Girls Will Be Girls by Emer O’Toole

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 5.18.20 pmSynopsis:

Emer O’Toole once caused a media sensation by growing her body hair and singing ‘Get Your Pits Out For The Lads’ on national TV. You might think she’s crazy – but she has lessons for us all. Protesting against the ‘makey-uppy-bulls**t’ of gender conditioning, Emer takes us on a hilarious, honest and probing journey through her life – from cross-dressing and head shaving, to pube growing and full-body waxing – exploring the performance of femininity to which we are confined.

Funny, provocative and underpinned with rigorous academic intelligence, this book shows us why and how we should all begin gently to break out of gender stereotypes. Read this book, open up your mind and, hopefully, free your body. Girls Will Be Girls is a must-read wake-up call for all young women (and men).

Review: 

I’ve always been ultra-feminine. I refused to wear anything but dresses or skirts until I was about eight because trousers were for boys. I hated my short, curly hair because I was terrified people would mistake me for a boy. I once threw a massive tantrum because my poor dad tried to (sensibly) make me wear track pants on a cold winter day. Looking back, it’s absolutely laughable. It’s also frightening how ingrained these ideas were in three-year-old me.

I never questioned the role of femininity. There was no doubt I’d conform as much as possible, if only to avoid the embarrassment of being ‘different’. I think that’s what O’Toole captures so perfectly in Girls Will Be Girls: gender roles are so entrenched in society any non-conformity is often ridiculed, debated and ultimately shocking.

Girls Will Be Girls was an incredible read. O’Toole’s engaging, conversational style flowed beautifully. It felt less like reading and more like sitting down having a chat over a cup of tea. Which, quite frankly, is how more non-fiction should be written. O’Toole seamlessly blended theory and memoir to create a fascinating book, one which I know I will return to in the future.

I took a lot away from reading Girls Will Be Girls. While I’m not necessarily going to stop shaving or give up my favourite floral dresses, understanding the reason why I feel so comfortable performing that role is massively eye-opening. Surely I can still be a feisty feminist with on-fleek brows, recognising the patriarchal structure underpinning the role of the female? My own ideas of gender are so ingrained, have gone unchecked and unquestioned for so long, it’s going to take a while for me to unravel my thinking.

One of the discussions I identified most with in Girls Will Be Girls was the idea that not conforming can be a lonely, emotional and sometimes heartbreaking experience. While I haven’t experienced this in quite the same way as O’Toole, I’ve certainly found it challenging to confront some of my dad’s beliefs about feminism and gender roles. (He’s slowly changing, or at least learning not to argue when I embark on a feminist mini-lecture). But even among friends, my feminist views can sometimes cause friction.

For most of Girls Will Be Girls, I found myself wondering why I’d never questioned gender roles. As O’Toole writes, it’s hard to imagine alternatives to these roles, but breaking free of this script is ultimately a more rewarding experience. I’ll be taking small steps, but I’ve got my red pen out and am starting the edits to my world view.

Q&A: Gracie Latter

IMG_2211I am delighted to welcome Gracie to my blog today. I’m a little starstruck as I adore Gracie’s blog and feel like her Twitter is just one constant stream of awesome. If you aren’t already familiar with her stellar blog, make sure you check it out with the links at the end of the post!

When did you start blogging and what made you want to join the bookish blogging community?

I started blogging when I was 16 and bored between lessons at college – bored/frustrated because I had no way to get my feelings out and I needed just that, an outlet.

I discovered the bookish blogging community I think when I’d started uni, and a lot of my Creative Writing course mates were writing reviews of books, films, theatre, TV shows, food, beauty, EVERYTHING. I never thought of doing it myself, as I was too anxious about being rubbish. I just felt my word, my reviews, wouldn’t and shouldn’t be taken seriously.

So when I properly started book blogging, it wasn’t an official review thing. It was what each book I mentioned meant to me and why I read them.

I bloody LOVE the bookish blogging community. It’s become a gorgeous home for me online.

What do you do when you’re not blogging? How do you juggle life with blogging?

I have said before how I will go days, weeks, without any inspiration for blog posts. Then suddenly, one or two nights a month, I go nuts and start 5 drafts. I also make notes on my phone constantly when I am without my laptop (which is hardly ever) to remind me what I want to write about.

When I’m not blogging, I am working as a bookseller or working on my own novel. Or drinking coffee. Or whisky.

IMG_0074You’ve recently started work as a bookseller (congratulations, by the way). What are your favourite parts of the job so far?

(Thank you, yay omg yay!) I find every day has a highlight, every day that one customer comes in and inspires me or just makes my heart melt. The little kids who are determined to get reading over the summer holidays and catch up on all the YA series; the older ladies who desperately need their fix of romance tales; the blokes who excitedly bring graphic novels to the till.

I love writing teeny reviews of my favourite books and slotting them in beneath where I stand them in pride of place on the shelves. I love running up and down the stairs searching for that one title that one customer can’t recall. I love ordering books in for customers and giving them the parcels when they arrive. I love geeking out over authors and stories with my colleagues.

Have you always been an avid reader or was there a time in your life when you discovered the joy of it? What was the first book you fell in love with?

100% always. My parents love telling people this. They loved it at the time, too, when I was a funny little kid who sat in the corner at parties with her head in a book or would read when we all went on a family day out.

onelineaday02You’re also a writer, what projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on my first novel, and my lesson plans for the couple of seminars I’ll be teaching at Winchester University soon!

What books have left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?

Lisa Heathfield is my latest author obsession. Both her books left me rattled, in a good way.

I also recently read Emma Gannon’s ‘Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online’, and that was the most perfect non-fic; I could relate to it so much but it also blew my mind!

I read ‘One Day’ 3 years ago and it reminded me how badly I want to write my own novels.

How has blogging changed your reading life?

It’s opened so many doors! I now receive proof copies from various publishers, and the recommendations are endless from my fellow bloggers. I am never without a potential new read!

Quick fire book quiz:

Favourite book so far this year:

‘Milk & Honey’, by Rupi Kaur. Or ‘Songs About A Girl’, by Chris Russell.

Most anticipated release for the second half of 2016:

OH GOSH SO MANY. Possibly the new one from Rachel Cohr & David Levithan (’12 Days of Dash & Lily’). Or (cheating here) my lovely friend Katherine Webber’s ‘Wing Jones’, coming out early next year!

caitlin01Favourite author:

Caitlin Moran. Jandy Nelson. Louise O’Neill. Holly Bourne. Lauren James. Alice Oseman. Lisa Heathfield. Audrey Niffenegger. (I keep cheating but I CANNOT PICK ONE!)

Your top five must-read books:

Ughh ugh ughh this question is too tough! These are not all my absolute favourites, just the ones I feel everyone should read.
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER…

1. Harry Potter (the whole series!), by JK Rowling.
2. The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.
3. Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig.
4. The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson.
5. Every Day, by David Levithan.

More Gracie: Twitter || Blog || Instagram

The Next Together by Lauren James

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 8.37.22 pmSynopsis: 

How many times can you lose the person you love?

Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again, century after century. Each time, their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated.

Spanning the Crimean War, the Siege of Carlisle and the near-future of 2019 and 2039 they find themselves sacrificing their lives to save the world. But why do they keep coming back? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace?

Maybe the next together will be different…

A powerful and epic debut novel for teenagers about time-travel, fate and the timelessness of first love. The Next Together is told through a mixture of regular prose, diary entries, letters, “original” historical documents, news reports and internet articles.

Review: 

I don’t even know where to start with The Next Together. It’s just one big punch of awesome. That’s probably the best way to sum up this incredibly unique and totally addictive mix of sci-fi, time travel and historical fiction. Sweeping through four time periods, The Next Together is one hell of a journey which kept me guessing from the very first page.

Through newspaper clippings, maps, historical documents, social media posts, emails, diary entries, letters and notes The Next Together explores the story of Matt and Kate; doomed to keep losing each other across many lifetimes. There’s a touch of Quantum Leap to the storyline with the pair having to re-write the wrongs of history in each time frame, something which instantly intrigued me. Although The Next Together isn’t quite about parallel histories, it does explore how some acts could have changed the course of what we know to be true.

While much of The Next Together is fictionalised, the depth of research behind it is evident. James has grounded the Crimean War and Siege of Carlisle time periods in truth, but this never weighed down the story. Likewise, the 2019 and 2039 time frames didn’t feel entirely unrealistic, especially when it came to political tensions in Europe. I loved the way the book bounced between each time frame and while it took me a while to get into the flow, I was immediately intrigued. James perfectly balanced each time period, giving just enough away in each snippet to keep me wanting more.

Love stories really aren’t my thing, but I found myself getting pretty wrapped up in Kate and Matt. Particularly 2019 Kate and Matt (my favourite pairing), whose interactions felt so authentic and easygoing. There was a pretty heavy focus on romance in The Next Together, but surprisingly I really enjoyed it. In some of the historical time frames I found it hard to believe things could move so swiftly (especially in the Crimea), but in the end I was so caught up in their story I didn’t even care. I was slightly disappointed with the conclusion, but only because I would have been happy to read a little more detail and to understand better Kate and Matt’s purpose. Nonetheless, I am incredibly excited to read the sequel, The Last Beginning.

I’m not usually one for sci-fi or romance, but I was immediately engrossed and swept along on a terrific adventure with Kate and Matt. The Next Together is a unique, entertaining and energetic read which kept me guessing the whole way through.

Talking Points: The influence of blogging

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 7.16.39 pm

Before blogging, I was a very different reader. I’ve been blogging almost four years and in that time my tastes haven’t changed so much as been honed on genres I didn’t even know existed in high school. During those years, the blogging community and the act of reviewing has had an immense impact on my reading habits, in all the right ways.

Pre-blog, I spent much of my time in the library. I borrowed a lot of books and returned plenty of them unread when I didn’t click with them in the first few chapters (something I’ve discussed in more detail previously). I give up on less books now simply because I rarely start reading without some sort of recommendation from another blogger and a much stronger sense of my preferred genres and writing styles.

At my school library, there wasn’t really a defined YA section, so I read a lot more adult books. While some of these were great reads, it wasn’t until I started blogging that I discovered the absolute joy of YA books. Now, I’d guess they make up 80% (or more) of the books I read each year. I’ve also become quite passionate about defending YA and pushing my favourite books into the hands of people who doubt the brilliance of these books.

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Since I started blogging, the variety and number of books I read has improved enormously. I used to stick to a select few favourite authors, like Jodi Picoult, whose work I always enjoyed. Now, with dozens of recommendations from my blogging friends, I have found so many new authors whose books continue to blow me away. While I still generally stick to contemporary, the range of books I read has also broadened thanks to blogs, Twitter chats and Goodreads.

It goes without saying that reviewing books has changed my reading experience. When I’m planning to review a book I take notes and think more critically about the prose, characters, themes and plot. This can have its downfalls, but as a whole I like being able to form more considered opinions about the books I read.

Perhaps the most exciting change blogging has bought to my reading habits is that I’ve found a bunch of awesome people from across the world who like to read the same books as me. This means we can discuss our favourite books and I can always trust them for a good recommendation. Pre-blog, I would often have to explain a book to someone before proceeding to talk about its brilliance. Now, I get to do that through reviews and discuss most books in detail with other bloggers who’ve read them too. Has blogging changed your reading habits? Have these changes been good or bad?

The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 11.13.51 amSynopsis:

Ruby Jane Galbraith is empty. Her family has been torn apart and it’s all her fault.

The only thing that makes sense to her is Fox – a gentle new friend who is wise, soulful and clever, yet oddly naive about the ways of the world. He understands what she’s going through and he offers her a chance to feel peace. Fox belongs to a group called the Institute of the Sublime – and Ruby can’t stay away from him. So she is also drawn in to what she too late discovers is a terrifying secretive community that is far from the ideal world she expected.

Can Ruby find the courage to escape? Is there any way she can save Fox too? And is there ever really an escape from the far-reaching influence of the Institute of the Sublime?

A gripping YA novel about an ordinary girl who is unsuspectingly inducted into a secretive modern-day cult.

Review:

Cults conjure up images of secrecy, brainwashing and abuse. It’s this strange world The Boundless Sublime dives into with gusto, complete with an enigmatic and chilling leader in ‘Daddy’. Swift and engaging, this was a story I found it hard to drag myself away from.

In the Institute, Wilkinson has created a disturbing secret society where people are ‘reborn’ and all connections to their old life lost. There are endless rules to follow, keeping members in line, downtrodden and fearful. Wilkinson’s writing was captivating. Once I started reading The Boundless Sublime I couldn’t stop and, when I did have to put the book down, was wondering where the story would turn. Given the length, I was impressed this high tension and swift pace didn’t waver. I also loved the fact Wilkinson went beyond life at the cult towards the conclusion.

Despite my enjoyment of the writing style and fascination with Ruby’s time at the cult, I found it hard to really connect with her. Compared to her time at the Institution, the introduction to Ruby’s life before felt rushed. While I understand her grief may have lead her to felt the Institute was her only option, I found it difficult to fully believe she could have been caught up so quickly. Perhaps if there had been a little more exploration of Ruby’s previous life, that emotional understanding would have been more apparent.

While I enjoyed the twists and fast pace of the conclusion, it left me a little unsatisfied. Everything felt too easily resolved and in many ways I found that completely unbelievable. I’m sure many people who have gone through similar situations might have to live without any of the closure Ruby found. Similarly, I’m sure it would take much longer to re-adjust to normal life again, with associated emotional and psychological issues.

In The Boundless Sublime, Wilkinson has created a truly captivating cult, where terror simmers beneath the facade of health and clean living. Although I had some issues believing elements of the plot, I found this book incredibly compelling and a much darker exploration of human nature than I had imagined.

Sounds like: Sexy Sadie || The Beatles

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for providing a copy of the book for review.

The Boundless Sublime is out now (RRP $19.99).

Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 9.37.07 pmSynopsis:

From the author of Good Oil, this extraordinary, bittersweet novel portrays a slice of Australian city life through an unforgettable girl named Holly who is navigating the nuances and complexities of being in her early 20s.

‘What do you want, Hol?’ Abby looks into my eyes. ‘I … I want to know that I’m using my powers for good and -‘ ‘You want to make a dead man proud.’ ‘Whoa!’ ‘You want to put bandages over severed arteries that really need to be sewn shut. You want the moral high ground.’

Holly Yarkov has a boyfriend who is a gift from the universe. She has a job that fulfils her even as it wears her down. She has a core group of friends from high school. And she has a layer of steel around her heart that is beginning to tarnish. Just as she is reaching for a future she can’t quite see, Holly is borne back into the past by memories of her beloved father, and of the boy-who-might-have-been…

Grief and longing run like veins of quicksilver through this beautiful novel, at once gloriously funny and achingly sad.

Review:

Sometimes a book comes into your life at the perfect moment and so beautifully captures something you’re feeling; an emotion you can’t even put into words. Holier Than Thou is that book. I’m still struggling to even comprehend why I loved it so much. Everything about it just felt so raw and relatable. Not everyone is going to have the same experience, but I know I couldn’t have picked a better time to read this.

Throughout Holier Than Thou past and present intertwine in the most beautiful way, providing explanation for Holly’s slowly eroding armour. As a teenager, Holly watched cancer consume her father. This experience would shape many of her future relationships, with a tough edge to her personality for protection. While I’ve never experience anything similar, I instantly connected with Holly and her reluctance to open up to new people. I’m fairly open, but only with those I trust and until that point, I can hear myself being abrasive with people and pushing them away. I think my  instinct to be cutting in sarcasm stems from my fear someone won’t like me, that I’ll be hurt.

The exploration of post-high school friendship was poignant and something I’m sure many could relate to. Those friendships you promise will last forever but sometimes just can’t necessarily last the distance. Stepping away from people who’ve shaped your life for so many years is in some ways terrifying, as is leaping into new friendships. Holier Than Thou characterised this struggle so beautifully. I also loved the parallels between Holly’s relationships with Liam and Nick.

Although I’ve tried my best, I really can’t fully explain my depth of feeling for Holier Than Thou. Real and raw, it’s a book I will be revisiting again and again.

Sounds like: Landslide || Fleetwood Mac and Heavy Load || Free

Blog Tour: Q&A with Randa Abdel-Fattah

randaAbdelFattah-682x1024-2Today I’m pleased to welcome Australian author Randa Abdel-Fattah to The Unfinished Bookshelf. I really enjoyed both Does My Head Look Big in This and her latest release When Michael Met Mina. Randa’s books explore contemporary political and religious issues with such thought and depth. I highly recommend checking out her work.

As a journalist, I am always pleased to see political issues I’m passionate about explored in the books I read. Why do you think it’s important for young adult fiction to explore issues like those covered in When Michael Met Mina?

Because racism isn’t something that we should confine to academic or media discussions. It is a lived experience, a fundamental part of many people’s everyday lives, something they negotiate and struggle against and I think it’s so important that young people have their stories validated and that those who are born into the privilege of whiteness understand that privilege and what it means for their life chances and experiences compared to racialised minorities.

Do you think political and social issues should be explored more in young adult fiction? 

Yes definitely. Political and social issues are the stuff of life including young adults’ lives. We shouldn’t underestimate young people or seek to ‘protect’ them from the realities of the world.

Michael grows a lot throughout the book and feels a lot of conflict about challenging the views of his parents. How important do you think it is for young adult books to explore growth and to show teens it’s possible to form your own views? 

I think everyone is capable of change and growth. But not everybody is capable or willing to change. I think it’s important to understand that change is hard, that there are structural forces bigger than ‘willpower’ that block people from having the courage to ask questions about who they are and what they believe. But racism can’t be dismantled unless people are confronted and provoked to think.

How much research went into When Michael Met Mina and how long did it take you to write? 

I based my book on my own fieldwork, my own work with refugees, stories from friends, and information from refugee advocates. It took about two years to write.

Has your writing or writing process changed at all with each book you’ve written? 

No doubt. I grow and learn with each book. My process hasn’t changed much but I think that my handling of issues like race is more nuanced, critical and complex now, reflecting changes in my own politics.

What do you hope readers take away from When Michael Met Mina

Never stop questioning and reflecting on what you have, who you are, and what you know and don’t know.

What books left their mark on you as a reader and a writer?

Too many to do justice to! Some books which had a profound impact on me as I wrote WMMM are White Nation (Ghassan Hage), Against Paranoid Nationalism (Ghassan Hage), The Politics of Emotion (Sara Ahmed), Black Skin White Masks (Fanon).

What projects are you currently working on? 

Rest. Haha. I just finished my Phd. And I wrote WMMM during my Phd. And I’m about to have a baby. So my project is ‘how not to work’, or ‘how to take time out’….(Although I am working on the film screenplay of Does My Head Look Big In This? which is due at the end of the year so maybe rest is not the right word after all…)

This Q&A is part of the When Michael Met Mina blog tour. 

Read my review of the book here and follow the other stops using #Michael4Mina.