2017 Resolutions

memory-jars

At this time of year, a lot of us are looking back on the resolutions we made for 2016, and either congratulating ourselves for having accomplished them, or beating ourselves up for failing to live up to our own expectations.

Most of my goals for 2016 were centred around reading, writing and the publishing world. Although I managed to accomplish some of them, my year was derailed pretty early on and I never quite got back on track.

2016 was a really tough year for me and my family, and most of my emotional energy was focused on dealing with losing my granny and supporting my mum through cancer, so my goals fell by the wayside. Normally, I’m the kind of person who is very goal-orientated and doesn’t cope well with failure (even if it’s only self-perceived failure), but, now that the relentless wave of 2016 has finally washed ashore, I’m trying to look at things differently.

Rather than being angry with myself for not achieving everything I wanted to, I’m choosing to be proud of myself for making it through 2016 with my sanity, self-confidence and sense of humour intact. I wouldn’t have managed that when I was younger, so I’m counting it as a solid achievement.

I’m also choosing to believe that 2017 will be better than last year, so I’m setting myself some new goals for the year ahead:

  • I’ve signed up to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for the second time. Last year, I set myself a goal of 45 books, which turned out not to be attainable, so this year I’m aiming for 30 books. I have a great stack to get started with and I’m looking forward to delving into them. book-stack
  • Last year, I decided to participate in the Modern Mrs. Darcy’s 2016 Reading Challenge to read 12 books in 12 different categories in 12 months. It was a fun idea, but I only managed to read about half of the books on my challenge list (to be honest, I completely forgot about it and just read whatever I felt like). This year, I’m not going to try to stick to a specific list, but rather just aim to read a mix of genres in both fiction and non-fiction.
  • Getting my first short story published last year was a great experience and one I would love to repeat, but my main goal this year is just to write, whether or not I feel like sharing it with others. I didn’t write any fiction at all in 2016, since all my ideas stubbornly refused to make their way from my mind to the page, so I’m hoping to change that this year. There are so many characters running around in my head, a few of them are bound to break free!
  • This blog didn’t get much attention from me last year either, so writing more posts is another goal. The ones that have meant the most to me have been centred around mental health issues, which I’ve been dealing with a lot in the last year. A number of people have told me that those posts have helped them and that they’ve shared them with others, which is fantastic to hear, and it’s given me the confidence to write more along the same lines.

I feel good about these goals and I think they’re realistic and interesting enough for me to achieve, so I’m going to leave it there for now. I hope you all enjoyed bringing in the new year, and I wish you all the best for 2017!

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Rapid Fire Reviews (2)

My family and I have been having an awful year, so, although I’ve been reading quite a lot, I haven’t been writing a lot. I’m trying to get back into it now, and these are the three books I’ve read recently that I have strong feelings about and feel like commenting on. All book titles are linked to their Goodreads pages.

schtum-coverShtum by Jem Lester

This book was important to me on a personal level and I was really keen to read it as soon as it came out. It follows the battle of a father to get his autistic son the specialist care he desperately needs, which is a battle my own parents fought for my brother. It’s part-fiction, part-reality for Lester, who has an autistic son himself. His fictional protagonist, Ben, must navigate marital issues, a sick father he’s never been able to talk to, and Jonah, his severely autistic son, who makes daily life an incredible challenge. The book included letters and reports relevant to Jonah’s case, which really added to the story and helped to express the frustration that endless bureaucracy can cause in these situations.  The book was well written, emotive and illuminating. Having experienced home life with an autistic brother and watched my parents fight for him the way Ben does for Jonah, I can say that Shtum is a very realistic portrayal of what it’s really like – the highs, the lows and the heartbreaks.

the-loneliness-of-distant-beings-coverThe Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling

I was really disappointed with this book. It had the potential to be interesting. The main characters are part of a generational ship’s crew whose sole mission is to seek out the source of a distant signal received by their ancestors on Earth. In order to ensure their continued survival, they have a breeding program that selects who they will have children with, leaving no room for love or personal choice. Seren, the protagonist, rebels against this idea when she has a chance encounter with her shipmate Dom (and 5 seconds later decides he’s the love of her life even though they’ve barely ever spoken). This unrealistic love connection is described as being ‘that quick, that strong, that beautiful and … also totally impossible.’ Well, it’s also the reason I found this book ‘totally impossible’ to like. 350+ pages of teenage angst and instalove really wasn’t for me.

the-long-way-to-a-small-angry-planet-coverThe Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I LOVED this one. It has everything I look for in science fiction – interesting and well developed alien cultures, cool futuristic technology, fast-paced adventure and complex and relatable characters. There was also a broad acceptance of cultural diversity and cooperation, homosexuality and individuality that I appreciated. Each of the characters came from different backgrounds (and species) and were distinct individuals, but, for the most part, they functioned together as one family. There was conflict, secrecy and misunderstandings (it would have been boring and unrealistic without those elements), but I did love the bonds that existed and developed between the Wayfarer’s spacefaring family. There is a sequel to this book, however it’s a stand-alone that only features two of the supporting characters from The Long Way (which I liked, but didn’t really connect with), so I don’t think I’ll be reading that one, at least for now. I feel very satisfied with how The Long Way ended, so I’m happy to leave it there.

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 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 – 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!

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!

8 Ways Reading Can Help With Depression and Anxiety

Me glaring at monsterWe all perceive depression and anxiety in different ways. Maybe for you they are dark clouds obscuring the sun; maybe they are demons who follow you in your dreams and promise to haunt you for the rest of your life; maybe they are monsters who pop up everywhere and look like they were drawn by a 10-year-old, like the one that I made for this post (I apologise for my mediocre artistic skills, words are more my game).

Whatever they feel like to you, it can be difficult to find anything that offers some relief and breaks the cycle of negative thoughts. Since this blog is mostly about books, I wanted to write a post about how reading helps me on the difficult days, and how I hope it might help you.

1) A rapid heartrate and racing thoughts are common effects of anxiety. Reading can help slow these down. Well written prose and poetry have a natural rhythm that can lull your thoughts and breathing into slowing down without you even noticing.

2) An interesting story will pull you in and help you to push your difficult thoughts and feelings aside. Even a short break from them can be mentally and emotionally rejuvenating and give you much needed strength to get through the day.

3) Books contain some seriously awesome weird and wonderful things dreamed up by the impressive imaginations of their writers – hidden magical worlds, futuristic realities, fascinating fictional cultures and characters. The human mind is a powerful thing; powerful enough to fight back against depression and anxiety.

My bookworm is not afraid of the monster.

My bookworm is not afraid of the monster.

4) Depression and anxiety can make you feel very alone and like no one understands you. Given the wealth of characters found in books, you’re bound to find some who are just like you who you can relate to. Reading about their struggles can help you better understand your own and give you ideas about how to cope.

5) Can’t find the words to explain your feelings to others? Find a book with a character who is going through the same thing and ask your friends or family to read it, or just pick out some quotes which speak to your feelings. I would recommend It’s Kind of a Funny Story (fiction) by Ned Vizzini and Reasons to Stay Alive (non-fiction) by Matt Haig. There are loads of others out there and you can find great lists on sites like Goodreads.

6) Books can be a great way of connecting with other people, whether online or in person. Depression and anxiety can make it very difficult to talk to others, but discussing a book you both enjoyed can provide a safe and interesting conversation topic.

7) Reading can inspire you to write yourself, which can be very therapeutic. You don’t have to let anyone else read it, but letting your thoughts flow from your mind into the outside world can really help to put them into perspective.

And finally …

8) Reading connects you to the world beyond the confines of your own mind. That’s where the hope is. Books can beat monsters (and squash their cardboard representations).

Monster squashed in book

Bookish Memories for World Book Day!

World Book Day

Today is World Book Day and to celebrate I thought I would share some of my fondest memories related to books. In the UK we had World Book Day on March 5th, but I’m greedy and want to celebrate twice!

  • When I was about 8 my mum accidentally gave away my favourite book, The Moondreamers (I think it was this one) to a charity sale. I was so upset that she went down to the sale and bought it back for me. It made me so happy!
  • As a kid I used to cut up sheets of white paper, staple them together and write and illustrate (badly!) short stories about animals, particularly robins and pigs.
  • The first bedtime story I remember being read to me was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m pretty sure it inspired my love of reading before bed.
  • I loved audio books as a kid and once a week my mum would take me to our local library (where she used to work) and I would choose a new one to listen to at night. My favourites were Super Gran, Krindlekrax and Girls in Love.
  • The first poem I ever learned to recite was called ‘The Unwise Owl’ which was published in a Rainbow annual. It became a bit of a party act because I had a cute lisp back then which, coupled with my enthusiastic inflections, made for a pretty funny recitation! I’ve kept that poem for over 20 years and I still smile whenever I see it.
  • When I was younger and wanted some time to myself or a quiet place to think I would sit in front of the big bookcase in the spare room and imagine all the different worlds the books contained. When I got older I started reading them and found some of my favourite books there.
  • This isn’t something I actually remember, but my parents have told me that when I was a toddler, all they had to do was put a book in front of me and I would sit quietly for hours. Apparently, even the Yellow Pages provided me with entertainment!
  • During school holidays on sunny days I would make a fort out of a pop-up tent and blankets and sit in there all day with books and snacks until I was called in for dinner. The ones I read in my little fort the most were Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Secret Seven series. I think there might have been some Nancy Drew in there too.
  • I used to go to car boot sales with my grandparents and while they were looking for antiques I was hunting for books. The best find I ever had was a book I had been searching for for ages (this was before online ordering was an option) and I was delighted when I found it. It was Star Trek: Voyager – Pathways by Jeri Taylor. I still have it and still love it (along with everything else Star Trek related!)

How are you celebrating World Book Day? Do you have any bookish memories you want to share? Let me know in the comments! I’m off to read now. 🙂

Emotions of a Bibliophile – in GIFs (Part 2)

I really enjoyed doing yesterday’s GIF post about bookish situations so I decided to do another one! My dear friend Clara made some suggestions and I’ve also been talking to the lovely Stefani over at Caught Read Handed who gave me some more ideas. I had a great time finding GIFs to match their suggestions and I hope you like them!

You can find the first post here.

Clara’s suggestions:

When you keep being interrupted while you’re engrossed in a great book:

When you’re reading in public and the book makes you have a visible emotional reaction:

When you’re reading a book that you’re absolutely loving and then something happens which completely ruins the plot:

Stefani’s suggestions:

When an author kills off your favorite character:

What you really mean when you say “I have plans”:

When you fall for a character in a book and have to deal with the fact that they’re not real:

When someone says “It’s just a book”:

How it feels when you meet an author you love:

A few extra ones from me:

When someone has checked out a book you really want to read from the library and kept it past the return date:

When Kanye West said this: “Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed. I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph. I am a proud non-reader of books.”:

When your friend buys you a book that you can’t get in your own country (Stefani and I just did this for each other and it’s awesome!):

And one more, because I am a MASSIVE Star Trek fan and we just lost a legend: