Friday, 26 August 2016

Broadway book Club Discussion of Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

As with all the best books, or at least the ones that make for the best discussions, feelings were very much mixed about Jeffrey Eugenides’  Middlesex. Those in attendance were split pretty evenly- 3 for very much yes, 3 not so much, and 1 undecided. We were universally disturbed by how quickly Desdemonda and Lefty, brother and sister, in 1922 decided that they’d get married. Obviously this is the Big Bang moment of the whole story, and everyone’s lives are subsequently affected by this decision- but we all agreed that they were both far too up for it far too quickly. Just no. When your Husband is your brother and it looks like your son is about to propose to his cousin, one needs to intervene. More grandparents are necessary in a family.

Firstly we talked about the narrator, Cal, and their omnipotence- the way they could confidently and with detail tell a story in 1922, 60 years before their birth, how they could definitely impart the thoughts and feelings of characters they were nowhere near, divine reasons for behaviour known only to the person involved. We discussed why this could be off putting, even annoying, and on the other hand why it might separate Middlesex from other multi-generational family sagas that we’ve read. We also talked about the narrator’s Dickensian, flowery language and their choice to address the reader directly, float up and down stairs and point out that this is what they are doing. Also could be considered annoying.

One of the most consistently voiced and agreed upon faults was the book’s odd pacing. Cal spends literally hundreds of pages building his backstory, then undergoes the transformation from Callie to Cal in about a page. The book from that point- San Francisco, the Father Mike debacle, the tying up at the end- seems very rushed for such a lengthy, epic narrative. Even those of us that loved it could not deny that this is kind of the case. The transformation itself we discussed briefly, and it was raised by one member that there was a concern that the intersex/trans experience might not really do justice to such an experience and that it wasn’t handled particularly sensitively- the San Francisco section in particular felt a bit box-ticky “This is the exploitation bit, this is the bit where they’re beaten up in the park” etc. The idea of the intersex experience was barely discussed in any depth- but then Cal does make it clear that he isn’t very involved with the movement and tends to keep away from the whole thing. We had all expected gender identity and intersexuality to be a more fundamental part of the story. We all liked how Cal, as adult Cal, could look back on their life as Callie without any anger or disgust or bitterness. Callie was kind of allowed to live on in memory and was recalled quite fondly by Cal. He allowed Callie to sort of exist in her own time and context, which we all thought was a nice touch.

We talked about Eugenides’ prose and about the bits that really worked that the reader could see came from personal experience- for example, he’s from a partially Greek background, so the big, busy Orthodox Greek family and the 2nd and 3rd generation immigrant element was really believable and immersive. We felt that the city of Detroit was rendered really well (despite the not particularly involving riots), as Eugenides hails from Detroit himself. However, the parts that he obviously had no personal experiences with really stood out as being a bit out of his depth. Namely the intersex experience, which felt a bit haphazard and his borderline hilarious depictions of menstruation, or anxiety about unforthcoming menstruation. It’s not exactly uncommon though- male writers just can’t do periods properly and it’s perhaps unsurprising.

We briefly talked about the very indistinct sexual encounters that Callie has with the Object and the Object’s brother, neither of which seemed particularly consensual. Like many of the book’s other themes, it was very ambiguous.

One of the aspects of the novel that was considered universally effective was the author’s use of duality as a theme throughout the book, demonstrated in a number of ways. Most of the characters experience displacement and duality at some point- Cal/Callie belongs within neither gender. They are neither one thing nor the other. Lefty and Desdemonda aren’t wholly husband and wife, nor are they brother and sister any longer. Ancestrally Greek, born in a part of Turkey contested fro centuries by both nations, the Stephanides family is not wholly Greek, nor are they Turkish. The whole immigrant experience is shrouded in Duality- first generation immigrants rarely feel fully at home in their adopted nations, but neither can they remain completely loyal to their old world. 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants belong to their home nations more successfully, but are obliged to feel the tether of the ancestral home. Sourmelina lives a dual life as a wife and mother, and as a closeted lesbian. Middlesex is a novel full of duality, and we all agreed that this was done particularly well throughout. One member suggested that it’s more realistic for a person to be composed of contradictions, to be fluid and changeable that it is to be the same, unfaltering person day after day, using the disastrous Father Make and his permanent niceness and geniality as an example. He was definitely the worst character.

It was mentioned that the book was very dense, the characters and the themes sort of fighting for space with too much going on. Some readers wanted more time spent on Milton and Tessie’s courtship (cousins, uh-oh) which seemed to jump from having a clarinet played on her to marriage. One member mentioned also that for a book about family and relationships, it was lacking in feeling and actual emotion, perhaps because of the over ambitious timescale or the disjointed structure.

I think there were elements of this novel that impressed everyone (not always the same ones) and elements that frustrated. Though opinions were mixed, we mostly liked Cal as a character and the dense, tangent ridden, meandering Greek epic of his family narrative. Though in places it was missing details, and in places embellished with far too much- though we were occasionally frustrated by his style or his insight, Cal wasn’t the worst storyteller. Though some readers will not be rushing to pick up JE’s other books, Middlesex (despite it's bad punny title) made for an interesting discussion about structure, family, gender, consent, duality, identity and, unavoidably, the very Classical Greek ingredient of incest.


We took the opportunity to select the next four titles which will take us up to the end of 2016(!) and have gone for a nice mixture of sci-fi, war, historical fiction, YA fantasy and book club classics.


Just in case the picture won't load, they are;
September- Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut (given a C grade by its own author)
October- All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (Pulitzer winning)
November- Half A Yellow Sun, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Orange Prize winner of winners)
December/January- His Dark Materials Trilogy, by Philip Pullman (Whitbread, Carnegie and Guardian Prize Winning)

The latter of which is the only series that has ever come close to dethroning Harry Potter as my most beloved series of all time. Can't wait.

We will be meeting on Thursday September 29th at 7.00pm to discuss Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, written and illustrated by Kate Pankhurst

I love this book so hard. It has literally everything. It’s beautifully crafted, lovingly illustrated, educational, inspiring and fun to read, even when you’re 28. I’d never heard of Gertrude Ederle or Agent Fifi! Now they’re up there with Harriett Tubman and Hermione Granger as my feminist heroes.

Firstly, the illustrations and text are amazing. The sheer quantity of calligraphy and typography involved in this publication is staggering- it seems so personal and handcrafted and just adds so much flavour and style to the pages- it's one thing to be informative, but being very stylish and gorgeously presented, while being informative is always going to be better. The illustrations are simply beautiful. Lushly colourful, doodly, full of detail, character and personality, each woman is surrounded by a relevant palette of colours. They are adorned with items and accessories of their pursuits, maps, bones, science equipment, cacti- whatever bits and bobs enhance and colour that particular person’s contribution to history. Pankhurst’s illustrations are joyously coloured, strikingly vibrant and infinitely appealing to any reader lucky enough to get a copy of this book in their hands.

The layout too is brilliant- each fantastic woman gets a double page spread and the reader’s eye is directed across the page, tracking the journey of the woman’s discovery, invention, life or achievement. Arrows help to guide the order in which we are supposed to read, as each page features a main story, then additional facts and snippets of biographical information or key terms. The arrows help to keep everything moving in the right direction and in the right order. I loved too how the layout alters to fit each person- going to use Mary Anning as an example because I am a huge dinosaur nerd and she was one of the first Palaeontologists of any gender or nationality- though she was largely uncredited due to her tiny woman brain and lack of scientific credentials.

Three major dinosaur types discovered by one woman! AND all before the term "Dinosaur" was even coined (1842)

So who do we learn about in Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World? Some are rightly famous, some are undeservedly obscure or scandalously forgotten. The full roster of remarkable ladies is; Novelist Jane Austen, Channel swimmer and Olympian Gertrude Ederle, Fashion designer and businesswoman Coco Chanel, Artist Frieda Kahlo, Nobel Prize winning chemist Marie Curie, Palaeontologist Mary Anning, Nurse Mary Secole, Aviator Amelia Earheart, Secret Agent Fifi, Translator, navigator and explorer Sacagawea, Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Civil Rights campaigner Rosa Parks and diarist Anne Frank.
The full set of Fantastic Women, part 1
It must have been really hard to choose who to feature in this book- I really hope there’s a follow up featuring more great women (Elizabeth Fry, Maria Sibylla Merian, Harriett Tubman, Laura Trott, Malala Yousafzai, Irena Sendler, Annie Oakley, Bess of Hardwick, Ada Lovelace, Martha Graham) please please please do a MORE Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World!

I’m going to give copies of this book to everyone I know with small children for Christmas, boys and girls alike, because all kids need to know that it’s ok to explore their talents, be brave, ask questions and discover new things! Girls need to know from as young an age as possible that they *can* do whatever they want, and boys need to know, equally, that they can also do these things, but they’ve got competition.
Favourite page <3
Thanks so much to Lizz Skelly, (who I finally managed to meet at YALC- yay!) for sending me a review copy of this amazing book. I love it.

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, written and illustrated by Kate Pankhurst is out on September the 8th. The kids in your life deserve to read this book!!

Thursday, 11 August 2016

The unboxing of my first #Illumicrate

After seeing this bountiful crate of goodies all over twitter last spring, I was fairly confident that this time around I was going to get myself a piece of that. I'm new to subscription boxes in general (unless you count my brief flirtation with Graze, where I just ate everything in one go and realised that's not how it works, thus; cancelled)

This livened up a pretty dull day of waiting in for a guy to come and do a survey on the house and waiting for the BF's shoes to get delivered. I know- calm down Leanne, with your wild hedonistic ways. What a timely little dispatch to relieve me from literally the dullest day of summer holidays in all of time.


Unspoiled and full of dreams

Naturally, one goes for books first. One is not a heathen. I was super mega chuffed to see The Graces, by Laura Eve, which I had coveted at YALC last week, wistfully gazing at the one promo copy they had on their stand. Seriously, they had a whole stand just for one book, such was the scale of the torment. The samplers, if anything, just heightened the lust for this book. Not normally into Witches, but there are things in life for which we must make exceptions. The other book is a thoroughly attractive Hardback called Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff. I must admit, I'm unfamiliar with this book, not being a huge fantasy reader. I shall go in blind. Also, bookplates!



There were several hints dropped by Daphne, the brain behind Illumicrate on Twitter that there would be a Gilmore Girls inspired item. If I hadn't already subscribed, that would've been my cue to get on it. I bloody love Gilmore Girls. LOVE IT. So. Imagine my joy to find this beast. I love a tote bag. Who doesn't love a tote bag? But this is a GG tote bag you guys. An Illumicrate exclusive, so if you see a fellow toter of the totebag out in the world, congratulate them on their excellent taste.

I'm still not fussed about the comeback series though. Pleased for everybody that's excited and all, but it's just never the same. Look at Bridget Jones. Look at Bourne. Look at David Brent. Look at Jurassic World. Even when it's good- it's not the same. *Looks for Gilmore Girls S1 on DVD. Remembers sister had them. Cries.*



I know right, I KNOW! These are Illumicrate exclusives designed by the amazingly talented @taratjah. I'm one of the very, very few hardcore PotterHeads that is 100% not bothered about seeing or reading either the Cursed Child or Fantastic Beasts- it ended, I'm happy with how it ended, now excuse me wile I read HP for the 382nd time. At least I'm consistent, right? BUT. That being said. I am TOTALLY on board with black Hermione. I love these to depictions of my all time favourite trio. True story, the first time I read HP when I was like 13, in my head Hermione was brown haired Smurfette. I don't know why. So nobody's brain can really claim the definitive, one true Hermione. I love her illustrations. I love how cute they are. I am so, so impressed with a person's ability to imagine something in their head, translate it through arms, hands and eyes, and capture it on paper. What a superpower.




So there you have it! So much swag delivered to your door. Sorry if I seem a bit down on revivals of existing things. I'm absolutely not saying that they can't be enjoyed- go for it! But I'm more of an 'I'll stick to what I know' kind of person. I'm still in denial of the existence of a 4th Indiana Jones film.

Thankyou to Daphne, @WingedReviews on twitter, for being the curatororal force behind the happiness of the YA community this week. Mwah!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon


For the most part I really enjoyed this book, but there was one really massive thing that put me off and I'm not sure yet whether it's a dealbreaker or not. *Spoilers*


Since humans began developing clairvoyance some time around the turn of the 19th century, the government has sought to eradicate the 'Voyants', blaming them for all society's ills, campaigning for their destruction, enforcing the death penalty for those captured. 19year old Paige, a powerful type of Voyant called a Dream Walker (the top of the power tree) has made a living in the criminal underground, acting as a sort of out-of-body spy and information gatherer fro Jaxon Hall, her Mime Lord and futuristic Fagin. Clairvoyance works by various types of Voyant being able to access the "Ether" and thus see, sense or feel a person's Dreamscape, an area of a person's mind somewhere between an aura and a soul. A thriving underworld of Voyant syndicates exists under the dictatorial facade of future London. Her syndicate, based in Seven Dials, is the only place Paige has ever felt at home. Surrounded by other voyants of various types (Jax has quite the staff roll) she is an essential part of a highly successful team.

I thought the world building was really, really well done. The steampunk-esque Dickensian London of the Citadel of Scion London combined with 250 years' worth of technological advancement (it's 2059) was a fascinating backdrop for a familiar but well told story. Scion, the big-brother-esque government organisation that seized the city of London is a murky, tyrannical organisation whose rise we do not see. We learn that they have other cities under their control but are not witnesses to their rise to power. I'd love to have seen Scion's rise to power, what happened to make it possible in the first city that they occupied.

On a trip across town to see her father, Paige is spotted by a night patrol of Voyants in the employ of the government- she kills them accidentally and is forced to flee. Pursued across the rooftops of London by an unfamiliar red-jacketed squadron, she is caught. drugged and kidnapped. When she is revived, full of pain and poison Paige finds herself in the city of Sheol 1, a prison city run by a muscular humanoid race known as the Rephaim. Every 20 years, the Rephaim send Bone-Grabbers into Scion London and round up 20 clairvoyants to bring to their city. Voyants are assigned a Rephaim master and those that show a capacity for fighting are used to defend the city against the Emim, a mysterious kind of flesh eating space monster. It is apparently the threat posed by the Emim to the reast of Earth that give the Rephaim their power over Scion, an organisation that was founded when the Rephaim arrived on Earth as a source of human fodder for their defences. Those that fail to show combat skills or are deemed clairvoyantly useless are consigned to a life of poverty in the city slums as entertainers. The non voyants captured by mistake become slaves in service.

The book's core plot is the feisty, displaced Paige finding herself assigned to the Warden, the betrothed of the Rephaim's bloodthirsty leader. Training by night, wandering the city by daym she learns the hierarchy of the Rephaim's structure, immerses herself in the slums and the underbelly of the city, learns of failed rebellions and oppression. The people that she arrived with, other voyants and humans, are mistreated, abused and beaten by their masters. The voyants that failed to become bone grabbers live in humiliation and squalour. She means to get out of there as soon as she can- but how can she leave so many behind?

So. The potential dealbreaker for me (spoilers, FYI) is the idea of a slave of any kind, a branded, renamed, displaced, friends are occasionally murdered in front of her slave like Paige falling for her owner. He might be a nicer, more empathetic, liberal owner, but he is her owner nonetheless. I get that Warden is ideologically separate from the Rephaim. I get that he's a closeted rebel working to incite a human rebellion. I realise that it's not *quite* as bad as it could have been...But this book would have been 100% better for me if their romance had not happened. It would not have damaged the plot, not made the ending anti-climactic. I'm not saying Humans can't go in for alien species- just look at The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet, that pulled off the whole human/alien pairing OK- it's the slave 'falling for' the handsome, 'he's not like the rest of them' owner that bothers me. It's so unnecessary and so inappropriate. How can a piece of property be involved in any sort of consensual encounter with their owner? I don't think it would have detracted from the plot at all. We see Paige and the Warden build a shaky trust, each saves the life of the other repeatedly and they do genuinely seem to develop a partnership based on the same objectives. But romance? I can't get on with that. Yes, the Warden is kind of trapped by his situation as a rebel and fiancee of the ruling species. Yes his is beholden to Nashira, he hates her and rises against her- but that's different to being actually branded into actual servitude. 

I'm still having thoughts about this. I'll give the second book a go.
It's such a shame because the rest of the book is so richly layered. The locations are teeming with life and intrigue, the characters are complex and engaging. The worldbuilding is so, so good and I love the idea of the menacing, tyrannical Scion being a puppet government for the depraved, power crazed Nashira. But I just wish the slave/slaver romance trope would stop creeping into otherwise compelling, well crafted novels. It belongs in the book sin bin with the teenager/adult relationship, the pupil/teacher and the Nazi/Jew or the Guard/Concentration Camp prisoner romance. Less please.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Radio Silence, by Alice Oseman

I loved this book so much. It’s vital and vibrant, heartbreaking and emotional. It’s hard to isolate a main storyline in Radio Silence; it’s more of a web of stories and events that sort of tie together. The novel covers themes of identity, the pressure of living up to expectations, friendship, family, fandom and creativity. It also emphasises that it’s wrong and exhausting to force yourself into a role that you feel society, adults, whoever have guilted you into.

Frances, as a gifted student has been guided towards University, groomed Dumbledore style for the academic echelons of Oxbridge. Throughout the course of the novel, Frances comes to realise that there’s much more out there, more options, more opportunities than her blinkered path has suggested until now. Radio Silence reminds readers that though it is scary to find that your hard-won path is in fact the wrong one, it’s never too late to change, so long as you are brave enough to make your own decisions and trust yourself.

I absolutely loved Frances and, despite our 10 year age gap, I identified with her so hard. She refers to ‘School Frances’ the study machine, the one who everybody assumes will ace her A Levels and go to Cambridge and go off to something complicated and important in adulthood. Clever, boring, quiet Frances who has no connection or anything in common with the people she hangs out with and has a constant inner monologue about not giving away her weirdness. Because ‘Real Frances’ is someone else entirely, a person known only really to her mum. Real Frances dresses like a giant child, creates fan art for her favourite podcast in her spare time and is an absolute social hermit. She essentially wears a mask 24/7 and presents a totally different persona to the word outside her home. Her safe space is Tumblr, where she is a prominent member of the Universe City fandom she posts her art as Touloser.

The “Big night out” scenes could have been stolen straight from my own life. AO captures that feeling perfectly of allowing yourself to be coerced into an activity that everybody else is mad for that you simply Do Not Get, mostly just to fulfil social obligations. That sense of looking around at all the normal, happy teens having fun doing something horrendous like shots and clubbing and genuinely wondering if you might belong to another species altogether. It’s on this night out that she meets Aled Last for the first time (properly). Rather than being the beginning of a lame romance, it’s the start of the first real friendship that Frances has ever had, the first time she can be Real Frances to another person. It also just happens that he is the creator of Universe City and has lived across the street from her the whole time.  A naturally reserved person, Aled is not particularly forthcoming about his home life, save for Frances’ prior knowledge of his runaway sister. It will unfold in the most harrowing way, poor Aled.

A beautiful, heartwarming friendship blossoms between Aled and Real Frances- one based on a mutual love of the others’ work, a shared creative passion, a mutual love of goofy clothes and almost certainly on loneliness too. They work on the podcast together testing new stories, they help each other study and become generally inseparable. Two shy, nerdy creative types have found each other and it’s a gorgeous thing to read, not least because of the total absence of romance. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to read a YA novel where none of the characters are pining, secretly or overtly, for any of the other characters.

Their friendship is tested in the most modern way when some Facebook and Tumblr detective work outs Aled as the Creator of Universe City and his hordes of demanding, kind of scary fans demand a kind of ownership of his creation, something that they as listeners are so invested in that they feel they have a stake in it. It raises interesting discussions about the role and distance of fans and fandoms in the creation of art, but that’s kind of a whole other thing in itself.

It’s a scary thing to realise that the thing you’ve conditioned yourself in to wanting, that main, glorious life goal- is actually not what you want at all and then having the bravery to admit that. The book asks some important questions about identity, about the projection of different versions of yourself and choices. As teens, you’re offered limited choices- it's really not a good time to be making big life decisions. Sheltered for so long in school, the adults that surround you have mostly gone down the same path; university and then teaching. Obviously schools and teachers want the best for their pupils- but to what extent to they get in wrong in the paths that they steer their young people towards?

There is so much to love about this book. Frances has one of the best narrative voices I’ve encountered in a long time; the reader really becomes close to her. The relationships are all beautifully explored, even amongst the supporting characters. Frances’ relationship with her mum is brilliant, all sarcasm and razor sharp but realistic dialogue. Aled’s relationship with his mother is enigmatically creepy. Everything feels so absolutely realistic and developed. It’s incredible. I've just got to squeze in, one of the many, many reasons to marvel at this book is the incidental mixture of characters. A total mixture of ethnicity, gender and sexuality; but it’s not a story about any of that. Not all novels with a POC protagonist have to be thematically linked to race. Sometimes gay people exist in narratives that are not soley about coming out. I feel like Alice Oseman is really leading the charge on representation and love her slightly more for it.

It is pretty much a flawless book and it is, evidently, very difficult to write thoughts about it in a comprehensible manner. Read it immediately.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Great Dragon Bake Off, by Nicola O'Byrne

At the Ferocious Dragon Academy, dragons-in- training learn the arts of bone crunching and teeth sharpening. But there is one dragon who harbours a passion for a most unlikely Dragon pastime…
Meet Flamie Oliver.
To look at, Flamie is as terrifying as a dragon can get. But behind closed doors, Flamie is...
...a stupendously spectacular Star Baker! That's right – choux, rough, salty, sweet and puff – Flamie loves it all. In fact, he loves baking so much that his studies at the Ferocious Dragon Academy are starting to suffer, and there's a chance he won't graduate! Flamie's going to need a real showstopper to get out of this one.

It's no secret that I'm partial to a picture book- ESPECIALLY ones about dragons or crocodiles. So. Imagine how pleased I was to discover Flamie Oliver- the dragon with an abundance of baking skills and nobody with whom to share the fruits of his confectionery labour. He's studying at the Ferocious Dragon Academy, learning to rustle sheep, fight knights and kidnap princesses- but Flamie's heart isn't in it. All he wants to do is bake.

With the return of the immensely, inexplicably, unstoppably popular Great British Bake Off returning to our screens soon (it's normally the first or second week in August- can't find a *specific* date) this books could not be more timely or more effective in building that spongey suspense. Personally, I'm an awful, awful baker, so am always insanely impressed by the absolute kitchen wizards on the show, and obviously, of course, with Flamie too.

This is absolutely my favourite page. BIG FAN of bread and this is my dream buffet.

I loved the little in jokes for Bake Off viewers (and for Harry Potter fans too)


It's not just me thinking that this scene bears a striking dragony resemblance to a very familiar
quidditch pitch, a scaly McGonagall and a tower-full castle in the background?

It's a lovely, characterful book filled with brief but funny characters, a cannot-emphasise-this-enough message about how it's ok if you don't fit in with everyone else, share the same hobbies, interests and enthusiasms- because we are all different and have our own unique skills. I know this is a popular message with picture books and always has been, but there is literally no such thing as overdoing this message.

I loved the joyful, rainbow illustrations too. I'm an absolute sucker for colouring pencil illustration. You can see the work that goes into every single line and every little speck of colour.

I think we just need a reminder of Luis' 2014 creation here. It feels right.

Many thanks to Lizz Skelly at Bloomsbury Children's book for the review copy

Monday, 18 July 2016

Songs About a Girl, by Chris Russell


Songs About a Girl is the debut novel from Chris Russell, and also the title of the debut album from hot new superstar boyband Fire&lights. The book opens with Olly Samson, a formerly ordinary 18 year old from Reading, who went to school and liked singing and had a lot a friends. Olly Samson has just got in touch with protagonist Charlie Bloom; a shy, retiring nobody, a year 11 student and amateur photographer that is invisible to the majority of the school population. That’s fine by her because she prefers to go unnoticed. Olly Samson is also a member of Fire&Lights and he’s just messaged Charlie on Facebook asking her to attend one of their sell out arena gigs as a backstage photographer.

Initially freaked out, she declines and shares the news with her computer nerd best friend Melissa (incidentally a hardcore Fire&Ligts obsessive) who talks her into changing her mind. Charlie attends the gig with her battered, second hand camera and bonds with the band. They get friendly, her candid shots are good, they go down well with the fans and the management. She becomes something of a regular at their shows, travelling around the UK to different cities, growing closer to moody Gabe and nice guy Ollie. But when a photo of her and Gabe is leaked onto a fan blog, her identity is revealed by online trolls and Charlie gets plunged into the paparazzi filled world of celebrity and anonymous, online abuse.

There’s also a bit of mystery thrown in when Charlie realises that a lot of Fire&Light’s lyrics bear a striking resemblance to snippets of poetry in her dead mother’s notebooks, lifted word for word from the pages. How can that be? Are the songs about her? Are her and Gabe connected in ways deeper than rock star and a girl ‘not-like-other-girls’?

I must guiltily confess, as bad and as awful as it probably makes me, that I really did not get on with this book. I’ve thought hard about whether or not I should review it or just let it go- but I want to be properly honest. It falls into quite a few of the YA pitfalls (Kooky best friend, at least one deceased parent, love triangle, not like other girls) and I found the prose style quite disjointed and bitty and a bit too propped up by adverbs.

Firstly, I found the characters incredibly one dimensional. As the reader, I wanted to get in Charlie’ s head more, really connect with her insecurities and fears. I love the introvert character type, identify with it hugely. But there was nothing here. I wanted to go with her on a journey somewhere, be there when she realises her true worth. Unfortunately she is characterised mostly by a beanie hat. Her only worth seems to come from having lads punching each other in the face over her. I was just wistfully remembering Toria from Juno Dawson’s All of The Above and what an EXCELLENT hipster loner weirdo she is.

The members of Fire&Lights were also flat, stock characters that were more annoying than anything else. Yuki was immature and irritating, throwing food literally ALL THE TIME, engaging in lame, cringey banter that I guess was supposed to be funny and endearing but just made him seem like an overgrown child. Aiden, the blonde Irish one (wonder who that’s supposed to be?) was just straight up dull. The sensitive one, has a guitar, the one that seems really normal. Gabe and Olly. Fire and light. One a lean, intense feisty bad boy, the other a muscular nice guy and impulsive protector. Points two and three of the love triangle.

Speaking of which, the Young Adult audience has had more than its fair share of love triangles, and this book just delivers another average arc. The steamy, volatile bad boy; dangerous, exciting, sexy. Or the guy who’s just really nice. The one that treats you well, is there when he says he will be, and doesn’t let you down. Lots of to-ing and fro-ing, while still quite being convinced that *neither* of them could possibly like her.

I get that I’m not the target audience for this. I know that Boy Band Lit is alive and well, and that this will almost certainly be a welcome and much enjoyed addition to that genre. Fans of Girl Online are going to love it; girl with camera forms unlikely relationship with sex god rock star. Internet fandom launches hate campaign against girl. Girl regroups.

This book will probably be very popular, and I hope that it is a success. It’s wish fulfilment fame fantasy of the highest, most fulfilling order. It’s Cinderella for the tumblr generation. I just really didn’t like it- but I’m going to assume that won’t have any impact on its popularity.


Thank you to @HachetteKids for the review copy- I'm sorry I wasn't feeling it on this occasion