Anxiety and Editing – The Perfect Combination

Editing Marks

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, but a few things have happened this week that have made me decide to write it now.

Some background before I get to the main point.

I grew up with a severely autistic brother, whose violent outbursts and unpredictable behaviour made my childhood home a frightening and dangerous place to be. He’s my only sibling and I’m the eldest, and my parents unwittingly placed a great burden of responsibility on me that I was too young to bear. I became fearful, withdrawn and terrified of telling my parents how I felt because I thought they couldn’t cope. I wanted to be the strong one, because, from where I was standing at 11 years old and ignorant of the strength of my parents’ marriage, I believed that if I showed any weakness, my family would fall apart.

A few years later, after my brother had been moved to a specialist residential care facility, I developed health problems. It’s a complicated story but, in a nutshell, an undiagnosed autoimmune disease left me with permanent damage to my digestive system and significant problems with my nervous system. When it all began the physical pain only added to the emotional pain and eventually it all got too much. I became depressed, horribly anxious, and, eventually, suicidal.

I got the treatment I needed, and, 13 years later, I’m a completely different person than I was then. My physical health has gotten worse, but my mental health has improved enormously. Unfortunately, although I have beaten back the depression and suicidal thoughts, I still have an anxiety disorder.

Because of this, I worried for years that, despite my academic achievements and ambition, I would never find a profession that would suit me. Then I found publishing, specifically, editing.

To my great surprise, this turned out to be the perfect job for someone with an anxious mind.

I work as a Publishing Quality Controller, and my main responsibility is to ensure that our books are as consistent and error-free as possible before they go to print. I LOVE my job, and I have found that it has allowed me to turn my anxiety into an asset.

It sharpens my focus and causes me to hone in on errors by instinct as well as by skill and experience. I’ll run my eyes over a page and think, something is wrong here, and I won’t stop until I find and correct it (or grudgingly convince myself to leave it alone if necessary – some authors are very stubborn!). It also makes me highly organised, and I use spreadsheets, checklists, folders and a ridiculous number of post-it notes to make sure nothing is missed or forgotten.

I don’t have a very laidback attitude when it comes to my work. When I send a top priority job to our typesetters, I’m slightly on edge until they acknowledge receipt of it. When an important deadline is unexpectedly brought forward, I’ll work as much overtime as it takes so that I don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of getting it done on time. My anxiety has a hard time letting me cut corners, even if I know the readers would likely never notice the errors I don’t fix. I know they’re there, and that’s all the motivation I need to keep working.

I have been known to be in bed about to fall asleep, suddenly remember a detail about a book I’m working on, then get up again and write it on one of my ever-present post-it note pads so that I can follow it up the next day. Crazy? Maybe. But it means that I don’t have to worry about it and I can get to sleep. The same goes for checking my emails out of office hours. I’m a ‘forewarned is forearmed’ kind of person, and if having knowledge of a new job the night before means I can hit the ground running the next morning, then I’m happy to keep an eye on them.

To a lot of people, this way of doing things might seem very unhealthy, but it works for me, and has the added benefit of taking my mind off the physical pain I deal with every day.

I am incredibly fortunate to work in a very supportive and sociable environment with seriously awesome colleagues, and I have the best manager I could possibly ask for. So many people face stigma in the workplace because of their mental health issues, and, while I don’t go about discussing mine at work, it doesn’t bother me that there’s a chance a few of my colleagues might read this. I trust them not to judge me for it or look at me any differently, and that’s a rare gift that I’m very grateful for.

Earlier this week, I had an upsetting conversation with someone close to me, and while I lay awake that night unable to sleep for worrying about it, all I wanted was for it to be morning so that I could go to work and plough my nervous energy into something worthwhile that would focus my mind and help me feel better. It worked, and that day I managed to send a series of 5 books to our typesetters and beat the deadline I had set for myself.

Sure, having an anxiety disorder means that I spend a lot of time worrying about small things (or what other people might consider to be small things), and even things that never actually happen. My anxious mind can conjure up the worst case scenario from any situation faster than my rational mind can stop it. That’s hard sometimes, but it also allows me to anticipate potential problems at work and head them off before they jeopardise the quality or deadline of a book.

After being treated by 5 psychologists in 15 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that my state of mind as it is now may be as good as it’s going to get. Rather than being upset by that, I’ve finally reached the point where I’ve accepted it. There are times that it still gets the better of me, but those times get less and less as the years go by, and, for the most part, I am able to control it enough to allow me to live the life I want to.

Rather than fighting with my anxiety and trying to change the person it has led me to become, I’m using it to my advantage. I haven’t figured out yet how that’s going to work in other areas of my life (where it still tends to cause problems), but I’ve certainly figured out how to use it to make me the best Publishing Quality Controller I can be.

I would never have wished to go through the things I have and to have been left with this anxiety, but it’s a part of me now, and it doesn’t have to be a weakness. For me, it has become a strength, and I think, if he could be, my brother would be proud of me for that.

Rapid Fire Reviews

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had much time to write. That really bothers me, so I’m trying to spend this weekend catching up on a few posts. Rather than writing separate reviews for the books I’ve been reading recently, I’m going to do a quick rundown of each of them. I’m calling it a rapid fire review post. Considering how behind I tend to get on my book reviews, this might become a regular feature. I think it’s a good way of going with my gut instincts rather than being too analytical.

All the Bright Places Cover All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

“The story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die.” That line is on the cover and it drew me to the book right away. Violet is dealing with the grief of losing her sister, while Finch is trying to find reasons not to kill himself. When they meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower, they strike up a friendship that has a profound impact on both of them. I enjoyed the parallel journeys of the two characters. While Violet was rebuilding her life, Finch was rapidly losing control of his. I really liked them both and their struggles felt real and relatable. This isn’t a feel good YA, but it’s definitely worth a read.

 

Our Endless Numbered Days CoverOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Peggy is only eight when her father takes her to live in an isolated cabin in the wilderness, after telling her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. What follows is a fascinating exploration of the father/daughter dynamic and the effects of extreme isolation and deprivation. I did see the twist coming, although I was hoping I was wrong. While I would recommend this book, it was quite disturbing at times, so it’s definitely not for everyone. I really enjoyed it though, and I think Fuller did a great job of dealing with the psychological effects on a young girl who matures into a woman with only a mentally disturbed father for guidance.

 

The Serpent King CoverThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

This one came highly recommended from Stefani over at Caught Read Handed. It’s centred around the lives of Dill, who is struggling to escape the prison of his family’s past; Lydia, who has aspirations far beyond the boundaries of her hometown; and Travis, who escapes his violent home life by taking refuge in his love of a Game of Thrones style fantasy series. Up until the twist in the middle of the novel, I was enjoying it well enough but it wasn’t really affecting me emotionally, but the second half had me rooting for the characters and hoping to see them happy. It was a good read overall.

 

The Water-Babies Cover The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley

A fairy tale about a boy who runs away from his cruel employer, gets turned into a water-baby, and has lots of strange adventures in the underwater world. I really didn’t like this book. It was written in 1863, so the style of language was quite different. I studied literature for years at university, so that’s not something that would usually bother me, but in this case I found the style of writing jarring and annoying. My main thought as I was reading it was, “this book is just weird for the sake of it”, and that really didn’t work for me. The talking turnips whose sole purpose was to learn lessons and be examined (or die), were the last straw!

The Need to Write

I love to write. I always have.

When I was a child, I would scribble endless stories on scrap pieces of paper and staple them together as little books.

Inspiration came from all sorts of places.

The animals in our garden were sentient creatures that would go on fantastical adventures among the overgrown trees and shrubs.

The lovebirds we looked after while my grandparents were on holiday were on their own vacation and would break out of their cage at night to socialise with the wild birds.

The ornaments on the shelves would come to life in my imagination and go on all kinds of adventures in the outside world, (my favourite of these was ‘The Pig That Lived in the Wild’ which I illustrated and recorded as an audiobook).

Once, I wrote a story about a squirrel that went into outer space in his squirrel-sized spacesuit. I have no idea where that one came from!

As I got older, my writing turned inward and rarely ventured beyond the boundaries of my journal pages. Severe depression and crippling OCD inspired poetry and introspective monologues that eventually helped to restore my emotional equilibrium. The mental health centre where I was treated kept some of my writings to help other patients, and ever since then I have believed in the power of creative expression to overcome emotions that would otherwise be suffocating. You can read more about those experiences in one of my previous posts.

Years have passed since then and my life is much busier now, to the point that sometimes I don’t realise that I NEED to write. The words force themselves through though, one or two lines at a time, until I have no choice but to notice them.

Sometimes, I dream about a dark room with a single spotlight shining on an easel holding a large sheet of white paper. As I watch, words appear on the page written by the invisible hand of my subconscious to form poems or extracts from stories. When I wake up, the words are still vibrant in my memory, and I make sure to write them down before they disappear again.

Other times, I find myself with a pen in my hand, idly scribbling words and ideas that won’t leave me alone unless I express them. Like this one that has been with me for the last few weeks:

Quote

It’s been a stressful start to the year, and I think these words are an expression of how I respond to emotional upheaval by taking refuge in writing. Those are usually the times when the words are at their most insistent and will run riot in my mind until I write them down.

I’m not sure where this blog post came from, but recently I’ve been feeling the need to write something, and this is what appeared when I sat down at my laptop.

I feel better now.

The Bookshop Bed & Breakfast

The Open Book ShopOne of my goals this year is to feature fun, unusual and quirky ways that people are sharing the reading experience around the world. This week I’m talking about a really cool holiday destination in my home country of Scotland.

The Open Book is a small, independent bookshop in Wigtown on the west coast of Scotland which offers a unique vacation experience. Visitors can stay in the bed and breakfast above the bookshop at night and spend their days volunteering in the shop itself. With help from staff members, guests are given all the day-to-day responsibilities of running a bookshop, including opening/closing, selling books and restocking shelves. They are also encouraged to make their mark on the shop by writing about their experiences on the shop’s blog, getting creative with window displays and even hosting readings or musical performances. What better way for a booklover to relax, destress and have a great experience!

The idea behind this is to draw attention to the value of unique indie book retailers and to encourage people to play a part in keeping them alive. Guests are asked to stay for at least a week so they can learn their way around the shop and get the chance to really contribute. The price is £28 (approx. $40 USD) per night and includes a room for two with access to a laptop, free wifi, breakfast, use of a bicycle to explore the surroundings and a truly rewarding holiday experience. You can find full details at their Airbnb listing here.

Wigtown itself is something of a literary haven. In 1998 it was designated as Scotland’s National Book Town and hosts over 20 book-related businesses including a number of first and second-hand bookshops.  It also has its own book festival (Wigtown Book Festival, now in its 17th year) which runs over 200 events over a 10-day period and attracts authors such as Ian Rankin, Matt Haig and Kirsty Logan. Some of the more unusual events last year were a shadow puppet show, a Doctor Who trivia session and a bookshop dinner! Wigtown Book Festival

This year the festival will run from 23rd September to 2nd October and you can find out more at their website here.

Stay tuned for more features like this in the coming weeks!

Book Review – Interred with Their Bones

IMAGETitle: Interred with Their Bones (Kate Stanley #1)

Author: Jennifer Lee Carrell

Publisher: Plume

Date: August 2008

Format: Paperback (405 pages)

Synopsis: Jennifer Lee Carrell’s highly acclaimed debut novel is a brilliant, breathlessly paced literary adventure. The action begins on the eve of the Globe’s production of Hamlet when Shakespeare scholar and theatre director Kate Stanley’s eccentric mentor Rosalind Howard gives her a mysterious box, claiming to have made a groundbreaking discovery. Before she can reveal it to Kate, the Globe is burned to the ground and Roz is found dead…murdered precisely in the manner of Hamlet’s father.

Inside the box Kate finds the first piece in a Shakespearean puzzle, setting her on a deadly, high stakes treasure hunt. From London to Harvard to the American West, Kate races to evade a killer and solve a tantalizing string of clues hidden in the words of Shakespeare, which may unlock one of history’s greatest secrets.


This is the second book I’ve read from my Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge list and came under the category of “A book you own but have never read”.

I didn’t get too far into this story before it began to remind me of The Da Vinci Code and other thriller/mystery novels by the likes of Sam Bourne and Chris Kuzneski. That’s not a bad thing as I really enjoy stories where the characters are on the hunt for artefacts and answers while dodging assassins and various attempts to thwart their quest. I was happy to go along for the ride as they went from one piece of the puzzle to another in this fast-paced action narrative.

Since I’m a big fan of literature and academics, I really appreciated the amount of research that went into writing the book and all the history and theories that were explored, particularly those about the true identity of Shakespeare and the search for his lost plays. I enjoyed following the characters across different continents and through various libraries, archives and private collections to find the evidence they were looking for. There were a few points in the novel when I thought I had a handle on what was going on, but it wasn’t long before the game changed again and the characters were off and running in a new direction.

The main characters, Kate, Ben and Sir Henry, were okay for the story but not particularly memorable and I definitely cared more about the answers to the Shakespeare mysteries than I did about what happened to them. That didn’t really bother me though since the action kept me entertained enough.

Unsurprisingly for the genre, there were some fantastical claims and plot connections which did require me to suspend my disbelief, but I didn’t feel the need to try to separate fact from fiction and instead just went with it. This book made for fun, interesting and addictive reading and I was thoroughly entertained.

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Carrell has also written a sequel to this book called Haunt Me Still.

Book Review – Ink and Bone

Cover ImageTitle: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)

Author: Rachel Caine

Publisher: Allison & Busby Limited

Date: July 2015

Format: Paperback (410 pages)

Synopsis: Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…


I don’t usually start reading a series until all the books have been published, but I decided to make an exception for Ink and Bone because it sounded SO GOOD. Thankfully, I was definitely not disappointed.

The world building was great and I really enjoyed learning about all the different elements. In this world, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press was never allowed to come to light and the Great Library of Alexandria and its daughter libraries (the Serapeums) control all knowledge via the Codex. Citizens are permitted to own blanks (like eBook readers), that enable them to view copies of books held in the Codex, but will be arrested if they’re caught with an original.

Jess, the central character, is a runner for his father who traffics in illegal original books. He earns a place as a student (Postulant) at the Great Library to compete to become a Scholar. While there, he becomes embroiled in the dangerous secret world behind the public face of the Library which threatens everything, and everyone, he cares about.

He encounters Burners who use Greek Fire to burn books in protest against the Great Library; Obscurists who use alchemy to control the Codex and other elements of society; Garda Soldiers and machines called automatons that defend the library with deadly force; ink-lickers who eat books as the ultimate way to possess them; and many other characters and concepts that work together to create an interesting and complex world for readers to explore.

The conflict between original books and blanks felt like a commentary on physical books vs. eBooks, which was interesting, although certainly not overbearing or obvious if you weren’t looking for it (I do like a good bit of literary analysis!).

In between chapters there were short sections called ‘Ephemera’ which provided extracts of private correspondence taken from the Codex and the Black Archive (where the library stores restricted knowledge). There were quite a few hidden details and surprises in those that helped to make the story even more compelling.

I really liked Jess and many of the other supporting characters (especially General Santi and Postulant Morgan), but my favourite character was definitely Scholar Christopher Wolfe. I hated him at first for the way he treated Jess and the other Postulants, but as more and more of his personal life and history were revealed I ended up really caring about him and sympathising with his struggles. He’s one of those characters who has a lot more depth than is initially apparent and I find I’m emotionally invested in what happens to him in the next book.

One other cool thing I wanted to mention is that the author included a ‘Soundtrack’ section at the back of the book with a list of the songs she listened to while she wrote it. I love this idea as it’s an insight into the author’s creative process and the kind of emotions she was working with. I was especially happy to see Hozier’s Take Me to Church on the list!

I’ll admit that I thought the first couple of chapters were a bit slow and I didn’t become fully immersed in the story until Jess became a Postulant, but once he did the plot really took off and I didn’t want to put the book down. I would definitely recommend it.

The sequel, Paper and Fire, is due out in July this year and I can’t wait to read it!

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture  Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Rachel Caine (who also writes under several other names) is the author of over 40 novels. You can find out more here.


 

Reading, Writing and Resolutions

2016 Reading Resolutions Image

This post is coming a bit later than I wanted, but it’s been a busy start to the year!

I’ve been reflecting a lot about the past year and what I want for 2016. My main focus is buying my first house, which is obviously a huge decision and will take up a lot of my time and energy once the ball gets rolling, but I definitely want more reading and writing to be part of this year.

I’ve come up with a list of goals that I’m hoping will help motivate me. Maybe some of these will inspire you too, especially my fellow bibliophiles!

  • Goodreads Challenge: I’ve never done this before but I wanted to this year so I could track how many books I read and give myself a target to aim for. I’ve gone with 45, which is approximately 4 books per month. Hopefully I can manage that! I’ve read one so far, Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine, which I’ll be reviewing soon.
  • 2016 Reading Challenge: This year I’m taking part in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge, which is to “read 12 books in 12 different categories in 12 months”. I’m looking forward to diversifying my reading and finally tackling some books I should have read years ago. I wrote a post about it here.
  • Writing Competitions: Last year I entered a competition run by Almond Press to write a short story with an apocalyptic theme. I’m delighted that my story was chosen to be published as part of their anthology which will be released later this year. It’s made me feel more confident as a writer and I’m keen to enter more competitions this year.
  • Memory Jar: I’ve wanted to do this for years but have never gotten around to it. Memories JarI’m a very nostalgic person and love to look back on things past, so having a memory jar where I can keep note of significant events and milestones feels like a great idea. I got mine from Pretty Pink Toes via Amazon.
  • Blog Posts: I don’t post here anywhere near as often as I would like and I want that to change this year. Along with book reviews and general posts, I really want to feature more projects like the Future Library Project that I wrote about in 2014. It was one of my favourite and most popular posts and I love hearing about creative ways of sharing the reading experience, so I would like to share them here too.
  • Literary Events: I already know I’ll be going to a couple of book festivals and publishing conferences this year, but I would also like to attend more events like literary salons, book launches and author events.
  • Writing, Writing, Writing: Above all, I want to write as much as possible. I have a novel idea which is slowly being fleshed out and I would love to do some solid work on it this year. I’m never happier than when I’m writing, so I want it to be a constant theme of 2016.

I hope you’re all having a great start to the year and that it will be a good one!

2016 Reading Challenge

MMD-2016-Reading-Challenge

After New Year I started looking for inspiration to take my 2016 reading in a new and fun direction. I stumbled across the wonderful Modern Mrs Darcy blog and she had exactly what I was looking for.

This challenge is a great motivation for me to finally read some books I’ve had on my TBR for a long time across different genres and time periods.

A book published this year

Star Trek: Voyager – A Pocket Full of Lies by Kirsten Beyer: In case you didn’t know this already, I’m a massive Star Trek fan and my favourite series is Voyager. The post-series novels are fantastic and Beyer, a huge fan herself, knows the characters inside out and is doing an amazing job of continuing their adventures. I can’t wait to read this when it comes out in a few weeks.

A book you can finish in a day

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes: I borrowed this from a friend and it’s short enough to read in one day (150 pages). I’ve never read a Man Booker Prize winner before so that’s also a plus point.

A book you’ve been meaning to read

My Antonia by Willa Cather: There were lots of books I could have chosen for this one, but I’m going with My Antonia because it’s been on my TBR for over 10 years and I actually already have it in an anthology of American Literature. One of my favourite quotes comes from this book and I’m really looking forward to understanding it in context.

A book recommended by your local librarian or bookseller

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: This one was easy. I bought it almost a year ago from my local bookshop after the owner raved about it and said it was one of the best books she had read all year. I’ve heard good things about it from other people too so I’m looking forward to getting into it.

A book you should have read in school

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: In honour of Modern Mrs. Darcy who created this challenge, I’m going to go with one of the only books I have ever given up on. That was over 10 years ago and it bothers me that I’ve never finished it, so it’s time to give it another shot!

A book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner: My friend Stefani (blogging at Caught Read Handed) reads more than anyone I know and I trust her judgement. When I asked for a recommendation this is what she came up with, which works for me as I saw her raving about it on social media so I was already intrigued!

A book published before you were born

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: Another one I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, this book was published over 60 years before I was born. I’ve never read any Hemingway, which I feel is a serious omission on my part, so this challenge is the perfect motivation to read one of his novels.

A book that was banned at some point

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: This book has been banned countless times, particularly in schools and colleges in the US, because of its depictions of rape and race relations. It’s one that I’ve crossed paths with before but never read, so this is my chance.

A book you previously abandoned

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: l can count on one hand the number of books I’ve abandoned in the past and this is one of them. As I explained in an earlier post, I didn’t give up on it because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because of the headspace I was in at the time. I’m looking forward to picking it up again and finishing it this time.

A book you own but have never read

Interned with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell: This book was given to me by one of my friends in August last year and I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet. From what she told me I think I’ll really enjoy it.

A book that intimidates you

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius: I wouldn’t necessarily say this book intimidates me, but it’s going to need more of my focus and concentration than normal as it’s heavy philosophical non-fiction from 180 AD. I thought about choosing Don Quixote by Cervantes, but it’s HUGE and since I’m not the fastest reader in the world it would probably take up a lot of time I could be using to read other books, so I’ll leave it for another year!

A book you’ve already read at least once

Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew: This one’s a no-brainer. One of my posts from last year explains why this book means so much to me, but needless to say I really want to read it again. I’m actually already doing so by listening to the audiobook on my commute. It’s read by Kate herself and it’s absolutely wonderful.

If you like the look of this challenge, you can find it here. It also has a very varied and fun Pinterest board here.

Are any of you doing reading challenges this year? What books are you looking forward to reading the most?

Why I Don’t DNF Books

ImageI had a conversation with one of my friends recently about why I don’t DNF books. I’m the only person I know who doesn’t so it got me thinking about my motivations for pushing through to the end. To give you an idea of how far I’ll go with this, 11 years ago when I read Moby Dick, it took me 5 months to finish it because I found it so boring that I kept taking breaks (I could really have done without the tips on spearing a whale so that its heart explodes).

I can only remember ever giving up on two books in my life – Pride and Prejudice and Great Expectations. Before all you Austen and Dickens fans get mad at me, the reason I didn’t finish them wasn’t due to the books themselves.

With Pride and Prejudice, I could appreciate the quality of the writing, but I was 17 and about to go off to university and I was so nervous and distracted that I just couldn’t get into the story and was attracted to more easy read books. Great Expectations was given as a university assignment and I was actually enjoying it, but I ended up dropping out that semester and put the book aside and never returned to it. I intend to give them both another shot at some point (it still bothers me that I left them unfinished).

I can understand why it would seem strange, even ridiculous, that I would continue to read a book if I’m not enjoying it. After all, I could be reading one of the many, many other books on my TBR list that I would probably enjoy a lot more, so why waste my time?

The thing is, I don’t see it as a waste of time. There are a few reasons for this. Image2

I, like many bibliophiles, want to be a published novelist one day, and one of the best ways to learn the craft, aside from writing as much as possible, is to read the work of others. I find that I learn as much, if not more, from reading bad writing as I do good writing. It gives me a sense of what works and what doesn’t; why some characters feel real and relatable and some don’t; how some endings are incredibly satisfying while others are a great disappointment; and many other nuances of writing.

Something I also keep in mind while I’m reading a book I’m not really enjoying is that, good or bad, finishing a novel is an achievement in itself and out of respect for the author I choose to finish the book they have worked so hard on, even if it’s not to my taste. Sure, I don’t owe them anything and if I don’t find their work entertaining then I have every right to move on to something else, but it doesn’t feel right somehow, especially considering I want to be a published author myself.

Another thing that keeps me turning the pages is the possibility that there might be a hidden gem in there somewhere, be it a brilliant line, an unexpected plot twist, or an ending that suddenly makes the rest of the book make sense. If I put a book aside before the end, I’ll always wonder what I might have missed. Maybe I won’t have missed anything, but it’s the possibility that keeps me going.

Do any of you feel the same way, or are you happy to DNF a book you’re not enjoying? I’d love to hear from you!

Book Review – Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Cover Image Title: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertalli

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Date: April 2015

Format: Paperback (303 pages)

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.


One of my best friends and fellow book lover Stefani (Caught Read Handed) did everything but cross the Atlantic and hit me over the head with this book to get me to read it, and I’m really glad she did! When I reached the end of the last page I was left with a really warm, happy, fuzzy feeling that lasted for hours afterwards. It was a really satisfying read.

I was rooting for Simon from the beginning and loved how earnest and genuine he was, particularly in his emails with Blue. I really felt for him and just wanted to hug him and be his friend (it’s a mark of a good writer when you start having these feelings for fictional characters).

His life becomes very stressful and chaotic later in the novel and I think that many teenagers would have given up if faced with the difficulties Simon has to deal with, but one of my favourite things about him was that, despite all this, all he wants is to meet Blue and be with him. His integrity and strength of character really shines through.

His sense of humour is great too, which is something I always look for in any book that I read. No matter what circumstances characters find themselves in, I really enjoy humour in the face of adversity.

I have to admit, given that there wasn’t a huge number of characters, I assumed that it would be relatively easy to guess Blue’s identity, however I’m happy to say that all my guesses were completely wrong and it was a pleasant (and adorable) surprise when they finally met.

YA books can be a lifeline for teenagers struggling with very difficult issues, in this case sexuality, and I think Becky Albertalli has done them a great service by writing this book. They have to grow up in a world where they’re bombarded with images and ideas of who they “should” be, and feeling like they have to live up to these unrealistic goals means that they don’t get to just enjoy being themselves, which is something everyone should be able to do.

This quote in particular really stood out to me. I wish the world thought like Simon does:

“White shouldn’t be the default any more than straight should be the default. There shouldn’t even be a default.”

Damn straight, Simon. Damn straight.

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: This is Albertalli’s first novel.