Books mentioned and mini-reviews:
The Crowdsourceress: Get Smart, Get Funded and Kickstart Your Next Big Idea by Alex Daly
I actually bought this as a present for my partner one Christmas or birthday, but as he hadn’t gotten around to reading it before he launched his first Kickstarter, I decided to do it for him! Alex Daly is a crowdfunding consultant and campaign manager and she tells the story of how she created her career alongside telling the stories of various successful campaigns and how they got off the ground, built momentum, and achieved their goals. Her examples are mostly campaigns with high goals (five figures or more) but there’s still lots of useful advice in here for people running smaller campaigns and I would recommend it.
Pompidou Posse by Sarah Lotz
This a kind of fictionalized memoir of the author’s own experience living on the streets of Paris for a year, about two teenage girls who run away from their homes in the UK and go and live on the streets of Paris. They fall out of friendship practically every day and get into a lot of trouble, relying on strangers for help and having to avoid the police and other dangerous people. I enjoyed it, but in places it’s quite disturbing so I would recommend it with caution and all the content warnings!
For Holly by Tanya Byrne
If you like unreliable narrators, you’ll love this. Lola goes to live with her father in France after her mother dies – he has remarried super fast and she is not down with it. She hates her stepmother, who seems to hate her right back, and decides to try and ruin her life. The consequences are catastrophic –but all the same, you sympathise with Lola, even when you know she’s not being honest with herself or you.
A Friend in the Dark by Pascal Ruter
Another book set in France – this is a middle grade novel in translation about a boy who isn’t very good at school until the cleverest girl in school offers to help him study if he helps her hide the fact that she is going blind. Unfortunately, although I thought it sounded like a really interesting idea, the main character’s voice that just didn’t work for me.
And Then We Ran by Katy Cannon (review copy)
In order to inherit her grandmother’s flat and escape her parents’ plans for her life, Megan asks her former childhood best friend to marry her. Because they’re under 18, this means running away to Scotland. Part road-trip, part small-town novel, I found it really moving. Both characters have had some dark times in their life and their friendship, so to see them coming together and the possibility of romance is really powerful. It’s a brilliant book about family and expectations and all the things that can go wrong with trying to live your own life when other people want to have their say in it and I really enjoyed it.
Diary of a Mall Girl by Luisa Plaja
Originally serialised online, this is about a girl who lives in a building with a shopping mall at the bottom, her friends, and her new neighbours. I really enjoyed this – I did read a bit of the serialised version so it was nice to finally read the end! It’s also interesting from a stylistic point of view – when it was a serial, readers got to vote on what happened next, so the plot doesn’t quite flow in the way it would in a novel that was originally a novel (as it does in Luisa’s other books). But that aside, it’s a fun contemporary book for young teens.
Lia’s Guide to Winning the Lottery by Keren David
Another one for younger teens – this is about Lia who wins the lottery and handles it really badly. She had a fight with her mum just before finding out that she’d won so she decides she’s not going to share any of the money, but that doesn’t last long and soon she’s under pressure to flash the cash – all her own fault as she can’t resist bragging about her win. She also learns some harsh lessons about the limitations of her new fortune. I really enjoyed it and the author is currently writing a musical based on it, so I’ll be looking out for that!
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
She, Myself and I by Emma Young (review copy)
This is what I’d call a high-concept contemporary, about a girl with a terminal illness who undergoes an experimental brain transplant procedure. She isn’t given any information about the former owner of her new body, only a name, and as she recovers in hospital, her curiosity starts to grow and before long she can’t help herself from setting out to investigate. I think this is one of those books where if the concept appeals to you, you’ll really like it!
Experience Curating: How to Gain Focus, Increase Influence, and Simplify Your Life by Joel Zaslofsky (free copy from author)
This book explains Joel’s method of creating a method to keep track of things you find interesting, enjoyable, or want to recommend to other people, using a spreadsheet or other method. At first, I didn’t think it would be that useful for me as I have a good memory, but when he started to explain how it makes making recommendations that much easier, I was hooked!
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
Promtastic by Liz Elwes
This is another novel aimed at younger teens, about several girls in the lead up to their school prom. There’s nice range of characters in this, and it tackles some more serious issues but with a light touch. I think it would really appeal to girls in their young teens who love the idea of dressing up in pretty dresses and having a good time at prom, but also want to read about interesting characters and their problems.
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
7 Days by Eve Ainsworth (review copy)
I got this as a review copy from Scholastic years ago absolutely years ago and didn’t get around to reading it before now. I was really hesitant to pick it up when I first got it, although I heard good things, because I can find it difficult to read books about bullying – it brings me back too much to my own experiences. But being several years older now, I decided to give it ago and it was excellent. The story covers seven days in the life of a bully and her victim. It’s not a long book, but it gives each character a full background so you understand why each of them acts as she does, and I found it totally gripping. Very much recommended.
When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
When Dylan Mint discovers that he’s going to die in just over a year, he decides to create a bucket list and tries to complete it whilst dealing with the challenges of having Tourette’s, being at a special school, and having girl/friend problems. It’s really funny and charming – I enjoyed it.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
This is a powerfully moving Gothic novel about Frannie Langton, born a slave in Jamaica, but most recently a free woman in 1820s London, maid to a wealthy couple, who is on trial for the murder of her employers. It’s thoughtful and twisty and Frannie’s voice, put across by the audiobook narrator so beautifully, is absorbing and fascinating. It explores the complicated morality of ‘bettering’ oneself, as well as some of the darkest aspects of the British Empire. I will definitely be anticipating the author’s next book with great interest!
Kook by Chris Vick
A story about love for surfing and love for a girl – both equally doomed. The romance didn’t really draw me in but I think teenagers who like surfing or the idea of surfing will enjoy this.
The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This short story collection was a pick for my short story book club and I thought it was amazing. The breadth of stories and the themes in the collection! Wow! There are two stories I really liked in particular, which show different versions of a marriage in the midst of migration, and I loved picking over the parallels and the contrasts. I haven’t read anything else by this author, and I definitely will now.
The Space Between by Meg Grehan (received via YA Book Prize event)
This was a delightful, charming novel in verse about a woman who decides that she is going to stay indoors by herself for a year. It doesn’t go into that much detail but I think she’s got severe social phobia and wants to give herself a break. Things are going according to plan but everything changes when a dog appears at her window. She befriends the dog and then the dog’s owner, and then that friendship turns to romance. It’s just absolutely lovely. The relationship between the two women is described so slowly, carefully and beautifully. I will definitely reread this in future.
Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
I absolutely adored this book and highly recommend you listen to the audiobook as the narrator is just fabulous, imbuing so much life into the protagonist that it’s easy to forget he’s not real. Barry is an Antiguan gentleman who moved to London with his wife Carmel, and they’ve lived in Hackney together for over forty years, having two daughters along the way. But all is not (as Barry thinks) it seems – Barry is secretly gay. He’s been in a relationship with his best friend Morris for pretty much their whole lives. Now in his 70s, Barry has finally decided that enough is enough, he’s going to get a divorce and he’s going to live with Morris but things don’t go according to plan! He struggles to maintain his courage and face up to the reality of who he is as a gay man, but at the same time he’s also really proud – he’s achieved a lot, owning a small property empire and with dozens of adult education classes under his belt. It was really interesting seeing him and his assumptions and prejudices come up against life in 2000s London, and I just adored it. There are also a few passages from the perspective of his wife throughout the book, which are really interesting, showing their marriage and lives from her point of view. Another book that I loved so much that all the author’s other books have shot to the top of my priority list.
Again Again by E Lockhart
This is a high-concept contemporary YA (I seem to be reading a lot of those lately) that explores the multiple destinies over multiple universes of a girl called Adelaide. While her brother is in rehab and then recovering at home, she goes to study at the boarding school (Alabaster, also seen in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks) where her father works. Over the summer she is dealing with a breakup and working as a dog walker. She meets a new boy and all of the alternate universe splitting starts happening. We see what happens in all these different universes where she’s in love with different people or on her own and where things play out with her brother in a different way. It’s really interesting, and I was excited to see E Lockhart writing a sort-of contemporary again, rather than a thriller, but I didn’t like it as much as The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or The Boyfriend List or Dramarama or Fly on the Wall or any of E Lockhart’s other wonderful YA contemporary novels.
Cream Buns and Crime by Robin Stevens
Part short story collection, part activity book, this entry in the Murder Most Unladylike series was really fun and I would have absolutely adored it as a kid. It might even have got me into being a detective rather than a spy…
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
This is a novella from the point of view of Mary, the mother of Jesus in the days leading up to and following his cruxifiction. I didn’t like anything about this.
Women by Chloe Caldwell
Another novella, but one I much preferred! This is about a woman and an obsessive affair that she has with another woman. It’s a doomed relationship from the start, as her lover has a girlfriend she’s committed to, and I don’t normally enjoy books that are about cheating, but this was so thoughtful and compelling, drawing you into the depths of their obsession so that you understand how they are drawn together despite the obvious issues at the heart of the arrangement.
Wired Up Wrong and Stand in Your Power by Rachael Smith
I have four Rachael Smith books in this wrap-up thanks to my partner, Nick, lending them to me to help me hit my #Read22ForRefugees reading goal! Wired Up Wrong is a collection of autobiographical short comics about mental health, Stand in Your Power is a sequel, partly about mental health as well but also about her going it alone after a breakup. I really really enjoyed them, they’re both amazing and I would recommend them!
Petrichor by Gareth A. Hopkins
This is a very strange abstract kind of comic. Nick is a big fan of Gareth’s work but this is the first time I have ever tried to read one of his books. I went in expecting to be puzzled, probably baffled – and I was pleasantly surprised. The art is abstract, but there are details you can make out from it at different points – it repeats over and over again throughout the book with words layered on top of it, different colors and increasing or decreasing levels of detail. I spent a lot of time looking at it, trying to discern meaning, and when I finished I had to go and chat to my partner about it afterwards and lose some reading time to discuss what we thought certain details meant. I found it really really moving. The stories told in the text are about grief but also about love and the art, despite its weirdness, just works somehow. Absolutely fascinating.
Retrograde Orbit by Kristyna Baczynski
This is a really gorgeous comic, I loved it so much. The art is just adorable – all of the characters are kind of anthropomorphic, cute animal-people, but to contrast this it’s set in this bleak space age world. It’s about a character whose family fled another planet to come to the one they’re currently on. She desperately wants to go there, and the story explores that longing and what home means to different people.
Homunculus by Joe Sparrow
This is very hard to describe without spoiling, so all I will say is that it’s about an AI and the apocalypse – so moving I cried at the end! The art is also very cute.
The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius 1 and 2
These short books follow the misadventures of a boy genius. It’s more than a bit dated – it’s very rude very puerile kind of early 2000s teenage boy humor – but they were easy reads!
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
Artificial Flowers by Rachael Smith
This is about a young artist in London and her relationship with her brother, parents and art. It’s a really quick read and I love the art, especially the clothes the characters are wearing! There’s one panel where the protagonist Siobhan is sitting on a train wearing a pastel pink shirt and a blazer, which was a *chef’s kiss* combination!
Buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
A really charming novella about a married couple in their 30s who move into a new home where they are visited by their neighbour’s cat. It’s about pets but also homes and places and the meaning those things take on, as well as writing and life and expectations – all kinds of different things! I will definitely be rereading it to see what more I can take from the story.
House Party by Rachael Smith
This features Siobhan from Artificial Flowers, but earlier in her life, while she lives with her post-university housemates and struggles to adjust to being an adult, no longer having a student identity and being part of the university bubble. I thought it was spot on – it is really difficult when you finish university and you go out into the world and have to claim your own identity and decide who you want to be from that point forward, what you’re going to keep with you and what you’re going to let go of. It’s especially hard to keep up the creative work that you’re do at university outside of that atmosphere and this captured that struggle really well.