What I’ve Read / We Are Okay, Flight of a Starling & The Start of Me and You

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Nina LaCour is one of my new favourite authors. I adored Everything Leads to You when I read it this summer and now We Are Okay has swept me away. But the funny thing is, very little happens in We Are Okay in contrast to the drama and mystery of Everything Leads to You. It’s the quietest of quiet novels. Marin’s first year at a New York college is going by slowly and it’s the start of the winter break. She has barely spoken to anyone since she left home, miles away in California. But enough is enough. Marin’s best friend Mabel is visiting and so she finally needs to confront the loneliness that has taken hold of her. Nina LaCour does feelings really well, especially those that are difficult to describe: grief, loneliness, immense sadness. I also adored the relationship between Marin and Mabel, and even though we eventually find out what happened to Marin, it’s not the end game; we already know before we’re told. I can’t wait to read more from Nina!

‘I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.’

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Flight of a Starling by Lisa Heathfield

Rita and Lo are sisters and best friends. As an only child, I’m always fascinated to read about sibling relationships, the seemingly close bond that no friendship can quite match. The girls are part of the ‘greasepaint and glitter of the circus’, a setting that, I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have usually chosen to read about. But I attended a panel that Lisa Heathfield was on and throughly enjoyed myself, so I delved into Flights of a Starling. What kept me hooked was the realistic way that Lisa portrays depression and suicidal thoughts. Lo begins to down beneath her poor mental health. She meets Dean and falls intensely in love. But Dean’s not a circus boy and will never be accepted by her family, and then Lo discovers even more devastating secrets, struggles to fit into her close-knit community… and begins to unravel, painfully and honestly.

I also own Lisa Heathfield’s two other books, Seed and Paper Butterflies, and I’m looking forward to picking them up!

‘We’re different, us and them.’

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The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord

Emery Lord is becoming one of my go-to authors for summery YA contemporaries. Paige is known as the girlfriend of the boy who died, and it’s time for her to return to the world as her own person. She’s mourned for Aaron and for the time they didn’t have together. She didn’t get the chance to know him as well as people think she did, and dreads people asking how she’s doing. Paige makes a plan: date, party, join, travel, and swim. Simple, right? As with most contemps, there’s a surprise romance: Max. Ryan is Paige’s crush, but Max is his nerdy cousin – and one of the lovely highlights of the story! And then there’s a tight-knit, realistic friendship between Paige, Tessa, Morgan and Kayleigh. Romance + friendship = the perfect mix. I’m excited to get stuck into my final Emery Lord novel, Open Road Summer, until we get the sequel to Paige and Max’s story.

“Handing someone else the only set of keys to your happiness—it seemed like too much to part with, even for love.”

 

What I’ve Read / Exit West, This is Going to Hurt & Lily and the Octopus

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

As you can probably tell, I mainly read young adult fiction, not literary fiction. But Exit West was the first pick for my work’s new book club. Even though it’s not one I would’ve chosen for myself (it’s my first Man Booker-shortlisted book!), I was excited to try something new – and it paid off.

Tucked up in bed, I found myself whizzing through Exit West, not wanting to put it down. It’s about Saeed and Nadia, and how this young couple’s relationships begins and changes after they’re forced to flee their war-stricken homeland. I particularly loved Nadia’s character – she’s vivid, funny and surprising. Exit West, although mostly contemporary literature, has drops of magical realism – we read about mysterious doors that act as portals to new countries. As a group, we chatted a lot about the meaning of migration and borders, a timely and sensitive topic.

Exit West was a fantastic book club pick, I’d say.

“We are all migrants through time”.

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Lives of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay

This is Going to Hurt is one of my favourite books of the year. If you’re all over book industry news, you’ll know that it just won the Non-Fiction Award and Readers Choice Award in the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, and I’m sure they are the first of many accolades! I know that I’ve been recommending it to everyone I know, young and old.

This is Going to Hurt is Adam Kay’s funny and timely memoir of a junior doctor. Now a writer for film and TV comedy, Adam turned his compulsory doctors’ notes into a book. It opened my eyes to what it’s like to be a junior doctor and I particularly enjoyed the audiobook – narrated by Adam himself!

We know that Adam was a doctor for six years and left after ‘a devastating experience’ on his ward. After we realise how tough it is to be a junior doctor, and after we’re told about the impossible demands that are placed on them, we discover what forced Adam to leave the profession he worked hard to be a part of – and having this context made it even more of a tragedy.

This is Going to Hurt is hilarious, honest and heart-breaking, and makes me want to fight for the NHS even more – but not in its current form. I read another review that said don’t read it until you’ve had a baby – and I now know why! As a woman, Adam’s field of expertise (obstetrics and gynaecology) is particularly relevant to me, so that was especially interesting. Even so, This is Going to Hurt is a must read for everyone.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley and narrated by Michael Urie

I’m on a real audiobook kick at the moment. I love listening to them on long journeys, or before going to sleep. I needed a new one and randomly picked Lily and the Octopus because I adored the cover – I’ve developed a recent love of pups, dachshunds in particularly.

‘This is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without. For Ted Flask, that someone special is his ageing companion Lily, who happens to be a dog’.

I began listening to Lily and found one half of our protagonists, Ted Flask, overly dramatic and sentimental. I’m not a fan of quirky books, and this was a little too quirky for me: Ted notices one day that Lily has a tumour on the side of her head and he refers to it as a ‘octopus’. But, as the story goes on, and we discover how Ted ended up becoming best friends with this excitable puppy, I started to become attached to Lily as much as as her owner was. I also really enjoyed Lily’s speech in the story – the audiobook probably made it funnier!

Lily and the Octopus, as I now know, is not just about loving, and the impending loss of, a beloved pet, but about depression, loneliness and relationship breakups. It’s a moving read, especially if you have your own fur baby. (And I love Lily!).

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Adventures in Adversity

Over the past year, give or take a couple of weeks, I’ve adventured solo to Stockholm, journeyed to Berlin and Barcelona for the first time with two of my favourite travel buddies, explored beautiful English countryside and dreamy Scottish cities, and escaped busy London for the day.

Late last week, I stumbled across Inkifi and, without too much thought, ordered 20 of my favourite travel snaps, all taken from my Instagram. They arrived this week and I’m happy to see that they turned out brilliantly (who knew that Instagram photos were actually excellent quality?!). I’ve enjoyed scattering them around my room, filling up blank, empty spaces with memories of my explorations.

I’m not feeling positive about 2018. 2017 has been a tough year, possibly one of the hardest yet, but these Polaroids fill me with hope. They make me excited to plan adventures for the new year. They remind me that this year hasn’t been all bad, even if the negative constantly tries to push it way to the front. They help make my (rented, regrettably) room my own.

It’s true what they say, about that travel bug.

This was originally posted as a shorter Instagram post.

What I’ve Read / Wonder, The Bookshop Girl & The Girl of Ink and Stars

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder has been popular since it was published in 2012. I started to feel like the only one in the world who hadn’t read it it… so I finally picked it up. Wonder, as I’m sure you know, is about 10-year-old August. Auggie just wants to be normal, but his facial abnormality means that starting middle school is more difficult for him than it is for other children.

As well as Auggie, we get to hear his story from several people in his life: Olivia (Auggie’s sister), Jack and Summer (Auggie’s friends), Justin (Olivia’s boyfriend) and Miranda (Olivia’s friend). Wonder is difficult and painful to read at times – we all know how cruel schoolchildren can be, and I marvelled in August’s courage to face them. Wonder is an uplifting story about overcoming those bullies. At times, it read to me like a novel written for adults, such as Emma Donoghue’s Room, although I know that children all over the world have loved Auggie’s story.

If there’s one thing I took away from Wonder it’s that we should all be a little kinder than is necessary. I’ll be heading to the cinema to watch the adaptation this winter!

“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.”

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The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop & Ashley King

The Bookshop Girl is a bonkers story. Property Jones is so-called because she was discovered as a five-year-old in the lost property section of a bookshop and adopted by the bookish Jones family. Property loves books. She really does. But she’s hiding a secret: she cannot read.

One day, the Jones family win a prize draw to run the famous Montgomery Book Emporium. With the help of an extremely grumpy and oddball cat, the Jones family must solve a dastardly mystery or lose everything – books an’ all.

I adore stories that feature books, bookshops and booksellers… and The Bookshop Girl has them all. I loved the quirky Montgomery Book Emporium: the world’s first mechanical bookshop. It’s a magical place, containing hordes of rooms filled with books. To browse the bookshop, just press the levers and rooms loop round like a Ferris wheel, with each one decorated appropriately. The Room of Space Adventures, for example, is ‘painted all over in deep indigo, speckled with twinkling lights’. Delightful.

It’s also apparent that I am Property Jones, since I accidentally dress like her…

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The Girl of Ink & Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

I picked up The Girl of Ink and Stars after it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. I don’t normally read middle grade fantasy, but The Girl of Ink and Stars is an enchanting, magical adventure and is stunningly written (plus the book itself is pretty, too!).

The Girl of Ink & Stars follows Isabelle Riosse – a cartographer’s daughter – as she goes on a treacherous journey to rescue her best friend, Lupe. Lupe has disappeared into the island’s Forgotten Territories and because of her father’s teachings, Isabelle is well-versed in reading the stars and maps, and so is Lupe’s best chance of being found.

Adventure. Friendship. To me, that’s what sums up the sparkly The Girl of Ink and Stars. I adored the realistic and intense friendship between Isabella and Lupe, but I struggled occasionally with all the magic and mystic because it’s quite outside my usual genre. Even so, Kiran’s beautiful writing kept me going – I needed to know whether Lupe would be found!

“Each of us carries the map of our lives on our skin, in the way we walk, even in the way we grow.”

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My Journey to The Book of Dust

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I am not a fantasy reader.

I avoid really long books.

I rarely read books written by older male authors.

Therefore, I wasn’t super excited when Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage was announced, even though I knew it was a Big Deal. As well as the points above, it had been so long since I first (and last) read the trilogy that it was difficult to get caught up in the buzz. I read the popular fantasy books more than 10 years ago, aged 17. I discovered them in my sixth form library and now I could barely remember anything about Lyra’s adventures. As I saw more and more tweets about it, and the publication date for La Belle Sauvage loomed closer, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to re-read the books. It was actually something I’d wanted to do ever since I bought a beautiful Everyman’s Library edition five years before. Over the years, dystopian books and sci-fi books and contemporary books beat Pullman to the top of my TBR, and I never got round to reading them. And so I picked up my 1000 page-long brick, downloaded the audiobooks, and began.

Much to my surprise, I quickly became entranced by Lyra’s world, the characters, and the clever, twisty, exciting story. I have been telling everyone that I only read Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife, but once I began the third book, I realised that wasn’t the case – scenes and characters from The Amber Spyglass started to come back to me. I must have started the book and never finished. And only 17-year-old Stacey knows why!

As for my recently discovered love of the trilogy, I have the audiobooks to thank for this. They’re narrated by Philip Pullman himself, accompanied by an excellent cast, and meant that I was able to watch my very own thrilling His Dark Materials film in my head. I’d lie in bed – the perfect place to listen to audiobooks, in my opinion – not wanting to fall asleep. I found myself eager to get back to Lyra’s Oxford, thinking about the stories even when I wasn’t reading them. I finished The Amber Spyglass the night before La Belle Sauvage was published. I was officially a fan.

A friend encouraged me to go along to midnight launch of La Belle Sauvage and I bought my ticket – mainly because the words ‘supper club’ were mentioned – and I’m really happy I got to attend this monumental publishing event. I missed out on Harry Potter midnight launches and the one for La Belle Sauvage was only my second (the first being for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). At the event, we sat on a boat and ate stew, listened to Gyptian music and partook in a quiz in which I did better than I thought, before heading upstairs at the stroke of midnight to pick up our copies. I finished listening to La Belle Sauvage (narrated by Michael Sheen!) within a few days and now I’m eagerly awaiting the next one, The Secret Commonwealth. I know that I’ll sit happily amongst longtime fans when it’s published – maybe even at another midnight launch, proof that it’s never too late to dream about your very own daemon!

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I originally posted a shorter version on Instagram but thought it’d make a fun blog post too!