Money Is So Awkward

Skylarks - Karen Gregory
Published by Bloomsbury on 3rd May 2018.
My rating: 4/5
Book Depository purchase link.

Money is so awkward and it's a topic often left out from the fictional world where people don't have to sleep, pay for things, or even use the bathroom. That's why Skylarks stood out to me so much. Don't worry, there weren't people going for toilet breaks every few pages, but there were characters with actual money problems.

It was so refreshing to read about a teenager with a job. When I was that age and working at Homebase, it felt like none of my friends really understood why I was working. None of them had any interest or need to get a job. Admittedly, it’s kind of hard to compare me to Joni, our main character. While she is under pressure to work so she can contribute towards her family, I was earning to pay for my own driving lessons. That huge detail aside, I think this book will offer something special to the working teen-readers who need to know that they’re not any less worthy because they need to work. In fact, they're doing school AND working and probably a million other things to. They're great!

Whether you’re 16 or 61, I don’t think money ever stops being awkward. Everyone has their own perspective of it, their own expectations and their own issues surrounding it. You reach a point where you phase into paying your own way and it’s awkward. You move in with other people and have to balance finances with other people and it’s awkward. You find you have different monetary priorities to your friends or earn a different amount and it’s awkward.

It’s even more awkward in Skylarks. Joni has grown up in a household that has always struggled, dealing with everything from unemployment and the stigma surrounding benefits to the prospect of homelessness. With an older brother that will fight the system all day every day and a younger brother who is still fairly innocent, she’s stuck. No matter what her parents say, she can’t see a way out via university or otherwise.

It becomes even more complicated when Joni meets Annabel - the girl who has everything. From the posh school to the mansion she lives in, Annabel’s life could not be more different from Joni. They make unlikely friends, let alone girlfriends, so the real enjoyment of the story is watching their progression together. It’s all about understanding someone that you think you can’t relate to.

Joni’s feisty personality is something to be admired and I loved how it spread across all sorts of scenes, from the first initial encounter with Annabel, to campaigning against the company looking to take over her estate. She’s a memorable character with plenty of badass traits.

This book is something that YA readers have been asking for - now it’s time to read it!

Love, Jess

Thank you Bloomsbury for sending a copy for review.

BLOG TOUR AND GIVEAWAY: I Have Lost My Way - Gayle Forman

I Have Lost My Way - Gayle Forman
Published by Simon & Schuster on 5th April 2018.
My rating: 4/5
Book Depository purchase link.

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for I Have Lost My Way by the wonderful Gayle Forman. Having read some Gayle Forman before, I was very excited about her latest book and it definitely lived up to my high expectations.

The novel starts by following Freya, a singer who loses her voice while recording her debut album. It then splits into a three way narrative. Harun is hiding something from his family and planning to run away and Nathaniel has just arrived in New York, feeling completely reckless. Their lives entangle one morning and it turns into a life-changing day for all three of them.

I started this novel on an outbound train journey and finished it on the inbound one. It felt right to read a book that happens over the course of one day, in one day. It was like I was experiencing the story in real time and checking in to see what the characters were up to like you’d check social media to catch up with a friend. Books that are set in the one day have the power to really get you thinking about what a day can do. One day can change everything. Perspectives change and decisions can alter dramatically. It's both exciting and inspiring.

The story itself is beautifully told. The dynamics between Freya, Harun and Nathaniel makes this book light-hearted despite its deep conversations. From parents to sexuality, loss to friendship, this book is packed full of meaning and special moments. I can imagine it making a fantastic film because it balances humour with sensitive moments wonderfully.

If you're a fan of The Sun Is Also A Star, They Both Die At The End, or other YA contemporaries that turn one day into a crazy but wonderful story, I'd highly recommend I Have Lost My Way.

Simon & Schuster have very kindly provided a giveaway copy of the book for one of you! To be in with a chance of winning, all you have to do is share this blog post on social media and tag me @JessikahHope and @HashtagReads. Or, you can retweet this tweet.

The competition closes on 19th April 2018 at 5pm. The winner will be contacted by 22nd April. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, an alternative winner will be selected. You must be 18 to enter this competition as I will need to request your address.

Love, Jess

Thank you Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of I Have Lost My Way for review.

REVIEW: I Was Born For This - Alice Oseman

I Was Born For This - Alice Oseman
Published by Harper Collins on 3rd May 2018.
My rating: 5/5
Book Depository purchase link.

I’m so excited to be reviewing this book because I loved it so much.

Mostly because it includes so many themes that I really enjoy reading about, such as:

  • Fandom
  • Music
  • Internet friends
  • Mental Health

I don’t know how Alice Oseman managed to pack so much greatness into one novel.

In some ways, I Was Born For This reminds me of Songs About A Girl by Chris Russell because it focuses on a boy band, The Ark. Jeez, imagine an X Factor final between The Ark and Fire & Lights…In other ways, it reminds me of Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia because of the exploration of fandom and celebrity status. Not to mention the dangers of keeping such a high profile secret.

I Was Born For This is told from two protagonists - Jimmy and Angel. Jimmy’s a member of The Ark and suffers from anxiety. Angel is one of his biggest fans and can’t wait to meet Jimmy before the band’s last concert of their tour. Even better, she’s planning to meet them with her online bestie, Juliet. I liked how it wasn’t all smooth in Angel and Juliet’s friendship and I appreciated the sassy inner thoughts Angel had because it added an excellent level of drama.

Reading about the behind the scenes life of a famous band is so much fun, I can’t ever get enough of it. From the crazy lifestyle to the heightened stakes of every situation, it’s all-consuming and addictive. This story goes even deeper with it’s depiction of mental health issues. Of course, every member of the band views their fame differently. For Jimmy, life is particularly tough. The way his anxiety was presented was gentle but relatable. I’m sure it’s something so many readers of this book will be familiar with. As well as mental health, there were loads of other examples of great representation, from Angel’s faith to Jimmy’s gender.

It was a fun-filled, although dramatic, story of finding happiness. While Angel and Jimmy have contrasting lifestyles, really, they’re both looking for the same thing.

Love, Jess

Thank you Harper Collins for providing a copy for review.

REVIEW: The Fear - C L Taylor

The Fear - C L Taylor
Published by Harper Collins on 22nd March 2018
My rating: 5/5
Book Depository purchase link.

FINALLY, I’m back to reading thrillers and I couldn’t have returned to them with a better book. The Fear is C L Taylor’s latest in a record of bestselling, plot-twisting set of thrillers and I couldn’t recommend them more! They have such depth and research that gives them a realistic grounding and one that thoroughly creeps me out. Somehow I always end up reading thrillers home alone at night and I couldn’t finish this book on one of those nights (the fear was real) or fall asleep. That was a consequence I was willing to accept.

The Fear follows Lou, a woman who was once a teenager abducted by her teacher. She thought they were in love and has been plagued by the memories of their messed-up relationship for years. As an adult, she ends up moving into town and seeing him again. This time, she’s got the strength to fight back.

As the dynamics of the story kept shifting, I couldn’t tell who was going to come out on top. Especially when the crucial third and fourth characters came into play. I loved the changing perspectives and gripping cliffhangers because I was well and truly hooked from the start. The power plays were such an engaging element. From Mike being her karate teacher and holding the position of power, to being the weaker, older man. I can’t say much more about this without giving the plot away but age, role, gender, so much of the story comes from who has the power and there’s a visual element that really sums this up well.

At times, it was hard to read because the story is so graphic and disturbing, but it never went too far for me. It only scarred my mind and made me jump every time I looked in the mirror… The sacrifices you have to make for reading good thrillers! Goodbye confidence of being able to be home alone!

C L Taylor is a talented thriller writer and you’d be mad to miss out on her latest astounding novel.

Love, Jess

Thank you Harper Collins for providing a copy for review.

The 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge: My Dad's Diary

This is a very strange blog post for me so here goes, let me introduce my dad! You can call him Matt.

When Pan Macmillan asked if I'd like to give the 28 Day Alcohol Free Challenge a go, I had to email them back to say I'm one of those twenty-somethings that is teetotal. I'm a walking stereotype. Vegan, teetotal, into my green smoothies... BUT, I did have someone in mind for this particular challenge.

That's when I sent my dad a Whatsapp asking if he was interested in doing Dry January (again). I say again but I know for a fact that he's tried and failed on many occasion in previous years. This time, though, he was more than happy to use a book and we were both intrigued to see if it would help him surpass his previous record.

We caught up many times over the following weeks and together we wrote a diary to track thoughts/moods/progress and so on. It was actually a really nice reason to talk to my dad and I think we learnt a lot about each other. Here's the diary:

9th January - Day 3 (is it cheating if you start on 6th January?)

This is my third day alcohol free and I'm feeling positive and motivated. I've tried going alcohol free before but without the support of a book or resource. Having something that I know I'm going to read every day is inspiring me and it helps me to carry on. I feel like I'm on a programme rather than flying solo because there's a structure to what I'm doing.

So far the book has had some really thought-provoking sections and it gets you to think about why you're going alcohol free. I've done this for other things in life and it helps you commit, with pen and paper, to exactly what you're doing. 

Some of my reasons are personal but I'll include some of them here:

  1. I want to know what it's like - it sounds daft but I'll never know unless I try. I'll never know what it feels like to be alcohol free. I don't want to die not knowing.
  2. I want to create more time and I think going alcohol free will help me with that. I'll feel better rested because I'll sleep better and I might have more time in the mornings because I'll have more energy.
  3. With my sport, how do I go one step better? I've tried lots of things but not going alcohol free.

The book points out some things that are obvious and that you might have thought about before but haven't had at the front of your mind, such as thinking about the people around you. It's written in an anecdotal style and it reminds me of a magazine in many ways, which can be good but also means it's a little generic.

The one thing it's lacking at this stage is that it's a bit woolly on the science. It doesn't go into great detail. When I read books on performance, sport and nutrition, it tends to go into more detail and I like that because it helps me to get my head around it. This book is weak on the biology, the chemistry, the science, whatever's going on inside you and the effect on your body.

20th January - Day 14

I have never gone this long without alcohol before.

Week two has been interesting because I've been away with work socialising and eating meals out when I'd normally have a drink, but it wasn't a problem at all. The book asked me, 'what's the real reward, is it the alcohol or something else?' That made me realise, it's not the alcohol that I enjoy the most, it's the socialising part.

Tonight's the first big challenge because I'm going out with friends. It's a Saturday night and it's the first time I really would have to drink. I'm feeling pretty okay about it, I don't think I'll want to.

I thought I'd list some of the great things the book has taught me about up to this point:

  1. You get bored of drinking coffee or tea so you have to find a go-to drink. I tried some alcohol-free beers last weekend. There's some good ones and there's some stinkers. The one that I got that tasted okay was Cobra, but some are horrible. It's worth asking around and finding one that's not so bad. I've also been drinking sparkling water.
  2. If you are not drinking, leave on a high. It gets boring at the end as people get drunker and if you leave when the time is right, you will remember the night as a good one. 
  3. Embrace social occasions and I think when you're not drinking you become a better listener to your friends. It makes for better conversation.
  4. It also had a bit on memory working and how you remember an event by what happens at the end of it which was really interesting.

I am so much fresher, I get better quality sleep and I'm already noticing more energy, which is what the book promised. Last week I went out for a work event and I didn't drink but I didn't get to sleep until gone midnight. Usually I struggle with less than eight hours sleep. This night I had six and a half hours and I was fine the next day. 

30th January - Day 24

The book has got better as it's gone on. One of the things it talks about is mindfulness and I've always been interested to explore this more. The book gives you an introduction to it and I've really enjoyed that. It's a great part to add in for giving up alcohol. I'm now thinking that maybe I want to explore this more.

It's also become more philosophical, and asks you to challenge more of your beliefs which is interesting. You consider the things in life that pass you by, the things you can influence and it goes beyond alcohol. It's about having control over your own life and alcohol is only part of that.
In reality, the only way you can really control things in life is how you react to things. So the book has become more interesting to me. I think what it's teaching me is so not have an immediate emotional response but to make a conscious decision about how I want to respond. 

I've got to the point now where I've cracked the habit. I'm alcohol free. I'm not fussed about having a drink. I'm looking towards the future and I think I will drink on certain occasions but only when I want it, not out of habit. Who knows? I could slip back but right now I don't feel like I'm depriving myself of anything.

This book must be alright because it's helped me and I'm successful.

15th February - Day 40
I finished! I've hit 40 days alcohol free and I've really enjoyed this experience.

I'm going on holiday next week and I'll have a drink but my whole attitude will be different and I'll probably be drinking a lot less than I would've without this experience. I'm in control more and I enjoy the benefits of not feeling crap in the morning and having the choice when it comes to whether or not I want to drink.

I wanted to change the habit and I have. I'm fairly confident the weeknight drinking is gone. 

I've been out for meals twice, been out to watch rugby, been out with friends, it didn't bother me. I've deliberately put myself in those scenarios where it would be challenging but I breezed through them.

Well done Dad! I'm glad to see you go 40 days alcohol free and to have broken the habit. 

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for providing copies of the book!

I Need To Take The Pressure Off

This is weird. Whenever I sit down to write a blog post it's almost always me trying to formulate my opinions on a book or interviewing an author. It's hardly ever something personal, but here we are. 

I need to take the pressure off.

If I keep going the way I am then I'm going to end up not blogging any more. I'll probably delete my YouTube account and it might even kill off my love of reading. I'm pretty terrified. 

Over the past few years, I've been cooking a pressure soup in my brain. It started off with just reading 100 books a year, then I added in the spice of reviewing books, then I added my YouTube channel and now I think the soup is burning (sorry for anyone who may be eating soup while reading this).

I set myself lots of abstract and meaningless goals. Make this many videos a month, write this many blog posts, get this many views, this many subscribers, read this many books, and it's all way too much. More than that, it's silly. I read because I love reading, not because I need people to know about that or hear my opinions (although it's lovely to discuss books with friends online).

But just telling myself that I don't need to have these goals isn't enough because before I know it I'm right back where I was and having a tantrum on a Saturday morning because I can't get the technology to work or the lighting is shit or I've woken up too late to film two videos. Before I know it, half my day is gone. A quarter of my weekend has been spent with my stress levels almost above my head. What is the point in that?

I need to put it in writing that I'm not going to let this keep happening.

When I started blogging and vlogging, I absolutely loved it and most of the time I still do. I have so many ideas for content I can make and I'm proud of a lot of things I've posted on the internet. However, right now the pressure soup is making things uncomfortable. That's why I'm going to be slowing down. I'll still be reading, blogging and vlogging, but just not at this horrific speed.

While I want to keep my mental health issues personal, pressure is something that crops up a lot and it's something I need to be aware of. I know now that there's no way to go through the pressure - no matter how much content I make, it will never be enough. 

If this happens to you to, I hope this helps you think about it. And no - this does not count towards some stupid blog post goal. This one's for me.

Brb while I throw out this soup.

Love, Jess

Review: The Exact Opposite of Okay - Laura Steven

The Exact Opposite of Okay - Laura Steven
Published by Egmont on 8th March 2018.
My rating: 5/5
Book depository purchase link.

Calling all fans of equal pay, Holly Bourne and women having the vote, this is the newest feminist YA book that you need in your life. Not only is this cover stunning, but the book inside is too and one that has made quite a large impact on me.

I love reading feminist YA, from Moxie to The Nowhere Girls and It Only Happens In The Movies, these books are empowering examples of why teenage girls (and everyone else) needs to stand up for equality. It's for all of those people out there who say feminism "isn't needed anymore". For those who don't realise their own sexist behaviour because it's so normalised.

That's where The Exact Opposite of Okay comes in. Welcome to the witty world of Izzy O'Neill. She's a self-labelled "tragic orphan" with an interests in screen-writing, partying and living with her grandma, Betty (legend).

Izzy's not ashamed to be a teenager that has one night stands. Why should she? If the guys at her school are practically worshipped for their sexual endeavours, why can't she have a little fun? It's not something she thought too much about before that night. 

When a photo leaks and a website launches, Izzy's life changes. She might joke about it on every page of the blog she's turning into a book but, understandably, it's an incredibly hard thing to go through. 

The thing that makes this book so great is that it doesn't just deal with nude photos, sex scandals, and objectification. It also covers the friendzone and nice guy complex too and I don't think I've ever read about that in YA before. Izzy's voice is powerful and distinctive so if you're a fan of character-led YA, this one's for you.

I absolutely loved how, right from the offset, Izzy stood up for herself. She recognised the shit she was being put through and tried to verbalise that to those around her. The worse it got, the more she dug her heels in. There was no learning curve, Izzy knew herself from the beginning and that made this book even more incredible.

Anyway, to sign off. Bitches Bite Back!

Love, Jess

Thank you Egmont for my copy. All links are affiliate links which means I receive a small commission if you purchase the book via my link.

New and Exciting Middle Grade Books: Spring 2018

In my pledge to read more middle grade books in 2018, I have very kindly been sent a variety of new and exciting books by publishers this spring. As I'm pretty new to reviewing middle grade books, I decided that the best way to talk about these would be through a quick-fire blog post, detailing the books I've been reading and my thoughts on them.

Here goes!

1. Not If I Save You First - Ally Carter

I was hesitant to start this book and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it was the bright pair of yellow sunglasses that came with it - they are way too badass for me. 

Maddie is the daughter of a secret agent and after a close-encounter, finds herself in the Alaskan wilderness. Of course, danger follows and soon enough she's on a mission and this time she's in charge of ensuring the safety of a royal family member. 

I found this book to be a fast-paced and gripping read. It's got some serious girl-power, plenty of action scenes and some great sarcastic lines.

2. Dear Katie - Katie Thistleton

This was my first (recent) experience of non-fiction in the MG category and it was definitely a gentle introduction! Katie Thistleton is a well-loved kids TV presenter who took questions from young people and answered them in an agony aunt style to create this book. With the help of a GP and psychologist, there's some great advice here. It's written and presented in a magazine style so I can imagine it being very appealing to those looking for some answers about puberty, family life and friendships. 

Overall, it was an encouraging read and one I'd recommend to all young people. I found it repetitive and some of the GP/psychological advice was a bit random and not really targeted to the specific question, but that didn't hold it back too much! 

3. The Nothing To See Here Hotel - Steven Butler

This was brilliant! So funny, imaginative, exciting and full of wonderful illustrations. My favourite MG book of 2018 so far, and yes there's a long way to go, but it deserves such a title. Frankie and his family run a hidden hotel full of magical creatures. It's hard to run smoothly at the best of times but then a goblin prince shows up and everything well and truly turns to madness. It was a smooth read with clear characters and a great story. 

4. The Eye of the North - Sinead O'Hart

This adventure story was beautiful in more ways than one. The cover is gorgeous and beyond that, the writing is beautiful and full of adventure. Emmeline receives a letter from her mother one morning to say they must have died and so she must go to stay in France. There are a lot of family secrets that come out. I loved the scientific backdrop, the elements of friendship and the writing (I have to mention it again, it was that good). Although, it wasn't 100% absorbing for me, it was a great experience of MG fantasy. 

Thank you to Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Stripes for sending me these books.

"I felt like I would only have one shot to get the scene right." - An Interview With Robin Benway

Robin Benway
Credit: Lovato Images
Hi Robin! Congratulations on the success of your latest book, Far From The Tree. How did the idea for this one evolve?
The idea originally came from a Florence + the Machine song, of all things! I was sitting in the car when “Cosmic Love” started playing on the radio and it immediately made me think of familial love and all of the different ways that people can create their family.

The topic of adoption is fascinating to read about but must take a lot of thought and care. What kind of research did you do whilst writing the book?
I spoke to anyone that would speak to me about adoption and foster care: attorneys, adoptive parents, foster parents, adoptees, social workers. I was also fortunate to speak with several people who were kind enough to share some details of their lives with me. That really helped me discover more about Maya and Joaquin’s families, and how to best portray their individual struggles. Without the generosity of all of these people, Far From The Tree would not exist.

I loved reading about Grace’s struggle over her own adoption story and how much to tell her siblings. What inspires the way you write about family dynamics?
I love writing about families more than anything because they provide so much material for me – how they’re made, broken, and built again. Your family is an inherent part of you, so it’s fascinating to me to explore how different people accept and deal with that. For Grace, she’s struggling not only with the adoption of her daughter, but also how to present this news to Maya and Joaquin. She’s trying to put her best foot forward, but often times in families, things get complicated.

What was the most challenging scene for you to write and why?
There’s a scene in the book where Grace receives a handwritten letter from the adoptive parents of her daughter. In the days leading up to that scene, I was so nervous and cranky because I felt like I would only have one shot to get the scene right. Sometimes as a writer, you can overthink a scene to the point where it no longer feels natural when you put it down on the page. And other times, you can underthink it and then it’s sloppy and underserves the characters. I just wanted to make sure that I could write it well the first time, so I went to a local cafĂ©, sat in the back facing a wall, and typed out the letter while crying. That was the turning point of the book for me, and everything from that point on felt much more manageable.
As it all comes down to family, Far From The Tree is such a fantastic title for this book – is there a story behind it?
It’s from the saying “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” which means that children are like their parents. I don’t necessarily think that that’s true, but I liked the idea of all three siblings being united in this family, and yet so far away from each other, both physically and emotionally.

Refinishing furniture stage one
I’ve read a lot about your journey into becoming an author and I’m sure in many ways you’re living the dream. What are the best and worst parts of being an author?
The best part is being independent and not having to go into an office every day. I love being able to work from home, on my own schedule, and have the time to figure out my stories. The downside is that it’s not a particularly steady job and sometimes it can be stressful when an idea’s not working and your publisher or agent is asking when the next book will be ready. At the end of the day, you have to send your book out into the world and hope people will love it as much as you do.

I’ve seen your advice for writers being to really live life and have experiences to write about. When you’re not writing, what do you like to be doing?
Refinishing furniture stage two
One of my favourite hobbies is refinishing furniture! I love repainting dressers and polishing drawer pulls and hunting for used treasures. It’s a nice way to turn off my brain. I also love to go for walks and make playlists. More often than not, if I’m stuck on a particular scene, going for a walk will help unlock it.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done? 
Quit my job and became a full-time writer. I still can’t quite believe that I did it.

What else do you want to achieve or do in your life? 
Refinishing furniture stage three, the final look
I want to go to Iceland and see the Northern Lights, I want to finally be able to do a headstand in yoga, I want to spend more time with my family, and I want to be able to keep writing books.

Lastly, what have you read recently that you’ve enjoyed?
Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. I read it in one fell swoop on a plane and loved it.

You can get Far From The Tree here.


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