Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) 2015 - Friday

Hi guys!

I apologise for not writing a post in so long - I was busy with so many things that I kind of ceased to both blog on here AND vlog on BritishBiblioholic. But hey, I'm back now, and this post is all about the Friday of the Young Adult Literature Convention - or YALC - that I attended this past weekend as part of London's Film and Comic Convention (LFCC). I am breaking my recap of the event into three separate blog posts - one per day - as otherwise I think it'll be too long and a bit daunting for even the hardiest blog reader. Enjoy!

Friday 17th July

I caught a train from Leeds to London King's Cross on Friday morning, arriving in London at about 1pm. Because I had to go to my hotel, check in and sort out my bag to take to YALC with me, I don't think I actually entered the Olympia building (this year's location - SO much bigger than Earl's Court Exhibition Centre 2, which is where LFCC and YALC were held last year!) until after 3pm, but that was okay. I was lucky enough to have a weekend ticket for YALC, which meant that I had priority access to the YALC spaces, I could use the special YALC entrance, I could get a free goodie bag of some amazing freebies from publishers, agents, authors and publicists, and also I could still get into the full LFCC convention. To gain access to the convention I was given an orange wristband which had 'YALC Weekend' written on it, and I had to wear this all the time so staff could see that I hadn't just sneaked in somehow. (Which, let's be honest, seemed pretty impossible to me!) On my way in I happened to bump into M. G. Harris, author of the Joshua Files series and currently Gemini Force One, who had been in the queue behind me. The last time I had met her prior to this had been when I was 12 and had just started high school the year before, so it was incredibly strange to see her again having turned 18 and having finished my A-Levels.

When I arrived on the second floor of the Olympia, which was almost exclusively housing YALC, I almost immediately met up with Chris (@yablooker on Twitter, my partner in crime in running the YA Fictionados, and the author of The Young Adult Blook Club blog) and we planned out the different events we wanted to go to.

Being strangled by Darren Shan...
Admittedly, due to when I'd arrived, I'd missed the Thrills and Chills panel (2:30pm-3pm - featuring Darren Shan, Will Hill, Dawn Kurtagich, Lou Morgan and Matt Whyman), but I hadn't been interested in seeing it - only in meeting some of the authors doing it. Darren Shan's signing went on for absolutely AGES, meaning that I did get to meet him, but both Will Hill (who signed from 3:15pm-5:15pm) and Moira Young (who was on the Apocalypse Now panel which followed, and who signed from 4:15pm-6:15pm) seemed to just disappear when I tried to find them to sign my books! It was a bit upsetting to not meet either of them, but I know that there will be more opportunities for me to meet them both in the future. For now, I can be content with the fact that Darren Shan strangled me for a REALLY long time while Chris took photos - one of which you can see on the left. He criticised me afterwards for looking happy about my impending doom, but it was Darren Shan - what can you do but smile?! (He put my photo in this Facebook post on his official page too!)


I met Darren Shan at around 5:25pm, after I had waited in his queue for around ten minutes. Chris and I strategically waited for his queue to go down beforehand by browsing the various publisher stalls - including those of HarperCollins, Walker, Electric Monkey, Penguin, Bloomsbury, Hot Key Books, and more - and also by picking up our free goodie bags and filling them up with even more goodies from the freebie table. I was tempted to buy so many books but I knew I had to refrain incase anything in the main convention (guaranteed to be so much more expensive) caught my eye.

After meeting Darren Shan I was approached by Lisa from CityofYABooks, who I didn't recognise until AFTER we'd hugged, greeted each other, and then stood there awkwardly for about a minute looking at each other. (I'm sorry!!) We'd been talking on Twitter for weeks and it felt amazing to know that I was finally meeting some of the people I'd only ever seen on a screen beforehand. We talked about the possibility of collaborating in a video (as you can see in my vlog, which is embedded in the very bottom of this post) and then went to stand in the queue for Virginia Bergin, author of The Rain and The Storm, together. At that point, however, Derek Landy's talk was about to start. I knew it would be practically sacrilege (in terms of my reputation as an extreme fan) to miss it, so when my Mum offered to wait in the line for me to get my book signed on my behalf, I practically ran into the event space and sat down in the first seat that I found. Which, as it turned out, was further away from the front than I thought it was, but significantly further away from the back, which was around a hundred rows behind.

As can be expected of Derek Landy, the event was funny, witty, and ultimately entertaining all round. For the most part, he spoke about his new series, Demon Road, which follows a sixteen-year-old girl called Amber as she is chased across America by a pack of demons. It sounds thrilling, just as witty and brilliant, and I am really looking forward to reading it. (I actually have a proof copy of the first book, Demon Road, which is due out on August 27th, but I haven't gotten round to reading it yet. I feel like a terrible fan admitting this fact publicly, but... I can't read more than one book at a time, okay?!) After the actual 'talk' part of the event, he accepted questions from fans in the audience - one of which was the ever-recurring 'will there be a Skulduggery Pleasant movie?'. I actually asked Derek this same question in my interview with him a couple of months ago - you can read that here.

After Derek's talk, the crowd burst from the event space and ran to join the existing queue which had started to form whilst the talk was still going on. In an act which is, for me, quite strange, I neglected to join the queue with the rest of the fans and instead met back up with my Mum, who had succeeded in getting Virginia Bergin to sign my copy of The Rain. She told me that she'd talked to Virginia quite extensively about me, and that Virginia had seemed very happy that I had someone so supportive of my hobbies and interests (i.e. writing, blogging and vlogging). She also said that Virginia had told her to tell me to try and find her at some point over the course of the weekend so that we could talk personally, and I did finally achieve this on the Sunday (which I'll discuss in the blog post for that day later on!)

Chris and I decided to go and sit on the beanbags in the corner after Derek's talk in order to wait for his queue to go down. Neither of us can lie - they were SO comfy and we felt like we could stay there forever, just looking at all of the books which were hanging on the famous YALC book wall. However, after a while we did get back up and left the building in order to visit the Tesco store across the street. We re-entered through the YALC entrance and returned to the 2nd floor, where the Harry Potter Party was now in full swing. M. G. Harris tweeted to us both asking where we were at this point, and just as we thought about going into the party (as Derek's queue was STILL huge), she and her daughter, Lilia, approached us. Lilia and I instantly descended into a massive conversation about YouTubers, fanfiction and Twitter, whilst M. G. and Chris discussed books that are of substantial interest at the moment. Our two conversations - happening across each other, as Lilia and I were opposite each other, as were M. G. and Chris - seemed to come to an end at roughly the same time, and it was this point that I realised that I'd missed the Page and Screen panel earlier on, and thus the signings by both M. G. and Jamie Anderson for Gemini Force One. Having four books from the Joshua Files in my bag as well as Black Horizon, the first book in Gemini Force One, I quickly asked if it would be possible to now get my books signed. M. G. said yes, much to my delight, and so now I have all of my books signed by her. The third book in the Joshua Files, Zero Moment, I already had signed (we decided) because she had pre-signed many copies of the book when it was released. It puzzled us both that, despite meeting before, my copy of Invisible City, the first book in the series which I read for the Leeds Book Awards in 2009, was unsigned prior to this second meeting. My short review is STILL up on the archives, which you can find here, which reads:
The book was great. Definitely on my list of my top ten books. M.G. Harris did an excellent job with this book, and I can't wait for the next book in the series to come out. Excellent book, everyone should read it!  
Georgina gave Invisible City 5 out of 5 and now plans to read Blood Ties.
TweIve-year-old me had good taste in books.

After M. G. had finished speaking to Chris (as another conversation had started) and signing my books, we parted ways and agreed to perhaps meet up the next day if we crossed paths again. By this point, Derek's queue was only a few people long so we both went and joined onto the end. As I got closer and closer to the table, it became apparent that three people were sat at it rather than just one, and after a moment I realised who the other two people were. One was Nicola Carthy from the HarperCollins' childrens team (who I've crossed paths with a scary amount of times now), and the other was Laura Jordan, Derek's girlfriend. I'd met Laura a couple of times previously as well, so when I reached the front of the queue, I was greeted with 'Hello Howlett!' by Derek and 'Hello Georgina!' by Nicola and Laura respectively. The running joke is that I'm running out of things to get signed, and this was very apparent to me this time around. At my first signing of his in 2011, I had taken 16 books to get signed. This time, I had three, as well as a few of the merch pieces that I had taken from the special Demon Road table which had been set up.

Sick of me, or else staring dramatically into the distance...?
Meeting Derek again was just as fun an experience as it ever has been. He made fun of me, I made fun of him, he signed my books, chatted about various things, and we finished with a picture (which I CANNOT ever leave without now - I always have to go back if I forget). He reminded me of his second event on the Sunday, and I promised to see him again then, and then he left. And at this point, around 8pm, staff had started ushering everyone out as the convention was over for the day. Not much could have made that first day better than it had been.

Overall Friday Feelings

The YALC experience this time, even on this one day, had improved SO much since last year. The increased space for the YALC convention meant that moving around was easy, stalls were available and books were much easier to purchase, and the events didn't have to be ticketed - anyone could turn up and watch them. The signings themselves were also more organised; the queues this time didn't merge with each other confusingly, and there were Showmasters staff and YALC volunteers around at all times to ensure that order was maintained.

Although I was disappointed to not encounter Will Hill or Moira Young, I easily managed to see everyone else that I had intended to meet - excluding Virginia Bergin. The one issue I had, and that I continued to have over the course of the three days, was that many of the signings I wished to go to were running at the same time as the panels. This meant that cumulatively I missed certain panels or certain signings, and I brought back an almost equal amount of unsigned books as those I HAD managed to get signed. Perhaps the timings or organisation of the schedule can be even further improved next year, maybe with bigger breaks between panels and signings which run through these breaks so that the likelihood of people being able to get to all of the events that they want to is increased.

YALC Vlog

Coming soon to this space...!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The YA Fictionados

Hi guys! 

Today I'm here to announce my involvement with a new project called the YA Fictionados, and to tell you about the very exciting opportunities that are available to you all to do with it.

I have been working with Chris Moore (@yablooker on Twitter - runs the Young Adult Blook Club blog) recently to create the YA Fictionados, which is an online platform where lovers and enthusiasts of young adult fiction can come together to discuss, review, and discover YA. The site will involve various types and styles of posts, including (but not limited to) reviews, author interviews, tags, event summaries, videos, blog tours, giveaways and more! This is something that Chris has had in mind for a while, and because I love YA so much, I was only too happy to co-found the site with him.

At the moment, we are in the process of developing the site and, more excitingly, recruiting people to be regular bloggers and primary contributors. If you think that writing and making content of the sort mentioned above for the YA books that you love sounds fun, then why not apply to join us? We are looking for four enthusiastic, dedicated and knowledgeable YA readers to join our team, and the best part is that we are looking for both new and experienced bloggers. Even if you've never written a blog post in your life, don't think that this opportunity isn't for you - we are looking for people with different skills and talents, and you might just be exactly what we're looking for.

To apply, send us the following details:

Name:
Age:
Location:
Blog/YouTube Channel name and link (if you have one):
Favourite book and why:
Preferred YA genres (eg romance, paranormal, dystopia, fantasy, sci-fi etc.):
Skills (mention any relevant skills such as design, editorial etc.):
Any additional comments:

EMAIL: yafictionados@hotmail.com
DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: 15th May 2015
Follow us on Twitter: @YAfictionados

Friday, 17 April 2015

An Interview With Derek Landy

Derek Landy is the best-selling author of the Skulduggery Pleasant series, which follows Skulduggery Pleasant and Valkyrie Cain as they save the world from disaster. Full of action, mystery, violence and, of course, humour, it isn't one to miss.The first book, 'Skulduggery Pleasant', can be bought from Waterstones, Amazon and The Book Depository. In this interview, Derek talks to me both about Skulduggery Pleasant and his second series, Demon Road, the first book in which, 'Demon Road', is released on August 27th. You can preorder Demon Road now from Waterstones and Amazon.


THE INTERVIEW


Skulduggery Pleasant as a series has now concluded. It has been eight years since the publication of the first book in 2007 - how does it feel to have spent eight years on an idea, and now it's all over?
"It feels odd. What feels even odder is the FACT that it feels odd. When I told Harper Collins this was gonna be a 9 book series, way back when, they were delighted. "Yay!" they said. "A long series! Yippee!"
I knew it'd take me 9 books to tell this story I had in my head, but even back then, in the first flush of youthful naivety about writing and the writing process and the book industry, I thought to myself "9 books is an AWFUL lot." I fully expected to grow bored by Book 4. I expected that I'd need to take a break halfway through the series to write something else, then come back to it. But that didn't happen. Amazingly, it didn't happen, and I wrote Book 9 with as much enthusiasm and fun as I did Book 1. 
So now that it's over I feel... odd. I did what I set out to do, which is good. The books have kept selling better and better, which is great. But it's done now, and it's taken up ten years of my life, and now I wave it goodbye and carry on. Will anything I do ever be better? Will anything I do ever be as good? Will it capture the readers' imaginations as much as Skulduggery has? I don't know, but I'm very curious to find out."
The next stage in the Skulduggery Pleasant adventure, now that the writing side is done, is the adaptation to screen. A movie has been spoken of for years - how close is it to becoming a reality?
"Honestly? Not close. It was RELATIVELY close, then wasn't close at all. Then was PRETTY close, and now isn't close at all. The reality about making movies is that some things take AGES to get to screen and some things NEVER get to screen. That's the down side. The up side is that some things, which may have dragged and dragged and delayed and stumbled, could suddenly snap to attention to ROCKET to the screen.
The thing is, you never know which one your project is going to be, because some projects skip between all three stages. 
For me, I'm not relying on a Skulduggery movie. I'd love if it happened, but my happiness is not based around it. That's the healthy way to be."
Your next series, a trilogy, is titled Demon Road, and is targeted at a teenage audience. The first book (also titled Demon Road) is due to come out in August - what is it going to be about?
"There's only so much I can say at this stage, but essentially it's about a 16 year old girl who's being chased across America by a pack of demons. There are a lot of nods to various genre icons from Freddy Krueger to Stephen King to all sorts of horror movies, and it's been an absolute blast getting to play in that arena."
Demon Road wasn't the title you originally came up with for the series. Why did you change it?
"Sometimes a title works for a series — sometimes it doesn't. The early title will probably be used for either the second or the third book, because it works awesomely as a title in and of itself. But a SERIES title needs to be slightly different. When Demon Road came to me it changed everything. I suddenly scrapped what I'd been writing up to that point and started again — started from the idea that this was now a road novel. In the first version, it mostly took place in a small town in Texas — now it takes place all over America."
Has it been harder to start working on this second series, or has it been easier, given that you've now had lots of experience at writing?
"It's a mix. Technically, it's easier, because I have so much experience in what works and what doesn't. But to come off a massive series like Skulduggery, which has taken up so much of my time and attention, and then to go onto something new... it's daunting. There's a kind of unwritten rule that says the second series will never sell as well as the first — at least not initially, so you see a lot of best-selling authors stumble a little when the new book suddenly doesn't go to number one. I think I'll be okay with this not happening, to be honest. Being number one is nice, but what's nicer is the feedback I get from readers."
What can we expect from this new trilogy? Is it going to be completely different from Skulduggery Pleasant, or will some elements carry across, such as the writing style and humour?
"It's different, but not amazingly so. It's less jokey, for one thing. That wasn't easy. I've had to go back over chapters and take out jokes. Like, a LOT of jokes. But even more than that, it's attitude. Valkyrie has a very defiant attitude — very angry, almost hostile, to authority figures. Amber doesn't have that. She's a lot more normal. Anytime I see her talking like Valkyrie, it's gone. Val is Val, and she's unique, but Amber's unique in her own way, and she deserves to be treated as such. 
Demon Road is also written for a YA audience, so it's going to be a little bit older. Not 'Bubba Moon' older, though writing from a seasoned adult's perspective was unbelievably rewarding, and resulted in a feel I'd never attempted before — but older nonetheless."
Many readers by now have read the first chapter of Demon Road, courtesy of the released The Dying of the Light (Skulduggery Pleasant #9) paperback and the wonders of the internet. What have the reactions to that been so far, and do they meet your expectations?
"The reactions, what I've seen, have been exactly what I wanted. The reaction to Amber herself, and who she is, have been wonderful. People either love or hate Valkyrie, but there seems to be a positive response across the board to a female character who isn't tall and slim and beautiful."
In Skulduggery Pleasant, Valkyrie was based on your real-life friend Laura. The titular character of Demon Road is Amber; is she based on anyone, or is she pure fiction?
"Pure fiction. I based Val on somebody real because I wasn't confident enough in myself to create a convincing central character — male or female, it didn't matter. Now I am. Now I know I can do it. 
Amber is going to discover some pretty shocking things about herself over the course of the book, and she's going to have to make some pretty drastic decisions over the course of the series. In fact, how she looks is a big part of that. How she sees herself, how others see her, and how men see women in general, all of this is woven through it."
Nine questions for nine amazing Skulduggery Pleasant books: what is the one piece of advice you'd like to give to your fans about Demon Road? What is the one thing that you would you like them to know before reading it?
"With Skulduggery, I had nine books, one spin-off and one collection of short stories to tear out your hearts and leave you traumatised. I had nine books, one spin-off and one collection of short stories to get you to love characters I then brutally killed or damaged beyond repair. 
With Demon Road, I'm gonna do all that in THREE."

END OF INTERVIEW


It's great to know that very soon, we'll all have to go through the heart-wrenching pain and joy of another great series by Derek Landy all over again. A huge thank-you to Derek for agreeing to this interview - I hope to interrogate him (in a nice way) again soon! 
Thank you to you, too, readers, for taking the time to read this interview, and have a wonderful day!

Be sure to tweet Derek Landy (@DerekLandy) and myself (@thereaderrunt) on Twitter if you enjoyed this interview, or else leave a comment on it below! Follow my blog for more cool stuff like this, coming your way very soon.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Geek Girl by Holly Smale - Review

Geek Girl by Holly Smale

First Published: February 2013 (UK)

This Edition Published: February 2013
This Edition Published By: HarperCollins
Cover Design: HarperCollins Publishers

Type: Young Adult Fiction
Genre(s): Humour; Contemporary
Series: Geek Girl (Book #1)
Language: English

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780007489442
Price: £6.99


Blurb:

Harriet Manners knows a lot of things: cats have 32 muscles in each ear, bluebirds can't see the colour blue, the average person laughs 15 times per day, peanuts are an ingredient of dynamite. But she doesn't know why nobody at school seems to like her. So when she's offered the chance to reinvent herself, Harriet grabs it. Can she transform from geek to chic?

Review:

This is your official SPOILER WARNING! There are lots and lots of spoilers!

'Geek Girl' is a book that I've been meaning to read for years. I can't even remember when I bought my copy of the book, but it's just been sat on my shelf, waiting patiently for me to pick it up. Yesterday, finally, I did. And I can honestly tell you that I'm really, really glad that I did.

This book tells the story of the super-geek Harriet Manners; a victim of bullying, a social outcast, and completely clueless when it comes to fashion. It is therefore a huge surprise to absolutely everyone when she is picked up by Infinity Models and subsequently Yuka Ito, the Creative Director of Baylee, a world-famous fashion house. She takes the chance, as the blurb says, to 'reinvent herself' because she is sick of being rejected and bullied by her peers, and wishes for her life to change. She pursues a career in fashion not because it interests her particularly, but because she thinks it will offer her things that her current life does not: acceptance, confidence, and an absence of the word 'geek' being used to insult her on a daily basis.

Immediately after starting the book, I fell in love with Holly Smale's writing. Quirky and humorous, it draws you in and entertains you even through the most serious parts of the book. The writing also makes the serious parts even more shocking and hard-hitting, as they seem so completely out-of-place in the upbeat atmosphere which Smale creates. Having finished the book, I went on Goodreads and read some of the reviews that my friends on there had posted. Some commented that the humour eventually seemed 'forced' - I personally did not, and do not, feel this way. Every time one of the jokes or puns came along, and every time Harriet got herself into an awkward situation, it seemed completely natural and flowed well; I found myself giggling at intervals and smiling at others, knowing that I would probably have done the exact same thing in her situation. That is the next thing I would like to discuss: Harriet Manners as a character.

Harriet was definitely one of the most eccentric, yet realistic, geeks I have ever witnessed in literature. Together with Toby, her faithful and dedicated stalker, she was someone that I could relate to, and someone whose perspective I really enjoyed reading. (I don't relate to Toby because he is a stalker, I would just like to clarify.) Not only is Harriet geeky to a point where I can only tip my metaphorical hat to her out of respect, she is also clumsy, a bad liar and often a bit of a lousy friend - things that I can empathise with exceptionally well. Perhaps my biggest common trait with Harriet, though, is her initial disinterest in, and cluelessness about, fashion. This has never been something that I have paid attention to, and therefore Smale's descriptions of her wearing things like a Winnie the Pooh jumper and baggy trousers comfort me - others like me EXIST somewhere! I am not alone in being so geeky and tasteless in popular clothes! (I must add, though, that my clothes are AWESOME, because they are VERY geeky.)

One particular aspect of Harriet's characterisation that I really did love beyond all of that which I've mentioned above is Smale's truthful portrayal of anxiety and panic attacks. Mental health of this sort is so often overlooked, and I found it wonderful that 'Geek Girl' showed how much of an impact these two conditions can have on a person. This gave the book a whole other level of realism, and made Harriet someone entirely human who can be related to on many levels. Despite being ordinary and then being turned magically extraordinary, as in many YA novels, she still had her 'flaws' which made her a realistic female character. Smale also challenged other social views in the book by showing that Harriet was not the typical fashion icon that young girls tend to idolise from seeing them in articles in magazines and newspapers. She is not stick-thin, she is not exceptionally pretty, she is not interested in eating healthily or, on the other end of the scale, neglecting to eat at all - she is her own person, and this book shows that being your own person is perfectly okay. My hat goes off to you, Holly Smale, it really does.

I could go on about Harriet all day, but I'm not going to. Now, I'm going to briefly mention the other characters in the tale - Nat, Alexa, Toby, Nick, Annabel, Wilbur, Yuka and Richard (Harriet's father). 

  • Nat as a character was someone who I can see in many of my own friends. She's supportive, caring, and not naïve - she sees through the lies, and is hurt by them when she doesn't. I feel like she, too, was a highly realistic character, but only up to a point. Her acceptance of Harriet's model career I think may be a tad unrealistic if it really was her dream to be a model since she was seven years old, especially factoring in her rejection from the exact same model agency which Harriet is accepted by, but maybe I've just never met anyone quite so nice as that yet - I hope to some day.
  • Alexa is obviously your standard bully; she fits in very well to the image of my own past bullies, even using many of the same lines and insults on Harriet. Holly Smale, in her acknowledgements, thanks her own 'Alexa' for giving her the inspiration to write 'Geek Girl' - and I think that's ultimately the message behind her character. She never really mattered to Harriet, but Harriet made her matter, and that's the error. A great quote from the book, which I even took the time to tweet out on my Twitter account @thereaderrunt, is "You need to stop caring what people who don't matter think of you." This is a piece of advice that I've been told before, and this book has reminded me that I need to follow it - another reason why 'Geek Girl' is so awesome. I loved that in the end, Harriet, Nat and Toby were mature enough to apologise to her - despite the fact that the only wrong committed was by Nat, who cut off all of Alexa's ponytail in return for her bullying of Harriet. This is something which everyone must learn to do - forgive and apologise, even if you're not the one dominantly in the wrong. You can be the better person by just doing that.
  • Toby was, as I assume he is supposed to be, very weird. He's the sort of person who would really annoy you, and he does, but eventually, like Harriet, you realise that he's actually just lonely and looking for someone like him to be friends with. That's what makes him relatable, even though you wouldn't think that he could be.
  • Nick, though quite sparsely featured, I felt was a great addition to the novel. Some people may think that the romance element undermines the central story, but I don't - I think that it makes it even better. He was someone humorous and interesting, and also someone probably 'out of reach' for Harriet, making their romance so much more of a victory in the final chapter of the book. I'm a sucker for romance, I don't care, I loved him.
  • Annabel is possibly one of the only positive portrayals of a step-mother that I've ever encountered. I loved her relationship with Harriet, and the fact that she was so supportive despite the fact that both Harriet and her father, Richard, defied her wishes and went ahead with the modelling deal. Parenting done right, right here.
  • Wilbur was such a flamboyant character, and one that rather reminded me of Cinna and Effie from 'The Hunger Games'. I loved the dynamic he had with Yuka and his enthusiasm for Harriet, despite the fact that she wasn't easy to work with or his typical model. His repetition of 'with a bur, not an iam' was also very funny, and a joke that I kept laughing at even though it probably wasn't that funny.
  • Yuka was the kind of scary modelling lady that I can imagine dominating the industry. Her behaviour and mannerisms were unquestionably accurate, but perhaps Smale was being generous by making her generous enough to keep letting Harriet 'off the hook'. Then again, Smale was the model for a while, and I've never been in the industry in my life. So I have no right to question this at all, I just am as a reader. I loved her character, though, as someone completely serious and dictatorial when so much of the book was humorous.
  • Richard (Harriet's father) was very, very reminiscent of Desmond Edgley for me from Derek Landy's 'Skulduggery Pleasant' series. Both are goofy fathers who repeatedly embarrass their child, and who are constantly being scolded and reprimanded for their behaviour by their wives. You can't beat this kind of realistic and horrifyingly relatable humour.

If there is one thing that I should say about the book before I conclude this review, it's that at some points, I felt that it was a bit slow-paced. Broken down into short chapters as it was, overall the book didn't take long to read (I started last night and finished today), but in some places it did take quite a while to reach the point it was going for. Equally, in some places I was also left questioning the point of what had just happened, and this meant that I had to stop reading and think carefully about the book before moving on. Usually, this is the sign of a great book, and that's what I've overall taken out of the experience, though I do also think it's also sometimes the sign of elements of a story that are just written slightly weirdly, as much as to make me think 'what?'. It's a wonderful book, and one that I would highly recommend, but it's also one that I think was notably imperfect - but what debut novel ever is?

'Geek Girl' as a series was initially intended to be a trilogy, but has been extended to become a six-book series. As such, this book was rather ambiguously-ended, leaving room for Smale to do whatever she wanted with the characters in the next instalment. With regard to the said next instalment, titled 'Model Misfit', I shall be reading it very soon - maybe even this afternoon. This book has made such an impression on me that I now can't wait to read the rest of the series.

Taking everything into account, I have no qualms at all about giving this book five stars out of five, despite the small problems with pacing and ambiguity that I encountered. It's a great read for boys and girls alike, though obviously, stereotypically, boys will enjoy it less, despite the wonderful male fashion role model in the form of Nick.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review, and have a wonderful day!

Rating: 5/5 Stars  ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson - Review



I read this book as part of the Waterstones Leeds Teen/YA Book Club (@WSLeedsTeen). Our February book of the month is Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas - feel free to join in and read it with us, and maybe even join us in-store on March 1st for the meeting!



The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

First Published: January 2015 (UK)

This Edition Published: January 2015
This Edition Published By: David Fickling Books
Cover Design: Alice Todd; Ness Wood

Type: Young Adult Fiction
Genre(s): Contemporary; Romance; LGBTQIA+
Series: None
Language: English

Format: Hardback
Number of Pages: 370
ISBN: 9781910200322
Price: £10.99


Blurb:

Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he's gay. The school bully thinks he's a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth - David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal - to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in Year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long...

Review:

This is your official SPOILER WARNING! There are lots and lots of spoilers!

As stated at the top of this post, I read this book for the monthly book club that I attend at my local Waterstones branch, Waterstones Leeds. I had heard a little bit about general opinions/ratings beforehand due to seeing Goodreads discussions and whatnot, but overall I had no idea whatsoever about the story, characters and settings of the novel. The only thing I had any clue about was the range of topics - LGBTQIA+ characters, transgender bullying, gender identity and dysphoria... and so on and so forth.

I feel like the most appropriate place to start is at an embarrassing admission: this is the first book I've ever read that really solely focuses on LGBTQIA+ characters. Although I've encountered various other books with characters in that identify within the spectrum (e.g. Joey in Andrew Smith's 'Wingeris gay, and Vaurien Scapegrace in 'Skulduggery Pleasant' by Derek Landy is technically transgender) I've never read a book purely about such characters. The Art of Being Normal has, very effectively, shown me that I've been missing out.

When I first started reading, the perspective was David's/Kate's, and from this I automatically assumed that we would remain looking through her eyes for the entire book, and that Leo was simply someone who she met and thus came into the story. I write 'she/her' to use the accurate pronouns of the desired gender of the character, though I might get mixed up at some point and revert to saying 'he/him' - if I do, forgive me! Keeping this in mind as well, do I write this review calling her David (as she is for most of the book) or Kate, as her desired name is? For the purpose of simplicity I think I'll stick to David, as you guys might get confused otherwise...! I was, of course, very wrong about the book remaining in David's perspective; every few chapters, the perspective would change to Leo. I found this to be a quite unique style of writing as although I've read dual narrative books before too (e.g. Sophie McKenzie's 'Blood Ties'), I'd never read one where it was at random intervals - it was always that at the start of every new chapter, the perspective would change to the other character. This was therefore a refreshing way of writing that took a little bit of getting used to, but was very enjoyable once I had differentiated the two characters. (It was also a tad confusing at first as there were no chapter titles or character names to head the chapters to tell me that the perspective had changed - this is something else that was unlike the dual narrative books I've encountered before, which made it very clear and obvious that the perspective was changing.)

David as a character I found to be very authentic, dealing with the problems and troubles that any transgender teen no doubt encounters. Very anxious at the unwanted changes occurring within and to her body, and envious of those she recognised happening to her younger sister, she documented what she found in order to make sense of the confusion and also to no doubt keep herself sane. I found myself feeling very upset that she didn't feel comfortable and didn't have the confidence to 'come out' yet - such is the nature of our modern society that most LGBTQIA+ people feel so oppressed and scared that they don't dare speak out about their wishes. Indeed, it's shown in the book the risks - that they might be rejected (as Alicia initially does with Leo) or ridiculed (as Harry does publicly to David before Leo intervenes), and I do hope that through books such as this and the slowly changing stereotypes, we may soon be able to change the way society thinks. I was very glad that when David did finally reveal his gender identity, his parents were so understanding and helped him on the way to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and beyond that fully transitioning - but at the same time I did wonder whether this was entirely realistic. For some families of course it would be, but for the majority there is still a very negative reception - perhaps it would have been better to have the bad reaction, as with Leo (to a degree)? That's me just being picky, though.

The trip with Leo I felt to be a very significant part of the book with regard to David, as it is obviously when she attempts to 'pass' as female in the world without the pressure and fear of people recognising her, and also when the two get drunk and bond in the bingo hall. It seemed both cutely realistic and strangely unrealistic at the same time - elements were so, so enjoyable to read (the fact that they took a picture together, and Leo's unwilling but loud karaoke) but at the same time, I was cringing at the thought of the two of them being stupid enough to swim in the ocean when smashed out of their heads and also drinking/gambling underage. All in all, though, it is an accurate depiction of modern teenage life and it ultimately showed that transgender teens are not exempt from 'normal' activities - they are just the same as everyone else, and equal to everyone else.

Leo, although also a main character, seemed to take a more back-seat role for me despite his continued importance and relevance throughout. Williamson did well to write him so ambiguously; had I not accidentally read a spoiler when updating my Goodreads status about where I was in the book one time, I wouldn't have even known that Leo was another transgender character until the big reveal for David in the abandoned swimming baths. Pretending that I didn't already know, this would have been a hugely shocking moment - and I commend the realistic nature of this, as many transgender individuals can easily 'pass' as their true gender. David tries to achieve this and does well, as we also see, but on the downside here I did get a bit of a comical undertone to the writing. I don't know why I found it funny that he dressed in his friends'/relatives' clothes so often, but I did, and perhaps this is a difficulty in writing transgender characters again due to society. Even though I consider myself to be a completely open and accepting individual, society has still shaped me think of the idea of men in women's clothes as being a bit ridiculous and silly (whereas girls in boys' clothes is just a social norm; how hypocritical). Anyway, back to Leo; I did really love his character as a transgender teen, however, I do feel some aspects of his story were a little bit... if I can say it... dull? The plot of the relationship with Alicia, for example, got quite boring even though I understood why it was being explored. I don't think this was down to Leo's characterisation, which I loved throughout as he was very much an individual and against many modern stereotypes - I think it was down to the characterisation of Alicia. Upon her arrival in the book I instantly felt hesitant to like her and very apprehensive and distrusting of her; I knew that she would eventually do something to make me dislike her, and I'm actually disappointed to say she didn't disappoint. (That's a bit of an oxymoronic statement...) When she broke up with Leo over his biological sex, that was obviously it - I thought she was awful and judgmental. The fact that she didn't seem to be happy was little to make up for it, and even at the end of the book I think she was still quite a shallow character. I think the entire book could have survived without her, but the inclusion of a 'romance' aspect to the array of topics was certainly valuable, and I accept that.

Referencing the topic variety - I do think this book covered a lot of valuable bases, in some shape or form, with regard to gender identity and transgender life. I liked how it mentioned different coping methods, stages of transitioning, ways of life etc; it gave an accurate and well thought-out insight into the life of someone who lives knowing they are in the 'wrong body'. However, having had a discussion on Twitter with Levi, another of my book club's members, I realise now that maybe the book didn't go into very much depth - it 'skirted around the edges' almost, not really delving into any one topic in very much detail. Levi also said to me that some of the issues looked at, such as bullying and parenting issues, are applicable to everyone who suffers from them and not just transgender individuals. I do therefore agree with him that perhaps the book could have done more to relate to purely transgender issues, as well as covering what anyone might deem obvious with regard to gender identity and social stigmas. I think if you had to think about this book as a whole, it is more of an 'introduction' to LGBTQIA+ fiction rather than a book which fully explores and dictates life as such an individual - which obviously worked very well for me, as I've never read anything like it before.

The ending of the book with the event in the swimming baths, as organised by Felix and Essie (who I thought were quite irritating as well as unique, I'll be honest, not only due to their moderately cliché hook-up...) was really cute, and again another aspect of the novel which I really loved. It was such a lovely idea to host an alternative ball, and whilst highly improbable that something such as this would ever really happen, it was a great way to seal the book and bid farewell to the refuge which Leo had for himself for so long. It's also quite a creepy thought to think of how dangerous it no doubt would have been in the building since it had been closed down and abandoned, but I'll try not to think about that too much...!

Writing style-wise, I thought that this book was good. Not brilliant or fantastic, but solidly good - easy to read, understand, and interpret. I do think more could have been done to point out the two characters when swapping perspectives - the alternating font type wasn't as dramatic as it should or could have been, and I did find myself getting confused sometimes - but perhaps that was a difficulty only I really faced, and other people were better adjusted to. 

With all things considered, and with things such as the world-building and overarching plot of self-discovery and development included, my rating for this book is four out of five stars. Thoroughly enjoyable and unique, but with little points for improvement here and there. As a debut novel it is exceedingly impressive, and I look forward to seeing what else Lisa Williamson has to offer in the future. I don't know if she has a sequel planned for The Art of Being Normal (it seems to have quite an ambiguous and open ending that could invite one), but if she does, I'll definitely be reading it to see where David (now Kate, no doubt!) and Leo will be taken next.

Thank you for taking the time to read this review, and have a wonderful day!

Rating: 4/5 Stars ★ ★ ★