Sunday, 13 September 2015

Review!: Books I read in August: Did I Mention I Love You? The Manifesto on How to be Interesting, Church of Marvels, Am I Normal Yet? The Big Lie, Trouble is a Friend of Mine

August was a busy blogging month, but I still managed to do lots of reading too! I finished six excellent books. Here they are reviewed!:

Did I Mention I Love You?

Estelle Maskame's Did I Mention I Love You series is super famous on the internet as she posted her chapters on Wattpad as she wrote them. A teenager from Peterhead in Scotland, she started writing when she was just 13 and now her massive online following has earned her a publishing deal, which is just so impressive! I had to see what all the hype was about, and of course I was extra interested as she is Scottish! The book is the first in a trilogy and takes place in the states, where 16-year-old Eden is spending the summer away from her Portland, Oregan home in Santa Monica, California with her dad and his wife and step children. Eden very quickly becomes part of the gang of the eldest step brother, with a built in group of girls and guys to hang out with. The brother, Tyler, is a total asshole, so that shows some convincing writing skills, as the reader follows Eden's journey to figure out just why he is such an asshole and whether she can make him stop being such an asshole. There's romance, too many house parties to count, high school drama, a rubbish dad, and underlying body image issues. All written by an actual teenager, hats off to you Estelle!

The Manifesto on How to be Interesting

This was my first Holly Bourne book and I was so impressed with her writing. The main character Bree, is pretty much a loser at school, too keen in class, and actively trying not to fit in with greasy hair and poor fashion choices. She fancies her English teacher and hates her parents and is desperately trying, and failing, to become a published author. She decides, as an experiment to make herself more 'interesting' which I guess translates more as likeable. She get a makeover and whole new wardrobe with the help of her mum and insanely quickly becomes a member of the inner circle of popular kids. I found myself liking Bree much more post-makeover, I think because she was focussed and nice to people and showing off her cleverness with witty comebacks, instead of the snarky, abrasive person she had become pre-interesting. Drawing influence from classic teen dramas, Bree project to infiltrate the populars, which see writes all about on a blog she sets up, inevitably leads to some less than ideal consequences. The book deals with issues of self-harm, identity, teacher-student romance, and being true to yourself, once you've figured out who you are. I think the point is Bree wasn't really being her true self pre-interesting either and she learns that through a bunch of lessons along the way. 

Church of Marvels

I was expecting this book to be more circus-y than it ended up being, but I still really enjoyed reading it. Set in a very grubby and grimy turn-of-the-century New York City, the book follows intertwining stories from Coney Island, to Manhattan, to the lunatic asylum, as Odile Church sets out to look for her sister Belle, with whom she was raised at the Church of Marvels circus, who has disappeared into the city. The story is compelling, and I enjoyed the thrill of seeing where each thread would link up. The writing is very evocative, the asylum scenes were particularly gruesome. I had a real sense of the smokey, bustling, grimy city of Manhattan. There is great representation across the lead characters too, with representation of disability, mixed race, transgender,  and mental illness. I can really picture it as a film, all gloomy and gritty, but bright  and warm and human in places.

Am I Normal Yet?

My second Holly Bourne book ever, and my second this month! I thought this was a brilliant book. The main character Evie just wants to be 'normal' and starting out at her new sixth form college is a real challenge for her. She is recovering from a bad case of OCD and is almost off her meds, but of course college involves boys, parties, booze, new friends, and lots of entirely new situations. My understanding of OCD has been completely topped up by this book, as Evie honestly shares her experiences with the reader, although not with her new friends. She struggles with symptoms returning, ignores the signs, or acknowledges the signs and then ignores them as she tries desperately to 'normal'. Her two new best friends are great characters, and their Spinsters Club where they create space fro themselves to talk about feminism is brilliant. Desperately trying to get a boyfriend and needing to talk al their feeling out, but also wanting their conversations to pass the Bechdel test. All the boys are pretty terrible, but they are well fleshed out and well written terrible characters at least. I was thrilled to see this is book one of a trilogy, which will follow one of the girls as the lead in each book, I think Amber is next. If you do (or want to) understand teenage girls, mental health, feminism, and dating then this book is most certainly for you. 

The Big Lie

Set in contemporary Nazi England, Julie Mayhew offers a vision of alternate reality, where the Nazis won the war. Jess is the main character, and she is very well behaved, a talented figure skater, and a proud member of the Bund Deutscher M├Ądel. Jess slowly starts to see through her own naivety that there are those who are less submissive around her and that there are consequences for those who speak out against the regime. She deals with sexuality, sexism, censorship, authority, punishment, in this strange version of reality where the Holocaust is a rumour, sterilisation is a punishment for crime, and death by hanging in public from a lamppost is a valid form of execution. Her next-door neighbour Clem and her family are outspoken and radical, getting caught with CD players and computers that can access the internet (technology seems stuck in the 1940s for everyone else). It is Clem who gives Julie clues to their oppression and helps open her eyes to the existence of the rest of the world.  Reading Julie Mayhew's notes at the end on her research process where really fascinating, learning how she drew on specific stories and events to create certain characters and scenes. It's a really great book. Read it!

Trouble is a Friend of Mine

Set in upstate New York, this story follow Zoe, who has recently moved from Brooklyn with her newly divorced Mum, and is attending a school she is hoping only to attend for a little while before she gets into a prestigious Princeton feeder school. She is befriended by an eccentric guy called Philip Digby, who gets her into various dangerous and bizarre situations as he attempts to solve the case of a missing, potentially kidnapped, teenage girl. His own infant sister had been kidnapped years ago, and so with the cases potentially linked, he is determined to find out the truth. Having been obsessed with the Serial podcast at the time of reading this, I was very much into the crime solving elements of the story. There is a touch of romance, and a group prom date situation, but mostly the book is about new friendships, terrible parents, a bunch of misfits, and a whole lot of creepy crimes exposed. 

A couple of these books pop up in other blog posts of mine, including Am I Normal Yet? and The Big Lie in Top 5 Feminist YA and The Manifesto on How to be Interesting in Top 6 High School YA. Go have a read please! 

I received a couple of these books for review. All views are entirely my own and not influenced by the freeness of the book!

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