, REALLY little) and we had a car with a cassette player and a tape my dad got for free at a Texaco garage. Literally the only time I can remember listening to it was on the way to see my granny and granda in Inverness. It had Tears for Fears, Big Country, Hothouse Flowers and The Commitments on it, but nothing drags me back to sitting in the back seat going up the A9, looking for landmarks like “The Funny Bridge”.

The Wire  – Runrig

I still haven’t recovered from the first time I heard The Wire, sitting in my bedroom one December evening with the rain against the window. This is the most beautiful song in the Runrig canon. It’s an ode to Scotland’s history and it stops my heart.

I couldn’t find a video that did it justice, but you should look it up on Spotify.

The Year One title music from Destiny

Destiny 2 is a crippling disappointment, but for all of the flaws the original game had…the experience of playing it for the first time, the friends I made and the good times we had means that this makes my arms prickle.

One by One – Cher

This was my first favourite song. My dad taped it off the radio for me and I sat with those big headphones on again and listened to it for god knows how long.

I must have been a really easy child to keep quiet. Also you can see that my eclectic music tastes are nothing new.

Star Me Kitten – R.E.M.

The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite was the first R.E.M. song I ever heard, but Star Me Kitten is the one that takes me places. I took a copy of Automatic For The People with me to New York when I was nine and Star Me Kitten with its choir background and soft vocals reminds me of lying on the grass in the sun, and big old houses, and trips to Martha’s Vineyard.

Cotton-Eye Joe – Rednex

Listen, Cotton-Eye Joe is a great song and I won’t hear any argument. I was four when this came out and I distinctly remember dancing about the living room with my sister over and over. And over and over.

My poor mother. No wonder she drinks.

There was a version of the song on the original single that we used to call the “Funny Language One”, and for years I was terrified that we were inadvertently being horribly offensive until I looked it up now that it’s just the verse played backwards. I’m both mortified and relieved.

Cid’s Theme – Final Fantasy VII soundtrack

When I first started going out with Sean, this was his alarm sound on his phone, and let me tell you I still can’t hear the opening bars of this song without my heart doing that awful thing it does when it’s dark and your alarm goes off and you’re wishing for the great hell abyss to swallow you so you don’t have to get out of bed.

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Please tell me what ten songs bring back your favourite memories because I love music. Or tell me your favourite song. Either is good.

Six For Sunday | Favourite Snacks to Read With

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Snacks are my favourite. Unfortunately last year, after some science (namely a decade of sporadic ill health) I realised that I was gluten intolerant. It’s frankly taken all the fun out of it. Nevertheless, I’m the hangriest person on the planet, so if I’m sitting down, I’m probably a) reading something and b) eating.

Gin

Yes, it’s a liquid. Is it still a snack? I’m calling it.

I can’t think of anything that I wouldn’t enjoy doing if I had a G&T to be honest. Blame my mother.

gin
Even flying is tolerable with a cheeky wee Botanist!

Cheese and crackers

MATE. I love cheese. Give me some Applewood smoked and some crackers and I’m happy forever. Or at least until the cheese has gone.

Crumpets

I hadn’t tried a crumpet until this year. I can only imagine how good the non-gluten-free versions are. There’s a slight issue of butter saturation and greasy pages so proceed carefully if you try it.

Bananas

I eat a lot more fruit now than I used to, and bananas are the easiest and least messy. I’m all about efficiency.

Pizza

Pizza is my all time favourite food. I’ll still quite happily put away a Goodfellas and read a book at the same time.

Coffee

If I can claim gin on this list I’m having coffee as well. I have a Tassimo coffee machine and it has ruined me. Instant coffee just ain’t the same.

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Okay, so this is a hot chocolate but my machine does those too. Plus this one was A+.

Please let me come round to your house and go into your fridge and read your books. And if anyone knows any decent gluten free pizza outlets, let me know. I’m frequently bereft.

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.

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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: ***