Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention by Mindy Hardwick #BookReview #NonFiction

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kidsinorange

Title: Kids in Orange: Voices from Juvenile Detention
Author: Mindy Hardwick
Series: n/a
Format: Kindle Edition, 220 pages
Publication Details: February 23rd 2017 by Eagle Bay Press
Genre(s): Non-Fiction; Crime; Writing
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

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The gang leader doesn’t like poetry, but will a detention center workshop show her how to express love for her newborn daughter? A teen boy dies of a drug overdose. Will his final poem speak what he cannot say? 

In the middle of a career change from teacher to writer, Mindy Hardwick volunteered to facilitate a weekly poetry workshop at a juvenile detention center. By helping the teens write poetry about their lives, Mindy discovered strength and courage to grieve the loss of her father, find forgiveness and release the past. 

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the book will be used as a grant for writers to work with teens at Denney Juvenile Justice Center. The youth’s poetry anthologies can be downloaded at: http://www.denneypoetry.org 


Review

 

I’m sure this book won’t appeal to everybody, but I enjoyed it. It’s part memoir, part poetry, and part inspiration.

Teacher Mindy Hardwick runs poetry workshops in an American juvenile detention centre. She is met by an interesting group of teenagers with various pasts, crimes, and issues. Most of the group appear uninterested in the workshop, greet it with trepidation, or sometimes even with defiance.

As Mindy tries to get a handle on the group, and encourage them to participate she reflects on her own past and struggles.

I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but I just knew that it would be an interesting comparison to what I do at work. I work in two prisons as a library assistant and run creative writing groups in both of them. A lot of what Mindy described rang so true. The bizarre nature of the workplace, but how it quickly becomes the norm. Having people in your group that don’t want to be there despite having signed up, and how nothing ever goes to plan!

I enjoyed reading about the dynamic of Mindy’s group, and how it changed over time. It was also nice to see the work that they produced. The part of the book I wasn’t expecting, and also wasn’t overly keen on was Mindy’s segues into her past. Some of it was enjoyable as it gave an insight into what has shaped her as a person, but I felt like it was too much at times.

Overall, I’m pleased I discovered this book, and it certainly gave me lots to think about.

unicorn rating 3

The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund (out today) #BookReview #CrimeFic #DisturbingReads

crowgirlTitle: The Crow Girl
Author: Erik Axl Sund
Series: N/A
Format: Digital ARC, 784 pages
Publication Details: April 7th 2016 by Harvill Secker
Genre(s): Crime Fiction; Thriller
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

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It starts with just one body – tortured, mummified and then discarded.

Its discovery reveals a nightmare world of hidden lives. Of lost identities, secret rituals and brutal exploitation, where nobody can be trusted.

This is the darkest, most complex case the police have ever seen.

This is the world of the Crow Girl.

Review

Everything about this book drew me in until I realised that it’s almost 800 pages long! I probably would have been put off if I’d realised that before I requested a copy (because as a ‘in spare-time blogger’, I aint got time for that), but I’m so glad I started reading first. It was totally worth the investment of time. 

The Crow Girl is one of the darkest, twisted, deviously woven crime books I’ve ever read. As the synopsis suggests it starts with one dead body, and mannnn does it escalate from there. 

We follow protagonist Jeanette Kihlberg, a respected detective who is assigned the case when a mummified boy is discovered. Jeanette is a strong protagonist. She’s clearly dedicated to her work but is also consumed by it, which takes its toll on her private life. As more bodies show up, and the search for a killer intensifies, Jeanette’s life starts to unfurl. 

The Crow Girl isn’t a simple whodunnit tale. It’s a complex saga of child abuse, paedophile circles, corrupt officials, false identities, human trafficking and psychological battles. It took me a few chapters to get hooked and adapt to the dark and twisted tone of the story but once I did, it was impossible to not get completely invested the story.

Originally written as a trilogy, and published here as one volume, The Crow Girl has been painstakingly translated from Swedish. Despite the length, I’m really glad I read this all in one go as I think it would have been too confusing in three separate books and I’m not sure I would have appreciated the first part enough to read the second; it’s all about the bigger picture and the pay off at the end! I was also extremely thankful for the short chapters – they really helped in making the book less of a chore. 

This is one of those books where I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but what I will say is that The Crow Road is a book that sheds light on child abuse and the damage it can cause. The effects of which ripple throughout all 700+ pages of this disturbing Swedish triumph.

It actually reminded me a lot of the Hannibal TV show with similarities in both content and style/tone, so if you enjoyed that I’d highly recommend giving this one a try.

unicorn rating 4

When Mystical Creatures Attack by Kathleen Founds

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Title: When Mystical Creatures Attack!
Author: Kathleen Founds
Series: N/A
Edition: Digital Reader’s Copy, 206 pages
Publication Details: October 1st 2014 by University Of Iowa Press
Genre(s): Short Stories; Fantasy
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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In When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores.

The lives of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman are revealed through in-class essays, letters, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, a reality show television transcript, a diary, and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook. (Recipes include “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” “Render Unto Caesar Salad,” and “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake.”) In “Virtue of the Month,” the ghost of Ms. Freedman’s mother argues that suicide is not a choice. In “The Un-Game,” Janice’s chain-smoking nursing home charge composes a dirty limerick. In “The Hall of Old-Testament Miracles,” wax figures of Bible characters come to life, hungry for Cody’s flesh.

Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, these stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.

Review

I can honestly say this was one the strangest things I’ve ever read. And I usually like strange, but for some reason I couldn’t get on board with this.

The book begins with a series of short stories/essays in which students use all manner of mystical and mythological creatures to solve the world’s problems. They are sometimes funny, and always bizarre, but none of them really worked for me. I don’t think I quite got the point 😦

We soon learn that the school teacher, Mrs Freedman, has been admitted to an insane asylum and through letters from two of the students we follow their lives, and the impact that the teacher’s incarceration has had on them.

This part of the book I enjoyed more, but again, I wasn’t gripped. It was very fantastical and unfortunately I couldn’t get into it. The story is revealed through many different mediums; short stories, advice columns, diary entries and it made the book feel very disjointed to me. There was just too much going on.

I thought this was a huge shame, because I think the idea is very unique and could have been great. There was just nothing that made me want to keep reading. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for something so different, I don’t know.

What I would say, is that if you’re a fan of the short story format, and want to try something a bit different, this may be the book for you. I thought it was a very ambitious book, even if it didn’t work for me. I certainly wouldn’t write it off.

unicorn rating 2

Sixteen, Sixty-One by Natalie Lucas

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Title: Sixteen, Sixty-One
Author: Natalie Lucas
Series: N/A
Edition: Kindle, 320 pages
Publication Details: June 6th 2013 by HarperCollins Publishers
Genre(s): Non-Fiction; Memoir
Disclosure? Nope, I bought it.
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Natalie Lucas was just 15 when she began a close relationship with a man in his early sixties. Matthew opened Natalie’s mind and heart to philosophy and literature. Within months they had entered into the intense, erotic affair that they would disguise as an innocent intergenerational friendship for several years. Together they mocked the small-town busybodies around them, laughing at plebs like her parents and his in-laws, who were all too blinkered by convention to live pure lives. Only Natalie and Matthew were truly free.

Or so she believed. But when Natalie left her hometown for university and decided she wanted to try to live a normal life, Matthew’s affection soon turned into a consuming obsession.

Written with remarkable candor and grace, Sixteen, Sixty-One is more than an account of suburban grooming: it is the gripping story of a young girl’s sexual awakening and journey into womanhood.

Review

It’s been a while since I finished this book, and I’m still not sure how much I enjoyed it.

I definitely did enjoy parts of it, and I liked Natalie’s voice in terms of the narration, but I found it all a bit odd.

A fifteen year old Natalie meets sixty year old Matthew – a friend of the family, and all of a sudden her eyes have been opened to a whole new world. Matthew draws her in with intellectual discussions regarding literature, art and philosophy, and Natalie is completely taken in. She’s thrilled to have someone in her life to inspire her and talk to her as an adult, as she doesn’t really feel connected with others her age, or her family.

By the time Natalie is sixteen, her and Matthew’s relationship has turned into more, with him making the first move, and her not objecting. Talk has turned from the arts to that of “Uncles”, people who are not bound by society’s rules – clearly all an elaborate grooming technique to make Natalie feel like all of this is special, but not wrong. It left a bad taste in my mouth, as you’d expect.

The book moves at a good pace and covers a lot of ground. Sometimes I couldn’t put it down, and at other times I just wanted it to end.

I really did feel for Natalie. She went through some really horrific times, but there are moments of joy and happiness too.

I think my main problem with it was that it read as fiction. Which is a good thing in terms of readability, but a curse in the sense that I wasn’t convinced by how real it all was. At times I was stunned by Natalie’s decisions, and it’s like she had to keep reminding the reader just how naive and young she still was to justify her actions.

But overall, I have nothing but respect for her in writing this book (if indeed it is all true – could this be another A Million Little Pieces?), as she has told the world about the most intimate details of her young life – even the things she lied to herself about for so many years – and she’s done it in a eloquent, interesting manner.

It certainly makes for a thought-provoking read if nothing else.

unicorn rating 3

Sixteen, Sixty One is available now in paperback from Waterstones.

Back to Blackbrick by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

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Title: Back to Blackbrick
Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 272 pages
Publication Details: February 7th 2013 by Orion Children’s Books
Genre(s): YA; Sci-Fi
Disclosure? Nope! I borrowed it from Dora. Thanks Dora.

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Cosmo’s brother Brian died when he was ten years old. His mum hides her grief by working all the hours God sends and Cosmo lives with his grandparents. They’ve been carefree days as Granddad buys him a horse called John and teaches him all he knows about horses. But the good times have to come to an end and although he doesn’t want to admit it, Cosmo knows his Granddad is losing his mind. So on one of the rare occasions when Granddad seems to recognise him, Cosmo is bemused that he gives him a key to Blackbrick Abbey and urges him to go there. Cosmo shrugs it off, but gradually Blackbrick draws him in…

Cosmo arrives there, scared and lonely, and is dropped off at the crumbling gates of a huge house. As he goes in, the gates close, and when he turns to look, they’re rusty and padlocked as if they haven’t been opened in years. Cosmo finds himself face to face with his grandfather as a young man, and questions begin to form in his mind: can Cosmo change the course of his family’s future?

 Review

I really enjoyed Sarah’s second YA novel, The Apple Tart of Hope which I got through Netgalley, so I was eager to go back to her first offering, Back to Blackbrick.

Like The Apple Tart of Hope, Back to Blackbrick is a quirky read told in a unique voice. It seems to me that both of Sarah’s stories are full of juxtapositions; they are set in the real world yet have fantasy elements; they are humorous and light-hearted, yet also deal with serious subject matter.

I love that about Sarah’s writing. It feels real but magical at the same time.

Back to Blackbrick is narrated by Cosmo. He hates his name, the fact that his brother died in such a stupid manner (he fell out of a window), his mother for getting on a plane and never coming back, the school kids who call him Loser Boy, and that his granddad’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse by the day.

But Cosmo is a spirited boy. He doesn’t despair too much over these things and he definitely doesn’t dwell on them. Instead, he throws himself into helping his granddad to remember things.

When his granddad gives him a mysterious key, along with the name Blackbrick, and asks him to promise to go there, Cosmo sets off on his own adventure. Beyond his imagination, Cosmo opens the gates to Blackbrick and finds himself face-to-face with his granddad, only he’s 50 years younger….

Can Cosmo use this time lapse to his advantage? He wants to teach his granddad good mind practices, and stop his brother from falling out of the window, but that might not be so simple as it’s easy to get swept away with life at Blackbrick.

I thought this book was beautifully told, funny, and well, just cute. I can’t think of any better way to describe it than that. It was exciting in parts, sad in others, but Cosmo’s frank way of looking at the world really shone through and made the story what it is: Unique.

unicorn rating 4

Back to Blackbrick and The Apple Tart of Hope are available in paperback from Waterstones.

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

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Title: How I Live Now
Author: Meg Rosoff
Series: N/A
Edition: Paperback, 194
Publication Details: November 30th 2004 by Wendy Lamb Books
Genre(s): YA; Dystopia
Disclosure? Nope, I borrowed it!

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“Every war has turning points and every person too.”

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

A riveting and astonishing story.

How I Live Now has been a long time coming for me. Meg Rosoff has been on my radar for ages, and I really enjoyed her panel at YALC UK, but I’d not picked up one of her books until now.

And woah. I wasn’t expecting that. I kind of thought it was just going to be another YA dystopian romance, but it was so much more.

How I Live Now is about war, as seen through the eyes of Daisy.

Daisy is an American teen, who finds herself in the English countryside visiting her aunt and cousins, as she hasn’t been getting on with her step-mum. And whilst she’s happy to be away from them, there’s also a deep-rooted feeling of abandonment. She is a complex character, with a lot of issues, but I loved her sarcastic, moody personality, it felt very real. She was strong and weak all at the same time.

Daisy’s aunt, who is somehow involved in the government and the war, has to go away, just as bombs go off in London, leaving Daisy alone with her cousins, fending for themselves. But as the war intensifies, and the power is cut off, they are happily cocooned in their farm.

They make fires, gather food, and swim in the lake, and Daisy starts to enjoy herself. It’s like she feels content for the first time in her life, which has a lot to do with Edmund, whom she felt connected to from the moment they met.

I didn’t realise quite how controversial this book was until I read some of the reviews on Goodreads. People are welcome to their opinions of course, but I feel like a lot of them have missed the point. Yes, Daisy has an eating disorder. Yes, Daisy and her cousin, Edmund fall in love, and yes, they have underage sex and smoke cigarettes.

But How I Live Now doesn’t glamourise these things. The point isn’t that these things are OK. After being truly starving, Daisy realises how stupid she was to refuse to eat. It takes a war for her to be able to adjust her thinking, such is the strength of her mental illness.

And as for the romance and the sex, it’s not gratuitous. Daisy knows it’s wrong, she tries to not want Edmund, but they are drawn to each other too much, in almost a magical way. To me, all this says is, you can’t help who you fall for, and I think under different circumstances they would find it hard to be together. But being left to their own devices, the war brings them together, and inevitably tears them apart.

unicorn rating 4

How I Live Now is available in paperback from Waterstones now.

Cherry-loving Wolves, Bloody Knives, and People Made of Magic…

Of Scars and Stardust by Andrea Hannah

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Title: Of Scars and Stardust
Author: Andrea Hannah
Series: N/A
Edition: ARC, 366 pages
Publication Details: October 8th 2014 by Flux
Genre(s): Mystery; Thriller; YA
Disclosure? Yep! I received a copy from the Publisher/Author in exchange for an HONEST review.

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After her little sister mysteriously vanishes, seventeen-year-old Claire Graham has a choice to make: stay snug in her little corner of Manhattan with her dropout boyfriend, or go back to Ohio to face the hometown tragedy she’s been dying to leave behind.

But the memories of that night still haunt her in the city, and as hard as she tries to forget what her psychiatrist calls her “delusions,” Claire can’t seem to escape the wolf’s eyes or the blood-speckled snow. Delusion or reality, Claire knows she has to hold true to the most important promise she’s ever made: to keep Ella safe. She must return to her sleepy hometown in order to find Ella and keep her hallucinations at bay before they strike again. But time is quickly running out, and as Ella’s trail grows fainter, the wolves are becoming startlingly real.

Now Claire must deal with her attraction to Grant, the soft-spoken boy from her past that may hold the secret to solving her sister’s disappearance, while following the clues that Ella left for only her to find. Through a series of cryptic diary entries, Claire must unlock the keys to Ella’s past—and her own—in order to stop another tragedy in the making, while realizing that not all things that are lost are meant to be found.

Woah. This book.

I have a total book hangover from this so please excuse my babbling review.

First of all, I didn’t even read the synopsis of this book before I picked it up. I requested it on the basis of the title and the cover alone, and went into it pretty blind and I’m so glad I did.

Not that I think it would have been any less amazing if I’d heard more about it, but I wasn’t expecting that.

Claire is living an average teenage existence in Ohio, going to bonfire parties where they drink cherry vodka and tell stories about the wolves that stalk the cornfields. Claire’s little sister, Ella is full of creativity and imagination and sees the world through magical eyes like only an eight year old can.

When Ella is asked to leave a party that she followed Claire to, she’s attacked on her way back. Her face will never be the same again, and Claire, now obsessed with the wolves that she believes attacked her is shipped off to New York. The only thing that brings her back to Ohio is when Ella disappears.

Of Scars and Stardust completely blew me away if you can’t tell already. It was a mystery, a psychological thriller, a romance, and it was written so beautifully it made me want to cry.

I loved how Claire saw her sister, and tried to make sense of the world as she saw it. She was terrified, damaged, and often alone, but she never felt like a victim. As the book went on it became clear that not only did Claire not know who to trust, but we as readers are not sure if we can trust her either.

I don’t think I even took a breath during the second half of this book, I was literally on the edge of my seat – which is pretty hard to do when you read in bed. If someone could come and pick my jaw up off the carpet, that would be great.

I loved setting, I loved the characters and I loved the uniqueness of this book, but I don’t want to say much more about it in case I ruin it for others.

What I will say, is that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to start over. Therefore, I give it all of the unicorns. Keep them all. And let them breed.

unicorn rating

Pre-order Of Scars and Stardust now, you won’t regret it!