The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 – Mind On Fire by Arnold Thomas Fanning

The Wellcome Book Prize is almost here and I’ve been lucky enough to work with the team on another fantastic book in the short list. I received a copy of Mind On Fire in exchange for this blog and my honest opinions.

I’ve really enjoyed working with the Wellcome Book Prize in the past because it has such a diverse long list, it really shows a broad scope of what it means to be human. Here’s a peak at the 2019 short list. Now, on with my thoughts.

Mind on Fire recounts Fanning’s own experience of mental illness, the good, the bad and the ugly. Through the pages of this novel you are transported to his side and at first it can be a little hard to understand – particularly as the book opens with a manic episode. I think that could throw some people off but I would say to work through it because it is a worthwhile read.

Fanning goes through a lot in these pages, from his initial breakdown, hospitalisations, homelessness, his travels and attempts to still be creative despite his mental illness. It is a difficult read, you want to reach through and help. You want to make a change so that people with a mental illness who are struggling.

This also shows what mental illness can do to the relationships of those around them. The breakdown of Fanning’s relationships with his father and sister were incredibly truthful – I can’t imagine this was an easy book to write.

I gave this book I 4 stars. An important an interesting read but I can appreciate that for some it could be quite hard to get into. This is incredibly raw and hits home what life with a mental illness can be like.

Thank you to the Wellcome Book Prize, the author and publisher for this opportunity.

Book Review: What Would The Spice Girls Do – Lauren Bravo

I’ll tell you what I want what I really, really want. This book, although I didn’t know what before I bought it, but that is why this review is here so you know from the off. Ok, maybe not my most eloquent intro but I was SO excited by this book.

If you were a 90’s kid you will know the Spice Girls were everything. Hit after hit, I idolised them and when I saw this book I knew I had to read it. I didn’t know quite how much I would enjoy it until I finished it on a trip to London and listened to all the songs as loud as my headphones would go (sorry fellow travellers but you needed to spice up your life.

A collection of personal memories, those of fellow Spice Girls fans and looking at the cultural history of five women who wouldn’t take no for an answer and how they changed our lives. Additionally, Bravo considers modern problems through their eyes and ask what would they do? Hello new motto for life!

This book is incredibly well written, of course it is fun but it’s also very informative. Bravo considers what the Spice Girls were up against for the time, how they broke boundaries and more. The were, an always should be considered groundbreaking in the music industry.

What I found really interesting though, and this might just be the marketing geek in me, was looking at their choices from a marketing perspective. Bravo pointed something out I hadn’t considered that they made the Spice Girls merch something everyone could enjoy. From Spice crisps to a Spice Cam no matter your budget you could enjoy it.

I was a Spice Girls collector, long after the split I was picking up everyone else’s memorabilia at car boot sales to add to my own…it now live at my Mum and Dads. This book brought back the joy I felt for my entire childhood. I was born in 1994, when I was 2 years old I bopped to Wannabe, at 3 I had my own Spice Girl oufits, I had to start school with bunches like Baby Spice. And then, the holy grail, my Mum got us tickets to see them live at Earls Court in December 1999 – minus Geri, although I made up for that in 2007.

I’ve been recommending this to anyone and everyone who I know is a Spice Girls fan, of course I gave it 5 stars. This is a small but mighty book and while I listened to the audiobook, I now need to get my own copy of the actual hardback and proudly display it on my shelves. If you loved the Spice Girls this is for you. Trust me, you won’t forget it.

And now I leave you with the Spice classic that started it all.

Book Review: Notes To Self – Emilie Pine

`The person who loves the addict exhausts and renews their love on a daily basis’ 

Within this short collection, Emilie bares her soul. Sharing with us, some of her most personal stories from growing up with an alcoholic parent to her miscarriage and more. That said, this isn’t a pity party, instead it radiates strength. While I had never heard of Emile before this, I felt like she was someone I could know.

One of the things I enjoyed the most while reading this is seeing Emilie grow up from a little girl who didn’t understand her parent’s separation, a wild teenager to an intelligent woman. It seems that there is nothing that Pine tries to hide from us, and that takes guts. We all change so much from being a child to a fully-grown adult and this collection definitely shares warts and all.

This is a collection that will make you think about your own life, the choices you have made and the reactions you have had. There is an unflinching honesty within Pine’s essays that isn’t seen often. In particular, when speaking about being unable to conceive, I was in awe of the way in which she shared her feelings. Infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth are all covered within these pages and these are the conversations that we often shy away from in society. The fact that Pine speaks about her experiences in such an honest way will no doubt make people feel less alone when they read this.

I gave this collection 5 stars. It only took a day for me to read through this and while there were times that I was on the verge of tears, it’s something that I feel needs to be read. This is definitely just the start of some wonderful work that we’ve going to see from Emilie Pine, and I for one can’t wait.

Thank you to the author, publisher and NetGalley for giving me a copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Dylan Thomas Prize: Eye Level by Jennie Xie

For this blog I’m pleased to be a part of the Dylan Thomas Blog Tour. Launched in 2006, the annual Swansea University International Dylan Thomas Prize is one of the most prestigious awards for young writers, aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide. It celebrates and nurtures international literary excellence.

The £30,000 Prize is awarded to the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under. For this I was offered the change to read Eye Level by Jennie Xie – which I received in exchange for this post.

I’ve never read any of Jennit Xie’s poetry, she’s a new to me poet and I was very impressed. This collection has hypnotising description, in which you can see the scene unfold in your mind. The collection is very much about the self, finding your place and who you are.

I’m not sure how old Xie was when she wrote this but I get the impression of someone in their early 20s and because of this, I deeply connected to some of the poetry. Such as the following line:

“Months of medium-rare insomnia.

Wine makes me confuse

elation with clarity, and so I traverse

the night market, my purse empty.’

It was also interesting to see the way in which Xie describes her travels, places I have been to myself and those I only have to imagine. Her description is rich in its detail but doesn’t spend too long focusing on one thing.

Ultimately this is a collection that will make you look at yourself and the world around you. I highly recommend this for anyone who’s working themselves out, which really I guess we all are. I gave this 4.5 stars and look forward to reading more of her work. I wish her the best of luck for the prize!

Book Review: All About Mia - Lisa Williamson

Book Review: All About Mia – Lisa Williamson

Mia is definitely the middle child and a bit of a trouble maker. She’s nothing like her perfect older sister Grace and that’s just fine with her. When Grace comes home and drops a bombshell, Mia waits to watch her get in trouble for once, but things don’t work out exactly how she thought they would…

I was a huge fan of Lisa Willamson’s first novel The Art of Being Normal and so picked up Mia. After reading I have been kicking myself for not reading it earlier! Once again she’s written a novel that I could not put down with a realistic plot.

Is Mia a wild child at times? Yes? Does she make mistakes? 100% but this makes her more realistic. She messes up a lot but I still found myself rooting for her the whole way through. We all made mistakes as teenagers, anyone who says they didn’t is lying!

While Mia may not always appear to be an entirely likeable character, you understand her. She is trying to figure herself out and feels in her older sister’s shadow. I could relate to her, your teenage years are confusing enough without surprise family twists!

Speaking of family, that was truly one of my favourite parts of this novel. Mia has two families, her biological family who seemed very real to me and her friends. Both of which are equally important to her and she has to learn the hard way how to open herself up to both.

It’s no surprise that I gave this 4.5 stars. I flew through this and while I worked out within a few pages what the twist would be, I still really enjoyed it. At its core this is a novel about family and finding your own space within it, I absolutely loved Mia and was thinking about her for days after!

Book Review: Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey – Ziauddin Yousafzai

After Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban as a teenager, the world has watched as she has continued to stand up for the right to girls education. By her side has been her father, Ziauddin and now, it is time to tell his story and the fight for equality he has been working on for more than 20 years.

Malala has made no secret of the love and admiration she holds for her father and in this book it is clear to see that the love goes both ways. There were points where I felt that it was so focused on Malala, I wondered about her younger brothers. This is rectified in the book as Ziauddin talks about his sons and, equally, the struggles he has had parenting two boys in a world so different to his own.

One of the things I loved most, was the dedication to his wife. This felt so pure and wonderful that he truly believes that she is his equal and his love. It was important to see that this was so deep routed in wanting equality for his family from within his home, before extending it to the wider world.

I gave this 4 stars, I really enjoyed reading more about Ziauddin, his life and beliefs. The fact that this looked at him as a whole person, rather than just as Malala’s father. This is an intriguing look at what is an extraordinary man.

A huge thank you to Netgalley, the publisher and author for this copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: The Year I Didn’t Eat – Samuel Pollen

14-year-old Max has a fight on his hands. Living with Anorexia is tough enough without having to be at school and trying to keep it secret from your closest friends. As Max writes to ‘Ana’ and tries to navigate his illness he has to deal with the new girl at school who won’t stop staring, family drama and seeing his therapist. Can he beat this?

I was asked if I would like to receive a copy of this novel and I was immediately intrigued. There are very few stories of teenage boys going through an eating disorder, so of course, I wanted to read, I’m incredibly glad I did.

Starting and ending on Christmas day, the novel chronicles a year in Max’s life, alongside writing a diary to his disorder – aptly named Ana. This was a particular highlight for me, the writing was emotional but not sad – I actually laughed a fair bit reading this. Pollen isn’t trying to make Max a sympathy figure. The combination of the diary entries and showing some of the obsessive thoughts was incredibly well done –  I could see similarities between Max’s and my own thoughts from our respective mental illnesses.

It is mentioned a few times within the novel the disconnect that Max feels from what is stereotypically viewed as what a with Anorexia looks like – a teenage girl. By confronting this head-on, Pollen shows insight into something incredibly important – anyone can get a mental illness. The fact that Max is a teenage boy, known for being quite geeky with a loving family and great friends and still has these problems reinforces that.

This shows a new level of representation that is rarely seen, in fact, I don’t believe I have ever read a novel featuring a guy with an eating disorder – which is absurd! I’m hopeful that this will start more conversations. The fact that Pollen has drawn on his own experiences makes this even more realistic.

The novel shows not only the impact that eating disorders have on the person with the illness but also the pressure it can put on families. We meet Max’s family and often feel for them as much as him. That said, despite the hardships faced, Max’s relationship with his older brother Robin was probably my favourite part. They truly seem to care for each other and Robin’s encouragement of Geocaching really seems to be a turning point.

Of course, this is a tough read and it does give descriptions of disordered eating and calories – if these are tough for you to read it might be worth picking this up at a later point.

Is it any surprise that I gave this 5 stars?  This is a novel that needed to be written. Showing that eating disorders can affect anyone and that, by talking about it, we have more of a chance of helping those going through it. I absolutely adored this novel – it will truly make its mark. I truly feel that this will make people feel less alone.

Thank you to the author, publisher and Conker communications for the chance to read this in exchange for an open and honest review.