My Favourite Anthologies & Publishers to Watch| Reading Round Up

I love a well-curated anthology. There is nothing better than diving into a book that feels like a lucky dip of voices, many of whom you’ve never read before. I also love the flexibility you get with an anthology; only got 10 minutes, no problem! You can read a few poems, maybe even a whole short story or an essay in that time. They are the perfect commuter companion and excellent options for busy times like Christmas, when you want to grab some quiet time before you’re called away again.

I leapt at the chance to create a series of anthologies at our micropublisher 3 of Cups Press. Our first, On Anxiety, launches in January and you can preorder it still through our website shop. There are more coming in later 2018 too – keep a particular eye out for February book fans!

But until then, here are some of my favourites to keep you going!

Also, a quick note, in writing this, I realised this quickly became a love letter for all the independent presses that I know and love, who you should throw some of your book money at in the coming year. These guys do fantastic work and I want them to stick around!

Okay, let’s go.

change.PNGA Change is Gonna Come is the wonderful young adult anthology that features only BAME authors, created by the team at Stripes publishing. The book features twelve authors, contributing ten short fiction pieces and two poems. Change represents the future of publishing – voices that have been historically untapped, stories yet to be told. It is an absolutely divine book of exceptionally high quality, and not one of the stories felt like a duffer. I’ve actually read the anthology twice – once back in August when I was in the middle of Kickstarter hell, and just this last month so that I could refresh my mind. In particular, Aisha Bushby’s piece made me sob on my dog and Tanya Byrne’s Hackney Moon is just the most wonderful queer love story that I have ever read. I want more from all these authors immediately. Stripes and Little Tiger Press also produced the wonderful collection I’ll Be Home For Christmas last year, and in my opinion are a publisher to watch.

Sliding over to non fiction, my first recommendation is The Good Immigrant is an awardimmigrant.PNG winning collection of essays from BAME people living in Britain, collated and edited by the wonderful Nikesh Shukla. This is an extremely timely collection about what it means to be an immigrant or a person of colour in the UK today. The collection includes 21 voices in essays covering their wide ranging experiences and perspectives. It is so difficult to say anything about The Good Immigrant that hasn’t already been said by many, many people. Believe the hype; this book is fantastic and essential reading for anyone living in the UK. From Nikesh Shukla and his wonderful agent Julia Kingsford, we now have The Good Journal, a quarterly literary magazine featuring BAME authors and artists, and The Good Literary Agency, launching in 2018.

Did you know The Good Immigrant was published through Unbound, an independent publishing crowdfunding platform. They produce the most magical books and you must go check them out. I particularly recommend you check out Cut From the Same Cloth and A Country to Call Home, which are both still in the funding process. Check them out!

9780995623828It would be remiss of me to discuss anthologies without looking at Nasty Women, another stunning and award winning anthology released this year. What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century? What does it mean to stand up against misogyny, racism and classism alongside sexism? Independent Scottish Publishers 404 Ink seek to answer this question in this excellent collection of essays and interviews from a number of brilliant women. Originally released as a Kickstarter that was 369% funded, the Nasty Women collection is now widely available, as is their first edition of the 404 Ink Literary Magazine, Error. The collection covers a wide range of topics – the feminist leanings of foraging, accountability in the punk scene, classism within the arts, the difficulty of living multiple racial identities, the struggle of loving Courtney Love. I feel that this collection would stand up well in a feminist starter pack of sorts, as we continue to gather around the rallying moniker of Nasty Women. Buy a copy for the young and old women in your life; there is something for everyone here, and while you’re at it, check out the other books and magazines produced by 404 Ink.

For both Nasty Women and The Good Immigrant, every single essay made me pause for thought and I enjoyed reading a single article then setting the book aside, allowing them to settle in my mind. While this meant it took me longer to read these books, it allowed me the extra time to connect to the voices and their experiences.

I’d like to add a quick recommendation for How Much the Heart Can Hold as well, a fiction anthology developed by Sceptre around the seven types of love, which they added a further story to by Phoebe Roy (also featured in Change) when the paperback was published. I enjoyed this immensely earlier this year, and have been in the process of seeking out works from the authors featured in the book. A great one to dip in and out of too.

In the meantime, I have a lot on my shelves that I’ve been dipping in and out of recently and so haven’t had time to review properly, but I wanted to mention them now:

  • Know Your Place edited by Nathan Connolly and published by Dead Ink Books. this book is essays about being working class, in the style of The Good Immigrant.
  • The Things I Would Tell You edited by Sabrina Mafouz and published by Saqi Books: an anthology of essays from British Mulsim Women.
  • 2084: A Science Fiction Anthology edited by George Sandison and published by Unsung Press is an anthology of science fiction short stories all about what the year 2084 could look like.

That’s all for now, I think. Tell me, what are your favourite anthologies? Which projects are you most looking forward to next?

There’s Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins | 1 Minute Reviews

My past experience with Stephanie Perkins has been solid, having fully enjoyed her third romance YA Isla and the Happily Ever After for its sweet romance and great autism representation, so I was really intrigued when My Kinda Books announced her new horror novel There’s Someone Inside Your House.

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When I say it’s a horror novel, what I mean is this is a novel version of cheesy old slasher movies. You know what I mean – the couple kissing in the car hear something weird outside, someone in a cornfield thinks they are being followed. As someone who hit their teenage years when Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, I found this positively nostalgic.

Makani Young arrives in Nebraska from Hawaii, leaving behind a mysterious past along with her original surname, somewhat baffled by the lack of sea. She made some new friends – Alex and Darby (trans boy rep, whoo!) – and after a summer kissing fling with aloof, strangely beautiful Ollie, she feels like she is starting to settle in.

That is until someone starts murdering all the teenagers. Who is the one killing all her peers in increasingly gruesome ways? Who will be next? Is her new boyfriend the one to blame?

What I admire most ardently about Perkins’ writing is her ability to make you care intently for characters within one page, people who she is ultimately about to bump off in a few more. Several of them crop up at various points in the novel, and it is only when you get to their point of view chapter that you suddenly care deeply for them. Then someone murders them really, really brutally. This cycle pops up quite a few times, meaning you know when you get to a non-Makani pov chapter that they are about to die – I really enjoyed this in the end as I started worrying about who was cropping up.

Alongside this is Makani’s blossoming romance with strange kid Ollie, which occupies a larger part of the narrative than you’d expect necessarily in a horror but which makes sense for Perkins, given romance is her bread and butter. It is great, and a little steamy.

There’s Someone Inside Your House is a very fun, gruesome little novel, best read in a couple of sittings to enjoy the tension hiking up as everyone scrambles to catch the killer before they kill more kids. Tremendously fun stuff.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you to My Kinda Books for sharing this copy with me at YALC.

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley & being non-binary/genderqueer

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a bit of a Robin Talley stan, having fallen deeply in love with Lies We Tell Ourselves and worked through her four novels since then.

What We Left Behind is Talley’s second novel and, if you’d go by the GoodReads reviews, somehow the most controversial, due to featuring a nonbinary character who questions their pronouns and place on the gender spectrum throughout the book. As a nonbinary person, I was curious about some of the reviews and decided to pick up a copy myself.

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After meeting at a high school dance, Toni and Gretchen have been virtually inseparable through high school, as hopelessly in love as the day they met. But when plans for college go awry, the couple find themselves pulled apart to different towns, whereupon both Toni and Gretchen begin to grow into themselves.

Gretchen rediscovers her love for New York and gains a sassy blunt best friend to explore it with. Toni discovers their university’s LGTBQ society and, upon finally meeting other genderqueer and trans people, starts to question what they know about themselves. As they learn more about themselves, Gretchen and Toni grow further and further apart. Will they manage to stay together?

In the same way as Talley’s other straight-contemporary YA Our Own Private Universe, there is definitely an educational bent to this narrative, making it a useful book for younger queer readers in particular.

What We Left Behind shows the progression of Toni and Gretchen in discovering and understanding not just what it means to be queer yourself, but to be part of a wider LGBTQ+ community, to be a part of that history. Talley does some interesting playing around with typical confusions of baby queers – I particularly liked Toni’s feeling of being so overwhelmed by pronouns that they choose to just remove them completely from their language.

This is also a heavily character based novel, with barely a straight in sight (and when they are present, sometimes the descriptions are not the most complimentary). I think for queer kids growing up without a chosen family, this aspect of the novel could be the light at the end of the tunnel – as they say, it gets better.

But let’s talk about the controversy, and some light spoilers ahead my friends. As Toni realises they are more masculine than they thought, they switch their name spelling to Tony and begin using he/his full time, as he tries to work out whether he is a masc non binary person or a trans man. Some people have felt this is not the right way to represent genderqueer people, and I’m here to say I don’t necessarily agree with that viewpoint. While yes, I 100% agree that some people falsely see non binary/genderqueer identities as a stepping stone along to trans binary, sometimes it does happen. Or even, people remain non binary but change their names, pronouns and begin physical transitioning to accompany this. Ash Hardell’s Youtube channel explores this quite a lot through a number of videos, often including other guest stars who are nonbinary or genderqueer.

Let’s talk personal here – I’m nonbinary, assigned female at birth, and I’ve considered top surgery and hormones, and the only reason I’m definitely not doing the latter is because I think the loss of my singing voice as is would crush me more than the dysphoria which I hope my new gc2b binder is going to sort out. I’ve considered top surgery, quite strongly, for the last year. However, my dysphoria is tied up with some other body image things right now so I’m going to give myself time. But, none of this makes me a trans man either. You can be whatever kind of non-binary you want to be, and if that leads you down the road to a binary identity, well that’s okay too.

I’ve been thinking about posting this review since I read the book a few months ago, realising that in talking about the book and the controversy itself it makes sense to demonstrate where I’m coming from. I’m not saying that the feelings that other genderqueer people got reading this book are invalid either, but I wanted to share a positive review of this book from a non binary person’s perspective.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

 

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde | 1 Minute Reviews

This is undoubtedly a strange way to begin a review, but I should tell you that I really like bees. Ten years ago (yikes) I was studying Zoology at the University of Liverpool and had the joy of learning about bees across several modules – their waggle dances of communication, their societal structure and, sadly, the way their populations have been crashing due to Colony Collapse Disorder.

This time of my life coincides with one of the three timelines in The History of Bees, a wonderful novel told from three narrators spread across 250 years – William in England in 1851, Tao in future China in 2098 and finally George in the USA in 2007.

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After recovering from a bout of depression, naturalist William is determined to invent a new form of beehive, in order to catapult him and his children into fame, particularly his beloved heir Edmund.

George is a beekeeper, battling against modernisation in the farming industry whilst also trying to keep his business afloat, though his wife just wants to move to Florida and his son doesn’t seem to want to farm at all.

Far in the future after the collapse of the global bee population, Tao is a human pollinator, gently transferring pollen to fruit trees – an incredibly challenging manual job in a world falling apart due to the loss of essential biological processes. When her son suddenly becomes ill and then is taken by mysterious authorities, Tao sets out on a harrowing journey to find her child.

The History of Bees is a haunting story about families, the weight of being a parent and a child, the expectation of futures that could be built or destroyed in an instant. The parents themselves are so focused on their children becoming one way or another, not quite seeing the potential in them that manifests differently or – in William’s case – overlooking all his other children.

All three strands of narration kept me hooked, particularly the disturbing but quite imaginable future imagined in Tao’s storyline. This is a book that fans of Station 11, The Bees (well of course) and Never Let Me Go would find a lot to like – reader friendly speculative fiction, rooted in our own world, while the late 1800s timeline reminded me a lot of parts of The Essex Serpent. Of course, the storylines all tie in together at the end, which is immensely satisfying.

If like em you like complex family dramas and dystopian future storylines, you will be pleased to discover their combination here. The History of Bees is a fantastic, clever novel that touches upon our possible future of environmental collapse, seeking to warn us about possible ecological futures but also the dangers of parenting with an endgame in mind. I really do not think this should be missed.

The History of Bees is currently available in hardback, with the paperback publishing in April 2018. You can get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to Simon and Schuster for sending this copy over to me.

My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga | 1 Minute Reviews

Content note: this review discusses suicide.

I have a bit of a backlog of books from my bookseller days. In my book shed (yes, this is a thing) I have a box of YA that was sent to the store that no one picked up, because no one else read YA, that got taken home with me and added to the TBR. This year I’ve been working through it slowly, prioritising debuts or prior books from authors with new work coming out.

Jasmine Warga’s second book, Here We Are Now, published in the UK this month so I had scheduled in some time with My Heart and Other Black Holes, her debut.

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Perhaps it’s a weird thing to wish for a good novel that looks at suicide, but since I read All the Bright Places, a novel which I did not love for a myriad of reasons mostly to do with pushed boundaries and consent, I’ve wanted to read something that takes a look at suicidal ideation.

A novel about suicide pacts was not what I was expecting. This novel was not what I was expecting.

Aysel is infamous in her small town, shunned for being the daughter of the man who killed the hometown future Olympian. Struggling with the weight of her father’s crimes, Aysel decides she is going to kill herself. However, she’s not sure she wants to do it alone. Through a website that brings suicidal people together, she finds her new partner only one town over, the popular, handsome Roman. As their deadline of April 7th looms closer, Aysel and Roman begin to understand each other on deeper levels. Will they go through with it?

Warga’s depictions of mental illness and suicidal ideation – the reasoning, false logic, the belief that people truly would be better off without you – are unflinchingly accurate. Through Aysel, she explores the darkness that depression forms inside you, a black slug that consumes any positive feelings.

Aysel (pronounced Uh-zell) is a wonderful narrator; darkly comic, sensitive, troubled and drowning. You are instantly drawn to her, and desperate to save her. I enjoyed her friendship and developing romance with Roman, and it felt real, right even, that these two troubled teenagers would find strong emotions amidst the jeopardy they faced.

Saying that, one of the things I loved about this book was that it makes it clear that love cannot solve mental illness. You can love people and you can be suicidal; they cannot cancel each other out. I won’t go into further details as you’ll have to read the book.

My Heart and Other Black Holes is an emotionally complex young adult contemporary novel, that tackles mental illness and suicidal ideation head on and with great maturity. A compelling read that will keep you gripped all the way through as the book counts down to April 7th.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you kindly to the team at Hodder & Staughton who sent this copy to the shop.

Notes on my Family by Emily Critchley | 1 Minute Reviews

This book has been on my radar for some time. A few months back at the launch for Editing Emma by the wonderful Chloe Seager, I met Emily Critchley and we got talking. She mentioned this book she was working on, and of course she said the golden word – “autistic”. I knew I had to read it.

Lou is thirteen-and-a-half. Her school life is terrible. Her family are falling apart now that her dad has announced he’s leaving her mum for a schoolgirl.

And she’s autistic, but she doesn’t know it yet.

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This hook is what originally interested me, having lived that experience myself – the way you explain away your quirks, assume everyone else must think the same way you do, presume everyone finds the world abjectly terrifying at all costs. In a world where so many people raised as women aren’t diagnosed until their late twenties, this book is incredibly timely. Lou doesn’t have a diagnosis, but she knows she is different, citing some of her problems as undiagnosed dyspraxia.

Lou’s narrative voice is rich, witty, and charming, her slightly baffled viewpoint ringing out with humour even in the hardest situations. As with The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, Critchley has constructed not only a memorable character, but a neurodiverse person that many, many people will resonate with. I absolutely fell for her, the girl with a rich fantasy world of a homeschooled life in Scotland, who’d rather watch a nature documentary than answer a phone call.

In the darkest moments of the book, I kept having to pause, tears streaming down my face, desperate to reach through the pages to talk to her. I think every person, especially those who are also autistic, will feel very much the same as me.

Autistic representation aside, this novel is an impressive, heart-aching family drama that investigates divorce, the realities of complex mental illness and the freeing nature of true friendships. The heavy subjects are buoyed by Lou’s witty observations, gently approached through Critchley’s talented writing.

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While not technically published until the 23rd Nov, I’ve already found a few copies out in the wild! This one at Foyles Charing Cross.

One of my favourite plot points was Lou’s burgeoning friendship with extremely cool new girl Faith. Raised in a co-parenting family and haunted by dark days, Faith is never without a music recommendation or a fitting quote from philosophical texts; I’m not sure if I wanted to befriend her or be her. Perhaps both.

Notes on my Family is an impressive debut novel from Emily Critchley, a tale of relationships and people told from the point of view of someone who struggles to understand either. This is not only a tremendously enjoyable read, but an important piece of autistic literature.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Notes on my Family is published by Everything with Words, an independent publisher of children’s books. Thank you to Emily Critchley, her agent Chloe Seager and Everything with Words for sharing this copy with me.

If you want to read more stories with autistic protagonists, or books about autism, go check out The Essential Autistic Reading List.

Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn | 1 Minute Reviews

I’ve been watching Connie Glynn aka Noodlerella on Youtube for a while; I’m quite particular to her brand of whimsy and she always has good anime recommendations. When I saw she’d written a book, I wasn’t surprised. During my time as a bookseller, most prominent UK YouTubers either had a book out or on the go, though generally these were non-fiction, self help type affairs. Instead, Connie wrote about her mainstay: princesses.

Cute, I figured. Good for her. It will sell well. And then I thought little more about it until I saw a sampler on the Penguin stall at YALC, which I popped into my tote. The cover of the book (and the sampler) is pretty beautiful, and I am somewhat of a magpie. I figured I’d give the sampler a go, and then resign it to the pile of books that are popular that I won’t bother with.

And then I read the sampler and was absolutely charmed by it. So much so, that I tweeted my lovely chums at Penguin and they very kindly sent me a full proof copy.

I am still charmed, especially because this book is pretty gay in ways I was not expecting.

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Now, Connie herself is out as bisexual/queer on YouTube and I was kind of hoping that this would naturally appear in her work. It does, friends.

Let’s step back a little. Undercover Princess follows Lottie Pumpkin, who leaves her life with her stepmother to attend the prestigious Rosewood Academy on a rare scholarship for excellence, herself being the first recipient in twelve years. Upon arrival, she discovers she shares a room with wild, messy Ellie Wolf. When it is revealed the heir to the Maravish throne is attending Rosewood, suspicion is cast upon Lottie by the other students. To her surprise, Ellie reveals to her that she is in fact the princess in disguise and Lottie agrees to keep up the pretence, taking on the mantle of Portman.

There’s a moment 80% in (not a spoiler) where Lottie learns of a romance between Portman and Princess, and has a minor public episode, and by this point I was yelling at the book YOU ARE GAY YOU ARE GAY THIS BOOK IS GAY with the glee of someone who’d solved some kind of mystery. Maybe I’m wrong, but there’d been a lot of longing glances, weird not-quite-jealousy moments and a moment of “platonic” hand stroking.

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This feels pretty exciting and radical to me because this book is aimed at the tween end of YA, that tricky area when one steps from adventurous but polite Middle Grade fiction (in the UK also known as age 9-12) over to sexed up drunk teen fiction. This area can be quite tricky to find books for but ahoy, this is a great one that also appears to have some LGBTQ+ characters and themes – aside from my headcanon Ellie & Lottie romance, there are a number of other LGBTQ characters in the book. The writing feels firmly accessible tween (though I think most readers who’ve ventured into the Middle Grade section will be fine with this), and is really quite charming. There’s a lot in here about treating others with respectful behaviour whilst also setting boundaries as a self care priority. The morals are all completely in the right place.

I’m pretty impressed with this first outing from Glynn and look forward to reading more of the Rosewood Chronicles in the coming years. I think if you know a young person who loves fairy tales, magical British boarding school nostalgia (like Harry Potter) or all things Disney, this would make an easy win Christmas present, not least because of how pretty it is.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so much to the team at Penguin Platform and Penguin Huddle who sent me over the proof copy.