Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Inevitable Backlash of 13 Reasons Why


From IMDB.com 

I've mentioned before how much I love 13 Reasons Why, both book and show. It definitely isn't an easy watch by any stretch but it's an important one. It has sparked so many conversations that we as a society desperately need to be having.

Unfortunately, some people still aren't ready to have any of those discussions. Some people are afraid of the subjects raised by the show, and as people will do when they are scared, they attack, and pick fault. Is 13 Reasons Why a perfect show? Of course not, there's no such thing. The fact is that this is the very first TV show that has done what this one has. Other shows have touched on the topics of suicide and rape but none have gone as far as this one. Often we only get an episode or two of a character feeling extremely sad, they may contemplate suicide, then something happens and they have that 'Oh my God, what did I almost do?' moment, and then everything's OK again. I've always found it frustrating how few shows are willing to go the whole way and show the aftermath. Degrassi is an example of a show doing a pretty good job of that, quite a few years ago, but it isn't well known here.

I've seen quite a bit of criticism about 13 Reasons Why, and that's fair enough, I've seen plenty of praise too. Then today, I read an article that just frustrated the hell out of me. So I want to address it directly. The article is here, definitely worth a read if you want to share in my frustration (and make sense of the rest of this post).

In short, the article was written by a psychotherapist, Brooke Fox, on the website of Fox, Levine and Associates. After reading the article, it sort of terrifies me that she is a therapist within an association that deals with not only adults but adolescents and children, because she has a pretty patronising opinion of teens, but we'll get to that. The article presents the main points as a list, so I'll respond the same way:
  • Nobody is responsible for our mental health: Of course not, I won't argue with that on its own, and I know a lot of people had a problem with this aspect of the show. But this idea that Fox has that all Hannah needed to do was 'dig deep' and 'find her power' shows a lack of empathy and understanding. Hannah believed that she had tried everything. That might not necessarily be correct, but when a person is severely depressed, worn down by their environment/situation, they don't see things as they are. This is something a lot of people seem to be ignorant of when they criticise the show, Hannah was not in her right mind. She believed she'd done everything she could and that she was worthless, that things wouldn't get better. And I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't encourage people to find the power within themselves to defeat these things, although that certainly wouldn't work for everyone, but the fact is, Hannah didn't have anyone around her helping her to do that. So as much as Fox believes that's important, none of the other characters did. I've also heard it said a few times that they failed in not outright telling the viewers that she was ill. Maybe it wouldn't have been such a bad idea, to help people to know the right kinds of terminology, but otherwise, I thought it was because it was so obvious?
  • It's a suicide revenge fantasy: Maybe this is a matter of perspective? I mean, that isn't what it is at all. It's about many things, this is not one of them. Also, suggesting that a teenager is incapable of processing the concept of death? That's what really made my blood boil as I read the article. I sincerely hope this woman doesn't actually work with teens, because I can only imagine how she talks to them. Not all teens are out of this world smart, but neither are plenty of adults. Most teens can perfectly process the idea as much as any adult. It is highly unlikely that teens are going to watch this show, and then kill themselves in an effort to exact revenge upon people who have hurt them, believing they will then be loved and worshiped. If that's something a parent is worried about, that's when it's a good time to make sure you have good communication with your kid. If your kid tells you they are uncomfortable having a conversation about this with you (*cough*) seriously consider why they are uncomfortable talking to you. It's important. 
  • Girls are depicted as dis-empowered: Yes, they are, that's one of the best things about the show is it really shows how some boys believe they can treat girls and get away with it. I also loved how it broke down the way that a group of people will stick together over something they all know is wrong, given the right set of circumstances. This isn't a bad thing, it's showing something terrible that goes on in real life, to start a discussion and also educate people. 
  • The suicide scene is cause for outrage: Now, as I've said before, I couldn't watch this scene. However, I've heard/read quite a bit about it and by all accounts it's brutal, harrowing. No-one can realistically complain about it being 'instructional' because we all know how if we wanted to. If you see the pain she's in, you see how horrible and gory the act is, that does not make it appealing, it shows the truth. It isn't a case of nicely falling asleep, it's bloody and painful. 
  • Its glamorises suicide: As I said in my previous point, that isn't at all the case. As for this list of rules, I haven't read them before but my God, they are terrible. It basically amounts to - don't talk about it, ignore it, let's all pretend it isn't a real thing that can happen so people don't get any ideas. 
From IMDB.com
There are many reasons that people become suicidal, and because they saw it on TV is not one of them. It isn't a bad idea for a parent to watch it with their kid, but it should be as a way to facilitate conversations that should happen anyway. If your kid doesn't want to talk to you, you are probably the reason. And if they, or anyone you know, says something like 'I feel that way'/'I want to do what Hannah did'/'I relate to that' for God's sake, do not tell them that that's not an option. Talk to them about it, ignoring it will not make it go away, and see how you can best help them to get help. It is one of the worst things to hear, and really hard to deal with, but if someone chooses to share it with you, they are asking for help. That is one of the lessons to take away from the show, figure out how to help people, and remember everyone has something going on most of the time. As Ellen says 'Be kind to one another'. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Glass of Water

About eight or nine years ago, back before I met my wife, and my Mum patiently accompanied me everywhere, we went to a talk by the authors, and couple, Joanna Briscoe and Charlotte Mendelson. Things like this don't happen outside of London often, so it was brilliant to attend that kind of event and hear two writers talking.

Since in my family it's rude not to show up ridiculously early everywhere we go, we got front row seats and watched the little space be set up. It was a small room, only around twenty of us in the 'audience' sitting on these really comfy sofas. The two talks were one after the other, rather than talking together, so there was only one seat at the front, and a little table. On the table, one of the people setting up placed two bottles of water, and two glasses with ice.

I remember quite a bit of both talks, they were both funny, and brilliant in different ways. There's one small detail that I remember and think of often (even though it's really silly and kind of embarrassing to admit but for some reason I can't help myself), and that's the glass of water.

Joanna gave her talk first, I remember her being quite nervous. Charlotte sat at the side, encouraging her. Joanna poured the bottle of water into the glass and sipped it throughout. Then when her talk was over, and they switched places, Charlotte didn't pour anything into the second glass, she continued where Joanna had left the first one.

Like I said, a really tiny detail, but I remember it because I noticed and thought it was adorable for one thing. There was something so sweet about it. And I wanted that. At that point I'd never been in a relationship, so I wasn't familiar with these kinds of details in my own life. Watching the two of them together, noticing that, I felt so warm inside. And I wanted someone to share a glass of water with, in the casual way they did.

Now I have that, and it's seriously awesome. We share everything, and when I think of this memory, I feel blessed.  

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Art of Forgetting

I've been on and off submitting various types of writing for years now, but this year I'm doing it a lot more seriously - which basically just means submitting a lot! Last year was the year of sorting out my day job. I'd been in one that I hated for years, and the job hunt really wears you down after a while. I'd go months without applying for anything because I just didn't have it in me to put myself through it. Unfortunately I was so depressed in that job that I often found it difficult to write. I still did, but everything took a long time. The gaps between projects could be long. So I took a tiny, what felt like a final, little spark of energy, and threw myself into every application I could think off. A grad scheme, university, jobs I didn't think I stood a chance of getting. Thankfully, I did get one of those jobs. It's made my life a million times easier, and now I'm writing all the time.

That makes this year (and I expect many, many years to come) the year of writing a lot and sending it to many places. Before, I'd rarely had more than one piece out in the world for consideration at a time. Not because that's all I thought it took, like some people, but because I didn't have good enough work often. That means I never realised how important it is to just forget what you have out there. Especially since half the time you don't get any response at all, which is somehow worse than a rejection e-mail. I have to say though, I've found this with magazines and non-fiction sites. I'm building up a nice collection of rejections from publishers, which I appreciate.

If you know there's a set date when the decision will be made by, it isn't so bad. You either get your rejection by then, or nothing, but at least the date passes and you can move on to the next thing. If there isn't, you just wait a very long time, and hope for far too long. Right now I only have two things out in the world, and no idea when I'm supposed to hear, but on the plus side, it's definitely motivating me to forget them and keep writing more.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Review: On The Outside by Siera Maley


Synopsis from Amazon:
High school junior Kayla and her two best friends have always been close. Even after Kayla becomes a cheerleader with a basketball star boyfriend, Riley falls in with the skaters, and Evan loses himself in school, the three remain dedicated to their promise to each other: to remain friends no matter what. But when a disastrous prom ends with Kayla single and her best friends dating, the strength of their bond will be tested. Because, as Kayla soon realizes, her feelings for Riley are more than just friendly. Dating a girl is something that’s never crossed her mind before, but more than that, she can’t bring herself to hurt Evan. As tension between the two girls grows, Kayla is forced to grapple with the fact that she might be bisexual, in love with Riley, and about to break their friendship apart.

It's possible that all you need to know about my experience with this book is one thing - I read it in one sitting. Sure, I got up to stretch, to get lunch, but my Kindle came with me the whole time. It was a blissful 5 hours of just reading. As much as I love to read, there aren't many books I can do that with. Amazingly, my mind didn't wonder, I didn't get bored. And then afterwards I discovered that Siera Maley has written a bunch of other books! I don't know why I hadn't find her before. (I'm reading Taking Flight now, and loving that too!)

I loved these characters so much! I could honestly believe they were real people, they were so well developed and the writing is so clever. Maley is a master of telling the story in the 1st person, but mentioning small details that give hints of what other characters are thinking and feeling. Of course, that means I sometimes wanted to shake them, but that isn't always a bad thing. 

Although the story is simple, it's still unpredictable. I genuinely didn't know what was going to happen. Also refreshingly unusual, is that the Prom came so early in the book. Most stories with a significant event like that leave it until the end, everything is a build up to it, but in On The Outside, it's a very effective catalyst instead. 

I also appreciated the fact that the main characters aren't always morally great people. A lot of it is that you can't help who you fall in love with, but Kayla and Riley really struggle with the best way to do things right. It can be easy for writers to make their main characters thoroughly good people, but it isn't as interesting. 

So if you haven't read any Siera Maley yet, this seems like a great book to start! 

5/5

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Quiet Release: Away From You

So, you may have noticed an extra book has suddenly appeared on Amazon, and on my Books page. Hot on the heels of These Endless Days, I quietly released Away From You this week, a novella that I wrote with the hopes of getting published in a particular anthology. Sadly that didn't pan out. I read through it again since it had been a while, and thought about which publishers I'd like to approach with it. It surprised me that as I read through it, I decided I didn't want to approach any with this one.

I'd forgotten a few parts of the story, and as I read, I realised this one was a lot more personal than I'd remembered, or intended it to be. It is quite different from my other books. It's more New Adult for one, and also has a hint of fantasy. The fantasy is very light, in a way the story could probably have been told without any of the magic, but I think it does add something, a lightness it wouldn't have had otherwise.

All of my stories have a way of becoming dark, no matter what I intend to do with it. My plan can be thorough and detailed at the beginning, but if some form of darkness isn't there then, it will be by the end. Naturally, this darkness often touches on personal things, and that was the case here. I long ago accepted that I need to send my writing out into the world to be read by strangers who will judge it, that's a part of the business. This is the first time I've looked at something I've written, and decided I couldn't do that. So the natural next step was to release via Amazon. I considered waiting until Halloween, as that holiday is such a big feature in the story, but I have the patience of a child when it comes to these things. I can take all the time in the world perfecting a story and everything that goes with it, but once I've decided it's ready, I can't wait.

Also, how beautiful is that cover?! This is the one I'm happiest with and most proud of.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Violet Grenade Blog Tour

I'm so excited! I found out today that I'm going to be part of Victoria Scott's Blog Tour for Violet Grenade! Look for my review in late May. Yes, there's a bit of a wait with this one, I believe the release date was pushed back a month or so. Since I read about this book week's ago I've been dying to read it, so I can't wait to get involved with this!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

All About Rethink


Now that These Endless Days has been out for a couple of days, I think it's time to say something about the charity that I'm donating 10% of the profits to. If you haven't heard of Rethink Mental Illness, they are a UK based charity who do a lot of much-needed work.

It started out as the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, founded by John Pringle, who's son suffered from Schizophrenia. Back in 1970, Pringle wrote a letter to The Times about his experiences with his son, which is now on their website, it's well worth taking a few minutes to read it if you're interested.

Nowadays, they do a lot of great work, but they still aren't as widely recognised as they should be. They have an extensive website full of expert, but accessible information. I've noticed that often, the term 'mental illness' is thrown around but only to cover the more well-known issues like Depression and Anxiety. Even then, it doesn't cover the full spectrum of those.

Rethink run a range of services, including support groups, crisis housing, help with employment and training, and help that is tailored specifically towards young people. They really help to educate people about their rights, and advocate for people to get what they should have when they are unable to themselves. Both alone and by teaming up with other charities, they run campaigns that educate and raise awareness. The website is colourful and easy to navigate, I've spent a lot of time on it, (if you've never visited their site before, make sure you have plenty of time because you'll have ten tabs open in no time).

Along with giving 10% of the profits from These Endless Days to Rethink, I'll be doing my second event to raise money for them this year too, a ten-mile walk in June.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Release Day!


Release Day has been awesome! I can't believe this is my third novel, it's surreal! I'm so excited to release it. This is by far my most personal work up to now. I feel like there was so much in this one that I've been circling for a long time, writing around certain things, but with this novel it was time to actually get down to it. That was definitely a good idea, I think that's why I'm so proud of it. I hope that people like it, that someone out there will be able to relate to it. If you read it, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! Self-published authors depend on them.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Review: The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas


The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas
Out: 6th April 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan - Macmillan Children's Books

From Netgalley:
'Sometimes I feel like everyone else was handed a copy of the rules for life and mine got lost. Fifteen-year-old Grace is funny and plain-spoken. Just because she has Asperger's doesn't mean she's great at maths (she's not) or can draw the Eiffel Tower from memory (she can't). Like any teenager, Grace just wants to fit in, so when it turns out that the cutest boy in school likes her, she finds herself falling in with the cool crowd. But with her dad away and her mum distracted there's no one at home to see Grace's younger sister spiralling out of control, and suddenly everything threatens to fall apart - unless Grace can fix things on her own. Whip-smart, hilarious and unapologetically honest, The State of Grace is a heart-warming story of one girl and her totally normal teenage life.'



Thank you to Pan Macmillan and Netgalley for my advanced copy of this novel. 

Grace is easily one of my favourite narrators that I've read in a while. Her voice is so authentic, she's imperfect but so sympathetic. I have to say, I know very little about Autism, so I can't speak for how true to life that aspect of the story is, but it felt very real. It's very well written, conveyed by small details rather than beating the reader over the head with the fact. From an anxiety point of view I really related to Grace's struggles, and I think a lot of people will do. I also admire the fact that at no point is Grace's condition a substitute for the plot. Even without that, this would be an interesting book, there's plenty going on. In fact, because the book is so well written, and drew me in so much, I found that I didn't even realise how much everything was building up until it all started to go wrong, then it kind of hit me.

The writing itself is beautiful, at times poetic, which is what made me really love this book from the first page. It's full of heart but never to the point of being over the top, this is a very British book after all. The tone is exactly right. There's so much going on, and so much that Grace doesn't understand, but the subtle details are in there to let the reader know more. Sometimes we can see it even if Grace can't.

There are quite a lot of characters. but because of all of these subtle, little details, it's never confusing. Even characters who aren't around much or very involved in the story still provide an important part of the backdrop. Nothing in the story is black and white, it's obvious Grace isn't the only one that's struggling with things that are happening.

To say anything more about the story itself would be to give too much away. I went in knowing very little and got some wonderful surprises, I recommend anyone else doing the same.

5/5

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

5 Things You Should Know About Self-Harm

It's an Addiction

When my teachers, and then my parents, found out I was cutting back when I was fifteen, I was unhelpfully told to 'just stop'. They considered punishing me for it, and it was made very clear I'd done something wrong. I knew very little about it, but I knew it wasn't that simple. I was in my early 20's before I really got to learn about the subject, prompted by the fact that it still hadn't gone away, no matter how many times I decided to 'just stop'. It wasn't exactly a huge surprise to learn I was addicted, but I was relieved. Until then I'd often been angry at myself for never having been able to let it go. Of course, it also means I'll be fighting it for the rest of my life, but at least I know what I'm fighting. You can't battle an enemy you're ignorant of. And it's a part of my now, it's been with me for half of my life, and we have a long way to go from here.

It works (but that doesn't make it ok)

There's a reason that self-harm is a coping mechanism. Deliberately inflicting pain upon oneself does temporarily lift your mood, cause a high and make life seem easier. However, it isn't healthy, adds a problem on top of other problems and can be dangerous. This one is still difficult for me, because of the little voice in my head telling me how awesome it is. Logically, I know it isn't. 

It has nothing to do with gaining attention

Chances are, even if you don't know it, you've met people who self-harm. We are very skilled at keeping it a secret if we want to, because rarely does any good come from people knowing. For me, maybe because of how it was handled back then, I feel deeply ashamed when someone knows, and very few people do. There are also people who aren't too bothered by people knowing. It doesn't necessarily mean they want to talk about it, or that they want any attention, so just be cool about it. Even if someone were to hurt themselves 'for attention', it isn't how it sounds. If someone does that, you better believe they need some attention, of the right kind. 

It comes in so many forms

My experise is only in cutting, but if you're worried about someone, it's worth knowing that there's all kinds of forms of self-harm-burning, starvation, drinking/drugs, punching walls, head banging (against walls, not along with metal music. Although, I never did get the hang of that without feeling like my brain was bouncing around inside my skull). 

What to do if you're worried someone you know if hurting themselves

If you think that someone close to you is hurting themselves, as uncomfortable as it can be, try and approach them about it. Do some research on the subject so you're prepared, don't tell anyone else about it, show a clear lack of judgement and never patronise. Make sure you have plenty of time to talk and that it is in a completely private place where there is no risk of interruption from others. If you're wrong, you'll probably be able to laugh about it afterwards. If you're right, then ask them what they need. Don't bother with a simple 'If there's anything I can do', it's easy to say and rarely do people actually follow you up on it. Show it instead. Make an effort to create a safe space to talk when they want to. Help put together a box of their favourite things such as books, DVD's and pamper products. You could even do this first to show you care. Don't go in with a bunch of solutions. And don't let it get you down if you receive a negative, unpleasant reaction. If you believe they are taking every precaution to avoid being caught then it will be a shock to have someone bring it up. If they really don't want to talk about it, keep it in mind, and wait and see if they come back to you in time. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

These Endless Days Cover Reveal

I'm excited and want to hide in a dark corner and never come out, so it must almost be release day! I cannot believe I'm about to release my THIRD novel out into the wild. After the long road that was 3,000 Miles of Arizona, (yes, pun very much intended, and I am indeed proud of myself), this one has been a whirlwind. It was the easiest to write, though a little close to the bone at times. There were times when I struggled to keep writing it, but I'm so glad I worked through it.

So as promised, the cover -


"Fifteen-year-old Mia is struggling enough with the bullying she endures every day at school, without anything else bringing her down, but she quickly finds life doesn't stop there. Between family drama and her best friend's manipulative boyfriend, every day is harder to get through than the last. One bright spark in all the trouble is Evangeline, who may live 5,000 miles away, but she may make all the difference."

Out Friday 14th of April! 10% of the profits from every copy will go to my favourite charity - Rethink Mental Illness

Monday, 10 April 2017

Review: Incriminating Dating by Rebekah L. Purdy


About the Book

Ayla Hawkins is ready to stand up for change in her high school. But winning the election for class president against popular Jenna Lee will be impossible without a miracle. When she stumbles upon Mr. Perfect Luke Pressler defacing public property and catches it on camera: cue miracle. Ayla’s got the dirt she needs to get Luke on Team Ayla—in the form of her new fake boyfriend.

One mistake. All Luke wanted was a night to goof off, to blow off steam. The pressure of maintaining the perfect facade when his reality was crumbling around him had become too much, and next thing he knew, he was pretending to date Ayla Hawkins. But his little blackmailer turns out to be kind. Honorable. Opinionated. And just the breath of fresh air he didn’t even realize he was suffocating for. But Luke and Ayla come from different worlds, and once the election is over, their fauxmance will be, too.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book features adult language, sexual situations, and plenty of girl power. Reading may result in swooning, laughing, and looking for a Luke of your own.

Buy Links

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2nNXIbq
Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2mAFcTZ
Entangled Publishing: http://bit.ly/2mAOv6f

Giveaway Information: $30 Amazon GC


About the Author

Rebekah was born and raised in Michigan where she spent many late nights armed with a good book and a flashlight. Shes lived in Michigan most of her life other than the few years she spent in the U.S. Army. At which time she got a chance to experience Missouri, Kansas, South Carolina, and California. Rebekah has a business degree from University of Phoenix and currently works full time for the court system. In her free time she writes YA stories, anything from YA Fantasy to YA Contemporary Romance. Rebekah also has a big family (6 kids), she likes to consider her family as the modern day Brady Bunch complete with crazy road trips and game nights. When not hiding at her computer, Rebekah enjoys reading, singing, soccer, swimming, football, camping, playing video games, traveling, and hanging out with her family and gazillion pets.
                                               
Excerpt

Before the football game got started, the announcer came over the loudspeakers to tell the fans about the booth. Hoots and hollers went up through the crowd, and soon we had a long line of students waiting for their turns.
I stood near the booth, making sure to thank everyone for coming out and to actually talk to them. Surprisingly, they seemed receptive to me and my ideas.
“I’m so glad you’re running,” a girl named Brooklyn said. “It’d be nice to have someone normal as president, you know. Someone who cares about the art programs.”
I smiled. “Thanks. I promise, I’ll be fighting hard for those things.”
When halftime rolled around, we still had students lined up. Partially because Stacy promised to post pics on our school newspaper’s social media pages, and partially because I think people liked the idea of taking crazy photos with the popular kids.
The volleyball team left to take their places on the field, and I trudged to one of the chairs behind the booth. I so wasn’t ready for this. Chloe sat next to me. Thank God I didn’t have to do this alone.
“Here, put on some red lipstick. You want to stand out, you know.” She laughed, dabbing my lips. “Now smack them together.”
Trying to ignore the small group standing around us, I did as she said. A few guys hopped into Chloe’s line for a pic, but mine didn’t have anyone yet. And of course the girls were lined for Brady and Jack. I glanced around nervously. This was kind of embarrassing—no one wanted to be seen with me. Did I have something stuck on my face? Maybe I wasn’t pretty enough. Then someone came to stand in front of me. My gaze slid up to find Luke. He held up a twenty-dollar bill, then put it into the can. What was he doing? I knew he didn’t have that kind of money. But my thoughts quickly turned from his money to the fact he was paying to take a picture with me.
“So, what do we want to wear in our photo?” Luke said, reaching for a pair of dark shades and a ridiculously large cowboy hat.
“Um, I’ll take this…” I grabbed a large purple boa and wrapped it around my neck, pulling on a pair of long, lacy white gloves.
We stepped inside the booth…and lined up in front of a computer screen that Chloe’s dad let us borrow, which showed both our faces on it.
“I think we ought to make this a really memorable picture, don’t you?” Luke’s voice sounded deeper.He moved toward me, his breath warm against my cheek.  He wasn’t even looking at the camera. Then it dawned on me what was about to happen. Holy shit. My first kiss. And it’d be with Luke. Freaking. Pressler.

My Review

Thank you to Netgalley and Entangled Teen Crush for my advanced copy of this book.

This week I was lucky enough to be sent an advance copy of Incriminating Dating by Rebekah L. Purdy. This was my first book via Netgalley, so I was really excited when I opened the email, it was early, I thought I was dreaming! Anyway, onto the review.

This is the first book by Purdy that I've read, but it won't be the last. The story begins with Ayla, High School Newspaper Editor and passionate drama club member. In the endless battle between Sports vs. Arts, her passions are suffering. Her best friend pushes her to run for Class President, but resident Mean Girl is seemingly unbeatable. Ayla feels stuck, until she finds some serious dirt on the school's Golden Boy, Luke, and she hatches a plan to help her win. 

Considering what a popular trope 'faux-mance' is in fiction, this is the first book I've read with that arc. It was a pleasant surprise that it wasn't as predictable as I expected. I read it in two days! 
The two main characters, and their two best friends, are really well drawn. I felt like I had a really clear image of them both, without a huge info dump at the beginning. Especially Ayla, the small details of her style are put together in a way that says a lot, without screaming 'GEEK!' Luke is similarly well-described, although I wondered at times if he was a little too perfect. He's such a good guy, that I felt like what Ayla had on him didn't exactly fit. I would have liked a little more about how he got into that situation. Still, his voice was convincingly written, and his relationship with his little brother in particular was really endearing. 

The only characters who suffer a little from being under-developed were Dre, one of Ayla's best friends, yet if she hadn't pointed that out I would never have known. I kept waiting for him to become more important, to do...anything really. The other is Mean Girl, Jenna. Thoroughly evil for sure, but just a little too obvious and predictable, without much real motivation.

One small detail I picked up on was some odd language. I don't know exactly how a person 'quirks' their eyebrow at someone, but for most of the book people were doing so on every other page. Equally, everyone seemed to 'stalk' away far more than they walked. It did seem to happen less towards the end of the book though.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. The characters are compelling, the story takes some genuinely unexpected turns and has a satisfying ending. Everything you want from a YA romance.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Day Zero Project

I first discovered the Day Zero Project through the nanowrimo.org forums. There's a sub-forum called Big Fun Scary where people post their goals and lists for the year or more. Obviously there's a lot of writing goals but there's also the more traditional 'scary' kind with things like sky diving and weight loss.

Basically the idea behind Day Zero is to collect together all of the things you want to do, that you haven't got around to for whatever reason, and really prompt you to do them. You choose 101 things you want to do, and you have 1001 days to complete them. It's a good starting point and also a great way to track what you're doing.

I created my first list while I was in university. I was lost, depressed, and it gave me a huge boost. It was something to aim for, or 101 things to aim for.

I'm now on my 3rd list, and I've learned that 1001 days is a long time! It's ok for the list to evolve over that time. Sometimes you realise that there's something you don't actually want to achieve that much after all. My first list contained 'ride a horse', which is arguably not that difficult to make happen, but I never did. I'd just visited some horses and it seemed like a good idea.

Over time I've also learned what I want to commit my time to. Most of my goals are now writing related. As much as sometimes I, like everyone, think I should learn to play an instrument or speak another language, it's always followed by the thought 'but then I'd have less time to write'. It really is all I want to do. And while I still love it, and am naive enough to think I'll be able to write full-time someday, I'm ok with that.

So although the idea behind my first list was just to get me started on a variety of things (I also never learned to juggle), it's nice to stick with it, and always have an evolving list to check my achievements off.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

My Favourite Things About New York City

Slight change of tone, I know. Last September my wife and I went to New York. My first trip to the US, and her first time in NY. It was one of the best weeks of my life, I understand completely what all the hype is about. I still think about it every day, we always talk about going back. While we're saving to do that, I present my favourite things about New York City.

Staten Island Ferry


Originally, because of a package I bought our Empire State Building tickets in, we were planning to the more traditional Circle Line Cruise. The thing is, and I'm not nearly as embarrassed about this as I should be, I really wanted to go to Hot Topic. The 'closest' one was Staten Island Mall, so we took the ferry instead. I'm so glad we did! It was a beautiful view, and so easy to do. The fact that it's free is astounding. As a bonus, on the (very long) bus ride to the Mall, we got away from all things touristy, and saw the kind of US we'd only seen in films. The huge houses and how everything is so spaced out. It was awesome. I bought a ton of stuff at Hot Topic, plus shoes from Skechers which I still refer to by their full name-'My Staten Island Bobs'. We caught the ferry back at sunset, which as you can see above, was beautiful. 

Brooklyn Bridge


This was the most unbelievable, 'are we actually doing this right now?!' moment of the trip. It was incredible. It was a long ride to Brooklyn but it was interesting in itself. We were helped by a friendly lawyer, who even got off the train with us to make some recommendations and point in the right direction. I loved reading all of the attached padlocks, and graffiti. We saw a couple taking wedding photos which was really sweet. When we arrived back on land in Manhatten, there was a group of guys putting on a show, sort of break dancing/gymnastics. We watched the whole thing, because they were hilarious and super talented. This is also one of my favourite things about New York, there's always something going on, always something to watch. For such a busy city, it's easy to stop for a while and watch.

Food












We didn't eat pizza for so long after we came back, I didn't see the point if it wasn't New York pizza. I ate it every day in one form or another, and Joe's was definitely the best. We ate at a different bagel place for the first couple of mornings, until we moved onto something else. The desserts also spoiled me! Magnolia cupcakes, Dough doughnuts, Levain cookies, all the best I've ever eaten. It's like an art form. God I miss the food. 



Barnes and Noble

UK YA lovers know that we are nothing without Amazon. As much as I try to support book stores, If they have a YA section at all, it is tiny. So imagine how I felt when I travelled down that escalator and I saw B+N's YA section - it was split. into. genres! One of my biggest pet peeves is the idea that YA is a genre in itself, that makes no sense. So I spent an hour perusing the whole selection, while my wife waited patiently, because she's amazing. 

That Skyline


Transport

I still can't believe how easy it is to get around New York. Once I got the hang of Streets v. Avenues, and we used the subway a couple of times--simple. Also, so many people were so happy to help us, and we got to know a couple of peoples a little bit. And some of the stations are incredible, Grand Central Terminal obviously.  

Friday, 7 April 2017

Triggers and TV


Trigger warnings aren't always about avoidance. Often it's just that, a warning, a chance to be aware and prepare yourself. Depending on the type of content the warning is on, you might decide to power through. For the sake of clarity in this post, I'll be referring to trigger warnings regarding self-harm.

One of the most difficult kinds to navigate are when the entire theme of a book, movie or show is like a trigger warning in itself. Like the rest of the world, this week I've watched 13 Reasons Why. I know the story and its themes well, having read the book three times. Still, based on little things I saw online, and the fact that I find visual triggers to be the worst, I knew it could become tricky to watch at times.

Still, there's only so long you can keep your guard up. By Episode 11, I can totally engrossed in the show, I'd stopped thinking about potential triggers. Naturally, that's when the first one crept up on me. (SPOILER ALERT/TRIGGER WARNING) This is the episode where we see cuts on Skye's wrist for the first time, very well done, realistic cuts. Although the camera doesn't focus on them for too long, it does linger enough that it struck me, hard. After that I was on guard, and it was too late anyway, so the second time was less of a shock.

(For anyone who hasn't finished the series yet, and I do think I'm pretty late in finishing today, there is something that is hugely potentially triggering in Episode 13. It's well sign-posted. I had time to look away and my wife told me when to look again. Side-note: the acting in that episode is incredible! It's a high standard throughout, but particularly in the last episode it's fantastic.)

As I did find the shot of Skye's wrist so triggering, it got me thinking, or maybe I was just trying to distract myself. I was torn. thinking perhaps it's stupid of me to watch movies or shows that will obviously contain visible self-harm. Then immediately I thought, I can't imagine not watching them though. In the same way that every minority wants to see themselves represented on screen, it's ok if we need to see people with our issues. Obviously it's also ok not to see it.

My wife finds it hard to understand why I can't go a month without watching Thirteen or Short Term 12 or why I'm one of the few people who genuinely fucking loved Jenny Schecter. Especially because I find the subject impossible to talk about, (let's be honest, this is the most directly I've even written about this here, even if it is often hovering in the background) I need to see these characters, to relate and connect with them. Even if that sometimes means sparking that uphill struggle many of us know so well.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Review: Just Juliet by Charlotte Reagan

Released: 17th September
Publisher: Inkitt
Amazon

Synopsis from Amazon:
Lena Newman is 17, her best friend’s a cheerleader, her boyfriend’s a football player, and as far as everyone is concerned, her life is sorted. But that’s before she befriends the new girl. Juliet is confident, slightly damaged, drop-dead gorgeous and a lesbian. 
Lena realizes that her interest goes beyond just friendship. She sets off on a path of self-discovery where the loyalty of those closest to her will be tested.

The premise of this book is a simple one, and yet this is a book that takes that simplicity and works magic with it. I'll be honest, I almost stopped reading very close to the start. There are few things that can turn me off a book so quickly as a character describing themselves to the reader by looking in a mirror. I thought we all knew by now that that was one of the worst things a writer can do, how is it still a thing? It's so cringey, so painfully unrealistic. People glance in their rear view mirror to maybe check their hair and make-up, not to contemplate the 'dusting of freckles' across their nose, and every other detail about themselves.

All that being said, I am so glad I didn't give up so easily! This is by far the best YA F/F I've read. It is a brilliant reminder of just how much can be done within a romance novel. Some big issues are deftly handled: the painful aftermath of losing a parent, self-harm, making big decisions that can change the course of your life.

One of my favourite things was the way that Lena handles how she wants to label herself and think of her sexuality. We can all pretend labels don't matter until the end of time, but when you're trying to figure things out for the first time, they are extremely important. Her conflict between 'Does it matter?' and 'But I need to know right now!' is perfect. The way she does her research is great. Another brilliant part of that is the fact that all of that soul-searching doesn't take up half the book. This isn't a book about Lena questioning her sexuality, she decides it and runs with it, it's a positive moment for her.

(Spoiler Alert) The greatest upside of this stuff not taking up most of the book, is that we don't have to wait until the end for Lena and Juliet to get together. It doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing but they are a beautiful couple to read about. The way Lena describes Juliet is so sweet, they're definitely one of my new favourite couples.

Although the decision making is fairly simple, coming out on the other hand, is not. It's a long, slow process, written very well. The relationship between Lena and her parents especially is interesting, when they're around anyway. While a decent reason is given for them to not be there very often, it's hard to believe they were absent that much.

The supporting characters are brilliant, though I sometimes wondered if there were a few too many of them. I occasionally had trouble keeping track of them all and what the connections between them were. While I never really warmed to Lena's bet friend Lacey, Juliet's cousin Lakyn and his boyfriend Scott are awesome. I would love to be friends with them IRL.

If you want to read something sweet but real, Juliet is definitely worth a read.