Book Review: Boy Queen by George Lester

Life’s a drag until you try . . .

Robin Cooper’s life is falling apart.

While his friends prepare to head off to University, Robin is looking at a pile of rejection letters from drama schools up and down the country, and facing a future without the people he loves the most. Everything seems like it’s ending, and Robin is scrabbling to find his feet.

Unsure about what to do next and whether he has the talent to follow his dreams, he and his best friends go and drown their sorrows at a local drag show, where Robin realizes there might be a different, more sequinned path for him . . .

With a mother who won’t stop talking, a boyfriend who won’t acknowledge him and a best friend who is dying to cover him in glitter make up, there’s only one thing for Robin to do: bring it to the runway.

What I Thought:

I’m a newcomer to drag, having only so far watched the UK season of Ru Paul’s Drag Race (which Divina de Campo should’ve won btw), but I am absolutely here for this lovely little book about how to pick yourself up when your dreams are crushed. I’m also now slightly concerned that I am using phrases that are too young for me and that I sound like a grandma – but that’s a conversation for another day…

Boy Queen is George Lester’s first novel and, while I can’t claim to know George, I know OF him from my visits to YALC and so was excited to read this book, and I loved it!

Sadly for me, I’m now in the age bracket of the mum in this book, but I continue to be impressed at the confidence with which YA authors address difficult subjects, and reach out to let readers know that they are not alone in dealing with the difficult things in their lives. When I was in the YA age bracket, we only had Judy Blume to turn to, and there was nothing in her books to indicate that it was ok for a young, gay man to do drag!

I feel like as I get older, what I want from my books is good things happening to good people and in this book that is certainly the case. Robin goes through the wringer as his last hope of a stage school place is dashed and he does, at times descend into the selfish, but he has a brilliant group of friends around him to call him out on his behaviour and a protective, yet supportive mum to lead the cheering section.

Although parts of Robin’s story are not all sweetness and light, his progression from his darkest times to the triumphant finale of the book is just the type of life-affirming stuff we need to all be reading right now.

Having finished this book at a rate of knots, I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Boy Queen is published by Macmillan Children’s Books and is due for publication on 6th August. You can preorder from Amazon, or from your favourite retailer.

To find out more about George Lester, you can check out Twitter, or Instagram

PS – don’t forget to preorder!

Please note: I received this book for review via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Book Review: The Near Witch by V. E. Schwab

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.

These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true. The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

What I Thought:

I’m relatively new to V. E. Schwab’s writing, having only so far read three or four of her books. Lucky for me, there is plenty to catch up on, as she has an impressive catalogue of books to choose from. The Near Witch is an interesting one to read as, although this edition is a new release, it’s actually V. E. Schwab’s first book, re-packaged by Titan Books.

I love it when books get a second wind (as it were) and given the fanbase that V. E. Schwab has now built, this spooky little book now has the audience it deserves. I was lucky enough to see V. E. Schwab speak at YALC 2019, and asked her if she was tempted to edit The Near Witch, or change the text in any way. She explained that the book that was released last year is exactly the same on the inside as the book that was released originally. I thought this was really interesting, as I feel like I would be tempted to go back and re-assess my work – but I guess each book is a product of the time it was written and we would all be tempted to re-edit and re-work things in the past, I’m sure!

The book put me in mind of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, as the history of the witch and the people of Near was revealed, but I’m struggling to find words to describe it, as I’m not sure I’ve read anything like it before – despite reading works from the same author!

Lexi, the main character, is fantastically written, and comes across so well as a girl who knows her own mind, and is determined to get to the bottom of the disappearance of children in Near, despite strong voices dismissing her. She’s a great character for young girls to read – though perhaps with guidance!

The appearance of the mysterious boy rocks Lexi’s life, but can they work together to save the children? The boy has some of his back story explained in this edition of the book, as the short story, The Ash Born Boy is included here…

Once again, I’m happy to recommend a book by V. E. Schwab – it’s great to read her early work, especially with her next book, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue expected later this year…

The Near Witch is published by Titan Books.

To find out more about V. E. Schwab, you can check out her website. Or why not connect with her on Twitter?

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book to review, but all opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Read With Me 2020 #16

I’m taking part in a new linky this week – hosted by Chantelle at Mama Mummy Mum, welcome to Read with Me!

I’ve not got a new review to share this week, so I thought I’d just let you know what I’m reading at the moment. Due to the current global situation, I thought I’d be happily reading like there’s no tomorrow, but I find I’m struggling a bit to focus and, given that we’re now all home schooling, I find I still don’t really have any more time than I did before!

The first book I’m currently reading is What If? by Randall Munroe. I started out reading this book to my now 12-year-old last year but – sadly – he’s decided that he doesn’t really want to be read to anymore, so I’m finishing it off myself! It’s actually really funny and, although some of the science does baffle a non-scientist like me, all of the strange questions are answered comprehensively.

Today I started a book I’m really excited about, so I hope it will boost my reading mojo – it’s Boy Queen by George Lester. Due to be released in August, this is George’s debut novel and tells the story of Robin, who finds new purpose in his life through Drag. I’ll be reviewing this, as it’s a Netgalley copy so hopefully I can have that done by this time next week!

And finally, I’m also reading Bossypants by Tina Fey. I love Tina’s comedy, so I’m hoping that this autobiography will make me giggle… I’m ashamed to say that I’ve had this book for an absolute age and am only just getting to it…

That’s it for now, but I hope to be able to post regularly on this linky, and that it’ll help me keep on top of all the reviews I owe people, especially those from Netgalley – I’m really trying to get my percentage up a bit, as it’s currently only at 55%.

Read With Me
Read with Me, hosted by Mama Mummy Mum
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Book Review: The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

To achieve the incredible, she must attempt the impossible

All her life, Alice has been haunted by visions of birds. But when the mysterious Crowley appears at Alice’s door, he reveals she’s been seeing nightjars – the miraculous birds which guard our souls. And a shadowy faction wants to use her rare gift to hunt the magically gifted.

Forced to go on the run, Alice follows Crowley to an incredible alternate London, to hone her talents. But can she trust him? Alice must risk everything as she navigates a dangerous world of magic, marvels and death cults.

What I Thought:

Although it’s taken me ages to write up my review of The Nightjar, I actually read the book last year and I think I’d have to say it was one of my books of the year.

After going on and on about my dodgy relationship with Fantasy novels, it turns out that what could probably be classed as Urban Fantasy really appeals to me – in essence, books with a fantasy theme, but with some connection to the real world, or an approximation of it.

This book exactly fits that bill, as we meet Alice in contemporary London just as Crowley turns up on her doorstep wanting to show her an alternate London, and that the visions of birds she’s had all her life are real. Alice really has it tough in this book! She goes through situations that require huge strength of character, and she deals with the revelations about her and the trouble that comes with them in a level-headed way. I really liked her as a main character.

The premise is original and weaves into the story well, while the world in the alternate London, and the mythology surrounding it, are described really well – no worries about getting lost in it all as there are even family trees!

There’s a really soft spot in me for good book boyfriends, and Crowley is an excellent book boyfriend – brooding, but loyal and with hidden depths – just perfect, and I look forward to reading more about him in the second book in the series, which is due to be out next year.

The Nightjar is published by Pan.

To find out more about Deborah Hewitt and her work, you can check out her website. Alternatively, you can connect with her on Twitter.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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Blog Tour: Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

On a summer’s day in 1596, a young girl in Stratford-upon-Avon takes to her bed with a fever. Her twin brother, Hamnet, searches everywhere for help. Why is nobody at home?

Their mother, Agnes, is over a mile away, in the garden where she grows medicinal herbs. Their father is working in London. Neither parent knows that one of the children will not survive the week.

Hamnet is a novel inspired by the son of a famous playwright. It is a story of the bond between twins, and of a marriage pushed to the brink by grief. It is also the story of a kestrel and its mistress; a flea that boards a ship in Alexandria; and a glovemaker’s son who flouts convention in pursuit of the woman he loves. Above all, it is a tender and unforgettable reimagining of a boy whose life has been all but forgotten, but whose name was given to one of the most celebrated plays ever written.

What I Thought:

Ordinarily, I would post a reasonable-length review, having considered a book for a few days and my response to it. I’ll try and make insightful comments to persuade you that this is a book that you really must be reading.

But with Hamnet, I’ll simply say you MUST read this book.

As with all of us, my knowledge of Hamnet Shakespeare could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but Maggie O’Farrell brings him to life vividly and so beautifully, and the impact of his life and death on his family is portrayed incredibly well.

I’ve struggled through Shakespeare plays, both in school and having gone to see them, and have not really ever seen the man behind the curtain. This book turns a man whose genius we are all supposed to admire without question into a human, with all the good, bad and ugly that that entails. I know, I know, this book is a work of fiction, but there are many tiny details that we know to be true woven through Maggie O’Farrell’s imagination, and it rings so very true. There’s even an explanation for the famous story of Shakespeare leaving his wife, Anne Hathaway, his second best bed!

And Anne Hathaway herself (in this book called Agnes – commonly interchanged with Anne in the period) is brought out of her husband’s shadow and her influence on his life is completely reframed. Here, she is not the older woman who trapped a free spirit into marriage, but a free spirit in her own right, with her own interests and beliefs.

I have a thorny relationship with what one might call ‘literary fiction’, I often find flowery language interferes with my enjoyment of the plot, but I think this is the first book I’ve read in a long time that is breathtakingly beautiful (both in design and in content) and never allows language to overwhelm the story. Not having read Maggie O’Farrell before, I’d no idea what vivid mind paintings she was able to conjure with her writing, but a description of something as simple as a flower being blown in a breeze is just beautiful.

I adored this book and feel so fortunate to have read it slightly in advance of everyone else. I would urge you to buy it, read it and share it!

Hamnet is published by Tinder Press.

You can find out more about Maggie O’Farrell and her work on her website. Be sure to keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter too, as there are lots of things going on around the launch of Hamnet online, in light of the Covid-19 crisis…

This post is part of the blog tour to celebrate the launch of Hamnet – check out some of the other fantastic blogs below for more exclusive content and reviews.

Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are, as ever, my own.

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