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Mini Reviews, Bookish Photos and my TBR pile.

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I’ve been so busy recently with editing my manuscript, gathering promotional ideas, etc, that I have neglected my much-loved book reviewing. So, to remedy this a little I’m doing a few mini reviews:

Starting off with….

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More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Goodreads Synopsis: 

In his twisty, gritty, profoundly moving debut—called “mandatory reading” by the New York Times—Adam Silvera brings to life a charged, dangerous near-future summer in the Bronx.

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

My review: 4.5 stars. This debut novel surprised me. I started off not being too sure about it and then loved it! Sometimes I’m like that, I can be a bit slow on the uptake! I need a little convincing and then kapow – it hits me full force. Great idea, fantastic characters, particularly the main protagonist Aaron Soto, thought provoking questions about his emerging sexuality, and interesting setting – the Bronx. Have added to my favourites list. Read? Yes, yes, yes.. !!!

A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

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Goodreads Synopsis:

In the tradition of Nick Hornby and David Nicholls comes a warm and tender novel in which a father and his autistic son connect over the game of Minecraft.

Alex loves his family, and yet he struggles to connect with his eight-year-old autistic son, Sam. The strain has pushed his marriage to the breaking point. So Alex moves in with his merrily irresponsible best friend on the world’s most uncomfortable blow-up bed.

As Alex navigates single life, long-buried family secrets, and part-time fatherhood, his son begins playing Minecraft. Sam’s imagination blossoms and the game opens up a whole new world for father and son to share. Together, they discover that sometimes life must fall apart before you can build a better one.

Inspired by the author’s own relationship with his autistic son, A Boy Made of Blocks is a tear-jerking, funny, and, most, of all true-to-life novel about the power of difference and one very special little boy.

My review: 4 stars. I discovered this book via my good blogging friend Annika Perry. She had written a detailed review and it piqued my interest: https://annikaperry.com/2016/07/15/a-boy-made-of-blocks-a-book-review/.

Annika enjoyed this novel but didn’t love it, and I enjoyed it too but it didn’t quite make my favourite list either. Author Keith Stuart used his own experiences with his son to write A Boy Made Of Books, and reveals the complexities of coping with day to day activities with a child on the autistic spectrum. Even going to the park can become a major worry particularly if you meet a dog who might set off your child’s anxieties. In my experience, I found it to be well written throughout but the latter part of the novel was more emotionally engaging. Read? Yes, particularly if you are interested in novels about autism, and family/son relationships.

Simon Vs. The Homosapiens Agenda

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

My review: 4 stars. This deserves all the hype. It is an entertaining, sweet read, a must read YA novel… grab a copy! Read? Yes, most definitely Read!!!

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Yvonne Carmichael sits in the witness box. The charge is murder. Before all of this, she was happily married, a successful scientist, a mother of two. Now she’s a suspect, squirming under fluorescent lights and the penetrating gaze of the alleged accomplice who’s sitting across from her, watching: a man who’s also her lover. As Yvonne faces hostile questioning, she must piece together the story of her affair with this unnamed figure who has charmed and haunted her. This is a tale of sexual intrigue, ruthless urges, and danger, which has blindsided her from a seemingly innocuous angle. Here in the courtroom, everything hinges on one night in a dark alley called Apple Tree Yard.

My review: 4.5 stars. Really enjoyed this a lot.  I grabbed it off my mum’s bookshelf in Edinburgh… I’m always pinching books… beware! A fascinating tale of how the most unlikely of women could end up having such a wild and crazy affair, (I kid you not!) leading to such dire consequences.  Highly recommended. Read?  Yes, Read!!!

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are spending the Christmas hols in snowy Cambridge. Hazel has high hopes of its beautiful spires, cosy libraries and inviting tea-rooms – but there is danger lurking in the dark stairwells of ancient Maudlin College.

Two days before Christmas, there is a terrible accident. At least, it appears to be an accident – until the Detective Society look a little closer, and realise a murder has taken place. Faced with several irritating grown-ups and fierce competition from a rival agency, they must use all their cunning and courage to find the killer (in time for Christmas Day, of course).

The fabulously festive fifth mystery from the bestselling, award-winning author of Murder Most Unladylike.

My review: 4 stars. A very fun murder mystery set at Christmas in the colleges of Cambridge. Particularly enjoyed reading this as I live in Cambridge and it was nice to recognise some of the familiar settings. Read: Yes, particularly if you like an easy, entertaining, enjoyable read.

Following on from this I am currently reading Lucy Brazier’s Porter Girl so more about soon…

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And after that I have various beauties on my TBR pile including The Words In My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd, (Costa book awards shortlisted author,) who I met in person at a recent inspiring event held by Cambridge Writers.

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Bye for now,

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Twitter: @marjorie_mallon
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My Kyrosmagica Review of I’ll Give You The Sun

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

My review:

One of the best YA books I’ve read.

Fantastic characters, dialogue that sizzles with life. Ghosts that break things to try to communicate. Highly original.  I can’t recommend it enough for lovers of YA, and for authors who write YA, this is a must read.  Practically as near perfect as you can get, incorporating a wonderful mix of art, sculpting, twin sibling, and family relationships, teen experiences, coming out, love, secrets, and the sheer destructiveness of infidelity, in a powerful and emotional mix. The book is told via the alternating viewpoints of twins Noah and Jude who have been devastated by the death of their mother. Noah is struggling with coming out and coming to terms with his sexuality. Jude feels a responsibility to protect her younger brother but there is also jealousy, sibling twin rivalry… A sense that their grief for their mother’s death isn’t fairly shared.

The writing style is unusual, witty, and pretty much brilliant. A total favourite!!

Loved this so much. I hung on each and every word as if I wanted to drill the writing style of the author Jandy Nelson into my inadequate brain. As I couldn’t do this without injuring myself I filled the novel full of yellow post it notes highlighting all the quotes that I adored. There were masses of post it notes, and still are – haven’t taken them out yet!

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I loved its quirky little commentaries such as:

‘Every picture taken of you reduces your spirit and shortens your life.’

Eek… Oops perhaps no more selfies!!!!!

An abundance of facial hair indicates a man of an ungovernable nature.

(No question.)

Watch out for those hairy dudes guys!!

When twins are separated, their spirits steal away to find the other.

And quotes like this :

Her whole face is sparkling, especially the emerald-green wings around her icy blue eyes. Her pupils are huge black caves where bats live.

Oh, my lord isn’t that just the best…

And the character description  of Guillermo the Sculptor is so amazing and humorous:

He’s a skyscraper, impossibly imposing with his arms crossed now against his chest in a battle stance, studying me like I’m a new life form. Which really is pot meet kettle, because, wow, up close he looks like he just emerged from a pit of quicksand – a total swamp thing.

And the dialogue :

‘I lost the stars and the oceans too,’ I tell him.

‘This is terrible,’ he says his eyes widening inside the clay mask of his face. ‘You are a terrible negotiator. You need a lawyer next time. ‘ There’s amusement in his voice.

I smile at his. ‘ I got to keep the flowers.’

‘Thank God,’ he says.

And this!!! Poor Jude is battling with her boy strike!

Jude thinking about Oscar the Girl-Exhaler….  He’s looking at me in that way of his that should be illegal or patented, and it’s affecting my ability to remember things like my name and species and all the reasons a girl might go on a boy strike.

And loss and sadness:

I find her and find her and find her but I can’t find her.

Noah once told me he could hear horses galloping inside her. I got it.

There are so many quotes I could go on and on… but I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

Just get a copy.

My rating: 5 stars – of course.

See how many awards this book has won via  Jandy Nelson’s Authors Website: Jandy Nelson

Have you read I’ll Give You The Sun? Do leave a comment and let me know.

This is my blog post for #SundayBlogShare via Suzie at Suzie Speaks:  How To Increase Your Twitter Traffic With #SundayBlogShare

Bye for now,

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

My fun (totally not serious but nevertheless 90% true,) author bio on Wattpad – Link below.

Marjorie Mallon was born in Lion City: Singapore. She grew up in a mountainous court in Hong Kong. Her crazy parents dragged her  spotty soul away from her exotic childhood and her much loved dog Topsy to the frozen wastelands of Scotland. There she mastered Scottish country dancing, haggis bashing, bagpipe playing and a whole new Och Aye lingo. 
As a teenager she travelled to many far flung destinations to visit her abacus wielding wayfarer dad. On one such occasion a  barracuda swam by. It stopped to view her  bikini clad body, longing to take a big bite. With dogs' fangs replacing barracudas' teeth, she returned to her mother's birthplace: Kuching, Cat City. There, Blackie, a black-hearted dog sniffed her frightened butt, whimpered and ran away! Shortly after this extraordinary event an angry female Orang-Utan chased her unfit ass out of the Malaysian jungle believing that she was a threat to her babies! She still monkeys about, would love to own a cat, or a replacement Topsy but refuses to entertain  murderous dogs, or over-protective monkeys.
It's rumoured that she lives in the Venice of Cambridge, with her six foot hunk of a Rock God husband, and her two enchanted daughters. 
After such an upbringing her author's mind has taken total leave of its senses. When she's not writing, she eats exotic delicacies while belly dancing, or surfs to the far reaches of the moon. To chill out she practises Tai Chi and Yoga on the crest of a wave. If the mood takes her she goes snorkelling with mermaids, or signs up for idyllic holidays with the Chinese Unicorn, whose magnificent voice sings like a thousand wind chimes. 

She is a child of the light and the dark. Her motto is simply this: Do what you love,  stay true to your heart's desires, remain young at heart, and  inspire others to do so, even if it appears that the odds are stacked like black hearted shadows against you...

 

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My Kyrosmagica Review of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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Goodreads Synopsis:

A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly re-imagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, Miller’s debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction’s brightest lights. Fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes.  

Awards:

Orange Prize for Fiction (2012), Gaylactic Spectrum Award for Best Novel (2013), Chautauqua Prize Nominee (2013)

My review:

I loved The Song of Achilles, which didn’t surprise me because I love Greek mythology and I adore a well crafted love story.  In fact I enjoyed reading it so much that my copy was stuffed choc a block full of my tiny post it notes. I use a system of post-its to mark passages that I want to return to later, maybe to quote, or in this case just to re-read. So when this happens it is a sure sign that the novel I am reading is a 4 star or a 5 star read.

It is astonishing to me that The Song of Achilles is Madeline Miller’s debut novel. Miller writes with such effortless style, she grabs the reader by the you know whats and mades you purr. Given her background, maybe this is what I should have expected, she has a BA and MA from Brown University in Classics and is an accomplished student from the Yale School of Drama, specialising in adapting classical tales for a modern audience.

One of the novel’s great strengths is its ability to make Greek legends accessible to all readers even those with little or no knowledge of classical history.  Miller chooses Patroclus  as a first person narrator rather than the more obvious choice: Achilles, giving the story a powerful human touch. The reader is so blinded by Patroclus’s love for Achilles, that he or she is unable to see Achilles faults, right up until the end.

This tale of love and betrayal is set against the backdrop of the agonisingly long Trojan War. The developing love story between Patroclus and Achilles is crafted wonderfully, you sense the gentle tread of their initial attraction, from their first kiss when Patroclus calls upon the gods:

Dear gods, I think, let him not hate me. I should have known better than to call upon the gods.”

Followed by the full on progression to them becoming lovers. The sexual act between the two is not graphically described, and in my opinion it is better that way.  In so doing Madeline Miller ensures that this is a sensual delight, rather than blatant titillation. Some might argue that she is treading sensitively with this portrayal but anything else would have in my opinion jarred with her style of writing.

Achilles must avoid killing Hector, Patroclus sums up the dreadful prophecy with these words:

“And Hector must live, always, he must never die, not even when he is old, not even when he is so withered that his bones slide beneath his skin like loose rocks in a stream.”

Madeline Miller attributes Achilles with God-like characteristics, his beauty is without question, yet it is his  lack of awareness that makes him all the more appealing to the reader and to Patroclus:

“Perhaps most remarkable was his un-self-consciousness. He did not preen or pout as other handsome children did. Indeed he seemed utterly unaware of his effect on the boys around him.”

Achilles has a tender side to him, it appears that his human side is stronger than his goddess mother Thesis would like, after witnessing the sacrificial death of a young woman he is distressed:

“I was close enough. I could have saved her.”

When Patrolus watches him sleeping he reflects : “His face is innocent, sleep-smoothed and sweetly boyish. I love to see it. This is his truest self, earnest and guileless, full of mischief, but without malice. He is lost in Agamemnon and Odysseus’ wily double meanings, their lies and games of power.”

Miller engages the reader’s interest by showing Achille’s human side, his ability to love another human being. She demonstrates that being the son of a Goddess  isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, what with all the prophecies, and the potential crises of angering the Gods.

It is clear that Achilles could have had any young man, so why indeed did he choose gawky Patroclus to be his lover? Achilles is so near perfect as it is possible to be, so why would he want a mirror image of himself?Patroclus cannot compare in looks, or courage, or ability to Achilles, but I think the answer lies in Patroclus’s human characteristics. Patroclus is kind, and caring. It is Patroclus’s human weaknesses that attract Achilles. Patroclus is flawed. In the beginning, young Patrolus is exiled to the kingdom of Phthia because he killed a boy.

“In exchange for my weight in gold, they would rear me to manhood.”

There, his is fostered by King Peleus, who happens to be the father of Achilles, a youth the same age as Patroclus.  Patroclus could have pretended that the boy’s death was an accident, yet he did not.

If I had lied, I would still be a prince. It was not murder that had exiled me, it was my lack of cunning.”

He cares deeply for the welfare of others, and ends up attending to the battlefield victims. He feels such pity for Deidameia, the mother of Achille’s son:

“She did not know that I almost asked him, to be a little kinder to her.”

Patroclus is especially fond of Breisis, Achille’s war prize, claimed under Patroclus’s influence to save and protect her from the lecherous clutches of Agamemnon.  In fact it is clear that Patroclus loves Breisis, albeit in a platonic way. Breisis pays a very pivotal part in the story and Agamemnon’s actions towards her in the latter part of the book have dire consequences.

The character of Thesis, Achille’s sea goddess mother scares the pants off of Patroclus and no wonder:

“She leaned closer still, looming over me. Her mouth was a gash of red, like the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular. Behind it her teeth shone sharp and white as bone.”

Patroclus and Achilles spend some time in an idyll with the centaur Chinon, before they have to grow up, become men and fight in what seems like a never ending war:

“There was something in Chiron’s face, firm and calm and imbued with authority, that made us children again, with no world beyond this moment’s play and this night’s dinner.”

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***** Spoiler Alert Below in Italics******

The tender aspect of Patroclus’s character leads to the story’s final tragic outcome, he wishes to protect Achille’s reputation. Breisis is taken forcibly by Agamemnon. Patroclus wishes to protect her from Agamemnon’s carnal desires, Achille’s resents Patroclus’s caring so much for Breisis, but more than anything he resents Agamemnon’s actions, the insult to his honour, he has become vain. Can a God be conflicted? Can a God feel pain and jealousy? In the end it is Patroclus who leaves in Achille’s armour, adopting his persona, promising that he will not fight. In donning Achille’s armour he becomes a God-like warrior for a brief moment of exquisite triumph, but ultimately he can’t sustain this as he is not Achilles, he is a human, not a God. When he realises what impact his well meaning actions will have upon Achilles he knows that he has made yet another terrible decision. This time the outcome will be tragic for all those he loves, his first thought is Achilles, but by the time he realises this, it is too late.

 

Highly recommended for Fantasy, Historical, Mythology, Romance, GLBT, and War readers.

Well, it’s got to be a definite 5 stars, and it’s most certainly one to grace my favourites shelf.

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Authors Website: http://www.madelinemiller.com/

Excellent interview with Madeline Miller: http://blog.booktopia.com.au/2011/07/20/madeline-miller-author-of-the-song-of-achilles-answers-ten-terrifying-questions/#comment-187225

Have you read The Song of Achilles? Do leave a comment below I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

 

My Kyrosmagica Review of The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

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Goodreads synopsis:

Two boys. Two secrets.

David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl.

On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year eleven is definitely not part of that plan.

When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long…

Cambridge Literary Festival

I am so pleased that I decided to go to hear Lisa Williamson at the Cambridge Literary Festival talking about The Art of Being Normal. If I hadn’t maybe I would not have discovered her book and that would have been a terrible shame. It was a fascinating talk, and I met her briefly afterwards at her book signing. More details of this are on this blog under the heading Author Interviews and Talks, April 19th, 2015, so do please take a look.

My review:

This is without any doubt one of my favourite books. It made me cry, it made me smile, it made me laugh, it made me frown, it made me want to punch Harry the school bully when he calls David “freak show.” Thank goodness Lisa Williamson gave David the guts to demonstrate that he isn’t a complete pushover. He retaliates calling Harry’s girlfriend “Bubble Brain.” Way to go!

A veritable rainbow of emotions flickered through me as I read The Art of Being Normal. I love the main characters in the book, David and Leo. All the subsidiary characters are exceptionally well crafted and believable too.

Lisa Williamson does an amazing job of creating a sense of the warmth and cosiness in David’s family life which is then artfully contrasted with Leo’s “dilapidated” council estate, in Cloverdale. The two boys develop an unlikely, and in Leo’s sense unwilling relationship. At first Leo is reluctant to get involved with anyone, this is his way of coping, his self-protection mechanism. We learn that he has been expelled from Cloverdale school. When Leo’s sister mentions the word “normal” he goes into an internal verbal tirade. Here’s some short quotes from the tirade:  “I’ve spent my whole life being told I’m the complete opposite of ‘normal’. “Normal. I say it over and over again as I pace up and down…”

Cloverdale has such a “hard” reputation that all the kids at his new “posh” school Eden Park think he is a tough nut. But this is just a veneer, Leo has a secret, and so has David, and ultimately this is what will draw the two of them together.

The secrets in Eden Park School, and in the lives of these two families are poised on a precarious precipice edge, waiting  for that moment when they cannot be contained any more and have to be released into the world. Of course when David reveals his true self, the effect is potent, painful, irreversible and life changing.

This is without doubt a remarkable debut from Lisa Williamson. As soon as I started reading The art of Being Normal I was struck by the voice of the novel. The reader becomes immersed in Lisa’s words because I do believe that Lisa really cares about Transgender kids and this empathy shines out in her writing. When I reached the halfway mark I wondered if the novel had more to give, would it progress at the same pace or would it turn up a notch or two? Well I wasn’t disappointed, the narrative cranked up and the revelations, particularly David’s, were such tear jerkers.   Yes I was crying like a baby! His family’s response was just so heart-warming, you just have to read this book! Leo’s family life had an unexpected revelation about his mother too that I just didn’t see coming. David’s best friends Essie and Felix, are such a cute couple and I love how they do everything they can to make David feel special.

The art of being normal  tackles so many issues that are not just solely relatable to the experience of Transgender kids, bullying, friendship, family, life’s difficulties growing up, and life’s hard knocks, these are all there for everyone to relate to.

The writing is so spot on, the dialogue is so natural, the settings are interesting and novel. I particularly enjoyed how Lisa Williamson set some of the scenes of the book in a disused swimming pool, culminating “in the very first Alternative Eden Park Christmas Ball,” the liberating but heart-breaking trip to Tripton-on-Sea,  the wonderful time in Tripton’s bingo hall and pub these were just some of the many highlights for me.

My rating:

A 5 star read. Highly recommended for readers of Young Adult, Contemporary, and Glbt.

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Favourite quote:

“Besides,” Dad says, “who wants to be normal anyway? Fancy that on your gravestone. ” Here lies so-and-so. They were entirely normal.”

I smile. But I can tell he’s putting on a brave face with all the fake jolliness. It reminds me of when his mum died and he was all lively and together at the wake, making jokes and filling up everyone’s drinks, and later I overheard him crying alone in the bathroom.”

Have you read The Art of Being Normal? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.

Bye for now,

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Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx

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