This post - which I'm really proud of - is now live for ALL readers, not just subscribers (who got it a week early) over on Patreon! Check it out, and let me know what you think.
Tuesday, 24 November 2020
In The Role Of Brie Hutchens by Nicole Melleby (Algonquin Young Readers) - Brie is horrified when her religious mom walks in on her just as she's accidentally looking at inappropriate pictures of an actress she has a crush on. To distract her, she blurts out news that she knows will delight her mother, telling her she's been chosen to crown the statue of Mary in a big ceremony at school. It works - but Brie's lying, and the job only ever goes to a top student, which she certainly isn't. Can she somehow get out of this mess, and will star student Kennedy, who's suddenly looking a lot more attractive than Brie ever realised before, be able to help her?
This is a gorgeous coming-of-age story and as a fellow soap fan I loved the way Brie turned to soaps to prepare for a drama school audition, as well as figure out things about her own sexuality. I was especially impressed by the way that Melleby portrayed the conflict between Brie and her parents - most coming-out stories I can think of seem to include family members who are either supportive pretty quickly, or really terrible. This goes for a middle route, and is no doubt going to be useful and reassuring to teens finding themselves in a similar position. (But I loved that Brie had a really supportive friend and two teachers who were brilliant at backing her up.) It also looks at financial insecurity - Brie's father has recently lost his job and both parents are struggling with this - and does a great job of exploring that too. Massively recommended.
Sunday, 22 November 2020
My much anticipated 100 Must-Read YA Releases Of 2020 In The US post will be going LIVE here a week today.
Thursday, 19 November 2020
Today, I’m launching a Patreon based around this blog.
Given there has been, over the last few years, what seems like hundreds of thousands of words written on blogs, and Twitter, about whether monetizing a book blog is a good/valid/terrible thing to do, I wanted to talk a little bit about why I’m doing so.
I’ve been considering monetizing for a couple of years now - even back when I was on a hiatus from blogging due to having a leadership role at college, I was wondering whether I should try it when I returned. I will admit that I was someone who, at one point, saw it as being something that bloggers shouldn’t do, just because that was the prevailing wisdom of most people I saw talking about it. But then I thought about it for a long time, read varying different opinions on it, and changed my views.
Changing My Mind
One of the things which most changed my mind on it was seeing the amount of wonderful content Jen over at Pop! Goes The Reader has been able to produce over the last year or two. I’ve been a Patron of hers for coming up to a year now, and it’s the best value for $5 a month that I can imagine. She posts incredibly comprehensive lists of upcoming releases every month, in addition to gorgeous wallpapers and fabulous recommendations guides on books on particular topics.
Doing things like this takes an incredible amount of time. I’m currently working on a couple of posts with 100 YA/MG recs, one for UK readers and one for US readers, and I’m enjoying it because it’s reminding me of so many fabulous books published this year, but I’ve spent the best part of 6 days on it so far (picking books as well as writing) and while I’d love to do more detailed posts along these lines, it would be nice to at least have the possibility of getting paid for them.
What's On Offer
That said, I really want as many people to be able to read them as possible, and I know that some of the target audience may not be in a position to pay, and don’t want to exclude them. So to start off with, I’m experimenting with early access to some of my bigger blog posts - starting with the aforementioned 2020 ones. They’ll be going up for everyone on the weekend of November 28th - 30th, but I’m going to give Patreon subscribers the chance to read them roughly a week early. I am going to be doing some exclusive content in the forms of recommendations lists for books on particular topics, with the aim being to do them twice a month, for people paying $3 or more, but the vast majority of what I write will still be free for everyone to access.
Finally, I’ve seen one or two ‘book recommendations’ services and as I pride myself on a pretty great knowledge of YA and MG books and knowing what will fit people’s tastes well, I’m going to include a tier allowing people to get personalised recommendations. While I’m always happy to give quick recommendations to people who tweet me, these will be a little more in-depth, with a couple of sentences on each book explaining why I think the person will really enjoy it. I’m going to try $5 a month for 3 recommendations, and will be happy to check out people’s Goodreads etc to do my best to make sure I’m not recommending them books they’ve already read. Of course, people will be able to ask for specific genres, books similar to a particular one they loved, or pretty much anything they can imagine. (Although once we venture away from YA and MG, my knowledge goes downhill fast, so from a value for money perspective, you may want to stick to them!)
I'm also really open to new ideas - if there's something you'd like to see me offer, please suggest it! You can comment on this blog post, or message/tweet me on Twitter @yayeahyeah.
How successful am I expecting this to be? I honestly have no idea. But for someone who’s tweeted a lot about book bloggers valuing themselves, and having the confidence in their output to consider charging for it if that’s what they want to do, it feels it’s time to back my words up by trying it for myself.
If you’d like to take a look at it, head over to my Patreon page to check it out and, hopefully, subscribe. Otherwise, I promise there’ll still be a lot of free content over here to enjoy!
Wednesday, 18 November 2020
Noura Alwan and Jordyn Johnson are two twelve-year-old girls who've lived very different lives, who meet when Jordyn becomes Noura's school ambassador. Noura is an immigrant from Syria, along with the rest of her family, and the pair quickly become friends. Meanwhile, their parents are also getting to know each other, with Jordyn's mother - grieving a recent miscarriage - teaching English to Noura's mother, who repays her with cooking lessons. But not everyone in the community is as welcoming as Jordyn and some of the girls' other friends, and both Jordyn and Noura have to find their voices to stand up to hatred.
This is a really sweet dual narrative story looking at the problems faced by both girls. Jordyn feels guilty for not really wanting a baby sibling until her mom miscarried, while her mother, in particular, is struggling to come to terms with her loss. Noura and her family have fled to safety, but it's hard for them to feel safe when they see the Muslim ban on a national level being discussed (the book is set in early 2017) and protests closer to home as well. Both girls' hopes and fears are well-portrayed, and I loved the school community. While there is some hatred - as you'd expect from the summary - there is much, much more friendship and compassion shown by both fellow students and staff. There are lovely scenes with Jordyn and her swim coach gently teaching Noura, who's initially terrified of the water because of something which happened to her friend back in Syria, how to swim, and there's a very positive portrayal of therapy, which Jordyn goes to to help deal with her anxiety. There's also great religious rep - in addition to Muslim Noura and Christian Jordyn, there's a Jewish boy, a Hindu girl, and a girl whose family don't practice organised religion, all of whom come together to support each other and the main two.
While there's never any sugarcoating of the level of anger some people feel towards Muslims, or of the anxiety attacks Jordyn suffers from, it's nowhere near the bleak book that it could have been - the friendship and the warmth shine through and make it an enjoyable read as well as an important one. (Perhaps particularly in the mouth-watering descriptions of various foods!) Massively recommended, and this is one that I could see being a great class read in schools.
Sunday, 15 November 2020
Told in verse, Kent State is a book about people looking back on the event of May 4th, 1970, in which four American students - Sandy Scheuer, Allison Krause, Jeffrey Miller, and Bill Schroeder - protesting the Vietnam war were killed by National Guardsmen.
This is an impactful read which will definitely stay with me - as a Brit who wasn't born at the time, I knew vaguely of the terrible events the book covers, but wasn't aware of any of the details. Wiles conveys the full horror of the shootings, and the events of the weekend leading up to them, using the powerful technique of having six voices - representing students both white and Black, townspeople and the National Guard - look back on the events and argue over their interpretations of them. We find out little about the speakers themselves, other than getting a rough idea of what group they're representing; an interesting stylistic choice which for me added to the book by making it read more like a non-fiction book than a novel.
It's a bleak book, as you'd expect from the subject matter, and Wiles doesn't hold back, describing the exact injuries which killed the four victims. But it's also a powerful one, which does a great job of looking at why people hold different views of tragic events, and a timely one given the current political climate. I would definitely recommend this as a read which, despite its short length, will give you plenty to think about for a long time after reading.
Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Sunday, 8 November 2020
Second in my new monthly feature, looking at 10 books coming out each month I'm excited for. Once again, it was REALLY hard to narrow these down.
Friday, 6 November 2020
Super excited by today's post! I get to interview one of my best friends, the incredibly talented Julianne Benford, whose Unlucky In Lockdown novella is a wonderful read about the developing friendship between two flatmates caught in the early stages of the first UK lockdown.
Unlucky in Lockdown does a great job capturing the strange feeling of the first couple of weeks of the lockdown period in the UK. How important was it to you that the novella was released while this was fresh in people's minds?
Vitally important. I decided to self-publish it because I wanted people to be able to read it while they were still living through it and the immediate fallout. I wrote it as a way of exploring my own feelings about what was happening and I knew I was very lucky to be able to do so. Lots of writers were saying that they couldn't write at all, that the pandemic was too overwhelming, which I totally understand, but I had the opposite experience and felt like all I could do was write - to try and make sense of everything, or to at least get my emotions out of my head and onto a page where I could dissect them. And I was desperate to read stories about people coping with the situation in whichever ways they could. I read a lot of non-fiction pieces about life in lockdown, but they were all very short. I wanted something longer and I wanted fiction, so I thought it was quite reasonable to assume that there would be some other people out there that also wanted that, people longing to see their own experiences and emotions in a story now. I wanted it to help people feel less alone while they live through the pandemic, and I think it has achieved that - lots of readers have messaged me saying that they see themselves in the characters' attitudes and feelings.
Cora finds the lockdown incredibly stressful right from the outset, worrying about being unable to see her grandmother for fear of infecting her, while Xandra is initially significantly less concerned - although she obviously has her own problems. Which of the two characters do you feel your own attitude was closer to?
Definitely Cora. One of my colleagues came down with what was probably Covid-19 (this was back when nobody could get a test) two days after we were in an office together and I did not enjoy that. I pretty much self-isolated just in case! I also think a lot about my nans, both of whom live alone, though thankfully both in London near my parents, and so far they have been okay. One of them had her 85th birthday in August, which we celebrated outside in her garden.
I completely understand why people don't want to worry, and it is very difficult for our mental health to not be able to see family and friends as we normally would. But life is precious. The vulnerable people in our lives are precious. I couldn't have written about characters that didn't believe that, so although Xandra is slow to catch on she does take it all seriously once the lockdown starts.
How do you think the book will read in a few years' time when (hopefully!) this is all a distant memory and the world is somewhat more normal again?
Good question! I have no idea and I don't mind. I don't think all literature needs to be timeless - I'm okay with it becoming a historical artefact rather than something that people find fully relevant and relatable for the rest of time. However, although Covid-19 will hopefully become a thing of the past, friendship won't, so I hope that readers will still be able to get something out of that part of the story, even if the scenario itself is something they hopefully won't have to experience.
And - also post-lockdown! - where do you envision Cora and Xandra being in five or ten years' time? (And would you ever write about them in the future?)
I have never thought about them in five years time before but I know exactly what they would be doing! Cora will pack in her current job and go work for a small business where she's the sole graphic designer and feels more like an important part of the team. She'll buy a one-bedroom flat, probably shared ownership because that small business won't pay that well. Xandra will (mostly) be living with Daryl, but hopefully she'll have found a better, more creative day job, and will still do weird experimental theatre stuff in her spare time, and some form of panto! Will they be friends? That would be telling.
I have had a few requests for an update so I think once Covid-19 is over or at least under control (fingers crossed for that) I'll have a go at writing a sequel that drops in on them every few months, so we can see how they cope with the shifting situation. I don't think either of them are going to be big fans of Rishi Sunak...
I love the friendship between Cora and Xandra, which is at the heart of the novella! Who are some of your favourite pairs or groups of fictional friends?
Thank you! Obviously, the Scooby Gang in Buffy is one of the best friendship groups of all time, they literally save the world together! When I was a teenager watching it I idolised their friendships, but as an adult I have realised they're far from perfect and admire the writers for making them so complicated and yet solid. My favourite more recent TV friendship is Taystee and Poussey in Orange Is the New Black. I loved them both so much and that show broke my heart.
I've read quite a few books this year that have amazing friendships in. During (the first) lockdown I read The Dragonfly Pool by Eva Ibbotson, which is about a girl in pre-World War II Britain who first gets a scholarship to an alternative boarding school full of delightful weirdos, then befriends a very lonely prince on a school trip! Loads of children have to extend the conspiratorial hand of friendship in order to rescue him from the Nazis, it's so much fun.
I also love the friendships in The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, published in the 1920s, which is about two dowdy and bored middle-class women who, despite having never met before, decide to book their dream holiday together and find some other women to share the cost. They recruit a beautiful aristocrat who desperately wants to be left alone, and a wealthy snob who looks down on all of them. But the Italian Riviera works its magic and as they relax and shake off their ordinary lives, they start to open up to each other.
I really loved the relationship between Bilal, the protagonist of This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik, and his best friend, the local vicar. When Bilal announces his plan to build a mosque in their village, it makes things a bit awkward, to say the least, but their friendship endures.
The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, The PLAIN Janes by Cecil Castelluci and Jim Rugg, and Boy Queen by George Lester are all YA books with amazing friendships that I've read over the last few months. I especially love reading YA novels that focus on friendship because YA is all about becoming the person we want to be, and friends not only help us work out who that is, but support us as we grow.
My reading has varied wildly during lockdown, between losing the will to do any early on, and getting a ton done recently because there's nothing else TO do (until I get my Social Security Number and can work again, at least.) How about you - have you been reading much? Anything good?
I have been reading a LOT. I read a bit less when I was working on Unlucky in Lockdown, but books have really been my lifeline. I have read 90 books since lockdown began! I've spent several weekends doing almost nothing other than reading. At first I wanted to read purely to escape, to travel inside my mind while I was stuck indoors, but now I've turned it into a bit of a challenge, to see how many books I can read and then give away to new homes! I'm hoping that by the time this is all over my bookshelves will be a lot tidier, I won't have any random proofs from 2014 lying around unread, and I'll be able to donate an enormous stack of read YA novels to local schools via BookBuddy.
As well the the books I already mentioned in the friendship question, I've read and loved: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado, The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild, 26a by Diana Evans, The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary, Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron ed. by Jonathan Strahan, Piglettes by Clémentine Beauvais, 7 Days by Eve Ainsworth, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo, Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and Outsiders ed. by Alice Slater!
In addition to the book and your blogs and YouTube channel, you also have several courses on Udemy, looking at igniting your passion for reading, running a book club, and planning your work wardrobe. What first got you interested in doing courses like this?
Money! It's true. I got really into personal finance a few years back and one of my favourite blogs, Can't Swing a Cat, featured a guest post by Louise Croft, who creates lifestyle courses on Udemy and has done really well out of it. She offered a code for a free enrolment on one of her courses and immediately I decided I wanted to create courses of my own as a "side hustle" (phrase used with great amounts of eye-rolling).
But although I got into it for the money, I created Ignite Your Passion for Reading: Fall In Love With Books for love. It's a free course targeted towards adults who have either fallen out of love with reading or never quite managed to click with it, designed to help people who know nothing about the online book community find recommendations and get involved in all the fun. I have no intention of ever charging for it, it's got over 5,000 students and my only hope is that it continues to grow and grow.
Is there any question you've always wanted to be asked in an interview? And if there is, what's the answer?
No! I have daydreamed about being interviewed, but never got as far as imagining what the questions would be! So thanks, Jim, for asking me such interesting questions, despite having nothing to live up to!
You can also check out Julianne's video about the book!
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