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: ****

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

dogger

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

if only they could talk

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: *****

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: ***

 

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.

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.

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: *****