Sometimes, I pick up a book and instantly get a good feeling from it. It’s a specific sort of hum, as though the book is whispering that yes, you should absolutely read me.
I got this feeling from Dear Martin, a book which went on to completely exceeded all my expectations.
Dear Martin opens with Justyce McAllister, a teenage honour student and debate team champion, finding his on-and-off girlfriend indisposed and tries to help. Of course, none of his credentials matters to the white police officer who sees a young black man with a white woman, finding Justyce in handcuffs.
Frustrated with endemic racism in society and racial profiling by the police, Justyce looks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers, choosing to write him letters that pepper the book.
But this first brush with the law is not the last, and when Justyce goes driving one day with his best friend Manny, they find their lives threatened by a white off-duty cop.
I read Dear Martin in one sitting, only stopping briefly to get a drink. It is a powerhouse of a novel; do not be fooled by its diminutive stature. From the get-go, my heart raced along with this furious book. Dear Martin illustrates how small decisions can later haunt you, especially when you are a young black man living in the America of today.
Justyce himself is a compelling, charming character, easy to support even when you can see he is making potentially dangerous choices. The rest of the cast are believable and interesting characters, resolving for a great and heartbreaking story.
The book is split up into multiple narrative structures — from the straight prose, to play script style narrative particularly during classroom discussions and the aforementioned letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This mix of style is really interesting, and from an educational point of view, represents a great opportunity to introduce young people to a varied narrative, along with such a politically timely, important story.
Where The Hate U Give followed Starr as she started a movement, Dear Martin follows Justyce as he desperately tries to get by and deal with the dangers life keeps throwing at him. Both are essential reading and compliment each other well.
If you want to know more about Dear Martin from Nic Stone herself, check out this video below from Adam Silvera’s YouTube Channel:
On Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Nic Stone also gave the following talk at a Community College in America, which I think is a great introduction to her as an author and the political background of black rights that feeds into Dear Martin.
Mark out a few hours, sit yourself down and prepare for an intense reading experience. Dear Martin is a poignant, politically charged, heart racing novel that is an absolute must read for 2018.
And, if you head over to my Twitter, you’ll find me giving a copy away!
Since my blog and poor internet connection conspired to swallow this post in the recent past, this is two weeks later than it was supposed to be. But ho hum, technology full of weasels can only get me down for so long. I was very lucky to get a spot at the Walker Books young adult preview evening for 2018. You might have caught my live tweets during the evening, but I thought I’d go into more detail here about the books in order of release date.
Settle down, because this is a multi-media presentation including several high quality book trailers. Fancy. Okay let’s go!
First up was How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather, pitched as Mean Girls meets The Craft. The Salem witch trials takes the centre stage in this teen drama, plus creepiness and swoony romances and I am extremely here for this. We were reliably informed that it includes an inconveniently attractive ghost. Here’s the summary:
Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?
Also it has a book trailer with surprisingly high production value, which is wild; you can watch it here. I’m fully expecting to enjoy this, based on my deep love for The Graces by Laure Eve. You can find out more about Adriana Mather herself in this intro video.
Next up was Scythe by Neal Shusterman; digital networks in place of government control life except death, which is in the hands of Scythes. The only way to die is to be gleaned by a trained Scythe. When two teenagers are chosen to be apprentice Scythes, they learn that their final task will a fight to the death. This sounds absolutely wild. I’m really lucky that Walker Books sent me a copy of this after the event, and it turns out this is the start of a series, with Thunderhead coming out in August. My immediate vibe from this is it would be really enjoyed by fans of The Bone Season or perhaps Gilded Cage. And look, another book trailer!
Landscape with Invisible Hand from M. T. Anderson continues the sci-fi theme but, slightly unusually for YA, is a novella. The story follows benevolent invasions by aliens like granite coffee tables, mixed with a lot of strange humour and explores art truth and colonisation. After the invasion goes south and Adam is left poor, he and his girlfriend Chloe decide to create a pay-to-watch tv show of 1950s style dates.
We’re also being treated to some cute recovers this year! To celebrate the 10 year anniversary of Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy and film deal, Walker have released these stunning completely black covers. I’ve not read this series yet (I know, I know) and I’m so glad I get to start with these stunners now.
Walker have also started releasing the Magnus Bane short stories by Cassandra Clare in these cute little individual hardbacks. So far they’ve released The Midnight Heir and The Course of True Love is out this month. They’re a really cute size, pocket sized really, and would make a great gift for Cassie Clare fans. I only just started reading her books last year, but beautiful queer Magnus is basically the reason I read them.
All of those are already out, so now it’s time to get hyped for the future releases!
Flying Tips for Flightless Birds by Kelly McCaughran has been on my radar for the last few months, simply because queer romance is what I’ve been waiting for in the recent trend of circus themed books. Twins Birdie and Finch Franconi are stars of the trapeze in their family circus, but when Birdie has an accident, Hector Hazzard joins Finch to form a boy-only double-act to save the business. And of course, emotions happen.Set in Northern Ireland and discusses homophobic bullying, alongside trying to save the family business and discovering secrets. Excited for some queer romance, lads. My hands were shaking a little when I found this in my bag because it sounds so great.
Next is a book I’ve not heard a lot about yet, but am excited to read. The Goose Road by Rowena House is set in 1916 in France. When Angélique hears news of her father’s death on the frontlines, she promises to keep her family farm running until her brother returns from the war. But in order to keep the promise, she will have to journey across France, accompanied by a flock of geese. The Bookseller have described it as “Gorgeous historical novel … An impressive debut with a tenacious heroine.”
Coming in May ready for to be your poolside read is The Wonder of Us by Kim Culbertson. Originally published in the US, The Wonder of Us follows two best friends, recently separated when one family moves to Germany, who reunite to travel Europe… though they’re pretty mad at each other right now. This immediately makes me think of Keris Stainton’s One Italian Summer and Remix by Non Pratt.
I did a shriek when the next book got announced — no cover art to share just yet as it’s too far in the future — but the sequel to Girl Out of Water is FINALLY coming this summer. I absolutely loved Nat Luurtesma‘s first novel about Lou, a former swimmer who coaches a team of boys in synchronised swimming for a national tv competition. Lou Out of Luck follows Lou and her family struggling with poverty while she works through her first relationship. Luurtesma’s writing is hilarious and heartfelt, and I am really happy to see more working-class characters in literature.
I had the real joy of snagging a ticket to Angie Thomas’ appearance in London next month, where I hope she’ll talk more about her next book, On the Come Up. Thomas’ second novel returns to Garden Heights with a story about an up and coming teen rapper.
This is technically a review of a re-read, mixed up with my feelings from the first time round. Deep in the drafts section of this blog was the remnants of a mini review from when I was a bookseller and would habitually upload a few lines to Waterstones.com.
The final book of the Rebel trilogy, Hero of the Fall, has been published and the other night while near-meltdown, exhausted from packing copies of books from our Kickstarter, I had a desire to read something I knew. I never used to re-read books until a few years back, realising a special joy that comes from it, especially in the noticing. You notice a lot more.
I certainly have noticed a lot more in this re-read of Rebel, and it truly has made me fall in love even more with Amani’s story.
Amani is a girl of the desert, whip-smart and sharp shooting, and desperate to get out of Deadshot, lest she stay and become her uncle’s next wife. Deadshot, a town in the grimly-named Last County is devoid of magic, sick with iron from the mines and factories, and a perfect place to waste a life way. Once a place where First Beings roamed, it is now a desert in more ways than one.
In order to escape her future as it stands, Amani enters a shooting competition, disguised as a man who is given the nickname the Blue-Eyed Bandit. The contest is rigged and in a blaze of gunfire and actual fire, she and her mysterious competitor The Eastern Snake escape with their lives. When the same man appears in her shop the next day hiding from the army, Amani is sucked into a world of adventure and rebellion, magic and Princes.
Rebel of the Sands is an absolute riot of a ride through the tropes of the Wild West, juxtaposed against legends of the Djinni and creatures straight out of One Thousand and One Nights.
Amani herself is more gunpowder than girl, quick thinking, brash and brutal, just like the desert she was raised in. I completely buy into her passionate romance with Jin, and especially love the cast of characters introduced fairly late-game in the novel — no spoilers, but you’ll see why I don’t go into detail when you get there.
This is an exciting, fast-paced adventure of escaping brutality, fighting for good and falling in love. I especially recommend reading them back-to-back for the full Amani experience, so you can appreciate her growth, the adventure and the many curve-balls Hamilton throws at you through the series.
Now, I know that Spring is immediately around the corner and we’re all begging for some sunshine but I’m going to encourage you to take a step back, think of the deepest winter colds and dive into The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. The first in a new series, this novel is the quintessential wintry fairytale set in medieval rural northern Russia.
Vasalisa Petrovna (Vasya) is the daughter of a farmer and a woman who hears the call of the forest, who knows her last act will be bringing Vasya into the world. Strong and brave, Vasya regularly visits the dangerous forest, converses with the house-spirits, rides like the wind and tries to defy the limited expectations thrust upon her. Raised on the stories of housekeeper Dunya, told by the warmth of the oven, Vasya soon realises that these tales are not fiction, but very much real. And she can feel the rising darkness in the forest.
As new characters enter Vasya’s life — her stepmother Anna, her new sister Irina, the preacher from Moscow — she must fight to stay true to herself and protect the forest that she loves and fears
Ahhh I loved this book so much. It’s just the perfect intersection of folklore and whimsy and danger and brilliance. This is my favourite kind of novel, a blend of tidbits of history mixed with folk legends added to an original, exciting story.
The story is itself is a slow burn, following Vasya as she grows into a young woman facing marriage and the fears and mistakes of the adults around her. Arden successfully builds tension with every new mention of the waning house-spirits and the ice-blue eyes and the mysterious stranger in Moscow; it creeps upon you like frost up a window pane.
I really enjoyed the terse relationship between Vasya and Father Konstantin Nikonovich, both so determined that their understanding of the world is correct. Despite him playing a sort of antagonist role alongside Vasya’s stepmother Anna, I ended up having a lot of sympathy for this man so completely out of his depth in poverty and the harsh winter
This is marketed as a literary fantasy in the general fiction or possibly SFF sections of bookshops, but I think it would be readily enjoyed by fantasy young adult fans (and for the sake of gift giving, I can’t think of any content unsuitable for teens).
Also, Arden has helpfully included a glossary in the back, which I urge you to glance over before you start reading.
I strongly recommend you pick this book up, especially those of you currently enjoying a Spring snowfall as it is a book that begs to be read in the dark of the night before an open fire while snow falls outside. I was very delayed in getting round to it, having been bought it for my birthday by my wonderful friend Grace. Don’t be like me, don’t wait, especially if you also live for chilling fairytales and brave intuitive girls, because this is the book you need to be reading right now.
The second book, The Girl in the Tower, is published in hardback on the 25th January so you’ll be able to swoop from one to the other and commiserate with me as we wait for the next instalment of the Winternight saga.
In one of their most recent episodes, Alice devised a series of questions about what sort of reader you are, and I decided I’d answer them too — thanks to Alice for sending them over to me! I answered them before Christmas and then appeared to promptly forget about posting this, but anyway, enjoy.
How many books have you read so far this year? How do you keep track?
It is currently the 22nd of December and I have read 258 books. This figure is massively inflated due to reading several 20 volume long romance manga earlier this year, but we’re still looking at around 170 full length novels, which I’m pretty pleased about. Quality matters most over quantity, of course, but I’ve managed to read some great things and avoid most stinkers.
One at a time or do you jump between books?
I currently have around 10 books on the go according to GoodReads, which is a lie really. There’s one memoir about Wales that’s been on there for over a year, and I gave up on American Gods mid-year because I felt so pressured to finish it before the Amazon show came out that it was sucking the joy from it.
Saying that, I do often have several non-fiction books on the go — right now I’m reading an essay at a time from Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis, Trans Britain by Christine Burke and All the Weight of Our Dreams by the Autism Women’s Network. This means I can appreciate each section of the books separately but also think about their place in a wider context. Or at least, that’s my excuse for having so many going.
I often have one or two fiction books on the go, as well as a poetry collection and a series of manga. My bedside table is a mess, unless I’ve cleaned it recently… like today.
Do you push through to the end no matter what, or do you give up on books?
I never used to give up on books, but I realised that life is too short. I’m lucky that I’m rarely sent anything I don’t like but I’ve had to DNF (did not finish) a few books in 2017 that I thought I was going to enjoy but just could not get into for a number of reasons.
I think also that timing is so, so important with books — a book that you can’t get into today might be perfect for you in six months time.
Where and when do you tend to read?
Everywhere and anytime. At home I tend to read on the couch or in bed, usually after breakfast and a play with Nerys, then for a bit in the afternoon and then all evening. I always read in the bath. I read on the tube sometimes too, but I’m often distracted by podcasts or music from 2005-2007 (the golden era).
What’s your ideal reading session set up?
Bed, with the dog on my feet, and a big cup of tea next to me. Occasionally, I’ll treat myself to a Tomy Moly sheet mask to go with it. Low lighting, with my Lumie lamp, Totoro light that Lilith bought me for secret Santa and a candle on the go. Very therapeutic.
Do you reread books? What’s your most reread book?
For years I swore I wouldn’t, and then I realised that’s ridiculous. I rewatch movies with a passion — literally, I might finish a film and put it back on again because I liked it so much. This might go on for… some time. Oh autism, you massive lol.
My most re-read book is either Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, which I’ve definitely read at least four times, or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
How do you mark your place?
I used to be a page turner but so many people were disgusted I was a little bit shamed out of it, though with proofs I’m not so precious and will still do this. I like a good bookmark but I’m forever losing them. Receipts and train tickets, or even any old bit of paper, end up replacing them.
In fact, this reminds me that years ago I found a strip of photographs from a booth of two people in an Ali Smith book and I tried really hard to find the owners using the power of social media, but no luck. The two of them look so happy and besotted with each other that I kept them, and sometimes I use that.
Do you use an e-reader?
I have done in the past. I’m very glad they exist, as when I was in the Philippines with an enormous ear abscess and couldn’t dive for a week all I had was my trusty kindle and my hammock. Thanks to that I was able to read all of The Hunger Games, Brideshead Revisited, Little Women and a couple of other books, narrowly avoiding complete madness (it looks beautiful but I was literally trapped in my research station on the rocks for over a week).
Now, I don’t. I realised quickly that my ability to retain information from reading on Kindle and other screens is very limited. I’ve always been a print-it-out kind of person, and that extends to books too. It’s a pity because I could be such a minimalist, but as it stands I have to stick to physical books.
How do you decide what to read next?
This depends on a few things. I have quite a big list of books that I have for review noted in my bullet journal, alongside important dates I should ideally publish reviews by and promote on social media. I was all prepped earlier this year to stay on track but then I went and started an independent press with some friends so I’m very behind.
So I have my review TBR, and my recently purchased TBR, and also a drawer full of books I’ve picked up in charity shops. Sometimes I just go with my heart, even if I have a lot of other things to read, because at the end of the day you might not love something as much as you could if you read it at the wrong time, or push it (see my point about American Gods above, which I will return to).
Where do you buy books?
All over the place. Waterstones, independent bookshops (though admittedly not as much as I should), and direct from small presses such as 404 Ink, Dead Ink and Unbound. I’ve had to emergency Amazon a few things this year before hosting last minute events. Needs must, I suppose, but I try not to actually buy books from there even if I do use their website to create the most complex wishlist system.
Which book shop sections do you like to browse?
Children’s is always my go to floor, followed by fiction. If there’s a queer reads or BAME writing section, I will always gravitate to there — luckily in Waterstones Piccadilly they are right next to each other, separated by the independent presses; basically my favourite corner.
I like to hate-browse gender studies sections, and very occasionally hide transphobic or whorephobic writers behind books by great people like Sara Ahmed or Melissa Gira Grant. I’m an ex bookseller so I know exactly how annoying this is, but I can’t stop myself.
Do you judge a book by its cover?
Yes, of course. While a bad cover won’t prevent me from reading a book — I’m looking at you, Europa editions of Elena Ferrante — but a good cover will encourage me. I am a magpie, especially for beautiful clothbound editions in that scratchy material.
Do you own multiple editions of the same book?
I try not to. I might rebuy a copy, especially if I’ve been sent a proof and fallen in love with the book; I want to support the authors however I can after all, and proof copies are not made to last and provide the author with exactly zilch. Once I have a new copy, proof goes in the recycling bin or older edition goes to charity shop/someone who wants it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a tweet by Roxanne Gay. One of her books (I believe it is Nasty Women) has been recovered for a special edition and someone said they were going to rebuy it, and she asked instead that they spend their money on a debut author. Whenever I consider rebuying a book now, I try and consider this more.
Saying all this, if a series changes cover half way through, I will end up rebuying because non-matching covers makes me feel a little physically sick (again, thanks autism).
Do you lend your books to other people, and if so are you particular about their condition on return?
I literally lend my books to three people, and even then I can feel nervous about it. It’s not because of condition; I am terrible at losing track of who has my books and I get really, really upset if they go missing (which has happened many times). I only lend books if I’m not bothered about their condition upon return, because its hard to expect other people live up to your anal standards.
I never borrow books from people because I instantly forget they belong to someone else, and are immediately incorporated into my bookshelf. Admittedly, I worry that people who borrow books from me might be as irresponsible as I.
I would much prefer to buy someone a copy of a book rather than lend them my copy, and tend to keep an eye out in charity shops for books that people have asked to borrow so I can get them their own copy.
Do you write in your books?
Very, very rarely do I make a note, or scribble in a book of my own. I like dedications very much, especially when a friend has gifted you it. It makes a copy so much more special, and it always hurts my heart a little to find books in charity shops with dedications inside them.
That’s it! All my weird behaviours. What about you guys? Do you have any strange book habits? Tell me in the comments.
Hey remember when at some point last year I said I was going to try and slow down and stop doing so many things at once and then I blatantly did not do that and set up a micropublisher with some friends?
Err, well. I’ve kind of done it again.
Not a full publishing house this time, I’m sure you’ll be glad to know. But a book. A book that I’m editing. A book filled exclusively with the writing and art of autistic people.
If you fit the bill, send me a pitch. You can even just send me an email asking questions — that’s okay too!
It would also be really brilliant if you could share it within your networks. You never know who your tweet could reach, and the way this book will be the best it can be is through representing a wide range of voices.
Stay tuned for the inevitable series of posts about how I want you to now go buy it…
What a treat I have to share with you today. Emily Critchley is the author of Notes on My Family, a young adult novel published in November of last year about an autistic girl Lou and her life with her extremely complicated family. I really loved this family drama, rife with wit and heart. As an autistic author writing a novel about an autistic main character, Emily found the experience illuminating and agreed to share her experiences with me.
When I began writing Notes on My Family, I was unaware of two things. Of course I was unaware that the book would be published and I wondered, almost daily, if I would be able to finish writing it, but the two important things I was unaware of were that Lou was on the autistic spectrum, and so was I.
I had written Notes on My Family before I carried out the bulk of my research into the ways autism specifically affects girls and women, and before I got my referral through the NHS. I then wondered if I had a problem. The novel I’ve written, which is soon to be published, is, in parts, a deliberately funny book, even though Lou is quite clearly on the autistic spectrum. For me, this isn’t a problem, but I find myself wondering about the book’s reception, how readers will react.
I feel that if those who read Notes on My Family find the book offensive they are missing the point. Life can be funny, even when at its darkest. My teenage years were extremely dark and I believe that reading a funny book, or a book that presents, as inseparable, the positive and negative aspects of being human would have been far more beneficial to me than reading a book that accurately reflected my mood and experiences but left me without hope. I think it’s very important when writing for young people to provide an element of hope.
For me, comedy has always been an integral part of life. I grew up in a family that joked around a lot. My dad has, and my grandad had, a very dry and, at times, wicked, sense of humour. I learned early on how to laugh at myself. I was small and skinny. My dad used to joke that I had to run around in the shower in order to get wet. I remember standing in the kitchen with my dad and my older sister, who must have been about twelve. My dad is laughing because my sister is hopping around complaining her mouth is on fire after eating the end of a chilli from the chilli plant. There was always laughter in our house and most of the time we were laughing at each other. You learned to give as good as you got.
Joking around with my friends and family has always made me happy. Humour can shed light on a dark situation and can bring about a change of mood quite unlike anything else. Laughter, as the saying has it, is a powerful medicine.
There are touching moments in Notes on My Family. There are also moments of despair when we see how Lou struggles so valiantly with life. The comedy in the novel helps provide a contrast to the dark times. It gives Lou a greater depth of character. Sometimes Lou knows she’s being funny but more often she doesn’t, and that’s okay. If we laugh at Lou that’s okay too because she would most definitely laugh at us. Neurotypical people may think autistic people are a little odd but, believe me, we think neurotypical people are even stranger. Comedy in fiction can be used not only to provide tonal contrast but to highlight diversity.
I have a very good friend with cerebral palsy. She has mobility issues and walks with the aid of two sticks. When I saw her recently she told me a story. She was in the park with her Italian friend. My friend tried to get up from the grass, using her sticks and her Italian friend slapped her bum, causing her to fall back down. They both rolled around on the grass laughing. My friend told me how horrified those around them had been that not only had he failed to help her up but that he had slapped her bum and actually caused her to fall. My friend loves those who see her before they see her disability. She loves people who aren’t afraid to joke around with her. Having cerebral palsy does not impinge upon her ability to laugh at herself and the world. Of course there are times when laughter is inappropriate, but I find those times occur less often than you might think.
I also think it’s important to teach teenage girls that being funny isn’t just for boys. Girls can be funny too. It’s brilliant to laugh and to make others laugh. Making others laugh is a wonderful gift.