For review

I’ve decided to compile a list of books that I will be reviewing (books in bold are of highest priority). I will remove books as they are read and reviewed, adding to the list as appropriate. Continue reading

The Chaos of Longing by K.Y. Robinson

Received from NetGalley for review. 

Poetry is so subjective that I always find it hard to review. Personally, I love this style of poetry – the stream-of-consciousness, open, raw, and vivid way that K.Y. Robinson and similar poets write just gets me, I feel it deep down and it never fails to move me. I find it so remarkable how people can use words to create images and feelings in this way, and although I know some readers find it overly simplistic, I personally find it magical.

one moment life
is more pigmented
than technicolor.
glitter flows
through my veins
and the stars
in my eyes dilate
and burst
into delusions.

K.Y. Robinson explores desire in all its forms and the need and want that we as humans have: to feel fulfilled emotionally, physically, and spiritually. A want that doesn’t always disappear if we are struggling with mental illness, if we’ve been abused or suffered trauma, if we’ve been told that we are too much, too loud, take up too much space. It’s personal and powerful and I adore the dedication – ‘to those who lie awake burning.’

when you look at me,
stars cluster in your eyes
but i often wonder if
my black holes
will swallow them whole
because deep down
i’m a connosieur
of sabotage.

If you’ve read and loved collections by writers like Amanda Lovelace, Rupi Kaur, or Lang Leav, you’ll probably love this too. It has the same power, the same rawness and pain, the same relatability that so many of us feel.

there is a universe
swirling inside you.

you have to learn to be
your own earth,
wind, fire
and water.

you are a natural
phenomenon-
not a natural disaster.

Read: August 17th 2017

4/5 stars

(Not So Little) Little Bits: NetGalley Edition

The Little Red Wolf by Amelie Flechais

Received from NetGalley for review .

This is a somewhat dark but lovely reimagining of Little Red Riding Hood, but I suppose the darkness is fairly appropriate for a fairy tale. Instead of a girl we have a a little wolf who likes to wear red, sent out to give his grandmother a rabbit, with a warning to avoid the hunter and his daughter, who hate wolves. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful, especially of the forest, and are so vivid that you don’t even need to read the words to know the story.

I liked the way the tale was interpreted, but I’m not sure how children will feel about the little wolf eating the rabbit along the way or about the some of the illustrations of the hunter and his daughter – there was a slightly strange and menacing undertone, but I wonder if it would be as obvious to a younger reader.

Read: August 11th 2017

4/5 stars

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill

Received from NetGalley for review. 

The Tea Dragon Society is an adorable graphic novel about Greta, a blacksmith apprentice who finds an injured Tea Dragon in the marketplace and begins to learn all about them after returning it to it’s owner. The Tea Dragons are exactly what they sound like, dragons who produce leaves, flowers, or oils on their horns that are then brewed into a magical tea. Greta learns that it’s a dying art, with life changing pace as it does and people moving away from traditions, and becomes determined to learn all about it from Hesekiel and Erik, whilst developing a friendship with shy and unsure Minette.

Both the story and illustrations are adorable; even though it is a simply story I can’t help but feel there is a subtle, but strong, undertone of exploring and accepting differences, as well the more obvious appreciation for traditions with both the Tea Dragons and blacksmithing. Katie O’Neill’s illustrations are nothing short of stunning and the entire book is a visual delight (I especially loved the guide to Tea Dragon husbandry and Tea Dragon fact file at the end). I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Read: August 11th 2017

4/5 stars

A Change Is Gonna Come by Various

Received from NetGalley for review. 

4.5 stars

‘I run raging and so afraid/ Joyfully and terrifyingly uncaged.’ – The Elders of the Wall by Musa Okwonga

A Change Is Gonna Come feels like a revolution; authors and publishers standing up to say we will make a difference within literature, and bring to the forefront writers, characters, and concepts that are not being represented within books. This collection focuses on a multitude of ideas within its larger theme of ‘Change’ – cultural identity, diversity, racism, immigration, changes in outlook and ideas to name a few – and highlight just how important representation of different cultures, ethnicities, sexualities are. White and straight should not be the default and the world needs to realise that – education is the only way ignorance will be beaten and collections like these can only strengthen that education, and ultimately the realisation that people are people. The wonder of the human race is in our differences but we should never forget that at the end of the day we are all people and we are all equally worthy of respect and representation. This is another outstanding collection from Stripes Publishing and I highly recommend it to everyone who can get their hands on it.

My favourites were: The Elders on the Wall by Musa Okwonga, Marionette Girl by Aisha Bushby, Astouding Talent! Unequalled Performances! by Catherine Johnson, Iridescent Adolescent by Phoebe Roy, and Dear Asha by Mary Bello.

The Elders on the Wall by Musa Okwonga – 5/5 stars. A powerful poem about cultural identity and forging your own path.

Marionette Girl by Aisha Bushby – 4.5/5 stars. Realistic OCD portrayal and the impact it can have on a sufferer and their family.

Astounding Talent! Unequalled Performances! by Catherine Johnson – 4.5/5 stars. This is based on a true story of a circus troupe and a young black man who went on to do great things.

Hackney Moon by Tanya Byrne – 4/5 stars

We Who? by Nikesh Shukla – 4/5 stars

The Clean Sweep by Patrice Lawrence – 3/5 stars

Iridescent Adolescent by Phoebe Roy – 4/5 stars. A young girl of Black and Jewish heritage, mysterious bronze feathers, a colour-changing necklace. Reality and mythology blended perfectly.

Dear Asha by Mary Bello – 4.5/5 stars. A moving story about a daughter coming to terms with her mother’s death and finding a home with relatives in Nigeria.

A Refuge by Ayisha Malik – 4/5 stars

The Unwritten Future of Moses Mohammad Shabazz Banneker King by Irfan Master – 4/5 stars

Fortune Favours the Bold by Yasmin Rahman – 4/5 stars

Of Lizard Skin and Dust Storms by Inua Ellams – 4/5 stars

‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’ – James Baldwin

Read: August 3rd 2017

4.5/5 stars

Another Place by Matthew Crow

Received from NetGalley for review. 

2.5 stars

Even though I lost interest half-way through, Another Place is by no means a bad book; Matthew Crow has written about a teenage girl with depression with incredible realism and sensitivity, and does not shy away from the unpleasantness of it all. Although I found the actual plot too slow, I can only applaud Crow’s writing and the way he crafts his characters – every character was well-developed and had a unique voice, everyone had a purpose and something to add to the novel.

The story itself follows sixteen-year-old Claudette, recently released from a psychiatric hospital following a struggle with depression and a breakdown, and the disappearance of Sarah, one of Claudette’s classmates who seemed to exist within the darker side of society. The small town in which she lives is reeling from Sarah’s disappearance, as well as being unsure how to react to Claudette now that she’s out of hospital.

The good:
– Realistic depiction of depression in teenagers. I found Claudette to be a very real character; she’s only young and dealing with a lot in terms of her mental health, she has to learn how to cope with her depression and deal with the way it affects her life. I know that at sixteen I was not coping well, so Claudette being written as sometimes grumpy, listless, selfish, all felt authentic – mental illness sucks and should never be romanticised, and it hasn’t been here.
– Character interaction and development. The characters are brilliant, all their little quirks and nuances makes them feel like real people, and I loved the way Claudette and her dad interacted. So adorable.
– Hints at darkness. The story is set in a small town where everyone seems to know everyone, but there are hints early on at something darker going on within the town.

The not so good:
– Plotline. We know that Claudette has a breakdown, we know that Sarah has disappeared. After that there wasn’t much excitement for me – Claudette decides to solve the mystery of Sarah’s disappearance and delve into the town’s seedier underbelly, but I found it a bit slow and didn’t really care how things panned out.
– Fairly predictable plot. I mostly skimmed the last half of the novel and I wasn’t surprised how it ended, though this may not be the case for everyone.

Read: July 27th-30th2017

2/5 stars

Interview with K. Heidi Fishman

In February this year I read and reviewed Tutti’s Promise by K. Heidi Fishman, a harrowing and hopeful novel about her mother’s experience as a Jewish girl in the Netherlands during WWII. I was lucky enough to be contacted by Heidi through NetGalley with the opportunity to talk to her and ask her questions about the book. I can’t thank Heidi enough for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope you enjoy the answers as much as I did.

Tutti’s Promise

  1. When did you first become aware of your mother’s experience during WWII?

I don’t remember my first awareness of my mother’s experiences. I was definitely very young. It was just a fact – my mother and grandparents were German Jews and survived the Holocaust. My mother didn’t dwell on it but she would answer questions if I asked. She told some stories – which were mild as far as Holocaust stories go – so I grew up thinking it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t fully understand what she went through until I was an adult.

  1. What inspired you to put your mother’s story to paper?

My mother often goes to schools and tells her story. When my daughter was in middle school, my mother came to her class. I watched the children’s reactions and that was when I knew there was something special and important here. I didn’t want the story to be lost when my mom stopped telling it. At first I thought I might find an established author to write the book, but I quickly came to realize this was my responsibility. I knew the personalities of the family members and I was close enough to mom to ask her all the questions that needed to be asked.

  1. What was the writing process like?

This is my first book and I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started. The writing process was chaotic – research, writing, taking writing classes, attending workshops, revising, more research – I did whatever I could when I had time and opportunity. The book took five years from start to publication.

  1. What is the main message you hope people will take away from Tutti’s Promise?

I love this question! I would like readers to embrace the idea that we need to treat each other with compassion and understanding. I’m hoping Tutti’s Promise shows how important it is to not discriminate against anyone because of religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other external label. Instead we need to accept each other and see that we are all human and basically want the same things – to know we are safe and our families have clean water, plenty of food, and a warm house to live in.

  1. Do you think the human race will ever fully learn from atrocities such as the

Holocaust?

I truly wish that the answer to this question was simply ‘yes’. However, I’m afraid it isn’t. Look how many genocides there have been since 1945 – the rule of Pol Pot in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the situation in Sudan Darfur. There is so much rhetoric against people who are different in some way. Politicians speak of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ and accuse refugees of being terrorists. If our leaders don’t model positive human relations how can we expect our children to learn the importance of these concepts?

Writing

  1. What inspired you to become a writer, or did you always know you wanted to be

one?

This story is what pulled me into the world of writing. When I was young I never aspired to be a writer. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school and college I avoided classes with a significant amount of writing. I was much more drawn to the world of numbers. I started as a math major in college and then switched to psychology. I believe my experience as a psychologist working closely with people and their emotions is extremely helpful to me as an author as I can ‘get inside the heads’ of my characters and understand their motivations.

  1. What is your favourite thing to write about?

I like to make observations of the people and world around me and I do it by noticing my own reactions to what I see. I learn through my writing and I hope my readers do as well. This might sound a bit circular, but if you read by blog — which can be found on my website at www.PopjeAndMe.com — you will get a sense of what I am talking about.

  1. Is there any advice you would give to aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and listen to criticism with an open mind. I shared drafts of Tutti’s Promise with many people along the way and I took their feedback to heart. That meant the book went through many, many re-writes. Each time I re-wrote a chapter it improved and the hard work shows in the final product.

  1. Do you have any more books planned for the future?

Yes! I met two historians, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld and Myriam Daru, while doing research for Tutti’s Promise. The three of us are collaborating on a non-fiction account of the “metal Jews” that are introduced in Tutti’s Promise. This is a fascinating piece of history that has not been written about anywhere to my knowledge. This will be very different from Tutti’s Promise, which is a fictionalized account of true events.

  1. What is your favourite book?

Right now I can’t get enough of Frederik Backman. I love how he creates characters who start out unlikeable and then, without their trying to, become loveable and pull their communities together in a positive way.

The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn

I am so conflicted by this book. How much is autobiographical? How much is fiction? How much of it has been conjured from the author’s mind? I’m not one to disregard anyone’s experience of mental illness – everyone reacts and feels differently to the things that happen in life, and mental illness is wildly unpredictable and different for everyone – but there’s something about The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls that screams pretentiousness, a vanity project of someone who wants to say ‘look how crazy and yet how intelligent and aware I am’ by constantly degrading others suffering from mental illness and the trained professionals whose job it is to help.

The hospital entries of Emilie were often difficult to get through as they were so self-centred and mostly unpleasant towards other people – I have no doubt that many people have appalling experiences within hospitals, especially with the stigma still attached to mental health, but this just felt like too much. I find it all highly suspect and can only feel incredibly sorry for the author if that was her experience. Something about the narrative left me cold; I couldn’t empathise or connect with Emilie on any level at all, which is probably why I didn’t enjoy reading her entries. The only writing that felt genuine were some of the excerpts included at the end – they talk of mental illness and self-harm and the damaging society we live in, all with realism and passion that was lacking in the previous diary entries. They felt real, so vivid that it almost took my breath away.

It is about one thing. It is about control. And I am filled with twenty-six years of female rage and a deadly determination to take mine back.

Although I didn’t enjoy the modern-day entries of Emilie, I did enjoy the story of Emily – a young Victorian woman who finds herself institutionalised at the hand of an evil man. Her experience I can believe; we all know, or should know, how horrifying life could be, especially for women, during that era, with anyone even slightly different being branded as ‘mad’. There is so much anger at the society that controls, tortures, commodifies women and their bodies, and I was seething with anger and heartache at the experiences of Emily and the other girls and women in the asylum. Her experience at the asylum, the torture she received, her friendships with other inmates, the glorious Sir Edward, all made for a strong story of the cruelties suffered by women in Victorian times.

So, not necessarily a bad book, but one that has left me conflicted and unsure – I don’t believe it is possible to say ‘this is my experience with mental illness and therefore this is the only experience’, but this book feels like that a lot of the time. All I will say is if you are suffering, don’t suffer in silence – there are so many options out there, so many services to access if you are struggling with your mental health. Please, please, please, find the thing that helps you – you are so important.

Read: July 24th-26th 2017

3/5 stars

Breaking by Danielle Rollins

Received from NetGalley for review. 

3.5 stars

Breaking, a sequel/companion to Burning, has all the makings of a paranormal thriller – strange suicides of two best friends, freakishly talented teens, secret serums – but I have to admit I didn’t find it quite as compelling as Burning. It opens with Charlotte, a teenager at Weston Preparatory Institute, whose two best friends (Ariel and Devon) commit suicide within weeks of each other. We are immediately set up with the mystery of why two mostly stable people would suddenly kill themselves, especially when Charlotte finds something unusual left for her by Ariel. It’s obvious something strange is going on, especially when we learn that Charlotte’s mother is Dr. Gruen from Burning.

Although I enjoyed Breaking, I think the links to Burning were a bit too obvious; I figured out the links between the two stories fairly early on, which made the reveals within the story a little anticlimactic. I also found Charlotte to be an underwhelming protagonist; she comes across as meek and bland, and only seems to have had a personality when she could feed off of Ariel and Devon. I felt like I couldn’t connect with her and think the only reason she wasn’t unbearable is because we learn everything through her as she tries to figure out what really happened to her friends. I am, however, intrigued to see whether this series will be continued as I thin there’s definitely the potential for a final book with an epic showdown.

Overall, this is a strong addition to the young adult genre – it’s a fast-paced, intriguing paranormal mystery, and even though I had it figured out I still enjoyed Charlotte slowly discovering what was happening at Weston, and uncovering the truth behind Ariel and Devon’s suicides. You definitely don’t need to read Burning to enjoy this, and I do wonder if it would actually be a more compelling mystery without reading it.

Read: July 16th-20th 2017

3.5/5 stars

Nursery

We opened the door to the fairy house
& took our tea on matching pebble seats.
Somehow we got out of there alive

though something crystalline of us
remains in that dark, growing its facets.
We opened the door to the fairy house

at the oak’s black ankle. You asked
What could happen? as you disappeared
somehow. We got out of there alive

the strange tea still warm in our bellies.
Inside, our hosts gave damn few answers.
Who built that door? Is this a fairy house?

They had no faces yet. We spoke
into their quince-bud ears. You wept.
Somehow we got out of there alive

though we didn’t quite return. Our life
is different now we’ve drunk the tea.
They’re alive somehow. I got us out.
Why did you open the door to the fairy house?

– Kiki Petrosino

The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

Received from NetGalley for review. 

If you’re after a story reminiscent of Harry Potter, but with scrivenists (writers and artists with magic, essentially) instead of witches and wizards, The Crowns of Croswald is for you. Instead of Harry we have Ivy, instead of Hogwarts we have the Halls of Ivy, and instead of witchcraft and wizardry we have trainee scrivenists and royals learning to harness their magic. I won’t deny that it’s a fun and light-hearted read, although I found it slightly lacking and would recommend it more for younger readers getting into longer novels.

The story follows Ivy Lovely, a maid who learns she has magical abilities and is swept off to the Halls of Ivy, a famous school of scrivenist trainees and royals who harness magical stones in their crowns. Although everything seems whimsical and exciting, there is something strange and dark happening in Croswald, and Ivy soon finds her magic and life at risk. Magic, secrets, evil queens, tiny dragons, enchanted quills, and forgotten castles all muddle together to create a whirlwind adventure. I liked Ivy – who doesn’t enjoy an unlikely hero, especially one who loves to read? And I loved following her journey as she discovers her magical abilities. There is a fairly strong cast of supporting characters as well, from eccentric Professors and excitable scrivenists, haughty princesses and eager scrivenists-in-training, to all manner of creatures, that will delight readers of all ages (Humboldt the scaldron and Ivy’s nervy porcupine deserve a special mention).

Although I think this book is very much middle-grade, I’m sure readers of all ages will be able to enjoy this story – it’s a fast-paced story full of magic and wonder, with a courageous protagonist discovering who she is and how she fits into a world she never thought she’d belong to. Although it is a good story, I personally found it lacking depth. There seemed to be lots of action happening without enough explanation, which meant that some parts felt rushed; the narrative was more tell than show and I felt that certain aspects of the story could have been more developed. Younger readers, I’m sure, will be delighted by this, I just wanted something a bit meatier.

Read: July 12th-15th 2017

3/5 stars