Reviews, Uncategorized

Non-fiction book review: Living on the Spectrum: Autism and Youth in Community by Elizabeth Fein

At the beginning of last month, I received an email from Elizabeth asking if I wanted a review copy of her book. She stated that there were some sections in it which looked at the connections between autism and fantasy literature, and thought I might find it interesting. (If you’re new here, hi, I’m autistic and write fantasy books.)[Also, please excuse the bird images, WordPress is being odd and not allowing me to use paragraphs, so I decided to cheat and break up the text this way.]
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Elizabeth Fein is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Duquesne University and a licensed psychologist in the state of Pennsylvania (as stated in her bio on the book’s back cover), and so actively works in the field. At first I was unsure of whether to take up her offer, not only because I find academic texts extremely hard to read, but also because I was afraid that the book would take a very medical approach to autism and possibly speak positively of a cure. However, after re-reading her pitch a few times, I decided that her approach sounded a lot more considerate of autistic people as actual people, rather than patients with something solely negative that needs to be removed.
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Here is the pitch she sent:
The book combines approaches from psychology and anthropology to look at how youth diagnosed with autism spectrum conditions reconcile controversies around autism as a disease vs. autism as an identity.  I spent several years doing research in places where people on the spectrum come together to work, play, live, love and learn. The book describes how youth on the spectrum are looking beyond medicine for narratives that make sense of their lives, re-telling their own stories through a shared mythology drawn from roleplaying games, anime, and other forms of speculative fiction.
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(The book delves into these things solely within America, as that’s where Elizabeth is based, and only briefly mentions other countries. It also mostly focuses on teenagers and young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.)
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The book starts with a very comprehensive introduction, which outlines how her research was carried out (lots and lots of field work, much of which was talking to autistic individuals and the people who work with them), where her personal interest in autism started (I found this part extremely heart-warming) and also a bit about the history of autism as a diagnosable condition – she mentions both Leo Kanner (who noted what is still sometimes called ‘classic’ autism; meaning individuals with high care needs who may be non-verbal) and Hans Asperger (who looked more at individuals who are often highly verbal and excel in topics they’re interested). She also mentions the controversy around Hans Asperger (which is highly Google-able), and notes how terminology around autism has changed over the years, and presently all variants of autism are diagnosed under one umbrella term of Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (some places prefer to say ‘condition’, others use ‘disorder’). When I was diagnosed early last year, it was under this umbrella term, though the psychologist I spoke to said the way my traits manifest are closest to what was previously called Asperger’s Syndrome.
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Elizabeth also notes that she uses both autistic person and person with autism to refer to individuals on the spectrum throughout the book, taking particular care to use the version the person she’s interviewing prefers. (Many people, like myself, prefer to say they’re autistic, however, there are some who like to say they have autism.) I actually liked this, as despite my own preference, I felt she was trying to be as inclusive as possible. Other notes she includes are that everyone interviewed has been given a different name in the book to protect their identity, and that as her research was done over a number of years, the way the participants referred to themselves in terms of gender may also have changed. There are many others, which all helped to put me at ease with the prospect of the topics the book talks about.
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Now, onto the main parts of the book:
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The first chapter looks at the idea of structured socialising, in this case through a live-action role-play camp specifically for autistic kids, and how having that structure can put people more at ease in social situations. Basically, the kids were given the ‘rules’ of the particular fantasy world and their characters, and interacted with those in mind. For me, the idea that having more structure makes socialising easier seemed kind of obvious, but then, as that’s how my brain responds best, I suppose it would. I also really enjoyed the journal/diary based style that parts of this chapter were written in – Elizabeth attended this camp and took a very active part in it.
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The book then moves on to looking at how autistic kids navigate school and followed a number of individuals and schools themselves. This section was particularly interesting for me, as because I was diagnosed as an adult, I attended mainstream schools without any assistance (I ‘coped’ by taking a lot of work home and getting my family to help), whereas theses kids were already diagnosed and trying to access the services they needed, which were often limited and difficult to get.  The difficulties in accessing suitable support for autistic people were highlighted strongly, which I appreciate. This isn’t often talked about.
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Following chapters talk about the different concepts of what autism is and whether the two main views of it can co-exist, and how individuals on the spectrum feel about them. One of the chapters is called ‘The Pathogen and the Package’. The pathogen part referring to the view that autism is a negative thing akin to a disease that is stopping someone from being the person they ought to be; whereas the package looks at autism as a different way of being that has positives and negatives, and that the idea of removing it (or curing) would change a person’s very being.
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This was the part that I was the most concerned about reading, and parts of it made me angry – not what Elizabeth herself was saying, as she deliberately maintained a very neutral discussion of the different views so as to fully explore them, but where she quoted speakers from talks she attended. She mentions the organisation Autism Speaks, fully explaining how it was formed and that one of the organisations that it’s made up of was previously called Cure Autism Now!. She notes how, because of the controversy of a cure, Autism Speaks removed finding a cure from their list of goals and also makes use of very careful language (which, as Elizabeth quoted so much of it, I interpreted as the organisation still being willing to spend money and resources on finding a cure while not directly saying that’s what they’re doing).
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There is a chapter where Elizabeth looks specifically at the idea of a cure and what people on the spectrum and their families think of the idea. This section was delightfully heavy in interviews with said people, and very much reflected the difference in opinion between autistic individuals and their family members. The trend seemed to be that the autistic people themselves viewed a cure as something that would stop them from being who they were, while their family members, who saw how much these kids struggled in the world, thought a cure may ease some of those struggles and thus might not be an inherently bad thing. Elizabeth speculated that this may also be because of the age difference and continuously evolving views on autism and neurodiversity as a whole. However, there were one or two autistic individuals who thought that maybe something like a cure would be useful, and I’m glad she included these too. 
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(My personal view is that my struggles are largely due to the fact that the world around me is not designed for people outside the norm; therefore, the problem is more with the environment rather than my brain. I’d hate not to have the insights and fascinations that come from being autistic. To my mind, non-autistic people miss a lot of things. Thus, I find the idea of a cure utterly repulsive.)
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The last chapter moves on again (or perhaps back) to looking at the use of fantasy in how autistic kids see themselves and their position in society. Again, this chapter made excellent use of interviews and quotes, and I identified with a lot of it. Many of the examples were of characters kids had made up based around their own behaviours. There were a lot of half-demon, half-human concepts, which I suppose reflect the things we struggle with and often feel we have to hold back versus the things we’re good at.
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Elizabeth ends with a conclusion, which summed up, says that autistic people should be allowed to carve out their own space in society and that perhaps current medical views and interventions might not be as effective as others involving more active settings (like role playing or going about town in a group to explore and learn how to do/interact with different people and things – something that I feel would have benefited me greatly, and probably still would).
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So, as you might notice by how long this post is, there’s an awful lot to consider about this book. As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m not very good at interpreting and understanding academic texts, and some of the sections were very heavy with that kind of writing, so my take on this book may well be very different to that of someone who is actually able to take in all of that rather than getting the general ‘gist’ of things. However, though I found parts difficult to get through or follow, the more narrative parts and interviews were very fun and fascinating to read. I think Elizabeth’s research was conducted in a very careful, considerate way with full respect for everyone involved (this is also confirmed at the end of her acknowledgements).
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Though I was worried about the segments surrounding ideas of autism as a disease and whether it needs a cure, the very fact that she was so thorough in every part of the discussion (everyone was given space for their voice to be heard) left me with little doubt that she is very much a person who cares about autistic people being allowed to be their own selves (and make their own choices). My one peeve about the book is that few individuals with more drastic care needs were included, however, the reasoning for this is clearly explained in the introduction, so I can’t complain too much. Still, it would have been nice to hear from individuals from all areas of the spectrum. I appreciated the voices from autistic adults as well as young people, though, as I feel that autistic adults are often forgotten about.
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I very much appreciate and respect the level of work that has gone into this book, and I’m more than grateful that she reached out to me about it. If you can happily read academic books or are open to the challenge, I would easily recommend this one. I hope it gets read and shared by as many people who work in the medical field as possible, plus many more (perhaps it should be a library staple).
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The book is published by New York University Press (www.nyupress.org), and I believe Amazon has it too.
Elizabeth book cover
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Some bookish updates!

After finishing my latest draft a few weeks ago, I’m taking a mini-break from writing fiction to catch up on my TBR pile and generally chill out, as I’ve had a lot of stuff going on lately.

Some of the more exciting things that have happened are:

Unofficial Detective, book one in my Half-Wizard Thordric trilogy, having now been released as an audiobook (link here).

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A Book For Pandora, my full length poetry collection, also now available as an audiobook (which surprised me when my publisher suggested it, but I now think is a great idea, especially for those who find it hard to read poetry — sometimes a different medium makes all the difference — and you can find it here.)

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The cover for my YA speculative fiction, The Origin Stone, being entered into All Author’s cover competition (you can vote for it here – thank you kindly!)

Poetry uploads will continue as normal, and there may even be a book review or two coming up too.

As always, thank you for reading my humble blog.

Kate out!

Uncategorized

The Origin Stone giveaway reminder

Hi everyone!
As The Origin Stone’s release is nearly here, I just thought I’d remind you all that I’m holding a giveaway and Q&A on my twitter and facebook pages.
Ask me a question on writing, life, the universe and share/retweet to be in for a chance of winning a paperback copy of the book.
Here’re the links if you want to take part:
Have fun (and yes, you can be creative with your questions, as long as they’re PG13)
Kate out!
Reviews

Review of Will Save: The Nibiru Effect by G. Sauvé

Earlier this month, I received a copy of Will Save: The Nibiru Effect from the series’ author G. Sauvé in exchange for sharing news of its release with my readers if I thought they would enjoy it. I’m always thankful when other authors share their work with me, and as I’d been sent the blurb as well, I was genuinely excited to read it. It promised time travel, adventure and high stakes, all things that snag my interest.

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The story follows the journey of Will Save, an orphan who knows nothing about his parents until the first hour of his fifteenth birthday, when his friend and mother figure reveals that she has been keeping a gift from his birth mother safe for all these years. Despite being tempted to give it to him earlier, she followed the precise instructions his mother had laid out and finally hands it over as soon as his birthday begins.

The gift contains a ring, with a message for Will to wear it all the time as it may protect him from harm. Alongside it is another note: his mother wants to meet him that day. Encouraged by his friend, he sets out to meet her, but while he’s waiting at the train station, he gets involved in a dangerous conflict with complete strangers who seem to possess a technology alien to his time.

One side of the conflict vanishes through a portal that suddenly appears at the twist of a ring looking oddly like Will’s own, disappearing before the other side can chase them.

Confused by what’s going on, Will ends up on the train tracks just as a train approaches, and with shouts from his new-found associates, activates the power of his own ring, opening another portal. With death by train the only other option, all three of them jump through the portal. The next thing Will knows is he’s in hospital, in a lost city that should no longer exist.

What follows is an engaging adventure into prehistoric times that involves meeting humanoids previously hidden from history, being chased (and nearly squashed) by dinosaurs, eaten by giant worms, threatened by dragons and lots and lots of lava, plus having to navigating the subtleties of teenage love.

The time travel element in this book is very different to others I’ve read in that it relies on the effect the planet Nibiru has on Earth when it nears it. It was a great thread to work into the plot, and was tied with myths of Atlantis (another favourite of mine).

What I truly loved about this book was the sheer imagination behind the world building. The detail was very vivid, and I had no problem picturing it all. I also enjoyed the characters and how they developed throughout, particularly one of the prehistoric humanoids, called Korri. I think out of everyone, he was my favourite.

Will himself is quite unusual as a protagonist, because he fully acknowledges his cowardice, selfishness and lack of empathy throughout most of the book, and yet despite knowing that, he struggles to change. Only when the stakes are well and truly high does he finally bring himself to step up and push through all of that. At times, I found him to be repetitive in his whines and complaints, but overall I thought he was quite well developed and believable.

There were also a few points in the book where I laughed aloud at some of the situations the group found themselves in. Some were so unpleasant I could feel it, and yet they were hilarious at the same time. Not to mention, there were several nights in a row where I found myself reading into the early hours of the morning because I was so wrapped up in the story that I didn’t want to let go.

The only complaint I had was that some of the writing was a bit clunky, but it wasn’t enough to put me off. It did take me a few chapters to come around to the idea that the story is told through memories discovered on discs by Will’s son, Will Jr., as at first I couldn’t see the relevance of including the son’s timeline, but the ending tied it all in for me and I was left with the right kind of questions the first book in a series should leave.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic debut and I’m truly looking forward to the next installment of Will’s adventures.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, here’s the author’s website:

http://gsauve.ca/

 

 

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Writerly Updates!

Hi everyone,

As well as my usual poetry post today, I thought I’d let you know about a few things that have been going on.

Firstly, as you may have read before, my speculative young adult book, The Origin Stone, is set to be released next year at the end of April, so that’s exciting. I do have digital ARCs, so if you’re a blogger or reviewer and would like a copy, please do get in touch.

Secondly, I’ve just signed a contract with Black Opal Books for a stand-alone epic fantasy! I don’t have any more details yet, but should do in the new year.

Thirdly, I am now offering proofreading services for manuscripts, blog articles and website content, as well as *friendly* query letter and synopsis critiques. Prices will depend on the project, and I’m more than happy to fully discuss things before giving a quote.

So there you are!

Kate out.

Reviews

Book Review: The Waterfall Traveler by S. J Lem

The Waterfall Traveler is a young adult fantasy novel that I picked up last year after seeing the author do a cover reveal on the Books Go Social Facebook page. It looked stunning, so I kept my eye on it and ordered the paperback when it was finally released. Still, due to my enormous TBR pile, it’s taken me this long to get to it. But honestly, it was worth the wait.

The story focuses on Ri, a teenage girl who has been raised in a small village on an island cut off from the mainland. Samuel, the man who raised her, found her when she was just a child on his travels, so both of them are outsiders to the village, even though they’ve lived there for years. To make matters worse, Samuel has the Sickness (which initially seems like a form of dementia) and often goes wandering off on his own. After one of these episodes, he wanders into the forest surrounding the village. When Ri finally finds him, he tells her about a boy who travels back and forth through the waterfall. She dismisses it as one of his fantasies and sends him home while she stays to try and gather some food. However, it’s not food she finds. In the dark part of the forest, she discovers a human skull covered in slime. Before she can analyse it properly, a man steps forward and goads her, with the intent of taking the fish she’s caught. Ri doesn’t give in, but a strange noise sounds around them and he tells her to flee. She does, but injures herself and collapses by the river.

Sometime later, she awakens to see a boy around her age attempting to treat her wounds. Initially, she tries to ward him off, panicking about how long she’s been unconscious due to her need to look after Samuel, but she relaxes enough for him to patch her up. Yet the danger she faced is still lurking, and they both find themselves under attack by an unseen foe. Ri is shot with a poisonous dart, so with no other choice, the boy gathers her up and takes her through the waterfall to his home on the other side.

Three days pass before Ri finally wakes up, but the boy — Bryce — tells her truthfully that he cannot simply take her back because the gateways between waterfalls change with the moon, and so the path to her island is cut off for another month. In a panic, she attempts to escape the cave Bryce lives in, only to discover the smooth-talking Carter coming to pay his best friend a visit, and to arrange the delivery of herbs Bryce gathered in the forest to certain city guards. Giving in, Bryce agrees to let her accompany them up into the streets of the city, where she discovers the huge divide between the rich and the poor, as well as the devastating news that Samuel is a wanted man there, accused of a crime she cannot bring herself to believe him capable of. And then there is the news of the Culling, a faceless danger attacking the city.

I won’t lie about this book – at first, I thought I wasn’t going to like it because I found Ri irritating and far too impulsive to be practical. However, she grew on me quickly, especially when it came to interacting with the other main characters. The book is all from her point of view, so it was interesting to be privy to the private thoughts she had about everyone. All the characters in this book are strong, with concerns so specific to them that their actions felt completely justified, even if Ri didn’t agree. Most of the hints weaved throughout the story about what was really going on linked together solidly in the conclusion, though as The Waterfall Traveler is the first book in a series, some were left open. The plot itself was well thought out, and the world building was so rich I felt like I could stroll inside the pages. Though perhaps not at one of the more perilous parts.

Another thing to note about this book is that it’s an indie, but it truly reads every bit (if not better, in some cases) as books by bigger publishers. So, if you’re unsure about reading a book that’s been self-published, I’m inclined to say give it go. I’d happily press The Waterfall Traveler into everybody’s hands if I could, and I know from experience that it’s not the only book that deserves more press than it’s had so far.

If I had to describe it in a word: enchanting.

Kat out!

Reviews

Book Review: Waking Beauty by Brittlyn Gallacher Doyle

Waking Beauty is a retelling of the classic sleeping beauty tale, but as with all good retellings, it has a twist:

Aurora Claire (or just Claire, as she prefers) was always told that she would fall under a sleeping curse for one hundred years on her sixteenth birthday – a curse bestowed upon her by a vengeful dark fairy. She lived with the knowledge that everyone she knew would be dead by the time she woke up, and her life was filled with half-friendships and loneliness because of it. Yet she had her fairy gifts – grace, beauty, creativity, wit, sweetness, song – to make up for it. So on that fateful day, she climbed the tower where the dark fairy was waiting with the spindle that would send her to sleep for a century, and pricked her finger just enough so that a single drop of blood was spilt.

Fast forward one hundred years.

Waking in her tower from an age of nightmares, she finds the handsome prince who was foretold, along with his tall and awkward knight. She and prince Damien hit it off right away – he’s everything she’d ever hoped for – but the way his knight, James, seems to regard her with constant disdain makes her feel ill at ease. However, when they leave her tower, she is overjoyed to find that the rest of the castle has been asleep just as she was, and everyone she knows, including her parents, are waking up as well. Wedding plans are soon underway, with much discussion of alliances between kingdoms. A perfect future with a perfect prince, whose charm appeals to everyone. Almost too much so.

Yet after only a few days, a servant is found asleep, and no-one can wake him. Then another is found, and another. The curse appears to be returning, and Claire has no idea why. What’s more, her fairy gifts are disappearing too. She stumbles ungracefully, freckles sprout on her nose, and her hair is a fright. Nor can she keep her mouth shut at James’s obvious distaste for her. Where did her sweetness go?

As panic spreads around the castle, Prince Damien and James volunteer to seek out the fairy who altered the dark fairy’s original curse from death to a long sleep, in order to find a way for the curse to keep from taking hold again. Claire, feeling responsible, insists on coming along, and though James argues that she will slow them down, Damien uses his charms to quiet his friend and allows her to come along. Claire and James bicker incessantly, but after a while, she realises that she finds it much easier to talk to this disapproving, quiet knight than her beloved prince, and dares to even consider him a friend…

First of all, I love that this story focuses on what happens after Sleeping Beauty wakes up, and that it’s not an immediate happily ever after.

The characters are well written and likable (when they’re supposed to be). Claire’s development from prim princess who has always followed along with what everyone expects of her to a confident young woman who is capable of making her own choices is exceedingly well done, and as the story progressed, I liked her more and more. Damien I was suspicious of straight away – no-one is ever as perfect as they appear, and towards the end, his behavior really made me grind my teeth, as it was supposed to. James reminded me very much of a character from one of my favourite fantasy series, not just in appearance, but personality as well. He likes Claire for who she really is, not what her fairy gifts make her out to be, and the back and forth between them was full of wit and humour.

The book also ended brilliantly, in a way that was satisfying but not overly convenient. The narrative is from Claire’s point of view, so I could really get inside her head, which I felt worked well for the plot as a whole.

Waking Beauty is definitely a book I’d recommend for anyone who loves fairy tale retellings with exciting twists, strong female protagonists and good character development, plus more than a dash of romance (which is odd for me, because I’m not normally a romance fan.)

Kat out.

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More Rainbow Bookshelf Videos!

Hello lovely people, as the title of this post suggests, I’ve made more videos where I go through my shelves and find books with specific colours from the rainbow. I was only going to link one video here, but then I remembered that I forgot to link the video I did last week, so here they both are:

For my orange/yellow selected books, click here

And for the latest one, all about green books in my collection, click here

Enjoy!

…though I do tend to ramble…