Title: The Nickel Boys

Author: Colson Whitehead

Pages: 213 Pages

Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group

The Blurb

Author of The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead, brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in 1960s Florida.

Elwood Curtis has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart: he is as good as anyone. Abandoned by his parents, brought up by his loving, strict and clear-sighted grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future, and so Elwood arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide ‘physical, intellectual and moral training’ which will equip its inmates to become ‘honorable and honest men’.

In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors, where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife, where corrupt officials and tradesmen do a brisk trade in supplies intended for the school, and where any boy who resists is likely to disappear ‘out back’. Stunned to find himself in this vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King’s ringing assertion, ‘Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.’ But Elwood’s fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood is naive and worse; the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors.

The tension between Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision which will have decades-long repercussions.

Based on the history of a real reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped and destroyed the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative by a great American novelist whose work is essential to understanding the current reality of the United States.

The Review

I was so dubious going into The Nickel Boys. Colson Whitehead is so revered as a writer I felt like I could only be disappointed by the hype. I was wrong.

The Nickel Boys tells the story of a real reform school in America and the harsh treatment that the inmates received. It follows inmate Elwood Curtis, a young man who was wrongly imprisoned and how this imprisonment was racially motivated.

It is hard to talk about the story without giving too much away but I will say that it is a great pay off novel.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is available now.

For more information regarding Colson Whitehead (@colsonwhitehead) please visit www.colsonwhitehead.com.

For more information regarding Little, Brown Book Group (@LittleBrownUK) please visit www.littlebrown.co.uk.

I'm with the bandTitle: I’m Not With the Band (A Writer’s Life Lost in Music)

Author: Sylvia Patterson

Pages: 448 Pages

Publisher: Little Brown Book Group

The Blurb

This is a three-decade survivor’s tale … a scenic search for elusive human happiness through music, magazines, silly jokes, stupid shoes, useless blokes, hopeless homes, booze, drugs, love, loss, A&E, death, disillusion and hope – while trying to make Prince laugh, startle Beyoncé, cheer Eminem up, annoy Madonna, drink with Shaun Ryder and finish off Westlife forever (with varying degrees of success).

In 1986, Sylvia Patterson boarded a train to London armed with a tea-chest full of vinyl records, a peroxide quiff and a dream: to write about music, forever. She got her wish.

Escaping a troubled home, Sylvia embarks on a lifelong quest to discover The Meaning of It All. The problem is she’s mostly hanging out with flaky pop stars, rock ‘n’ roll heroes and unreliable hip-hop legends. As she encounters music’s biggest names, she is confronted by glamour and tragedy; wisdom and lunacy; drink, drugs and disaster. And Bros.

Here is Madonna in her Earth Mother phase, flinging her hands up in horror at one of Sylv’s Very Stupid Questions. Prince compliments her shoes while Eminem threatens to kill her. She shares fruit with Johnny Cash, make-up with Amy Winehouse and several pints with the Manics’ lost soul-man Richey Edwards. She finds the Beckhams fragrant in LA, a Gallagher madferrit in her living room and Shaun Ryder and Bez as you’d expect, in Jamaica.

From the 80s to the present day, I’m Not with the Band is a funny, barmy, utterly gripping chronicle of the last thirty years in music and beyond. It is also the story of one woman’s wayward search for love, peace and a wonderful life. And whether, or not, she found them.

The Review

As a one-time music reviewer, I was keen to read Sylvia Patterson’s book I’m Not With the Band – A Writer’s Life Lost in Music because if I’m truly honest it was all I’ve ever wanted; travelling around with bands, being there for the important things, the big events, the epic concerts. Sadly that wasn’t the life that I got. It is a shame but I had some good times with music. So I opted to live vicariously through Sylvia Patterson.

What an interesting ride.

Sylvia talks about these truly amazing events that she has seen, moments that she has been privy to with all the humility and humbleness of someone who just accepts this as the norm. For Patterson, it was. For this wide eyed reader I read each page with excitement…and admittedly, a little envy.

I’m Not With the Band – A Writer’s Life Lost in Music is a brilliant memoir of not just a person but a history of music that each and every one of us can relate to in some way or another. There are moments when some of the writing feels a little self indulgent – especially with the insider lingo – but it doesn’t take away from the truly amazing experiences that are fascinating to read about.

I’m Not With the Band – A Writer’s Life Lost in Music by Sylvia Patterson is available now.

For more information regarding Sylvia Patterson (@SylvPatterson) please visit www.sylviapatterson.tumblr.com.

For more information regarding Little Brown Book Group (@LittleBrownUK) please visit www.littlebrown.co.uk.

4 Stars

When Everything Feels Like the MoviesTitle: When Everything Feels Like the Movies

Author: Raziel Reid

Pages: 176 Pages

Publisher: Little Brown Book Group

The Blurb

Everyone wanted to break me. But stars aren’t broken, they explode. And I was the ultimate supernova.

My name was Jude. They called me Judy. I was beautiful either way.

School was basically a movie set. We were all just playing our parts. The Crew, the Extras, the Movie Stars. No one was ever real . . . especially me. I didn’t fit any category.

All the girls watched me – I could walk so much better than them in heels, and my make-up was always flawless.

All the boys wanted to, well, you know . . . even if they didn’t admit it.

They loved me, they hated me, but they could never ignore me.

I only had eyes for Luke. A red carpet rolled out from my heart towards him and this year, on Valentine’sDay, I was going to walk that carpet and find my mark next to him. It would be like a dream.

But my dream was going to turn into a nightmare.

This is my story.

#WEFLTM

The Review

Oh boy, oh boy. I am a big fan of LGBTQIA fiction (although I hate that there has to be a specific term to define said fiction). As someone who works in education, I personally feel that books which focus on characters that are part of the LGBTQIA community really goes above and beyond the way to make today’s (and future) generations stop any prejudices. That is my hope, anyway. It may be seen as completely naïve but I stand by that.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid is a LGBTQIA story with a difference. Personally, I found it a very divisive story. I liked parts of the story but I didn’t really like the main character, Jude. I found him to be obnoxious and aggressive and whilst I could see that Reid had created a character with a vulnerable side I don’t believe it was enough to win me over.

As a reader, I like to champion my protagonist and in this case I honestly couldn’t say that I rooted for him at all. Furthermore, I felt that the writing style was deliberately taboo and provocative at times, not because it was necessary but more for the shock and awe value. Personally, I find this poor storytelling; if you have to revert to taboo statements then it screams that you can’t tell me in a more florid way.

However, When Everything Feels Like the Movies highlighted the dangerous nature of prejudice among youth. This is something that I will forever champion in literature.

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid is available from the 4th August 2016.

For more information regarding Raziel Reid (@razielreid) please visit www.razielreid.com.

For more information regarding Little Brown Book Group (@LittleBrownUK) please visit www.littlebrown.co.uk.

2 Stars