Friday, 12 May 2017

The Graces

After abandoning my previous two reads, I instantly sank into The Graces like I was wrapping myself in a comfort blanket. From the start, it reminded me of the books I sought out in my teens: magical with complicated friendships and brilliant twists. I loved the characters and their stories, the setting, the secrets and the magic.

The writing is wonderful. The characterisation and setting are magical. This extract summaries the novel well: the obsession with light and darkness, the complexity of their friendships and the escape they are all looking for.

Everyone thinks the Graces are witches. River is new to town and is smitten with them: she wants to be one of them. When she forms a close friendship with Summer, we discover that nothing is what it seems in this story and noone is who we think they are. The story takes a very dark twist and ends in a way that sets up the next novel in the series brilliantly:

I loved this one so much I sleep-ordered the sequel! Don't tell Husband!

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Melinda Salisbury Broke My Heart (The Heart Collector : Review)

Melinda Salisbury broke my heart. Well, what was left of it after I finished The Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy.

When Melinda announced on Twitter that she was releasing The Heart Collector (short stories linked to the trilogy), I, along with every other fan, squealed incomprehensibly and immediately pre-ordered it. It did not disappoint.

There are three stories in the collection:
The King of Rats - telling the tale of the rats arrival in Tallith and the curse of the Sleeping Prince.
The Heart Collector - the story of the Bringer, Dimia's demise and the rise of the Sleeping Prince.
Mully No-Hands - the hilarious story of Mulgreen Grey (this one made me cry laughing).

The writing is exquisite; I love Melinda's use of colour and her world building.

An absolute must read for all fans of the trilogy. If you're not a fan yet, you really need to reevaluate that. Immediately.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Doing It

I'm almost certainly not the target audience for this book (being 32 and married with a child), so why did I listen to it? Because everyone on my Twitter feed was raving about it and I don't like to be left out, and it sounded like the kind of book everyone should read/hear.

I listened to this on audiobook, expertly narrated by the author herself. Listening to Hannah narrate it was brilliant, the only thing I missed out by not having the paper book were some amazing sounding drawings of body parts. I'm not ruling out finding a copy of the book just to see those.

Highlights for me were: 

• The Wormtail Test, where she asks readers (listeners) to consider whether things would still be romantic if Wormtail (from Harry Potter books) did them. For me the answer is always a very emphatic hell no <shudder>, and therefore, nothing will ever be romantic ever, ever again. Thanks for that Hannah!
• Her inclusion of real life experiences from her friends about various subjects (including gender and LGBTQ+) throughout the book. I loved that Hannah did this in areas where someone else had a different perspective / expertise.
• The legal perspective on sexual issues, something I was far less knowledgeable than I should have been.

It is a brilliant book, and I loved listening to Hannah read it. It's the kind of book everyone should read. Read it. Or listen to it

Monday, 8 May 2017

Birth Trauma PTSD

I like to think I've been quite open about my mental health generally, but there are things I haven't told and people I don't talk to about it at all. This week is Mental Health Awareness week and last week was Maternal Mental Health Awareness week. It's so important that people share their experiences and help to raise awareness and understanding. So, here's my experience of having birth trauma PTSD.

I had an horrific labour. This isn't an exaggeration. I don't make a habit of telling people my story for the sake of it but neither do I shy away from telling those who are curious. So, if you want to know, it's here. Don't say I didn't warn you.

I'd survived labour, tried to be a good patient and made my way out of hospital after a week. My husband had a month off work. Then it was just us. Me and a baby. I was still in a lot of pain. People kept telling me I shouldn't be, but I was. It hurt to move, climbing stairs was an ordeal and bending down was impossible. I spent most days hobbling between the dining table (to change the baby) and the sofa (to doze and watch DVDs). I was struggling to sleep, even when the baby slept. I felt detached from everything. I managed for a while to do all the things I thought I should do, desperately trying to give off the impression of someone who was coping. Inside, I was losing it. I was unhappy, I felt guilty for failing my child and my husband, for not being everything I thought a mum should be.

Then I started to struggle more. My already poor sleep got even worse. I cried all time. I had nightmares. I sat up in the night holding a baby I didn't know what to do with and sobbing. After an incident involving shouting, wailing and the accidental throwing of mashed potato (all me), and some support and straight-talking (husband) I spoke to my Health Visitor and went to the doctor. It had been four months since my son's birth. I felt like I failed.

Everyone I'd seen since the birth told me to be vigilant, that it would be unusual if I didn't suffer some kind of mental health problem. I wanted to prove them all wrong, but I couldn't. My doctor was (and still is) amazing. He gave me medication and referred me to therapy. I stared at the medication for a long time, pondering how it would change me and if I wanted it, but I knew I couldn't carry on as I was, so I took it. I started therapy with a CPN from the perinatal mental health team. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

My sleeping got worse until I couldn't sleep without being medicated. Every. Single. Night. I needed the light on: I was too nervous in the dark, too likely to think I was back in hospital and panic. I had nightmares where I was back in hospital, and it was happening again but no one would listen to me. I would wake drenched in cold sweat and unable to move my legs. The more I panicked, the worse it got. I would wake up with blood in my fingernails where I'd been scratching at my scar. I was exhausted.

I had flashbacks. Certain things would trigger me and I would be back in that hospital room. Only for a few seconds, maybe a minute at a time, but that was enough to unnerve and disorient me, to put me on high alert, so I avoided going out much. I avoided places and things that reminded me of the birth. I avoided baby groups because I didn't want to listen to other people's happy stories and be forced to tell my own.

The medication helped, but when I took it, I slept too much and I was a total zombie in the day. I did things when I had to, but all the pictures from the time show how utterly dead I was inside. When I didn't have to do something specific, I was often too overwhelmed to do anything. I was a nightmare to live with.

His first birthday was awful. A constant stream of "this time last year..." and memories from other people, a lot of crying (me) and a worsening of my symptoms. A friend brought me flowers because she'd recognised it might be a tough day and I nearly broke right then. I though I would feel like that forever.

Somewhere along the line it started to get easier. I wish I could say what had turned things around, or that there was a specific thing that helped me, but one day it just started to feel less bad. I got back to work. I came off the sleeping medication. I started to go out more. I still sleep worse than the average person and I still take antidepressants. There are things that still trigger me: traumatic birth scenes on TV and in books, the smell of certain bath products, being in hospitals (those bins you have to open with your foot, the long corridors, the disinfectant smell). I still get the repetitive dreams and birthdays are hard, but I'm broadly ok. These things are mostly controllable. I cope with them better. I struggle when people feel the need to comment on my only child and tell me it's selfish, or only children are spoilt or how easy it is when you just have one, but I'm learning to let that go too.

I'm living my life. We all are. And we're still a family out the other side of all this. So I know I am lucky.

If you have questions you want to ask me, then shout up (in the comments, by email, on Twitter) and I will answer them all (maybe in another post if there are enough of them)!

Friday, 5 May 2017

Shiny New Preciouses

Two hours to kill in close proximity to Waterstones. What to do? I went shopping. Obviously. This is my haul!

David Owen : The Fallen Children

This book has been all over my Twitter feed lately. Everyone seems so excited and desperate to get their hands on their favourite colour or number (did I mention there are 360 different coloured covers?) I checked it out and they had my favourite colour in store (for those interested, that's deep purple, number 91/360). Good luck? Fate? Call it what you will. I call it mine. All mine. And it's beautiful: I-can't-stop-looking-at-it beautiful.

Jay Asher: Thirteen Reasons Why

I've heard so many things about the TV adaptation of this lately; how it is harmful, triggering and glamorises suicide without addressing mental health issues. Overwhelmingly, the feedback I've seen is 'read the book and don't watch the series'. Mental health issues are something I'm interested in (I plan to write more about this in future), and the controversy around this book and its themes is what led me to pick it up.

Karen Gregory: Countless

At the risk of sounding strange, I have a soft spot for stories about eating disorders. In my final year of my literature degree, I studied the boundaries of children's literature, developed a passion for boundary-pushing young adult books, and wrote one of my final essays on the portrayal of eating disorders in young adult literature. This fascination has never left me (and I graduated longer ago than I care to admit). So, when I heard about this book, I knew I had to have it.

Cat Clarke: Girlhood

I heard about this book over on Grace Latter's blog and I knew straight away I needed to read everything this author has to offer (big thanks to Grace for introducing me to this author and letting me link to her blog).  I poured over everything Cat Clark they had in store and had to restrain myself from taking home the entire back catalogue. I chose Girlhood. The blurb makes it sound amazing (as does Grace's blog), and the cover is stunning. Look at it. Look. At. It.

I can't wait to read these books and wish I had several heads so I could read them all immediately.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

What I'm Reading in May

Posting reading intentions for the month seems to be popular with bookish bloggers. Personally, I've never really done this before. I have yearly reading challenges I take part in from the Goodreads group I'm part of and I tend to spectacularly over committ myself: in a series challenge a  couple of years ago I  decided to read every Rebus book, the entire Vampire Chronicles, a full Phillipa Gregory series and no less than five young adult trilogies, and by the end I was suffocating under the weight of my own terrible decision making skills.

Monthly intentions seem more manageable. Although, mine will be fairly vague to avoid that moment late in the month where I start to hate myself for making stupid choices.

What I'm Reading This Month

Firstly, I need to finish the two books I'm currently reading:

  • Hannah Witton - Doing It (on audiobook and which had come highly recommended)
  • Clare Furniss - How  Not to Disappear (after making some disastrous choices post-#SundayYAthon, I turned to a twitter poll for my next book and this won. Trust me to choose a story about an elderly gin-drinker with dementia on the anniversary of the death of my beloved grandfather who had Alzheimers and was fond of gin -further evidence of terrible life choices- but it's a good book so far). 

After these I need to tackle some of my library pile before the librarians hunt me down with a big stick for not returning them.

Ideally, I'd also like to read Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer. I've had this since publication day but have been putting off reading it because I loved Daughter of Smoke and Bone and I still have a book hangover from that ending.

Do you plan your reading in advance and if so, how does this work for you?

Monday, 1 May 2017

Easter #SundayYAthon 2017

Over the Easter weekend, I took part in my first #SundayYAthon on Twitter and thought: why not make this my first bookish blog post? So here it is.

The idea of the readathon was to dedicate the Easter weekend to reading as much Young Adult literature as possible.

I started with Caraval on audiobook and this took me most of the weekend to get through. I listened whilst we drove, whilst I cooked and cleaned, and when my eyes got too tired to read any more. I loved this book.

Caraval is the story of Scarlett and Tella, sisters from the island of Trisda. Scarlett has always wanted to be involved in one of the famous Caraval performances: she is fascinated with the magic and mystery of them. Her sister sees Caraval as a way to escape from their abusive father. When they finally get the chance to go, shortly before Scarlett is due to marry, Tella disappears on the first night. She is kidnapped by Legend, Caraval's master and Scarlett has to find her before the game ends and Tella is lost forever. Scarlett finds herself in a world where nothing is what you expect, working with the dark and mysterious Julian, and developing feelings for him in spite of the arranged marriage awaiting her back home. This was a really magical story, far darker than I expected it to be and with so many twists it was impossible to guess how it would end. I've recently discovered that Caraval is the first in a planned series and I can't wait to see how the story and characters develop.

Next, I picked up A Quiet Kind of Thunder, and didn't put it down until I finished at 2am. I was gripped. I cannot say enough good things about this novel. Steffi (a selective mute) is introduced to Rhys, a deaf student starting at her school. Steffi knows some sign language and gives Rhys a way to communicate. In return, Rhys seems to be the only person who doesn't care that Steffi doesn't talk. Their relationship grows into love and makes Steffi feel brave enough to use her new found voice. This makes the book sound like a typical teenage romance, but it is more than that. It is two people finding a way to communicate in a world that places too much emphasis on speaking. It is a girl starting to address her mental health issues. It is also a story about friendship and family. It is brilliant. An absolute must read for any YA fan.

A Quiet Kind of Thunder was always going to be a tough act to follow, but I seemed to be on a good roll that weekend and picked up The One Memory of Flora Banks as my next readathon novel. Flora Banks has anterograde amnesia and does not consistently remember anything after the age of 10. Her memory frequently wipes itself and she has to relearn her life every day from a folder of notes her mother has made. She writes everything down on paper in place of remembering. Until one night when she kisses her best friend's boyfriend on the beach. This she remembers clearly afterwards. Drake is leaving for the Arctic and her best friend, Paige, isn't speaking to her. Flora's parents leave her at home whilst they travel to care for her dying brother. Flora takes this chance to find Drake: the boy who she believes has fixed her memory. For a significant portion of the story,  I was concerned that this was going to end with Drake fixing Flora and them living happily ever after, but this doesn't happen. We later discover this isn't the first time Flora has remembered something or gone on an adventure. The closer Flora gets to Drake, the more she discovers about herself and her life at home. This novel was fast paced and brilliantly written. I loved that the story, told from Flora's point of view, repeated details of Flora's life as she learned over and over again about herself.  In parts it seemed unrealistic (would a teenage girl a with such significant problems really manage to follow a boy to the Arctic?) but ultimately the reason for her adventure didn't matter so much to me: I was invested in the journey and in Flora's story and I loved it.

Finally, I read The Scarecrow Queen, The third in The Sin Eater's Daughter trilogy. If you haven't read the first two then stop here and read them immediately. This series is everything I love about YA literature. In this final book in the trilogy, the Sleeping Prince is trying to tighten his hold on the people; Errin is still his prisoner in the castle and Twylla is forming a band of rebels (the rising dawn) aiming to get her into the castle so she can poison the Prince and end his reign. This was the perfect ending to a fantastic trilogy.

If you made it this far: thanks for reading and let me know what you think!