The Midnight Gang – David Walliams

“Midnight is the time when all the children are fast asleep, expect of course for… the Midnight Gang! That is the time when their adventures are just beginning.”

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Blurb: “When Tom gets hit on the head by a cricket ball, he finds himself at Lord Funt Hospital, and is greeted by a terrifying-looking porter. Things go from bad to worse when he meets the wicked matron in charge of the children’s ward… But Tom is about to embark on the most thrilling journey of a lifetime!”

David Walliams’ success when it comes to writing children’s books only seems to be getting bigger and bigger. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s topped the charts and made himself quite comfortable there, and during my brief period working at a book store, I saw first-hand just how well loved he is by the intended audience for his books. I had many children tell me that he’s their favourite and they love his books, along with many parents telling me he’s gotten their recent children into reading. On top of that, he’s often referred to as the “new Roald Dahl.” Though I hate these kinds of comparisons being used, it’s very easy once delving into his writing to see why those comparisons have been made.

The Midnight Gang follows a boy called Tom who is admitted to the Lord Funt hospital with a nasty lump on his head. He is placed on the children’s ward – looked after by a horrible child-hating matron- where he meets Robin who is recovering from an eye operation, Amber who has broken both arms and legs, George who’s had his tonsils taken out and Sally who is so ill she’s lost her hair and sleeps a lot. When night falls and midnight rolls around,  Tom catches the children leaving the ward and follows them which leads him to discover The Midnight Gang which was created by the first child who ever stayed at the hospital and has been passed down through every child patient. The aim of The Midnight Gang is simple: make every child’s dream come true.

At its core, The Midnight Gang is a fun, heart-warming tale of friendship and the power of simple good deeds. The humour accompanied by Tony Ross’ illustrations created hilarious scenes and witty moments for those readers who are a bit older.

By far my favourite character is the Porter who, at first glance, appears to be an adversary to the children and quite scary with his unconventional looks but once the pages start being peeled away the reader will be able to see just how much this character cares for the patients of the hospital. The porter is a fantastic testament to why you should do your best to never judge someone by how they look because you may be missing out on someone pretty great.

The Midnight Gang is a wonderful story that, despite being 478 pages long, feels as if it’s over far too soon.

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A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

“You be as angry as you need to be,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Not your Grandma, not your Dad, no one. And if you need to break things, then by God, you break them good and hard.”

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Blurb: “The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.
But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…
This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.
It wants the truth.”

A Monster Calls is an original idea from author Siobhan Dowd who sadly died before she got the chance to write it. Leaving behind some of the framework and a beginning, Patrick Ness took the project on board as a tribute to her, adding his own flare in the process. Accompanied by illustrations from Jim Kay (illustrator for the illustrated Harry Potter editions) any reader who picks up this book is in for an emotional rollercoaster.

The story follows a thirteen-year-old boy called Conor who is struggling to cope with his mother’s illness. One night, a monster shows up at his house and says that he will tell Conor three stories and, once he is finished, Conor must reveal a story of truth in return.

At its core, this is a story about grief, sorrow and denial. Conor floats through the story, isolated from his peers at school and having to endure constant sympathy from his teachers, all while having to deal with one fundamental fact that he can’t admit to himself: his mother isn’t getting better.

The contents of this novel will resonate with anyone who’s experienced losing a loved one and while some of the writing can feel simplistic at times given the subject matter, it really does pack a punch and the addition of the illustration feels like someone has reached into your chest and began twisting your heart. It’s impossible not to sympathise with, and understand, Conor’s intentions and his actions, especially when the only friend he has to turn to is a monster disguised as a tree in his garden.

A Monster Calls is a fundamentally heart-breaking, tender and complex book and by gosh it’s one you should read.

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Optimists Die First -Susin Nielsen

“Optimists believe things will always work out for the best. Optimists live in a rainbow-coloured, sugar-coated land of denial. Optimists miss warning signs.”

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Blurb: “Sixteen-year-old Petula de Wilde is anything but wild. A former crafting fiend with a happy life, Petula shut herself off from the world after a family tragedy. She sees danger in all the ordinary things, like crossing the street, a bug bite, or a germy handshake. She knows: life is out to get you.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Optimists Die First centres on Petula who is struggling to cope with family tension and the death of her younger sister; of which she feels personally responsible for. Petula is terrified of doing anything that may result in a negative outcome, mainly death, and keeps a scrapbook of freak accidents to prove her point. She suffers from panic attacks, attends counselling, and a weekly Youth Art Class with other teens needing support.

Through this class she meets a variety of people, each with their own struggles, one of which is a new boy called Jacob who lost his arm in a car accident. Jacob and Petula are paired together to work on a class assignment in which they have to adapt a scene from Wuthering Heights into another format.  As is to be expected, they bond over their time together and learn about each other and what problems they’re trying to work through and they become quite close.

Oddly enough, it’s rare that I read books where the actual protagonist really sticks with me after finishing but Petula really surprised me. I’m not a big fan of YA contemporary as they always steer to romance (and this had its fair share) but Petula felt so real. The reasons for how she was, while unhealthy, felt justified given her backstory and the book being from her perspective really helped gain an understanding of trying to fit in and learn to live, even within the tight restrictions she’d placed on herself. Several times I found myself wanting nothing more than to climb into the book and give her a hug. As her relationship with Jacob develops she starts to take more risks, doing some things even though she’s analysed the dangerous outcomes several times and then there comes a point when she doesn’t even think about them anymore. And if that isn’t a beautiful progression of a character then I don’t know what is!

Another seemingly minor aspect I really enjoyed was the mention of birth control. When it comes to that stage of a relationship, especially in a novel about teenagers, I don’t think birth control is mentioned that much so it was wonderful to have a character like Petula who, not only decides to go on birth control but actually involves a parent in her decision. There’s even a segment where Petula recalls going to the doctors and getting the implant.

The Youth Art Class teens starting to talk to each other and spend time together reminded me of The Breakfast Club gang and it was just really nice to see these characters start to open up a little to each other.

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A response | Zoe Sugg: The Vlogger blamed for teenagers reading more…

… is what the headline for the new article  from The Guardian should say.

Like anyone with a social media account, I am very much aware who Zoella is but I have never been a “fan” or watcher of her videos. When her debut Girl Online was announced, I was impressed that she was one of the first vloggers to write a book that was actually a work of fiction and not an autobiography of her life; these feelings quickly changed when I heard that it was ghostwritten, but I’m not writing this to express my thoughts on that.

Over the past few years there have been streams of articles attacking Young Adult fiction. From Variety’s article about the film adaptation of Me Before You (in which the writer disregards the ages of the protagonists and goes on to say “this is another squeaky-clean YA tearjerker built around a princess too good for words, another saintly love story submerged in youthful doom”) to Slate’s article in which the writer says that adults who read teenage fiction should be “embarrassed”, I am getting really really really tired of this “anti-young adult”narrative. zoella

If we put aside the fact the main article is just a very bitter rant  about Zoella herself rather than her books – which are mentioned in a total of  less than 5 sentences – this is yet another attack on young people and what they choose to read.

I am twenty-three years old and I read a decent range of genres and age ranges but I primarily read YA and I am also working on books within this age group that I hope one day will join the shelves. I choose to mainly read Young Adult, quite simply, because I enjoy it. There’s such a fantastic pool of variety – including  important themes -within this category that just isn’t explored outside of it. I adored reading during my school years and was advanced for my age but that didn’t stop me reading whatever I wanted. I was bullied quite a lot for actually wanting to read outside of a classroom and if I’d experienced that and seen articles online saying that one of my favourite authors was the reason so many teenagers were essentially dumb for reading “below their level” it’s highly likely I would have bowed to peer pressure and stopped reading altogether. This narrative is incredibly harmful. 

I worked as a Christmas Temp at Waterstones and in my short time there I saw just how well loved she is when parents would bring her books to the counter and tell me how their daughter has finally started reading because of these books, how their daughter stays up reading them. One time when a girl who came to the counter to buy the 3rd book, she asked if I’d read them and I said I hadn’t, she demanded that I buy them when I finished work. She was so animated when she talked about those books. To blame a single writer for the reason teen literacy is declining is an insult not just to her, to fellow authors and aspiring writers of the category, but to her readers. Who has the right to label something “less” or even “simple” just because it’s popular? These people are the first to include Harry Potter as an alternative in their arguments which is actually 9-12 fiction. Though, no one seemed to attack adults for reading them when they were being released.

Quite simply, rather than looking for a single person to blame (unsurprisingly a vlogger which all seem to be the subject of media-based attacks recently), or rather the reason why this is happening. Try to find ways to encourage young people to read rather than attacking the one person who may have made them pick up a book in the first place.

No matter what your thoughts are on Zoella, she is the voice of a new generation. Much like Harry Potter and Twilight in the past, she is getting people reading.

And frankly, that is more important than anything else.

 

The Good Immigrant – (Edited by) Nikesh Shukla

“There is no one way to be black. Our worst performance is entertaining the idea that there is.”

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Blurb: “How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?”

It’s impossible to deny that there is a lot of tension in the world right now. From a long list of police shootings, protests, racist rhetoric, the aftermath of Brexit and a new – rather questionable – America President, there has never been a more important time to start listening.

The Good Immigrant is a collection of twenty-one essays from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals tackling the idea of what it means to be a ‘good immigrant’ while bringing to light aspects of their own lives from: reasons they moved to the UK, the history of their culture or religion, tokenism, and the uncomfortable situations they’ve had to deal with. As Nikesh Shukla – the editor of this book – states in the introduction: “The biggest burden facing people of colour in this country is that society deems us bad immigrants – job-stealers, benefit-scroungers, girlfriend-thieves, refugees – until we cross over in their consciousness, through popular culture, winning races, baking good cakes, being conscientious doctors, to become good immigrants. And we are so tired of that burden.”

The very important thing this book highlights is that everyone has a completely different story to tell and that to even consider lumping people into certain groups (which unfortunately happens too often) is doing those individuals a disservice. The Good Immigrant contributors range from people whose parents immigrated to the UK but they were born here, to stories detailing why someone decided to move here to the even more fascinating story from one contributor about why they chose to move to the UK and then decided to leave again.

Each story offers a brutally honest and eye-opening insight into what it means to be judged solely on your skin colour, what you chose to wear and even, in some cases, your name.

“Airports and Auditions” is an essay written by actor Riz Ahmed who discusses the frequency with which he is pulled aside at airports to be checked by security and that, because it happens so often, he’s almost started treating them as if they were auditions.

“Is Nish Kumar A Confused Muslin?” by Nish Kumar details his career as a comedian and how one turn of phrase resulted in him becoming an “angry Muslim” meme online. He discusses who these assumptions were made on the well-known fact that he is Indian when in fact the religion he practises is Hinduism.

“Yellow” by Vera Chok discusses what it means to be a Chinese individual from Malaysia and what assumptions are made about her based on her “yellow” skin colour along with the ever-changings words such as “East Asian” replacing “Oriental.”

“Guide To Being Black” by Varaidzo dictates what it means to grow up being mixed race and the struggles of fitting in.

“Namaste” by editor Nikesh Shukla focuses on how the UK has adopted aspects from other cultures and integrated them without checking what they mean. For example, Chai Tea is just “tea tea.”

The examples listed above are just a few of the essays that really stood out to me and each one highlights the differences each individual has faced – and sadly continues to.

This book was created by Unbound Publishing which is entirely funded by its readers. Simply put, this book now exists because people cared enough to make it so. And every single one of those people are listed in the back of the book are like little glimmers of hope showing that if we band together we can make things happen, we can let those from backgrounds different to our own have a platform to use our voices. And I firmly believe that with this book (and the recent announcement of a BAME YA Anthology from Stripes Publishing) more BAME writers will finally get to be heard.

If you read one book this year, make it this one.

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Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

“It just goes to show you: every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.”

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Blurb: “When a newborn baby dies after a routine hospital procedure, there is no doubt about who will be held responsible: the nurse who had been banned from looking after him by his father. What the nurse, her lawyer and the father of the child cannot know is how this death will irrevocably change all of their lives, in ways both expected and not.”

Jodi Picoult is a writer whose work I’m frequently been told to read. However, none of her material every really appealed to me; and that’s no fault of Jodi, it’s just not a genre I often reach for. Although, after being interested in the topic of this one, and after reading a chapter sampler on my kindle, this quickly changed.

Small Great Things follows an African-American nurse named Ruth who works on a birthing ward. She’s worked in this role for twenty years and turns up to work like any normal day and is assigned her patient for the day: a woman who had her baby overnight. Ruth tends to the new-born, performing the necessary examinations only for the angry father to request to see her manager. He doesn’t want “someone who looks like Ruth” touching his baby. Ruth is moved to another patient and when an unfortunate situation results in the death of the baby she’s banned from looking after, the finger is swiftly pointed at her.

The story focuses on a rather serious and relevant situation which sadly many go through on a daily basis. With many readers expressing a need for more diverse books and a more diverse publishing industry, this book (after a discussion with my #FeminisminYA* friends on twitter) has very mixed views. Jodi Picoult is a white woman writing about a character who faces racism; something that she has not personally experienced. The plot is also inspired by a real life event that enraged Picoult so much she simply had to write about it but fictionalised the events and character motivations that led to the court case. There are some readers who feel that white writers should use their position to include POC characters in their works (with writers often shamed for not including them) but there are others who feel that issues of racism and differing cultures should be left to those who experience them and live them every day; regardless of how much “research” is put into it. After speaking to the aforementioned #feminisminya group I rethought why it is that I like this book so much.

The book is told in multiple perspectives: Ruth (the nurse), Turk (father of the baby) and Kennedy (Ruth’s Lawyer). I truly believe this was the best way for the story to be told as it covers very different viewpoints and each one is so well written that I don’t think it could have been shared in any other way. The reader can learn more about Ruth’s backstory and why she wanted to become a nurse and why Turk is so against anyone who isn’t white. But, as a white woman, the only character I can really discuss the accuracy of is Kennedy.

Kennedy is a character who really means well. She has a husband, a daughter, a thriving career, and she really does believe that everyone should be treated well regardless of their skin colour. However, she is prone to slip ups and saying things that she believes are helping when really they are doing the opposite. Through reading her chapters, I noticed similarities between her and myself, including some phrases and points she’d expressed.  Her chapters were so important in showcasing things that are so engrained into white society and it made me sit back and think so many times.

And that is why I loved this book: because it got me thinking.

I feel like I have gained more of an understanding through my process of reading this book though it saddens me that cases such as these appear too often in the media. I urge you to read this book but I also urge you to listen to the people who are screaming at the top of their lungs yet to some of us, it’s merely a whisper.

*#Feminisminya is a weekly twitter chat discussing various themes within YA books. It takes place Tuesdays 7:30pm on Twitter under this hashtag and everyone is free to join in*

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

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Blurb: “A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping our land. Justice has been democratized. The silent majority are getting a voice. But what are we doing with our voice? We are mercilessly finding people’s faults. We are ruining the lives of those outside it. We are using shame as a form of social control.”

Over the years I’ve seen many examples of public shaming, even within the book community, and recently I’ve become really fascinated with the concept of it.  Jon Ronson decided to explore this idea of being publically shamed by meeting up with various people who have been involved in shamings, whether in the online world or the real one and tells the stories of what happen to that person, how they dealt with it and what happened as a result.

I loved this book for a great many reasons: the main one being how un-biased Jon Ronson remains throughout his investigation. Of course, like any other human beings he has his own opinions but he doesn’t allow those to cloud his ability to lay out the facts. In the situations where two people were involved (for example, the shamer and the one being shamed), he talks to each individual about why they took certain paths and how they feel looking back. In a way, this book gives an understanding of people’s motivations and shows how the little people have now gained immense power. Where once someone saw someone being interviewed on TV and could only sit there in anger at what the person was saying, now that individual can make their views heard online and use that platform to send abuse to said interviewee.

The variety of stories Jon was able to share showcased the idea that shame really can take place anywhere and he even goes on to explore why it is we actually feel shame and if it is possible to go through life not having the ability to not feel shame at all.

The conclusion I drew from my experience reading this book is that there are no winners or losers; only victims.

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Traitor To The Throne – Alwyn Hamilton

“This was what the desert did to us. It made us dreamers with weapons.”

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Blurb: “Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a mythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. 
When Amani finds herself thrust into the epicenter of the regime—the Sultan’s palace—she’s determined to bring the tyrant down. Desperate to uncover the Sultan’s secrets by spying on his court, she tries to forget that Jin disappeared just as she was getting closest to him, and that she’s a prisoner of the enemy. But the longer she remains, the more she questions whether the Sultan is really the villain she’s been told he is, and who’s the real traitor to her sun-bleached, magic-filled homeland.”

 

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*


Rebel of the Sands
was the book that regained my faith in Young Adult fiction when I was considering moving on from it completely. There was just something so magical and truly wonderful about the characters and the world that Alwyn Hamilton had woven together, and now she’s back with the highly anticipated sequel Traitor To The Throne.

It’s hard to give a summary for this book without spoiling the previous one so all I will say is this: the rebellion at this point lies solely on the Sultan not knowing exactly how small the rebellion actually is, and also not discovering that Amani is in fact the Blue Eyed-Bandit.

As I often find with sequels, it’s easy to forget the story so far without re-reading which I struggle to do a lot of the time but thankfully Hamilton includes a glossary as the start of the book detailing each character and their roles, and the first chapter is quite simply a recap of the story so far. I found it incredibly helpful to have a guide within the book to go back to without having to pause and do an internet search to remind myself of certain information.

Alwyn Hamilton has this real talent for introducing new parts of the world she’s created without throwing the reader into them, hoping they find their own way. Instead she eases the reader in gently which I’m finding so rare lately.

It’s really interesting to see what was happening on the Sultan’s side of the rebellion and get a glimpse into why these people are rallying against him. It provided moments of action and excitement and I loved seeing the character development of Amani. However this book just seemed to fall short of its brilliant counterpart. Unfortunately it seems to suffer from “second book syndrome” where the lull periods go on for too long but that, at the same time, can’t be helped because of the nature of the plot. It just seemed to lack that something that made me love the first one so much.

It has its moments of greatness but overall  it feels like a pebble compared to the rock that was Rebel Of The Sands.

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Deception – Roald Dahl

“Why do we lie? Why do we deceive those we love most? What do we fear revealing?”

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Blurb: “Here, among many others, you’ll read about how to get away with the perfect murder, the old man whose wages end in a most disturbing payment, how revenge is sweeter when it is carried out by someone else and the card sharp so good at cheating he does something surprising with his life.”

When I was a child, Roald Dahl was a permanent fixture in my reading life. I have so many vivid memories of reading his books and watching the film adaptation of Matilda so much that I ended up breaking the VHS tape. The most vivid of these memories is a time when I had a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which had an extra chapter added to it but for the sake of keeping “secrets” the words on the page were backwards and you had to use a mirror to read it.  Deception is one book in a four part collection of Roald Dahl’s adult fiction exploring different vices: Deception, Lust, Cruelty and Madness. Now that I am twenty three years old (at the date of this post) it seems only right to make the transition from his children’s works to the adult ones.

Deception is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a book of ten short stories exploring the different ways people can deceive others and what their reasons may be for doing so. My favourite stories were: My Lady Love, My Dove which is about a couple that rent out rooms in their house but hide microphones in them in the hopes of hiding out saucy details only to end up on the other side of it and Vengeance is Mind Inc which tells the tale of two men who decide to create a company in which they will carry out violent crimes on specific journalists etc who slander various people in the papers.

From this collection I learnt that there’s a vast number of ways you can be deceptive and I really liked how the stories had no real sense of closure. There was no redemption of those who chose to be deceptive.

If you’re a Roald Dahl fan, these collections are worth looking into but they’re very different to what you’ll be used to.

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The Glittering Court – Richelle Mead

“I belonged to one of the noblest families in Osfrid, one that could trace its bloodline back to the country’s founders. Sure, my title might have been more prestigious if my family’s fortune hadn’t evaporated, but that was easily fixed. All I had to do was marry well. And that’s where all my problems started.”

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Blurb: “Big and sweeping, spanning from the refined palaces of Osfrid to the gold dust and untamed forests of Adoria, The Glittering Court tells the story of Adelaide, an Osfridian countess who poses as her servant to escape an arranged marriage and start a new life in Adoria, the New World. But to do that, she must join the Glittering Court.”

Richelle Mead is another author who I knew of but had never read her books. Like a lot of readers of the YA genre, I used to eat up anything about vampires but her series Vampire Academy just never appealed to me and after watching the film adaptation I was even less inclined to do so. Soundless peaked my interest but after hearing it was a stand-alone (which didn’t seem to work) and a lot of readers had very mixed opinions, I decided to steer clear. So you’re probably wondering what made me reach for The Glittering Court. Well, quite simply, I am a sucker for political intrigue.

The Glittering Court follows the countess of Osfrid who is stuck in the middle of her family’s diminishing wealth. As is the case in this particular period, she must marry in order for her and her loved ones to keep their social status. Unfortunately for the countess, her arranged suitor is in fact her cousin. When an offer to join The Glittering Court is offered to her servant it isn’t long before the countess takes her place, seeing this as the perfect opportunity to escape. The Glittering Court is an institution that takes low birth girls and trains them to be respectable ladies in order to gain an offer from a rich suitor.

First, I want to make the point of how gorgeous this book cover looks. I’m not normally one for books that have models on the cover but this is so breathtakingly beautiful. I was hooked on this story. I have no way of guessing how the story would unfold because there were so many secrets and so much intrigue around this group.

There were plenty of things that made me thoroughly enjoy this book but I did have quite a few issues. However, the latter won’t stop me from picking up the next book.

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