Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Twitter Accounts To Follow For LGBT Book Recs/Discussion

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

There are SO MANY posts I was considering doing for today, for Top Ten Tuesday free choice! To fit in with my impromptu LGBT recs week, I was originally going to do the ten upcoming LGBT books I'm most looking forward to, but then I thought about doing ten fab people to follow for LGBT book recs/discussion on Twitter. (I may do the other one later today if I get a chance.)

Then, of course, I couldn't get CLOSE to narrowing it down to ten people, so I've gone for top ten (oops, make that twenty 25) authors and top ten bloggers/sites. (NOT CHEATING, Debbie, whatever you think!)

I've gone for my top author and top blogger first, as I'd written a paragraph talking about them both back when this was a reasonably-sized list, and then gone bloggers/sites alphabetically by Twitter handle, and authors alphabetically by Twitter handle, apart from a couple at the top of the authors list where I wanted to draw attention to other sites they're involved with. I did want to write more about individual authors, but ran out of time!

Also, there are people who nearly made it on but I was trying to keep the list semi-reasonably sized; there are no doubt people I've forgotten and will be MORTIFIED about as soon as I realise this, and there are almost certainly amazing people tweeting about LGBT books who I haven't come across yet. Comments pointing me in their direction would be HUGELY appreciated, and an apology to anyone who isn't on there.

Finally, a huge thanks to my friend Ming (@raremediumwelldone) for her fabulous suggestions!

Top two

@MissDahlELama and @charlieinabook - I would say that if you spent a year reading NOTHING but books recommended by at least one of these two, you would end up with an incredibly good reading list. Charlie is probably the one person whose recommendation of a book can single-handedly immediately make me go out and buy it if I have money available. (I CAN'T immediately go out and buy every book Dahlia recommends because there are just SO MANY, but I try to pick up a decent amount and I don't think I've ever been disappointed.) 

Charlie also writes for MuggleNet and Inclusive Minds, as well as blogging at Charlie In A Book while Dahlia has her own brilliant blog at the Daily Dahlia (including this AMAZING QUILTBAG compendium!) and can often be found on the B & N teen blog, in case her Twitter feed hasn't destroyed your bank balance completely.

Other bloggers/sites

@snugglingonsofa - Superb book blogger at Snuggling on theSofa, wonderful at recommending diverse books, and keeper of the fantastic spreadsheet which is a great way of checking out upcoming LGBT releases!

@cloverness - Fabulous blogger at Fluttering Butterflies, as well as one of the amazing bloggers (alongside numerous others on this list) at @BookishBrits. This awesome recent YouTube video about the relaunch of the Bookish Brits Book Club, focusing on diversity, is brilliant!

@daydreamin_star - Faye is hosting next week's LGBT Readathon at her brilliant A Daydreamer's Thoughts blog, which will include the #UKLGBTChat on Sunday 31st May at 8pm. I know from past experience of her chats that they're brilliant, and she is great at recommending really interesting diverse books, so definitely looking forward to this. (And hoping to take part in the readathon, despite being terrible at them!)

@diversebooks - Surely the most successful book-related grassroots organisation for some time, the Twitter account, the website diversebooks.org, the associated hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks - have been responsible for SO MUCH wonderful discussion over the past year or so!

@Jo_OuaB - Book blogger at the excellent Once Upon ABookcase, in addition to being a brilliant bookseller at Foyles' flagship Charing Cross Road. It's mainly down to her displays and recommendations that Foyles is definitely the place to go when tracking down LGBT YA books! 

@Lunaslibrary - Luna is a great blogger and excellent on Twitter, as well as designing some gorgeous book related jewellery! I love her brilliant Diverse Bookcase list, with a huge amount of great books, and links to her reviews for many of them. https://lunaslittlelibrary.wordpress.com/diverse-bookcase/

@queerya - Run by @Caroni_Clarke, brilliant site with fab posts - but Caroline is also wonderful at sharing so many other brilliant things she finds via Twitter.

@thegayya - Current Twitter header has Pantomime, Everything Leads To You, and Simon vs in the centre, so it would be worth recommending on that ALONE. However it's also a fantastic site with so many superb posts - loving Dahlia's yesterday on Making Choices in LGBTQ YA, and Nita Tyndall's from Sunday, Labels are for Soup Cans (and also for me)

@TheGeorgeLester - Superb blogger at georgelesterwrites.com and booktuber at https://www.youtube.com/user/GesterG91 - one of the most awesomely enthusiastic people I've ever met, when it comes to LGBT books!

Other authors

@lauren_e_james - Lauren runs the brilliant LGBT YA Tumblr, and tweets lots of great recommendations and discussion about LGBT books both on that Twitter feed and her personal one. I really loved this post about her second book, which has a lesbian protagonist.

@swritesbooks - Author of one of my three favourite books of the year so far, the magnificent Last Leaves Falling (the other two being The Art Of Being Normal and The Wolf Wilder). Sarah also runs @DiversifYA - Twitter account and amazing site - along with @mariekeyn, who's also wonderful on Twitter. 

@amipolonsky (Ami Polonsky)

@beckyalbertalli (Becky Albertalli)

@bibliogato (Katherine Locke)

@Cat_Clarke (Cat Clarke)

@Corinneduyvis (Corrine Duyvis)

@elloecho (Ellen Oh)

@hannahmosk (Hannah Moskovitz)

@_JamesDawson (James Dawson)

@kerensd (Keren David)

@keris (Keris Stainton)

@LeahRaeder (Leah Raeder)

@lisa_letters (Lisa Williamson)

@lizkesslerbooks (Liz Kessler)

@LR_Lam (Laura Lam)

@malindalo (Malinda Lo)

@MissMolliWrites (Molli Moran)

@mariekeyn (Marieke Nijkamp)

@mssusieday (Susie Day)

@Nina_lacour (Nina LaCour)

@NitaTyndall (Nita Tyndall)

@Patrick_Ness (Patrick Ness)

@Robin_Talley (Robin Talley)

@sharpegirl (Tess Sharpe)

@tehawesomersace (Justina Ireland)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Review: We Are All Made Of Molecules by Susin Nielsen

Stewart is a thirteen-year-old prodigy, academically brilliant but socially inept, and grieving over the death of his mother. Ashley is a fourteen-year-old queen bee, ruling the school but struggling with her work - and hiding the secret that her dad split from her mother as he'd fallen for another man. When Stewart's father and Ashley's mother fall in love, the four of them move in together - but can these unlikely new siblings learn to tolerate each other?

I've been gushing about this on social media and at events a LOT since first reading it one Wednesday last November, then rereading it just two days later as I loved it so much. So of course, I've never actually got around to reviewing. For the few readers of this site who've somehow missed my dozens (maybe hundreds?) of tweets about it, this is an absolute gem. The two narrators have brilliant voices, particularly Ashley. As a former secondary school teacher, she's right up there with Candy Harper's wonderful Faith as one of the characters who has felt like the most realistic portrayal of a popular teen that I've read in YA novels. She's a complex lead, often bratty, having real problems with her father's sexuality, and capable of being mean to Stewart - but she's also a loving daughter, someone who tries to do her best and has flashes of empathy even when she seems at her nastiest, and I adored her character arc over the book. Stewart is also very well-written, but it's arguably the adult characters who are even more impressive - Stewart's dad, Ashley's parents, and her dad's new boyfriend are all brilliantly rounded, and the new dynamic of their family relationship, with Ashley's parents staying friends after they split up, is excellent.

In addition to the great characters, it's a wonderfully warm-hearted story, with a beautiful feeling of family and friendship, and a message about tackling bullying and supporting those around you. Definitely one of my favourite contemporaries of the year so far!

Slightly more spoilery bit below - warning in case you want to stop reading now!

Stewart is a good character with a strong voice, and is absolutely sympathetic in his grief, but it's Ashley who stands out to me because she feels like a character who's not seen that much in books, at least as a POV character. I think that the way she grows as a person throughout the course of the book, becoming more accustomed to her father’s sexuality and his new partner, as well as to living with Stewart, is really good, and that change feels more realistic because of the little sparks of niceness we see in her earlier on when she’s less of a pleasant character. I was also really unsure how it would play out – one character, in particular, ended up playing a far different role from the one I’d have expected them to, and it’s great to be surprised when reading a novel. The heartwarming, cheer-inducing ending is amazing; it feels breathlessly happy, and positive, and is up there with Sophia Bennett’s You Don’t Know Me as one of the climaxes which has left me with the biggest grin on my face when reading. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Review: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon Spier is sixteen, gay, and not out yet. But he IS enjoying a rather wonderful e-mail flirtation with Blue, another student at his school - it's just that neither of them know the other's identity offline. Simon is hoping that the secretive Blue will eventually let him in - and then things take a turn for the worst, as fellow student Martin gets his hands on an e-mail, decides he can use this knowledge to pressure Simon into hooking him up with Simon's friend Abby. Can Simon manage to come out on his own terms and win the boy of his dreams? And how will his friends and family react?

I have read a lot of amazing books with LGBT characters over the last few years, and would have immense difficulty picking the absolute best. How can you compare Lisa Williamson's stunning contemporary The Art Of Being Normal with BR Collins's gorgeous historical romance Love In Revolution, or Holly Black's fabulous fantasy The Darkest Part of the Forest, and say one is better than the other when they - and numerous others - are all pretty much perfect? That said, if I was asked which novel about an LGBT main character I'd had the most fun reading, Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda would win hands down. In fact, it's so utterly wonderful that it's taken me several months to get my thoughts on it down from incoherent squeeing to (hopefully) slightly more coherent analysis of just why it stands out so much.

Firstly, it's significantly lighter than many books I've read about LGBT teens, despite the blackmail part of the plot. Simon is such an amazing character - with a great group of friends, a love of Harry Potter, and an absolutely fantastic voice. The chemistry between Simon and Blue just via e-mails is superb, and the reveal of Blue's identity is a scene which has made my heart skip a beat every time I've read it (and that's quite a few!); it's so beautifully handled. I really liked that Simon's confident in his sexuality, as well - he's certain he's gay, and he's okay with that, with the conflict here coming from the thought of him being forced out rather than being able to come out at a time of his own choosing.  In addition, Albertalli's writing style is so fun and easy to read that I've just reread virtually the entire book after opening it briefly to double check a particular line!

A truly lovely read, which bears repeated rereading, and which I think is one of the freshest and most delightful debuts of the year.

As with yesterday's Read Me Like A Book review, I've gone into more spoilery details than usual here, as I wanted to mention a couple of things that it's pretty impossible to do without giving away a little bit. Maybe stop reading now if that's an issue?

I loved Simon a lot, particularly that he was a brilliant character who was very sympathetic, but who does make mistakes at times. In particular, he manages to really hurt Leah and Abby, separately, by things he should say but doesn't. However, he realises just how badly he's messed up in both cases, and talks to the two girls about it. (Yay for responsibility, and for meaningful conversations, and accepting when you've screwed up and trying to do better in the future!) I thought the supporting cast here was outstanding, and the side romance was between two of Simon's friends was nearly as adorable as the main one. As mentioned above Blue is a superb love interest, and the contrast between Simon and Blue, with Simon being far more ready to come out than Blue is, is an interesting one.(Also Blue adds to his iPod every song that Simon mentions in his e-mails, which is just adorable - yay 21st century romance!)

Even the guy blackmailing Simon is portrayed as somebody doing something utterly despicable but not, necessarily, a despicable person himself. It's a fine line to walk, but - probably because Simon is such a well-written character that we can believe he would potentially consider forgiving Martin, at least up to a point, and perhaps because the eventual apology he gives Simon seems completely sincere - it works.  I thought Simon's family were similarly well-written, despite their embarrassing tendency to make a big deal out of everything, and there's a conversation between Simon and his father which reads absolutely perfectly - it's clear that despite not always knowing the best way to react, and sometimes having difficulty expressing himself, Simon's father loves him and wants him to be happy. Also, the support Simon gets from his sisters is great!

Finally, it's really interesting to think about the assumptions people make, without even realising they're doing so, and there's a particular scene which brings this home excellently. (TOO spoilery to go into details about that, even after the warning, but you'll know it when you see it, trust me!)

Have you read this one yet? What did you think? Leave me a comment, or link to your review!

A big thanks to Debbie for taking a look at this review before I put it up, by the way!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Review: Read Me Like A Book by Liz Kessler

For the first time in her life, Ashleigh Walker is experiencing the thrill and heartache of being in love. It's taking her mind off all of her other problems, to the point where her heart races every time she looks at the person she's fallen for. But it's not her boyfriend that makes her feel this way - it's the young English teacher, Miss Murray, who's just started teaching her class at college. Ash has never considered she might be more interested in girls than in boys, but these new feelings are about to change her life.

Having intentionally avoided reading too many specifics about this one in advance - I'm a fan of Liz's, and the wonderful Charlie In A Book had assured me I'd love it, so I was trying to go into it relatively unspoiled - I hadn't realised the main character was in her last year at college. I love books about teens at this point in their lives, and given how crucial a time it is, it always surprises me there doesn't seem to be a huge amount of YA focused on it. It's really interestingly-paced - I was finding it slower than expected to start off with, but I think that's due to just how well Liz Kessler shows us Ash getting to know Miss Murray, and developing a crush on her. In addition to Ash's discovery of her sexuality, there's also issues she has with her parents becoming increasingly unhappy living together, a falling out with her best friend, trying to decide whether she wants to go to university, and problems with her boyfriend (before she starts to realise that she's a lesbian.) There is a lot of stuff going on here, and you know what? That's perfect, because when you're in those last months of your college life, there ARE a ton of things happening, and it's brilliant to see that Liz Kessler's novel looks at them all.

That last sentence of the previous paragraph makes it sound hugely depressing, I've just realised, but this absolutely isn't the truth. Ash faces problems, but she also meets people who help her deal with these problems - Miss Murray, for one, as well as her mother, and friends old and new. It's a hopeful book, and it left me excited for Ash's future once I'd finished reading it. (And by the way, I absolutely want to read more about her - a sequel would be right at the top of my 'most anticipated' list!

PLEASE NOTE: I normally avoid spoilers like the plague, but there are more than usual from this point here. I don't think they'll affect your enjoyment too much, but if you want to go in knowing a bare minimum about it, maybe stop reading now?

So what makes it so good? Apart from Ash being such a well-drawn and sympathetic character, partly rebellious but partly desperate to please, I also loved her relationships with the women and girls around her. From reading the blurb I was expecting her relationship with Miss Murray to be the centrepiece of the book. While it's definitely a huge part of it - and as a teacher, I thought it was brilliantly handled and that it showed Miss Murray in a great light, as she had to deal with an inappropriate crush - there are a couple of others which are also especially well-written. Firstly, there's her friendship with Cat, which goes back a long time but suffers a rocky patch given everything going on. I thought this pairing was a fantastic one; it's wonderful to see two girls with a lot of history who can argue, upset each other, but also have a strong enough bond that they can each rely on the other to help them in a time of need. Secondly, I really loved the changing relationship between Ash and her mother. This starts with a lot of conflict as the issues between her parents have left Ash unhappy with both of them, and her mother isn't coping well with the breakdown of her marriage, but develops to one in which they both support each other. And there's another really sweet relationship, towards the end of the book, which I won't discuss due to it being too spoilery, but which I thought was beautiful and lovely, and made me want to cheer at a particular point. (As did a lot of the last 25%, to the point where I was DM'ing Charlie to tell her my favourite bits even after I should probably have worked out she'd fallen asleep!)

Add in excellent dialogue - Liz has a great ear for the teen voice and a writing style which had me reading the book from start to finish in one gulp, completing it with a happy sigh at about half past one this morning, and I feel super confident in saying that this is going to be hitting a lot of 'best of' lists for the year. 

(For those unfamiliar with the background to the book, by the way, it's Liz Kessler's first YA novel, written 15 years ago but never published. At that time, publishers wouldn't touch it because of the vile Section 28, thankfully since repealed, which left so many people in fear of 'promoting homosexuality'. A decade and a half down the line - with Liz a successful MG author and the landscape for LGBT books looking so much better than it did when I was a teen - Liz offered the book to her publisher, who texted her to say "Times have changed, and we are ready to move with them". Of course, it's a real shame that it's taken 15 years to get here - but I'm so, so glad that it was absolutely worth the long wait!)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Interview: Morgan Matson

Really excited to present an interview with Morgan Matson, to coincide with the gorgeous new cover of her fantastic book, Second Chance Summer!

I think Second Chance Summer was one of the books that made me cry most when reading it! Which books have left you in floods of tears, if any?

SO many! I’m a total book crier. (And I always seem to read those books in public, for some reason. Why is that?) I made the huge mistake of reading The Fault in Our Stars on a plane, and I was a blubbering mess. My seatmate kept moving farther and farther away from me!

Imagine a genie in a bottle popped up, and gave you your own ‘second chance’ to do something you wish you’d done (or take back something you wish you'd not done!) What would it be?

Oh that’s such a hard question! On the one hand, I can think of about five examples. BUT on the other hand, all those choices got me to where I am now, which is pretty good! So I’m torn. I’ve also seen enough time travel movies to know nothing comes without a price! So I might thank the genie and send them on their way and keep things as they are.

Second Chance Summer feels like a very different book from Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, your debut (although I loved both, obviously!) Amy & Roger was full of receipts, playlists, motel reservation slips, and similar, while Second Chance Summer is more conventional. Did this difference affect the way you approached writing them?

It didn’t, really – it just felt like two different ways of telling two different stories.  I’d thought about maybe doing playlists for Second Chance Summer, but soon realized it just wasn’t that kind of story. And I didn’t want to force a device just for the sake of having one!

Another difference is, of course, that Amy & Roger is about a road trip and Second Chance Summer focuses on one location. You mentioned last time Iinterviewed you that you’d love to do a road trip across Australia (any luck with that?) but if you could spend one month of summer in just one place, where would you go?

No Australia road trip yet (SOB). I’d love to spend a month of summer in Amsterdam! I was just there, and I adored it.

The day your book published was also Election Day in the UK! Which YA author do you think would make the best Prime Minister or President, and why?

J.K. Rowling! She’d have my vote, hands down.

What was the last thing you Googled?

The origin of a quote! I thought it was John Lennon, but it turns out he was just quoting someone else. Led me down quite the rabbit hole!

Last time I interviewed you, you mentioned your love for Harry Potter and his friends. Have you been sorted on Pottermore? If so, which house did you end up in?

I haven’t been yet! I should do that! I think that I’m somewhere between Gryffindor and Ravenclaw. It depends on the day!

What’s next for you?

I’m working on my next book! Coming in 2016! 

Can't wait for that! Thanks so much for talking to me, Morgan.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I REALLY Want To Meet

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Dahlia Adler - Absolutely NO-ONE is surprised that one of my favourite people on Twitter is top of the list, right? (Okay, it's in alphabetical order, but she'd be top anyway.) Ultra-knowledgeable about YA, really hilarious, and basically completely awesome.

Stephanie Burgis - So I can fanboy over Kat Stephenson's brilliance in person!

Susan Cooper - I grew up adoring her Dark Is Rising series, and was massively disappointed that I was away from London last year when she did an event here!

Katherine Locke - One of the nicest, coolest, and generally loveliest people on Twitter.

Morgan Matson - Author of several of my favourite contemporaries of the last decade or so, and someone who's been kind enough to let me interview her twice! (Check back tomorrow for the second one.)

Jon Mayhew - Consistently awesome author and folk musician!

Molli Moran - Fabulous author, wonderful person, fan of country music and Gilmore Girls, massive supporter of #WeNeedDiverseBooks - we would have SO MUCH to talk about!

Jandy Nelson - An amazing author whose two books are both outstanding, and who always seems lovely.

Jenny Nimmo - Along with the Dark Is Rising, the Snow Spider and its two sequels were favourite fantasies of mine growing up; I also loved the more recent Charlie Bone series. Not 100% convinced I'd be coherent enough to actually be able to SPEAK to either Jenny or Susan, but getting books signed would be nice.

Katherine Rundell - Author of two of my favourite MG books for a long, long time, and by all accounts one of the coolest people ever.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Giveaway: When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling (UK/Ireland)

I'm hugely intrigued by When My Heart Was Wicked by Tricia Stirling and was really excited to receive a copy from awesome agent Molly Ker Hawn - who's also been kind enough to offer me a copy to giveaway. I don't tend to run many giveaways, but this isn't out in the UK at the moment so I wanted to make sure at least one of my followers could get their hands on a copy - thanks for the fab chance to pass one on, Molly!

From Goodreads:

"I used to be one of those girls. The kind who loved to deliver bad news. When I colored my hair, I imagined it seeping into my scalp, black dye pooling into my veins.

But that was the old Lacy. Now, when I cast spells, they are always for good."

16-year-old Lacy believes that magic and science can work side by side. She's a botanist who knows how to harness the healing power of plants. So when her father dies, Lacy tries to stay with her step-mother in Chico, where her magic is good and healing. She fears the darkness that her real mother, Cheyenne, brings out, stripping away everything that is light and kind.

Yet Cheyenne never stays away for long. Beautiful, bewitching, unstable Cheyenne who will stop at nothing, not even black magic, to keep control of her daughter's heart. She forces Lacy to accompany her to Sacramento, and before long, the "old" Lacy starts to resurface.

But when Lacy survives a traumatic encounter, she finds herself faced with a choice. Will she use her powers to exact revenge and spiral into the darkness forever? Or will she find the strength to embrace the light?

Cheyenne, Lacy's mother, sounds both fascinating and terrifying. To enter the contest, leave me a comment letting me know who you think is the most interesting parent in fiction. Contest closes at 23:59 BST on Sunday 10th May and contacted during the following week.

Terms and conditions: 
1. Over 13's, and resident in the UK or Ireland, only, please. 
2. Winner will be contacted within 7 days of contest closing and have 14 days to respond, if they don't respond a new winner will be chosen.
3. Winner's address will be passed on to Molly to send them the book, then deleted. E-mail address and postal address will not be used for anything other than sending prize.