Book Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

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I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Favourite quotes:

“We tell stories to strangers to ingratiate ourselves, stories to lovers to better adhere us skin to skin, stories in our heads to banish the demons. When we tell the truth, often we are callous; when we tell lies, often we are kind. Through it all, we tell stories, and we own an uncanny knack for the task”.

(About London) “It’s filthy and wet and hides a brutal soul behind majestic walls. Its people are alternatively snobbish or base, and if I didn’t come from a culture of warriors, I’d say it was the most savage city I’d ever seen. I thought it glorious, of course, from the instant it sullied my boots”.

“Grief is a strange passenger; it rides on one’s shoulder quiet as a guardian angel one moment, then sinks razor talons into one’s collarbones the next”.

 

Jane Steele is a Victorian Jane Eyre fan whose fate is, so far, remarkably like her beloved heroine’s. Her parents are dead, and she’s living with her dreadful aunt and a slimeball of a cousin. Since her mother has committed suicide, Jane has few chances of succeeding, so she is sent away to a boarding school, just like Jane Eyre. She befriends a girl named Clarke but soon learns that even the strongest of friendships can perish – that’s how cruel Headmaster Munt is. And Jane’s string of murders begin. Or perhaps they’ve begun even earlier? Was her cousin really in an accident?

After Jane and Clarke flee the school, they find temporary employment with a writer, that also ends soon. Desperate to make a living, Jane penetrates the London underbelly – “London blazes and incinerates. London is the wolf’s maw”. Murder and prostitution become her constant companions. Until one day she sees an advertisement in the paper for a governess for the master of her old home. She takes the position, hoping to secure the home for herself, and find herself enchanted by its new inhabitants – Mr. Charles Thornfield and his ward Sahjara. But they are surrounded by mysteries and, as their sinister past lets itself be known, Jane begins to lose hope and to fear that they’ll discover her own wicked secrets. Will Jane ever find a home and leave her past behind, or is she doomed to be a murderer forever? And will she find peace and figure out her feelings for Charles and her attraction to Clarke that never wavered?

 

As you’ve probably gathered, “Jane Steele” is a retelling of everyone’s favourite feminist classic “Jane Eyre” – with a murderous twist. As fond as I am of original Victorian feminist survival stories like Louisa Cosgrove’s, I love good retellings of classics just as much. “Jane Steele” is a well-told story of survival, and endurance. Ultimately, it’s a story of a woman who takes charge of her own life, despite the constraints of the times and the horrors bestowed upon her by men. Men in this book are quite vile, in fact – except Charles Thornfield and his very endearing and badass “butler”. Jane Steele has plenty of badassery of her own and takes care of the ones she loves – just like the two decent guys in the book. The characters don’t know that until the end, but their methods of “caring” about their loved ones are more similar than either of them suspect.

One of my few issues with the book is the language. I get that the author was trying to “old-fashion” the text as much as possible. And it worked, to an extend. The descriptions of London and Highgate (Jane’s old home) are quite atmospheric, but at times I felt that overusage of Victorian language was a little excessive. It doesn’t distract much from the overall plot, but those of you who love Jane Eyre like I do might not appreciate it.

Jane Steele is, an essence, a bisexual vigilante. As there are so few of those in literature, I of course appreciate the representation. As a bisexual person, I felt that the author has definitely painted Jane’s sexuality well, given the constraints of the time. And given the Londoners’ classic habit of really not caring about the passersby, they probably wouldn’t have cared even back then about a woman kissing another woman on the street. And kudos to the author for showing that a bisexual person can have a fulfilling relationship with a man.

In general, I enjoyed “Jane Steele” – it is a decent retelling, which I’m happy to give 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “Jane Steele” if you liked:

“The Fair Fight” by Anna Freeman;

“The Flight of Gemma Hardy” by Margot Livesey;

“Re Jane” by Patricia Park.

 

Have you read “Jane Steele”? What are your favourite Jane Eyre retellings? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to stop by my Etsy charity shop!

 

May TBR Finds

Welcome to the fifth and somewhat belated installment of my monthly TBR finds! Sorry about the delay – I lost my jobs a few days ago so been quite busy looking for a new one.

In May of 2017 I’ve discovered the following books and added them to my Goodreads TBR:

Contemporary

“Last Night in Montreal” by Emily St John Mandel6105964

Last Night in Montreal is a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel, the depths and the limits of family bonds, and the nature of obsession. In this extraordinary debut, Emily St. John Mandel casts a powerful spell that captures the reader in a gritty, youthful world — charged with an atmosphere of mystery, promise and foreboding — where small revelations continuously change our understanding of the truth and lead to desperate consequences. Mandel’s characters will resonate with you long after the final page is turned.

Lilia Albert has been leaving people behind her entire life. She spends her childhood and adolescence traveling constantly and changing identities. In adulthood, she finds it impossible to stop. Haunted by an inability to remember her early childhood, she moves restlessly from city to city, abandoning lovers along the way, possibly still followed by a private detective who has pursued her for years. Then her latest lover follows her from New York to Montreal, determined to learn her secrets and make sure she’s safe.

“Each Vagabond by Name” by Margo Orlando Littell

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For residents of Shelk, a sleepy Pennsylvania town lying along a vein of the Appalachian Mountains, life has always been a series of unchallenged routines and circulating gossip. But when a group of teenage runaways settles in the hills and begins to invade their homes and lives, lines become drawn between those residents seeking to insulate themselves from the outside world and those reaching for more.

Caught in the middle of this clash is Zaccariah Ramsy, a bar owner whose quiet life is threatened by his newfound loyalty to JT, a streetwise runaway who begins to visit his bar, and the re-emergence of the tragic story of his former love, Stella Vale, whose daughter was abducted as an infant fifteen years prior. As tensions between the townspeople and the newcomers rise, Ramsy must decide which side he will choose.

“Touch” by Courtney Maum

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Sloane Jacobsen is the most powerful trend forecaster in the world (she was the foreseer of the swipe ), and global fashion, lifestyle, and tech companies pay to hear her opinions about the future. Her recent forecasts on the family are unwavering: the world is over-populated, and with unemployment, college costs, and food prices all on the rise, having children is an extravagant indulgence.

So it s no surprise when the tech giant Mammoth hires Sloane to lead their groundbreaking annual conference, celebrating the voluntarily childless. But not far into her contract, Sloane begins to sense the undeniable signs of a movement against electronics that will see people embracing compassion, empathy, and in-personism again. She s struggling with the fact that her predictions are hopelessly out of sync with her employer’s mission and that her closest personal relationship is with her self-driving car when her partner, the French neo-sensualist Roman Bellard, reveals that he is about to publish an op-ed on the death of penetrative sex a post-sexual treatise that instantly goes viral. Despite the risks to her professional reputation, Sloane is nevertheless convinced that her instincts are the right ones, and goes on a quest to defend real life human interaction, while finally allowing in the love and connectedness she’s long been denying herself.

“The Answers” by Catherine Lacey

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In Catherine Lacey’s ambitious second novel we are introduced to Mary, a young woman living in New York City and struggling to cope with a body that has betrayed her. All but paralyzed with pain, Mary seeks relief from a New Agey treatment called Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia, PAKing for short. And, remarkably, it works. But PAKing is prohibitively expensive and Mary is dead broke. So she scours Craigslist for fast-cash jobs and finds herself applying for the “Girlfriend Experiment,” the brainchild of an eccentric actor, Kurt Sky, who is determined to find the perfect relationship—even if that means paying different women to fulfill distinctive roles. Mary is hired as the “Emotional Girlfriend”—certainly better than the “Anger Girlfriend” or the “Maternal Girlfriend”—and is pulled into Kurt’s ego-driven and messy attempt at human connection.

“Be Frank with Me” by Julia Claiborne Johnson

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Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years, but now she’s writing her first book in decades and to ensure timely completion her publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane.

When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders.

As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

 

Fantasy

“Jane, Unlimited” by Kristin Cashore

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Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.” With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn’t know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price

“Girls Made of Snow and Glass” by Melissa Bashardoust

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At sixteen, Mina’s mother is dead, her magician father is vicious, and her silent heart has never beat with love for anyone—has never beat at all, in fact, but she’d always thought that fact normal. She never guessed that her father cut out her heart and replaced it with one of glass. When she moves to Whitespring Castle and sees its king for the first time, Mina forms a plan: win the king’s heart with her beauty, become queen, and finally know love. The only catch is that she’ll have to become a stepmother.

Fifteen-year-old Lynet looks just like her late mother, and one day she discovers why: a magician created her out of snow in the dead queen’s image, at her father’s order. But despite being the dead queen made flesh, Lynet would rather be like her fierce and regal stepmother, Mina. She gets her wish when her father makes Lynet queen of the southern territories, displacing Mina. Now Mina is starting to look at Lynet with something like hatred, and Lynet must decide what to do—and who to be—to win back the only mother she’s ever known…or else defeat her once and for all

 

Historical fiction

“The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon

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West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

“Rose Under Fire” by Elizabeth Wein

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While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women’s concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

 

Mystery

“Trust Me” by Angela Clarke

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What do you do if you witness a murder…but no-one believes you?
When Kate sees a horrific murder streamed live on her laptop, she calls the police in a state of shock. But when they arrive, the video has disappeared – and she can’t prove anything. Desperate to be believed, Kate tries to find out who the girl in the video could be – and who her killer is.
Freddie and Nas are working on a missing persons case, but tensions in the police force are running high and time is ticking. When Kate contacts them, they are the only ones to listen and they start to wonder – are the two cases connected?
Dark, gripping, and flawlessly paced, Trust Me is the brilliant third novel in the hugely popular social media murderer series.

“I’ll Eat When I’m Dead” by Barbara Boulard

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When stylish Hillary Whitney dies alone in a locked, windowless conference room at the offices of high-concept magazine RAGE Fashion Book, her death is initially ruled an unfortunate side effect of the unrelenting pressure to be thin.

But two months later, a cryptic note in her handwriting ends up in the office of the NYPD and the case is reopened, leading Det. Mark Hutton straight into the glamorous life of hardworking RAGE editor Catherine Ono, who insists on joining the investigation. Surrounded by a supporting cast of party girls, Type A narcissists and half-dead socialites, Cat and her colleague Bess Bonner are determined to solve the case and achieve sartorial perfection. But their amateur detective work has disastrous results, and the two ingenues are caught in a web of drugs, sex, lies and moisturizer that changes their lives forever

What are your TBR finds for this month? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to stop by my Etsy charity shop!

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

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Favourite quotes:

“Never live your life according to the idiots’ rules. Because they’ll drag you down to their level, they’ll win, and you’ll have a damned awful time in the process.”

“There’s always a person for every book. And a book for every person.”

“Feel-good books were ones you could put down with a smile on your face, books that made you think the world was a little crazier, stranger, and more beautiful when you looked up from them.”

 

Sara, a bookseller from Sweden, and Amy, an elderly woman from Broken Wheel, Iowa, might have very little in common.  But the one thing they do share is their love of books. That’s what brought them together in the first place, and that was how they became penpals. After months of correspondence, Amy invites Sara to Iowa to stay for a few weeks and Sara, who until then has led a very lonely life, gladly accepts. However, when she is finally in Broken Wheel, Sara is met with solemn guests at Amy’s funeral. The people of the very small town seem to know all about her, from Amy’s stories. But Sara herself is lost – can she really stay at Amy’s house with no-one but Amy’s hundreds of books for company?

The townspeople are initially wary of the newcomer, and especially of her ludicrous ideas to help everyone out. And when Sara announces that since Broken Wheel doesn’t have a bookstore, she’s going to open one – well, everyone is flabbergasted to say the least. How can a Swedish citizen with a tourist visa open a bookstore in America? In a town where few people actually read books? And even if she does, who is going to run it when her visa expires?

 

I confess – when I got the Kindle sample of “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”, I really liked where it was going, but I wasn’t pleased with the English translation. Translation is an art and some languages translate better to certain languages than others. That was, in my opinion, the case with Stieg Larsson’s trilogy – I enjoyed the Russian translation a lot more than the English one. And the same is with “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”. I found a lovely hardcover Russian edition, with the title translated as “Give Them a Chance”, and I was right to make that choice.

This is not an adventure story – not in the traditional sense, anyway. One can say that Sara’s sheltered life juxtaposed against her experiences in America certainly makes it sound like she’d been on the greatest adventure of her life. And she has! The touching and funny interactions with the quintessential small-town Americans of Broken Wheel, their clumsy attempts at matchmaking, and Sara’s own brave venture of setting up a bookstore with no working visa are interwoven into a tale that reminds us that real-life adventures are just as exciting as the ones books take us on. And if books are the very thing that thrusts us into real-life adventures – well, that’s every bookworm’s dream!

Indeed, this cozy novel is in its essence, a love letter to literature and bookstores. The bookstore that Sara sets up is a baffling concept to the people of Broken Wheel, but Sara (and I) believes that there is a book out there for everyone – be it “Eragon”, “Bridget Jones’ Diary” or “Fried Green Tomatoes”. I believe that “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” would make a terrific gift to any lover of books. My rating is 8/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” if you liked:

“The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George;

“Fried Green Tomatoes” by Fanny Flang;

“A Novel Bookstore” by Laurence Cosse.

 

Have you read “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”? What are your favourite books about books? Leave me a comment and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

 

Monthy TBR Round-Up – April

Welcome to the fourth installment of my monthly TBR finds!

In April of 2017 I’ve discovered the following books and added them to my Goodreads TBR:

Historical fiction

“Haveli” by Mahal Zeenat

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It’s the 1970′s in Jalalabad, an erstwhile princely state in Pakistan. Chandni is a self-proclaimed cynic and prefers to be called C. An orphan brought up by her domineering grandmother, a.k.a. The Broad, C is rebellious, quick-witted and stunningly beautiful.

When Taimur, a.k.a. Alpha Male, enters the closed universe of the haveli, he is smitten, but he’ll never admit it.

The stakes get higher when the father, who had so cruelly abandoned her at birth, returns and C’s dream of reuniting with him becomes a reality. But now she has to choose between her father and his hand-picked groom on the one side, and Alpha Male and The Broad on the other

“Human Acts” by Kang Han

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In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho’s own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

Ice Road” by Gillian Slovo

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Leningrad. 1933. Loyalties, beliefs, love and family ties: all are about to be tested to the limit in a fight to see who will survive one of the most crushing moments the world will ever know. Boris Ivanov, the father who understands politics and pragmatism; his daughter Natasha, a carefree, delightful girl who will be almost crushed because of political compromises; Anton, Boris’s oldest friend, who in an uncharacteristic moment saves a skinny little orphan he finds on the Moscow train; Anna, that tough intriguing child. And watching it all is the marvellous Irina. Wry, wise, ironic, Irina understands that simple loyalty to an individual may well be more powerful than blind loyalty to an idea.

“Stalking Jack the Ripper” by Kerri Maniscalco

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Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

 

Fantasy

“Lost Gods” by Brom

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Fresh out of jail and eager to start a new life, Chet Moran and his pregnant wife, Trish, leave town to begin again. But an ancient evil is looming, and what seems like a safe haven may not be all it appears . . .

Snared and murdered by a vile, arcane horror, Chet quickly learns that pain and death are not unique to the living. Now the lives and very souls of his wife and unborn child are at stake. To save them, he must journey into the bowels of purgatory in search of a sacred key promised to restore the natural order of life and death. Alone, confused, and damned, Chet steels himself against the unfathomable terrors awaiting him as he descends into death’s stygian blackness.

“Silver and Bone” by Claudia Cain

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Jennifer Jones is trying to be a better person.

It’s not easy. She has a lot to make up for, considering that she’s an immortal blood-sucker with a history of serial killing. But at least she probably can’t get worse.

And for the last seventy years, things have been going well. She’s got a job, friends she cares about, a steady relationship, and she hasn’t killed a single human.

But something dark is on the horizon. A body appears in an alley, bringing up unsettling memories. A Necromancer warns of an approaching menace, and as more and more bodies begin to appear, repeating a very familiar pattern, Jennifer finds herself being framed for murder.

“The Seafarer’s Kiss” by Julia Ember

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Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies

 

Mystery

“Appetite for Innocence” by Lucinda Berry

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A serial rapist is kidnapping teenage girls. But he’s not interested in just any teenage girls—only virgins. He hunts them by following their status updates and check-ins on social media. Once he’s captured them, they’re locked away in his sound-proof basement until they’re groomed and ready. He throws them away like pieces of trash after he’s stolen their innocence. Nobody escapes alive.

Until Ella.

Ella risks it all to escape, setting herself and the other girls free. But only Sarah—the girl whose been captive the longest—gets out with her. The girls are hospitalized and surrounded by FBI agents who will stop at nothing to find the man responsible. Ella and Sarah are the key to their investigation, but Sarah’s hiding something and it isn’t long before Ella discovers her nightmare is far from over.

“Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo

The new series centers on Alex Stern, a 20-year-old California high school dropout with a criminal past who is mysteriously offered a second chance as a Yale University freshman. Ninth House, the first book, follows Stern’s freshman year, where she is charged with monitoring Yale’s secret societies, who engage in sinister occult activities

“Magpie Murders” by Anthony Horowitz

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When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

 

Non-fiction

“London Urban Legends” by Scott Wood

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How long has a corpse been staring out at passengers on the tube? Was London Bridge really shipped abroad by an American thinking he’d bought Tower Bridge? Did the Queen really mix with the crowds as a princess on VE Day? And did Hitler actually want to live in Balham? Where are there razor blades hidden and where did all these parakeets come from? Did they really belong to Jimi Hendrix? Urban legends are the funny, frightening and fierce folklore people share. Just like the early folk tales that came before them, which were attempts to explain the spiritual world, these tales are formed from reactions to spectacular events in the modern world, and reflect our current values. From royal rumours to subterranean legends, Scott Wood has researched and written about them with a sense of wonder, humour and a keen eye. He finds the truth, the myth and the lies amongst these tales.

 

I’d love if you guys tell me in the comments your latest TBR finds! I love talking to you 🙂 Don’t forget to stop by my Etsy charity shop before you go! xxx

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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Favourite Quotes:

“See, anxiety doesn’t just stop. You can have nice moments, minutes where it shrinks, but it doesn’t leave. It lurks in the background like a shadow, like that important assignment you have to do but keep putting off or the dull ache that follows a three-day migraine. The best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive. Am I coping? Yes, but it’s taking a monumental amount of effort to keep the dynamite inside my stomach from exploding”.

“Beauty comes from how you treat people and how you behave. But if a little lipstick make you smile, then you should wear it and forget what anyone else thinks”.

“Social Convention dictates that I must deny being pretty, but I am… pretty. It’s one of the only things I have that makes me feel normal. Of course, I pervert that normality by embracing my looks. <..> This is mine, one of the only things about me that I actually like. I own it. And Social Convention will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before I ever give it up”.

 

Norah Dean lives with agoraphobia and obsessive compulsive disorder. She is homeschooled and spends most of her time at home with her loving mother. For her, even a walk to the car can cause a panic attack. Her illness might not be visible, and the media might make people believe that she doesn’t look “mentally ill”, but Norah is sick. And a new boy-next-door isn’t a cure.

But Norah’s chance encounter with the new neighbour is not something she can ignore. Luke is a sweet kid with an air of mystery around him and he seems to be interested in Norah. She is keen, too. And if she were a “normal” kid…

 

I’m sorry. I seem to be unable to write a decent summary for “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”. And I’m not too fond of the Goodreads summary either. It’s making it seem as though romance is the solution to mental health issues. It is NOT. And the book makes it abundantly clear. In fact, I see the Goodreads summary as a disservice to this amazing novel – it is not a “romantic” story. It’s more of a character study that features some romance.

And I can’t emphasise enough how important this book is. How it can help young people understand mental health and its impact on one’s everyday life. “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” is brutally honest, doesn’t beat around the bush or shy away from heavy topics (TW: self-harm). Norah’s daily struggles felt incredibly real – not least because the book is told from her point of view and a lot of it is her thought process. These kinds of introspective books are what the world needs in order to smash stereotypes about mental illnesses. Norah makes a reference at some point to one such stereotype – “People always seem to be expecting wide eyes and a kitchen knife dripping with blood”. Thing is, most people who suffer from mental health issues are not like that. Norah isn’t like that – she is a conventionally pretty girl who is an overachiever. However, the fact that her OCD and agoraphobia can’t be seen with a naked eye – just because she doesn’t “look mentally ill”, doesn’t mean that she isn’t struggling with them on a daily basis.

I cannot speak for people who suffer from OCD or agoraphobia. But I have been treated for depression and Generalised Anxiety Disorder in the past, and to this day I struggle with anxiety. Fortunately, I have more Good Days than Bad Days now, but, as Norah said, “anxiety doesn’t just stop. It lurks in the background like a shadow <…>, and the best you can hope for is to contain it, make it as small as possible so it stops being intrusive”. I was first diagnosed during my second year of University which is when I was first prescribed medication and CBT. They did help me get through exams, and little by little, I learned to somewhat cope with my anxiety. It has reared its ugly head again when I was in law school – a very stressful time for me, for many reasons. I did seek help again, but I wish I had done so months earlier. Years earlier, even.

Why didn’t I? Well, like many other millennials, I had fed into the narrative offered by the media that stigmatised mentally ill people as “weak”. Plus, I was an only child and was brought up to believe that you only do enough if you get the best grade, or get promoted. A lot of my anxiety struggles did have to do with my envrionment and background, and not to mention the lack of a support system. I was living 2,000 miles away from my family, my low moods and anxiety made me pull away from friends, and while I was in a relationship, it wasn’t the best one. Besides, relationships aren’t a cure to mental illness, as I’ve already pointed out. Unfortunately, the society where I currently am doesn’t buy that and most people believe that getting married and starting a family is all a woman can ever need. Not a helpful narrative, AT ALL.

So I do wish, as I’ve said, that I’ve gotten the help I needed earlier. The UK university that I was at had an excellent mental health center, and the counsellor had a daughter studying to be a lawyer, so she understood and was able to help. I believe that, if “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” had been released in 2009, I would’ve asked for help much earlier. And I genuinely believe that others like me would also have done so.

Everyone experiences mental illnesses differently. Perhaps you can relate to Norah’s experience, or maybe yours are vastly different. Whatever the case might be, DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE. ASK FOR HELP. IT’S OK TO DO SO. Books like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”, “Cracked Up to Be”, “Speak” – hell, even the classic “The Bell Jar” – aren’t just useful – they’re mandatory for everyone who wants to learn more about mental health, people’s experiences with it, or just needs someone to relate to. And if we get more books like that, I believe we can, slowly but surely, smash the stereotypes about mental health altogether and help more people get the help they need.

Well, this review has turned into a personal essay, hasn’t it? I’ll finish with this – buy/borrow “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” and educate yourself. You won’t regret it.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” if you liked:

Cracked Up To Be” by Courtney Summers;

“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath;

“Paper Butterflies” by Lisa Heathfield

 

Have you read “Under Rose-Tainted Skies”? Do you have favourite books that depict mental illness realistically and not just use it as a plot device? Drop me a comment and don’t forget to visit my Etsy charity shop before you go! 🙂

Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

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Favourite quotes:

“My old art teacher told me I draw like a man. I’ve never forgiven him. I don’t draw like anything, I draw like everything. I draw like me”.

“I’m a fingerprint, an anomaly, a snowflake. Indian, Deaf, girl, two moms. You couldn’t make this shit fit in the pages of those glossy mags”.

“My life has to be about more than the Refresh button. <…> I want to make art that makes my heart race. Art that demands to be felt, even if that feeling is terror”.

 

Julia is an artist and like all artists, she wants her art to have an impact. That is why she painted over a slur about her best friend scribbled on school property. Sadly, said friend snitches and Julia is expelled from Kingston School for the Deaf and has to transfer to a regular public school. Her two moms impose more boundaries on her life than ever. Life isn’t easy when you’re sixteen, and it’s even harder when you’re a brown deaf girl who needs an ASL interpreter with her at all times. Especially if that interpreter is one nosy woman.

On top of all that, the art class that Julia wants to be so badly in is full. So since her moms pretty much put a stop to her graffiti activities, she has few opportunities to draw. Julia is a smart girl, though, and quickly figures out a way. She tags landmarks all over town with her signature – “HERE”. However, she’s not the only notorious graffiti artist in town. Someone else is making additions to her work and while they look amazing and provocative, Julia has no desire to be involved in some kind of a “turf war”. She just wants to make amazing art. So who is the other “vandal” in town? Is it Julia’s former crush and coworker Donovan? The charismatic art teacher? Or someone else entirely, like her new clueless friend YP? Can Julia figure it out and not get arrested for vandalism in the process?

 

Guys, I have a confession to make.

I’m twenty-five years old. And this seems to be the year where I finally feel too “old” for YA books. Not all YA books, obviously – I’m never gonna be too old for Harry Potter, for instance. But lately, I just seem to rush through young adult novels and find myself unable to care for teenage characters as much as I used to, even a year ago.

Despite that, I definitely recommend “You’re Welcome, Universe”! Julia is a deaf Indian girl living with two mothers, which is not something you see often in young adult fiction. She is not very “likeable” – the betrayal of her supposed best friend makes her driven to isolate herself from people in the new school, she has an attitude and she’s spunky. In other words, she feels real. The author has really fleshed out her character, and not least because of the absolutely amazing illustrations of Julia’s art that are featured in almost every chapter. I haven’t really read anything like that before (with the exception of Cat Winters’ books), and I loved it.

I also loved the novel’s approach towards ASL (American Sign Language). I don’t know it unfortunately (although I know the alphabet of British Sign Language – not the same thing!), but “You’re Welcome, Universe” definitely made me interested. Julia’s new friend YP is trying to learn it too, and I felt that it was really important that the author has shown how people communicate in ASL – both through text and illustrations of the novel. At one point, Julia describes ASL to a useless adult – “English is my second language. I speak American Sign Language. It’s not English. It’s not charades, not miming. It’s a language”. Smashing misconceptions like Julia does in that scene is the best reason for YA literature to be gaining momentum as it currently is.

Books like “You’re Welcome, Universe” are important, not least BECAUSE they’re marketed towards younger audience. When young people read, they want to relate to the characters – they want to see themselves in them. And if all protagonsits are the same straight white able-bodied men, it’s hard for people who don’t fit into that mold (such as myself) to relate to them. Julia’s story feels real; since I’m not deaf, I cannot presume what people like her go through every day, but according to acknowledgments, the author has employed sensitivity readers to make Julia’s experiences as truthful as possible. I can only hope that more authors follow Gardner’s example!

I’m certainly going to read more of Whitney Gardner’s books! My rating for “You’re Welcome, Universe” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “You’re Welcome, Universe” if you liked:

“Of Pens and Swords” by Rena Rocford;

“#famous” by Jilly Gagnon;

“It Started with Goodbye” by Christina June

 

Have you read “You’re Welcome, Universe”? What are your favourite books released so far this year? Let me know in the comments:)

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

March 2017 TBR Finds

Welcome to the third installment of my monthly TBR finds!

In Marchof 2017 I’ve discovered the following books and added them to my Goodreads TBR:

Contemporary:

“Bad Romance” by Heather Demetrios

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Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape.

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

“Moxie” by Jennifer Mathieu

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Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with a school administration at her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes, hallway harassment, and gross comments from guys during class. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a tough-as-nails, punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, and now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. As Viv forges friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution

“The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley” by Hannah Tinti

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After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter, Loo, to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past; a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. This father-daughter epic weaves back and forth through time and across America, from Alaska to the Adirondacks.

Literary Fiction:

“The Idiot” by Elif Batuman

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The year is 1995, and email is new. Selin, the daughter of Turkish immigrants, arrives for her freshman year at Harvard. She signs up for classes in subjects she has never heard of, befriends her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, and, almost by accident, begins corresponding with Ivan, an older mathematics student from Hungary. Selin may have barely spoken to Ivan, but with each email they exchange, the act of writing seems to take on new and increasingly mysterious meanings.

At the end of the school year, Ivan goes to Budapest for the summer, and Selin heads to the Hungarian countryside, to teach English in a program run by one of Ivan’s friends. On the way, she spends two weeks visiting Paris with Svetlana. Selin’s summer in Europe does not resonate with anything she has previously heard about the typical experiences of American college students, or indeed of any other kinds of people. For Selin, this is a journey further inside herself: a coming to grips with the ineffable and exhilarating confusion of first love, and with the growing consciousness that she is doomed to become a writer.

“The Leavers” by Lisa Ko

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One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

Historical Fiction:

“Maisie Dobbs” by Jacqueline Winspear

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Maisie Dobbs isn’t just any young housemaid. Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers—she works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

“The Muse” by Jessie Burton

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On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences

Fantasy:

“How to Hang a Witch” by Adriana Mather

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Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. 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?

If dealing with that weren’t enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it’s Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself

“The Library of Fates” by Aditi Khorana

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No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

“The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin” by Stephanie Knipper

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Sisters Rose and Lily Martin were inseparable when they were kids. As adults, they’ve been estranged for years, until circumstances force them to come together to protect Rose’s daughter. Ten-year-old Antoinette has a severe form of autism that requires constant care and attention. She has never spoken a word, but she has a powerful gift that others would give anything to harness: she can heal things with her touch. She brings wilted flowers back to life, makes a neighbor’s tremors disappear, changes the course of nature on the Kentucky flower farm where she and her mother live.

Antoinette’s gift, though, puts her own life in danger, as each healing comes with an increasingly deadly price. As Rose—the center of her daughter’s life—struggles with her own failing health, and Lily confronts her anguished past, they, and the men who love them, come to realize the sacrifices that must be made to keep this very special child safe

“The Sons of Thestian” by M.E. Vaughan

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The Prince Jionathan is plagued by visions of death. With the King on his death-bed, and the tyrannical Queen in power, the Kingdom of Harmatia lies in peril. Fleeing the city in fear of his life, Jionathan is shadowed by Rufus Merle, a young, secretive Magi tasked with bringing him home. Now, with the help of a fearsome Sidhe warrior named Fae, they must traverse a dangerous faerie-wood together. Against bandits, faeries and cursed priestesses, these unlikely friends travel a path fraught with danger, not least from the blood-thirsty Night Patrol and the dark conspiracy that shrouds them.

“The Witches of Cambridge” by Menna van Praag

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Amandine Bisset has always had the power to feel the emotions of those around her. It’s a secret she can share only with her friends all professors, all witches when they gather for the Cambridge University Society of Literature and Witchcraft. Amandine treasures these meetings but lately senses the ties among her colleagues beginning to unravel. If only she had her student Noa’s power to hear the innermost thoughts of others, she might know how to patch things up. Unfortunately, Noa regards her gift as a curse. So when a seductive artist claims he can cure her, Noa jumps at the chance, no matter the cost.

Noa’s not the only witch in over her head. Mathematics professor Kat has a serious case of unrequited love but refuses to cast spells to win anyone’s heart. Her sister, Cosima, is not above using magic to get what she wants, sprinkling pastries in her bakery with equal parts sugar and enchantment. But when Cosima sets her sights on Kat’s crush, she conjures up a dangerous love triangle.

Science Fiction:

“The Girl from Everywhere” by Heidi Heilig

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Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

“The House of Writers” by M.J. Nicholls

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THE HOUSE OF WRITERS is a playful novel set in 2050, when the publishing industry has collapsed, literature has become a micro-niche interest, and Scotland itself has become an enormous call center. Those writers who remain reside in a dilapidated towerblock, where they churn out hack works tailored to please their small audiences. The novel weaves together individual stories of life inside (and outside) the building, where each floor houses a different genre, as the writers fight to keep the process of literature alive with varying degrees of success. THE HOUSE OF WRITERS is a feast of wit: a surreal entertainment, a bracing satire, a verbal tour- de-force, and a good-spirited dystopian comedy; it is also a loving homage to language, literature, and the imagination, and a plea that they remain vital well into the dubious future that awaits us.

YA Romance:

“Queens of Geek” by Jen Wilde

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When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe

“When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon

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A laugh-out-loud, heartfelt YA romantic comedy, told in alternating perspectives, about two Indian-American teens whose parents have arranged for them to be married.

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

Non-fiction:

“Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World” by Kelly Jensen

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Here We Are is a scrapbook-style teen guide to understanding what it really means to be a feminist. It’s packed with essays, lists, poems, comics, and illustrations from a diverse range of voices, including TV, film, and pop-culture celebrities and public figures such as ballet dancer Michaela DePrince and her sister Mia, politician Wendy Davis, as well as popular YA authors like Nova Ren Suma, Malinda Lo, Brandy Colbert, Courtney Summers, and many more. Altogether, the book features more than forty-four pieces, with an eight-page insert of full-color illustrations.

Here We Are is a response to lively discussions about the true meaning of feminism on social media and across popular culture and is an invitation to one of the most important, life-changing, and exciting parties around.

Would love to hear about the latest additions to your TBRs!