Thursday, 19 November 2015

How to Be Happy by David Burton

How to Be Happy by David Burton
Published August 26, 2015 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: A funny, sad and serious memoir, 'How to Be Happy' is David Burton's story of his turbulent life at high school and beyond. Feeling out of place and convinced that he is not normal, David has a rocky start. He longs to have a girlfriend, but his first 'date' is a disaster. There's the catastrophe of the school swimming carnival - David is not sporty - and friendships that take devastating turns. Then he finds some solace in drama classes with the creation of 'Crazy Dave', and he builds a life where everything is fine. But everything is not fine.
And, at the centre of it all, trying desperately to work it all out, is the real David.
'How to Be Happy' tackles depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, academic pressure, love and adolescent confusion. It's a brave and honest account of one young man's search for a happy, true and meaningful life that will resonate with readers young and old.
How to Be Happy, David Burton's debut novel, won the 2014 Text Prize. David grew up in a rural Queensland town with his parents, both had suffered depression during their lives, and younger twin brothers with Asperger's Syndrome. From a young age he suffered anxiety and this carried on into his teenage years, along with depression. This is a wonderfully detailed memoir that reads like fiction, I often had to remind myself that David wasn't a fictional character, and sometimes I got a J.D-from-Scrubs vibe, which I loved.

David is so honest in his retelling, and I think you really have to be to have a compelling story. He doesn't shy away from admitting he sat by as a classmate with Asperger's Syndrome was teased. He shares his deepest fears and the thoughts he often obsessed about. He talks about his confusion around gender and sexuality. I don't think many people could share such personal details and I was really impressed with the level of truth and vulnerability in this book.

How to Be Happy is a perfect books for teens and adults, specifically if have struggled with these issues that are common to most people's experience. It's funny, touching, and insightful, and I think it could help a lot of people feel less isolated.

Two books I've found helpful: 10% Happier by Dan Harris and Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion by Elisha Goldstein.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my review copy.

I love this quirky cover and it was a lot of fun to paint.

I started with 2 coats of Zoya Yummy

I sponged some China Glaze White Out over the top and used acrylic paint for the illustrations.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley
Published November 1, 2015 by Harlequin AU
Source: the publisher
Rating: 3 stars

From the blurb: Toni and Gretchen are the couple everyone envied in high school. They've been together forever. They never fight. They're deeply, hopelessly in love. When they separate for their first year at college—Toni to Harvard and Gretchen to NYU—they're sure they'll be fine. Where other long-distance relationships have fallen apart, their relationship will surely thrive.
The reality of being apart, however, is a lot different than they expected. As Toni, who identifies as genderqueer, falls in with a group of transgender upperclassmen and immediately finds a sense of belonging that has always been missing, Gretchen struggles to remember who she is outside their relationship.
While Toni worries that Gretchen, who is not trans, just won't understand what is going on, Gretchen begins to wonder where she fits in Toni's life. As distance and Toni's shifting gender identity begins to wear on their relationship, the couple must decide—have they grown apart for good, or is love enough to keep them together?

What We Left Behind by Robin Talley is the story of two high school students as they transition to college, while trying to maintain their long-term relationship and deal with their identities in regards to sexuality and gender. Toni came out as gay as a young teen and this is accepted well by her peers at school. She meets new student Gretchen at the Homecoming dance and the two become inseparable, they never fight, they spend all their time together, and they have plans to go to college in Boston. When Gretchen neglects to tell Toni that she applied to NYU and will be moving to New York instead, a rift develops between them, which is worsened by their separation.

We definitely need more books like What We Left Behind. It's great to see main characters who are gay and living lives in which they don't have to worry about being bullied or seen as different. It's also great to see the conversation taken further in regards to labels and more than just being gay or lesbian, but also being genderqueer and transgender. I thought it was covered well but I have read a few reviews that feel that the term genderqueer was used incorrectly. Part of me wonders if it was done intentionally, because I can imagine that as a teen looking for the right word to describe themselves, they might choose a word but not quite understand it fully, or perhaps choose a word that isn't the perfect fit, but they don't yet know of another word that they would identify with more strongly. But, the reviewers could be right, and it was used here by the author, without true knowledge of the meaning, and I completely understand why that would offend and annoy readers.

Toni was a difficult character, but her need to understand everyone and everything is relatable, and her judgemental personality was believable. She struggled so much with her identity, but didn't want to be patient with people she loved, like Gretchen. I thought Gretchen was wonderful, and I can imagine a lot of readers identifying with her because I'm sure a lot of people struggle with knowing what to say and not wanting to offend. I thought her growth during the story was good, but I did struggle to understand her friendship with Carroll; from the moment they met he was disrespectful in regards to her relationship with Toni and it seemed as though she spent all her time with him defending her girlfriend.

It's great to see books like What We Left Behind being published and garnering well-deserved attention because this is an extremely important topic and a wonderful chance to get teens and adults to learn more and start conversations.

Thank you to Harlequin AU for my review copy.

I love this version of the cover, it's so bright and colourful.

I started with a base of China Glaze White Out.

I used acrylic paint and small pieces of sponge to get the paint splatter effect.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) by Libba Bray
Published: August 2015 by Allen & Unwin
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O'Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to 'read' objects, and therefore the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title 'America's Sweetheart Seer'. There's just one downside - a sham engagement to the irritatingly handsome Sam Lloyd.
But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners' abilities… and across town, a mysterious sleeping sickness is spreading through Chinatown, leaving dead dreamers in its wake.
Can the Diviners descend into the slumberland and catch a killer?

Two years ago I spent the Easter long weekend reading The Diviners and loved it to pieces. Going into Lair of Dreams I thought I might not remember who everyone was or what had happened, but I needn't have worried because Libba is a spectacular writer and I found myself diving back into the world of 1920s New York City seamlessly. It was wonderful to be back with the original gang; Evie, Mablel, Theta, Jericho, Memphis, Henry, and even Sam, but also to be introduced to new characters like Ling Chan. There's also a new paranormal element haunting the subway system of New York, it was perfectly creepy and mysterious.

The plotting is spot on, I never found myself hurrying to think ahead, instead I enjoyed the situations as they happened and found the plot just as compelling as The Diviners. I adored the evolving friendship between Henry and Ling, and I found Henry to be hilarious. I'm also torn between Evie's love interests; I've always liked Jericho but Sam has grown on me.

If there's another three year gap between publication dates that is a-ok with me, because I know it'll be pos-i-tute-ly worth the wait.

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy.

I did nails for the cover of The Diviners, so I figured I would do nails for Lair of Dreams as well. I kept this one quite simple, and I think it makes a nice, subtle Halloween manicure.

I used 2 coats of Ulta3 Black Satin for the base, and acrylic paint for the detailing.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer

Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer
Published July 2015 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Will and Summer meet online and strike up a friendship based on coincidence. Summer lives in Will's old hometown, Kettering, a small Tasmanian coastal community. Summer isn't telling the whole truth about herself, but figures it doesn't matter if they never see each other in person, right? 
When Will returns to Kettering, the two finally meet and Summer can no longer hide her secret – she is deaf. Can Summer and Will find a way to be friends in person even though they speak a completely different language?

I've always wanted to read Kathryn Lomer's books, I've had What Now, Tilda B? on my shelf for a while now, but still haven't read it. So I was thrilled to see her new release, Talk Under Water. Will and his dad left Keft the small town of Kettering, Tasmania after his mum left them. They sailed to Sydney on their yacht and Will has been home schooled by his dad. He and Summer strike up a conversation online, and soon Will and his dad are heading home so he can return to high school, and so his dad can start a new job in his field of marine biology.

What Summer decided not to to share is the face that she is deaf and has been since birth. Her father taught her sign language and how to read from an early age, but he died a couple of years ago. Summer tried out high school but after being bullied, returned to being home schooled by her mother.

At first Will is angry that Summer hid this aspect of her life from him, but eventually they become friends. This sparks an interest in sign language, he enrols in a course and starts teaching himself by watching videos online. The relationship that develops between the two teens is beautiful, and Summer conveys this development in letters that she writes to her deceased father.

I loved how instructional and descriptive the narrative was when it came to sign language, I could easily picture the conversations Summer and Will had. I have a cousin who is deaf and I think when she first visited us during my primary school years, I found sign language fascinating and there was a period where my group of friends sign-spelled everything to each other. Looking at the Auslan alphabet now I can see our signs were very similar, but I never took it further.

Talk Under Water is a beautiful story of friendship and first love and would be a great read for teens and adults as a great conversation starter on acceptance and tolerance.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

I love this quirky cover and decided to do a fishy manicure to match.

I used 2 coats of Ulta3 Black Satin for the base and acrylic paint for the fish.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

One by Sarah Crossan

One by Sarah Crossan
Published August 25, 2015 by Bloomsbury
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Grace and Tippi are twins – conjoined twins.
And their lives are about to change.
No longer able to afford homeschooling, they must venture into the world – a world of stares, sneers and cruelty. Will they find more than that at school? Can they find real friends? And what about love?
But what neither Grace or Tippi realises is that a heart-wrenching decision lies ahead. A decision that could tear them apart. One that will change their lives even more than they ever imagined…
One follows the story of sixteen year old ischiopagus tripus conjoined twins, Grace and Tippi. Written in verse, something Crossan excels at, this was told in a beautiful and compelling way. Grace instantly let's us into her world and I immediately felt protective of her. She struggles to maintain a separate life from Tippi, and often feels guilt over the inconvenience and cost they cause to their family. After being home schooled, they are now venturing into the world of a conventional high school and this brings challenges for them, as well as their deteriorating health and the possibility of separation surgery in the future.

I don't think anyone who is not a conjoined twin could understand the sort of bond these girls share, but this book gives a good idea of what it might be like, and in doing so was utterly heartbreaking. I always enjoy Crossan's novels and this has been added to my list of favourites. It's sad, hopeful, and thought-provoking, and I loved it.

A note on the editing: knowing that Crossan is originally from Ireland, I read this as if it was a UKYA title not American, even though the story is set in Rhode Island and the mother is referred to as Mom. The fact that words typically used in the UK were included (Tipp-Ex, pushchair, jot) also increased the feeling that this a UK book, not American. I'm not sure if it was changed to suit an American audience or if it was always intended to be set in the USA, but it seemed odd to me.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for my review copy.

I love both covers for One (here's the UK version), but in particular I love this version.

I've also done nails to match another of Sarah's books, The Weight of Water.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Frankie and Joely by Nova Weetman

Frankie and Joely by Nova Weetman
Published July 2015 by UQP
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Frankie and Joely are best friends. They love each other like no one else can. It's summer and, together, the girls are escaping the city and their mums for a week of freedom in the country. But when Joely introduces Frankie to her country cousins, Thommo and Mack, it soon becomes clear that something other than the heat is getting under their skin. As the temperature rises, local boy Rory stirs things up even more and secrets start to blister. Will they still be ‘Frankie and Joely’ by the end of their holiday?

I adored Nova Weetman's debut novel, The Haunting of Lily Frost, so I was really excited to read her second book, Frankie and Joely.

Frankie and Joely are two teenage girls living in Melbourne. They've been best friends for two years and are going to spend the summer in the fictional rural town of Payne. Joely extended family lives there and at first she was keen to bring her friend along, but the simmering tension and secrets between them has her wondering if she's made a mistake.

This story really highlights the complexity of female friendships, particularly how difficult communication can be for teenage girls. Both Frankie and Joely have issues they want to talk about, but each of them feels embarrassment, shame, or fear, and so a lot of things go unsaid.

I was completely drawn into their story from the very beginning, there is such an energy throughout the book, and the multiple perspectives helped to show how differently each character felt.
The heat of the country summer was also easy to feel through the vivid descriptions of the town, I really felt as though I were in Payne with the girls.

Frankie and Joely is a beautiful, touching story filled with complex yet lovable characters that readers will easily relate to and empathise with. I loved this book and know it will be well-received by readers of all ages.

Thank you to UQP for my review copy.

No nails for this one, but the nails I did for Nova's debut novel are still one of my favourites!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: For Vân Uoc Phan, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she'd eaten too much sugar.
Vân Uoc doesn't believe in fairies, zombies, vampires, Father Christmas - or magic wishes. She believes in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes.
But when she attracts the attention of Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight.
Not even Jane Eyre can help her now.
Wishes were not a thing.
They were not.
Wishes were a thing.
Wishes that came true were sometimes a thing.
Wishes that came true because of magic were not a thing!
Were they?

Cloudwish is Fiona Wood's third novel. It occurs in the same world as her previous novels, Six Impossible Things and Wildlife, and involves some familiar characters. You don't need to have read the previous two to enjoy or understand this book, but it's always lovely to see your favourite characters pop up again, so I highly recommend you do read SIT and Wildlife.

Vân Ước Phan moved to Crowthrone Grammar school two years ago, but since then she's remained quite solitary, there are kids she can talk to, but none she would consider close friends. Luckily her best friend lives in the apartment next door, and she and Jess hang out a lot and work together at a local restaurant.  
Vân Ước knows that fantasies don't usually serve a purpose, but she can't help wondering what it would be like to be just like the popular, rich kids at school, rather than the daughter of Vietnamese refugees. She loves her parents, but she also feels embarrassed and lonely. One of her frequent fantasies involves Billy Gardiner, she's had a crush on him for a long time, and when he starts paying attention to her, Vân Ước can't seem to trust his intentions.

This was such a wonderful story involving important topics for teens and adults: refugees, family, sexuality, politics, friendship. And we see all of these topics through the eyes of Vân Ước, a girl who loves art but feels parental pressure to become a doctor. A girl who adores Jane Eyre, photography, and watching movies. A girl who doesn't know much about her family history because her mother finds it too traumatic to talk about. Vân Ước had so much personality, from continuously imagining sports commentators narrating her life, to knowing Jane Eyre quotes for every occasion. I adored her and I could see a lot of teens relating to her. and I think this would be the perfect book to study in high school.

Last year in my review of Wildlife, I commented on the use of ableist language, so I was really impressed that during the story Lou pulls Billy up for using the word retard. It was definitely a word I could imagine Billy using, but it was also great to show another teen picking up on it and letting them know it's not cool.

Cloudwish is a wonderful and relevant story for teens today, and it left me wanting to go re-read Six Impossible Things and Wildlife, just so I could spend more time in the world Fiona Wood has created for her characters.

Thank you to PanMacmillan for my review copy.