June Wrap Up: What I Read – Pride Month Edition

In Which My Library Surprises Me

June 17 Wrap-upI like diverse books. It seems obvious – are there really people out there who don’t? As a member of marginalised communities myself and (I hope) an ally of others, I was appalled to realise how many of the books I read and enjoyed were written from an overwhelmingly white, western, able-bodied, neurotypical and heterosexual worldview. If POC and LGBTQIA+ characters make the cast, it’s rarely as main characters. I’ve been making a concerted effort to improve that. There’s sadly still few really diverse books are out there, in proportion to the number being published overall, and I’ve had my eyes opened to how many harmful tropes and stereotypes are perpetuated in fiction, mostly through ignorance rather than deliberate prejudice.

So Pride Month was a perfect opportunity to fill some of those holes in my Goodreads shelves. One problem – I’d already realised my book collection wasn’t exactly swimming in diversity. Not that I have nothing, but nowhere near enough to represent the whole LGBTQIA+ spectrum in my Pride Month reading.

Step forward, local library. It isn’t huge, and the adult SFF section where I usually gravitate is, well… disappointing. But to my surprise, when I investigated their Young Adult section, they had a good range of books, including recent releases, and ordering from the other libraries in the network I managed to fill the gaps in my TBR. The reading, of course, spilled past June into July and August, particularly as some of the orders took a while to come in. But it was a far better selection than I’d expected, and I’ve continued to make heavy use of the ordering facility ever since.

The highlights

SAM_4565This Savage Song is the sort of book that makes me want to kick myself for taking so long to get round to it. I’ve had this almost a year. What was I thinking? The worldbuilding and concept are fantastic. A city where human acts of violence breed literal monsters, half controlled by a man who makes deals with them and protects those who pay, and the other by a man who fights them whatever the cost. Of course the two MC’s – August and Kate – come from opposite sides of the city and are thrown together as events escalate and it seems no one knows who’s winning the war. Or even who’s in control of it. Kate isn’t the kind of protagonist you instantly relate to. She starts off simply unlikable, but still so compelling; you know there’s more to her than meets the eye. August, though, is an adorable, tortured cinnamon roll. Their friendship, unlikely as it seems, grows so organically and fiercely and I would absolutely go down with this ship – not necessarily as a romance, but two people who belong in each other’s lives. The writing is dark and delicious and the action and intensity grows and grows as the book goes on. I definitely felt wrung out when I finished.

SAM_4639If I Was Your Girl, features an #ownvoices trans MC, and I would seriously recommend anyone with the slightest interest in understanding diversity to read the book on that basis alone. But it’s not just a worthy read to be ticked off a list – I was rooting for Amanda the whole way, the story (a YA romance) was engaging and well written, the supporting characters all felt complex and three-dimensional, and the family relationships were beautifully portrayed. I thoroughly enjoyed it from the first page to the last – 4.5 stars.

Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda has got a lot of high praise in the online book community. It’s a cute, funny romance, with a sparkling cast of diverse characters, and tackled a number of issues head-on without coming across as preachy. I’ve seen it take criticism for the way the MC is outed without consent, but (speaking from an outside perspective) I didn’t think it was treated lightly – on the contrary, the narration made very clear that it was a hurtful and unacceptable thing to have happened. I wouldn’t say this was an absolute stand-out contemporary, although I know a lot of bloggers who would disagree with me, but it was definitely enjoyable and I’ll be checking out Becky Albertalli’s other book ASAP. 4 stars.

SAM_4770

Been Here All Along is a a pretty simple story. The romance (m/m, one bisexual) is predictable but adorable, there’s a good vein of self-discovery and a range of family and friend relationships are explored. Four viewpoints seemed a lot for such a short book. Ezra’s in particular seemed unnecessary to the story, but it’s a minor quibble because I was in the mood for a short, sweet, easy read and really I loved this; it’s one I’ll probably return to for rereads. 4 stars.

 

The rest

Iron Cast was this month’s audiobook – not a Pride Month read but with a WOC as one of the main characters and more POC in the supporting cast. It’s fantasy with a difference, set in Prohibition-era Boston where painters, singers, actors and musicians known as hemopaths can twist reality as they perform. The setting was evocative and a huge contributing factor to the appeal of this book, but I never warmed to most of the characters and there were pacing issues – fast action in places then inexplicably slow in others, it never seemed to flow right. The plot was intriguing and dangerous, and pulled off the trick of not knowing who to trust. Also, it’s a standalone, a rare beast in fantasy, and had a nice balance of open and resolved at the ending. Overall, glad I read it but not one that will stick with me. 3.5 stars.

I have a difficult relationship with self-published fiction. I want to support the authors who are working their butts off and putting themselves out there. But I have no idea how to find the hidden gems in the vast sea of self-published works. Lambs Can Become Lions I stumbled across via bookstagram; it’s a f/f retelling of Robin Hood, with a fantastically diverse supporting cast. I really wanted to like it, but I found the writing a bit clunky at times, and particularly at the beginning the diversity felt more like a tick-list than an organic part of the story. However, the plot was good, I enjoyed the dual POVs, and once the characters were established they were endearing, although there’s only so much space in a (short story? novella?) to develop them. I’m pretty sure this author is only going to get better so I’ll be sticking around for the next instalment. 3 stars.

The Crown and The Arrow, and The Mirror and The Maze were both short stories set after The Wrath and The Dawn and its sequel. They were beautifully written but didn’t add much to the story, although it was interesting to see more of Khalid’s perspective and The Crown and The Arrow did answer a lingering question from the first book. 3.5 to 4 stars for both.

SAM_4583I’ve never watched The 100 TV show, but I know enough about it to be intrigued by the concept and when I saw the book in the library I had to give it a go. Sadly, it’s best summed up as a big fat meh. Far too much over-blown angst, and the will-they-won’t-they relationship between Bellamy and Clarke from the show turned into a much more cliched teen romance. The flashbacks weren’t well integrated into the story, the characters were mostly forgettable. I gave it 3 stars because it was a fun, quick read but it seems a little generous on reflection!

June book haul

SAM_4870Yes, I’m still hauling books at a much faster rate than I can read them, even on a good month like this one. What can I say? There’s a reason bookdragon fits better than bookworm – I can’t resist adding to the hoard.

Plus, a load of these were secondhand buys for series I’ve been eyeing up for a while, so it would have been rude to say no, right?

Let’s chat!

Have you read any of this month’s books? What did you think of them? Any tips on where to find the self-published authors worth reading? Is sixteen books in one monthly haul too much (spoiler – of course not!) or do you go bigger and better?

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May wrap-up: What I Read, And Some Bookish Thoughts

In which I finally rediscovered my reading mojo

May 17 Wrap-upTen books in one month! I can’t remember the last time I managed that. Alright, a couple were short stories, but even so it was a pretty damn good reading month. As a lifelong bookworm, my loss of reading time and motivation has been a major disappointment over the last few years. I’m excited to get it back!

And as a side effect, I’ll no longer be combining my reading and writing wrap up. I can’t do either half justice without ending up with a post the length of the Nile.

What I read

The highlights

wp-image-1851831218Carry On is the spin-off from Fangirl – a novel based on the fanfiction a fictional character was writing about a made up book series based on Harry Potter. Confused? You needn’t worry; it’s fantastically readable, the characters are adorable (Baz is my new favourite vampire), the plot manages an unbelievable balance between being standalone yet feeling like the climax of a longer-running series; having enough Harry Potter vibe to feel nostalgic and familiar while being clearly its own thing. It’s like Harry Potter’s older, swearier and more self-aware cousin. And I loved it! The magic system was brilliant. Simon’s helpless, clueless sense of responsibility, Baz’s sass and Penny’s loyal friendship play so magically off each other. The romance is right up there with any OTP you care to name. 4.5 stars and instant favourite status.

wp-image-1164649329In my quest to figure out contemporary YA, I had high hopes for the concept of a modern Cinderella wrapped in fandom trappings and with a series of glowing reviews on Instagram. Geekerella lived up to the hype. Clearly it’s not the most original story, and sometimes the Cinderella references were maybe a little clunky, but it was cute, fun, funky and uplifting. The characters were real, brave, flawed and lovable. The romance was on point. And the fandom vibes really, really made it. A strong 4 stars.

Confession time: I hadn’t read Howl’s Moving Castle. I still haven’t watched the film. Now we’ve got that out the way, I devoured this book, and I can see why it earned its fantasy classic status! How such a cross, grumpy MC and a self-absorbed, dramatic wizard work so well together and create such a compelling story I’m not sure, but they do, to the tune of 4 stars. It had all the whimsy, fantastic imagery and magic I’d expect of Diana Wynne Jones, and reminded me how much I used to enjoy her books – I’m now making a point of going through her back catalogue and catching up with the others I missed.

wp-image--1865104853The Wrath and the Dawn wasn’t on quite the same level of ‘why haven’t I read this yet?’,  but it has been sitting unopened on my bookshelf for nearly a year. I gave it 3.5 stars, because while it was beautifully written, with a cast of complex characters and plenty of my favourite moral greyness, in places (particularly early on) the plot and character motivations felt confused or overly simplistic, and it lacked some sort of spark to lift it higher. Having said that, I’ll still be getting my hands on the second book in the duology as soon as I can!

The rest

I have complicated feelings about Sarah J Maas these days. If you’ve been around a while, you might remember me raving about her Throne of Glass series. That was a few books and a few controversies ago. The ACOTAR (A Court of Thorns and Roses) series I never loved as much, but A Court of Wings and Ruin was a serious disappointment. Plot, character development, writing style, lack of consequences, and by all the Gods could we NOT have a sex scene every time Rhys and Feyre are on the same page? Not to say there was nothing good about it, but overall, I almost feel like the 3 stars I gave it were generous. And then there’s the problematic aspects of how SJM handles diversity. ACOWAR is by no means a first offence, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever read another of her books, but that’s a whole other post (and will be, soon – keep your eyes peeled!).

EoaTSEmpress of A Thousand Skies was another 3-star disappointment. I’d looked forward to it since February; a space opera with a diverse cast and a gorgeous cover. But the plot was light, one MC never grew, the villain was almost pantomime by the end, and the big plot twist was obvious and infuriating. But I did adore Alyosha, the second MC, the world building was good, and it was fun and fast-paced. I hope the author gets over her habit of important events happening off page. Someone important dies, an MC failing to save them… and we hear about it after the event. What?

SAM_4422Holding Up The Universe I failed to click with. One MC was likeable, bold and sassy, the other was… okay, but the story fell flat for me. It was presented as a story of body-confidence, and it was great to have a protagonist with a body type often erased from media or relegated to comic sidekick status – especially as the MC tackled some of these issues head on. But it was undermined by so many other characters being reduced to caricatures and stereotypes, and the fact the MC’s self-worth was heavily caught up in whether she was attractive to boys. Not to say that’s unrealistic, but it didn’t fit with the story’s message.

Do you ever read books accidentally? By default, when you can’t find anything you really want to read? Our Endless Numbered Days was that book. Audiobook, as it happened – I needed a new listen for the school run, and lacking inspiration I picked the first one to catch my eye and have a bearable narrator (I’m fussy, okay?) It was an adult mystery-ish thing. The story of a girl abducted by her survivalist father and told the world has ended but for their pocket of a German forest was middlingly interesting, and the writing and narration captured her voice and growth as she grew up in her strange circumstances. I suspected where it was heading, and it was as disturbing as I’d anticipated, but an average 3-stars sums it up pretty well.

There are three Captive Prince short stories, and in May I read two of them – Green But For A Season, and The Summer Palace. What can I say; I wasn’t ready to leave Laurent and Damianos and their world behind. Green But For A Season took Jord’s point of view – as he and Aimeric were two of my favourite characters I definitely enjoyed the extra insight. The Summer Palace is described as an epilogue to the series, but while it was well written, tooth-achingly adorable and did cover one of the pricklier issues from the books, it was more or less fan service. Both were very short, and I’m still unsure whether I think they were worth the price. 3 to 3.5 stars each.

May book haul

I bought 15 new books this month, though 7 of them were ebooks, which might be a new record for me, one was the pre-order of ACOWAR and one was from my monthly subscription box. However I justify it, it’s clear I’m not getting on top of my TBR any time soon. I haven’t had a month yet this year where I’ve read more books than I’ve bought. Oh, and it doesn’t include my next audiobook, either, which I get through my Audible subscription.

Let’s chat!

Have you read any of this month’s books? Did you love them or hate them? Have I introduced you to your next read? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to know your thoughts on expectations – is it worse to expect to love a book and find it only average, or dislike a book you had no expectations of at all?

April wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Some Painful Honesty

In which Camp NaNoWriMo rolls round again

And this time, I actually used it for revision! The flexibility to use Camp for other types of writing project is one of its main differences to the main NaNoWriMo in November, but I hadn’t taken advantage of that so far due to my abominably slow writing speeds.

The reading thing

Five and a half books this month. You’ll have to wait until next wrap-up for the half, even though I put it in the picture in a fit of misplaced optimism.

The highlights

Alterations!  Finally, a contemporary I wasn’t ambivalent to disappointed about. It’s not particularly complicated or deep (apparently it’s inspired by the movie Sabrina) but Amelia’s growth in confidence, finding her way and figuring out her dreams was just as important as the romance aspect. The cast was diverse and vivid, Amelia was easy to root for, and yes, the romance was adorable. It even managed to have a love triangle (or possibly square) without being obnoxious.

 

Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising were the second and third instalments of the Captive Prince trilogy. In March I said it was difficult to rate or discuss the first book on its own. The overview of the trilogy isn’t a lot easier, but I did enjoy it very much. The character development in these books is spot on, I was rooting for the romance the whole way through, I broke my heart over some of the side characters. All the elements of a great read. They were as graphic as the first but without the discomfort levels. It wasn’t exactly a shock to see the other side of Laurent – I knew it had to be there – but it was fascinating to watch it unfold. The plotting and intrigue maybe got a little far-fetched but it carried the story, which is really all about the romance. And the smut. Yeah, these are not YA.

And the rest

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the Iliad, from the perspective of Patroclus. If you know anything about Greek legends, you know how it ends. You’d think it would be less traumatic when you know it’s coming, but no. My poor heart was shredded to pieces. The writing captured the tone of an ancient myth brought to life, it really was beautiful, but it took me a while to warm up to the characters and the slow build to what we really wanted to see – the war at Troy – was maybe a little too slow.

fangirl book held against a cloudy skyFangirl. I really, really wanted to love this book. I had so much in common with Cath. I’ve seen people criticise her anxiety issues and anti-socialness as exaggerated, playing off cliches and stereotypes about geek girls, but I’ve been that person who would rather live off cereal bars than have to find the canteen and sit in it alone. But the romance lacked chemistry. I was more interested in seeing Cath negotiate college and her relationships with her friends and family. Overall, a like rather than a love, and I’m disappointed it didn’t live up to the hype. However, I do now have a very strong urge to read the Baz & Simon spin-off, Carry On.

So how was Camp NaNo for you?

I temporarily abandoned The Hunt, letting it stew while I figure out some issues, and instead used Camp NaNo to revise for my adult fantasy, Abriny. I did attempt revisions before but wasn’t getting very far. I’ve since had a couple of insights and the story’s going to change drastically in some areas, including the introduction of two new viewpoints in place of one existing. They’ll mean I can give the other side of the conflict, from the besieging army, so I’m pretty excited to have them in there.

This all adds up to more than tweaks and revisions, really. Instead, draft 2 has become an almost total rewrite. Even if I have a scene that’s staying broadly the same, I type it out from scratch. It’s been working pretty well. Still taking longer than I’d like, but I feel more like the revision is actually getting me somewhere and the story is starting to look more like a book.

You want actual numbers? At the end of April I’d written 58,364 words of draft 2. That’s not got me much past a quarter of the way in, so clearly I’m still going to have a lot of editing to do to get the word count to something reasonable, but it’s progress and I’m happier with the way things are going. I’ve discovered I have a tendency to write characters too nice, and in this second draft I’m making them more prickly and uncooperative. In other words: fun!

You mentioned painful honesty

Ah yes. And I wasn’t joking about the painful bit, so bear with me.

I have mental health problems. Specifically depression and anxiety. It’s not something I hide, at least not on my other social media, but I haven’t really talked about it here. It’s one of the reasons behind my often extended silences – I’m sure everyone worries about their writing (blogs, books or otherwise) not being good enough, or no one caring, but thanks to anxiety it twists into such a crippling mess I end up preferring to say nothing than risk it. The longer it goes on, the harder the cycle is to break.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point (we’re talking years, no exaggeration) but it’s been getting worse recently and enough is enough. I’ve been to the doctor, I’m on medication and I’m on the waiting list for counselling. And I wanted to share this with you, because what really pushed me to seek help was the people who are willing to speak up about their own experiences, to say, yes, I have these problems, and I refuse to be afraid of admitting to them because of the stigma society attaches. People ranging from my favourite authors to casual instagram acquaintances, who aren’t afraid to say it’s been a bad day, or their anxiety is making them think this bad thing.

From now on, I’ll be more vocal about my own experiences, to pass the good along the line. I’ll add my voice to the others already out there in the hopes those who are still struggling might find it and feel less alone, maybe feel brave enough to seek help when they need it. Here’s a few thoughts to be getting on with:

  • It’s not your fault.
  • If you were diabetic, you wouldn’t feel bad about getting insulin from the doctor when your body doesn’t produce enough of it. Why should the hormones that balance your thoughts and brain be any different?
  • You are not weak for admitting you need help. Given the stigma attached to mental health problems, it might actually be the bravest thing you’ve ever done
  • It’s alright to have bad days, to sometimes feel like you’re sliding backwards. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
  • It’s alright to have days where you can’t cope with the rest of life. You’re fighting battles in your head every day, sometimes just to be able to get out of bed. Of course you’re exhausted. Grant yourself the me-time, the space and the grace to put those burdens down when you can.

My comments are open! Chat about books, writing, mental health or anything.

March wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and A Few Random Thoughts

In which I participated in my first readathon

And, in my usual organised fashion, I forgot until the first of the three days was almost gone. But it seriously helped boost my reading, not least because I used it to blast through a few shorter books. It’s all about the numbers, dahling.

The readathon was part of NovelKnight’s Beat The Backlist challenge. Like most bookworms, I’ve a healthy supply of books I’ve bought or been given but never quite got around to, and with the help of this challenge I’m hoping 2017 will be the year I make a serious dent in them. Or at least get through some of the most persistent lingerers.

I also discovered audiobooks

Actually, that’s a blatant lie. I tried my first audiobook back in January. But I made more use of them this month. I don’t get a lot of time to listen, but a few walks back from dropping the kids from school, a couple of photo-editing sessions for bookstagram, some evening chores … I can get in an extra book, maybe one and a half, per month. The challenge is finding good ones. A lot of fantasy & YA audiobooks have US narrators, but being a cast-iron Brit, I’m a little picky about the accents I can listen to without distracting from the story.

You weren’t joking about the random thoughts, were you?

Alright, alright. I like to chat, even if the words are simply disappearing into the void of the internet. But here’s the reviews you actually came for:

The highlights

I finished A Conjuring of Light! Hooray! After putting myself in a slump in February, I ignored it for most of the this month in favour of quicker, different books. When I did finish it off, I loved it. It was one disaster after another, the sass levels were astronomical, the character development was awe-inspiring (special mention for Rhy. Wow!) The last two hundred pages were a crazy ride of heart-stopping, heart-breaking action, sprinkled with deaths and terror. There’s enough open ends for more stories in this world, which I’m praying VE Schwab will one day write. It was a beautiful end to a marvellous trilogy. I’m very sad to say goodbye. or rather, anoshe.

Something completely different: We Were Liars by E H Lockhart. The cover caught my eye, I vaguely remembered having heard of it, the synopsis was intriguing, and for £1 in a charity shop, how can you go wrong? Oh. My. God. I spent most of the book thinking it was a decent thriller/mystery type thing and then the ending just killed me. I can’t say much, because you have to go into it knowing as little as possible, or you lose the impact. The writing style, I admit, isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it did a beautiful job of conveying the MC’s brokenness and struggles. In summary, just read it. Read it! Now, dammit!

A Monster Calls was a complete whim, spurred by lots of bookstagram love. Also completely different to my usual reads, probably a MG (8-12) or younger YA book. It blurs the lines of reality and magic to look at grief, family and loss. The main character was so relatable, and the emotions throughout were raw and vivid. I’d not read any Patrick Ness before this, but I’m definitely going to try some more.

I read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo years ago, and remember being pretty ambivalent about it (so long ago, incidentally, it went under the title of The Gathering Dark). But having adored the Six of Crows duology, I thought I’d give it another go. The audiobook narrator was brilliant, easily the best I’ve come across so far. And the story was a lot better than I remembered. The romance (love-triangle territory) I still wasn’t feeling, but there was Alina – how could I have forgotten how feisty and determined she was? The world and side characters were wonderfully complex. 4 stars, and I’m definitely going to continue to the rest of the trilogy this time.

The rest

Queen of Hearts – I was thrilled to find a British audiobook narrator. Less so when everyone but the royal family and one wheezing tutor were voiced as village yokels. As an origin story for the Red Queen, it fell flat. Motivations were incomprehensible or unbelievable, Dinah frequently reached too-stupid-to-live, and the pacing was… non-existent. An example? Disaster strikes, character flees for her life… and we stop to admire the view and describe shades of blue flowers. For what felt like Six. Whole. Pages. A gruesome, dark interlude in the middle belonged in a completely different book.

Poison and Protect – A novella linked to the Finishing School steampunk paranormal books by Gail Carriger. I was disappointed by the almost total lack of actual paranormalness. The plot was an anti-climax, but it was really all about the romance, which was sweet enough, if predictable. And on the romance – this is definitely not YA!

Captive Prince – It’s impossible to summarise briefly what I think of this book. It’s flagged up as often for being problematic as it is heralded as a brilliant story. The characters are astoundingly compelling, even when they seem without any redeeming qualities. DO NOT read it without knowing what you’re getting into – it’s very graphic, in not entirely pleasant ways, and includes a lot of possible triggers (rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, violence – though not all on page). I frequently wondered what on earth I was reading, and why the hell I was enjoying it. However, I finished it NEEDING to know what happens to Damen and Laurent. Read it as the first part of a larger story (I read the other two books in April) and it’s more bearable, in a way setting the scene for what the other two books are fighting against.

Lots of reading. Did you have any time left for writing?

Well, a bit. You make time, don’t you? That’s how any writer gets anywhere. Since the kids put an almost total kibosh on my social life, I have a lot of evening to fill, and I write instead of watching telly. I managed 54,742 words.

I did not, however, manage to finish the first draft of The Hunt, which was my goal. The ending is nearly there, and I’m happy with how it’s worked out. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere close to happy with how I got there. As a reader, there’s nothing more frustrating than questions and sub-plots that don’t get resolved, I’m sure you have experienced it. The Hunt has entirely the opposite problem. I’m resolving sub-plots, character arcs, themes – you name it – that I didn’t actually start. The first half of the draft is telling an almost completely different story to the second. It’s going to take some revision!

One last bit of randomness

I wrote this at the beginning of April. I did, I swear! And then there were a few bits and pieces missing – I hadn’t taken the photos, or worked out how to talk about Captive Prince in any way approaching coherent. So it got left. And now it’s August. I really am a terrible blogger. But I didn’t want to waste the effort I put into drafting it, so I hope you enjoyed my ramblings even if they were not as up-to-date as they could have been!

Time for a chat? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books I’ve been reading (but please, keep it spoiler free for everyone else).

February wrap-up: Reading, writing… it was a short month, alright?


Feburary 17 wrap upWell, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it

So you can probably infer I didn’t actually get a whole lot done.

But let’s talk about it anyway. (I’ll talk. You listen. I have three small and exceedingly strong-willed children – you have no idea how rare this is. I plan to take full advantage.)

In which I can apparently no longer binge read

Let me take you back in time. Although if I actually did have a time machine, I would re-run February and now have Productive Things to talk to you about.

Back when I was a teenager, I was – well, let’s just say not exactly a social animal. After school evenings and at weekends, I read. I could get through two or three decent sized books in a day. I’d come home from the library with a stack of twelve new books and be back two weeks later for the next.

Then adulting happened. Job, house, bills, responsibility, etc. etc. But still, I could in get a good three books a week. My reading mode of choice was to devour until interrupted by necessities, pick back up and repeat.

And then… Kids. Eat. Time. I’m sure they have some good points too, but seven years after the first, I’m still shocked by how little of my time is my own any more. And since I also decided to make a serious attempt at a writing career, it has to be my priority in the free time I do have (not that I don’t love that, too). Between the two, I’m lucky to finish a book a week. And I’ve got out of the habit of having extended, uninterrupted reading sessions.

How is this relevant, Jamie?

Shades of Magic trilogyDo you see that?

The completed Shades of Magic trilogy. I raved about A Darker Shade of Magic in November. The book, characters and author catapulted straight to the top of my favourites. I got A Gathering of Shadows for Christmas, but thanks to the aforementioned time squeeze, couldn’t dive straight in. (I may also have been warned of a killer cliffhanger. Spoiler – they weren’t wrong.) A Conjuring of Light released this month. My plan was to read the whole series, beginning with a reread of ADSOM.

Cue pitiful weeping.

ADSOM took me a long time. If anything, I loved it more than first time, but I had to fit it into the slivers of the day left after the other demands on my time.

AGOS. This book was heartbreaking. To the tune of 5 stars. It was a slow build, focused on characters and relationships, with the plot not particularly high stakes, at least at the outset. We got more romance in this one, but I’m not naming names. There’s enough going on to hold interest and a third plotline (major freaking spoiler) bubbled menacingly under the surface. In a nutshell, this book was about consequences – no one gets off lightly from the events of ADSOM – and freedom. What it costs, what people will do to have it/keep it, and what might be worth sacrificing it. I basically wanted to cry every time Kell (or Rhy) was on page for the first half of the book. The unnamed plotline also ripped my heart out with abandon. (HIGHLIGHT TO READ MASSIVE SPOILER THAT KILLED ME Holland’s chest ached. Another binding. Would he never be free?). Lila, however, was off having the time of her life with Captain Alucard Emery, a new character whom I adore – sassy, flamboyant and hard-edged, with plenty of secrets of his own. The emotional turmoil drives the action half of the plot – the characters’ choices were often terrible, but utterly believable because of the corners they’ve ended up in. It’s what I loved about ADSOM ramped up to a whole new level.

I had to let the AGOS cliffhanger sit for a couple of days to fully absorb it before I started ACOL. Once I did – woah! Talk about an explosive start, danger and despair, expectations being pulled out from under you again and again. And if I liked Alucard in the first book – oh, I can’t get enough of him now (we get his point of view in this book as well). I could only watch helplessly as more and more things went wrong.

And I read myself into an enormous reading slump. A sort of pre-book-hangover. I was so invested in the series – yet trying not to go too fast because I don’t want it to be over – I got completely overwhelmed and couldn’t force myself to read the last 200 pages. What even is that? I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows THREE TIMES on the weekend it was released. I reread the whole Throne of Glass series in a week to be ready for Empire of Storms (which I then didn’t read, but that’s a whole other story). This should not be happening to me!

Ahem. But it did. So. I will finish ACOL in March. Eventually.

Oh, I also read A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard. I picked it up to skim the beginning after ADSOM, and ended up reading it in a single sitting. And I don’t even really like YA contemporary, so that tells you something about how good it was. It’s all light, fluffy, sweet romance on the surface (but set in the UK!) but actually there’s a lot underneath – mental health issues and disability (deafness, specifically) are treated sensitively and realistically, the romance might the be main focus of the plot but the characters’ other relationships aren’t ignored, there’s no boy-fixes-mental-illness trope, or insta-love. I’d seriously recommend it, whether you’re a huge fan of the genre or not (4 stars).

Can we ask about the writing this month?

It was a very slow month, with only 17,400 words added to The Hunt, but I’m happier with where it’s going and I’ve hopefully left it in a good place to power through the finale in March.

I also had a major brainwave regarding Abriny (you may recall the bloated monstrosity of a first draft came in at 350,000 words) – apart from moving the whole last quarter of the book into the start of book 2, I figured out that I could link the storylines together, have a more convincing antagonist and improve the pace of the slower sections by adding a fifth viewpoint character. In theory, that shouldn’t be good for wordcount, but in practice I think it will help me skip over or cut completely a lot of the parts that weren’t working, by focusing the plot better. I’m trying very hard to concentrate on one project at a time, so I made notes on how I was going to work it but then set them aside.

If I can get The Hunt finished in March, I’ll be able to turn to the revision of Abriny for Camp NaNoWriMo in April.

Anything else?

I did say it was a short month!

If you enjoy listening to me rave or rant about books, you can see my longer, more detailed reviews on Goodreads, or follow me on Instagram where I try to keep things a little more succinct and post pretty pictures of pretty books.

In the meantime, here’s another sample of The Hunt’s playlist, which has started growing again:

 

Have you read Shades of Magic? Are you as ridiculously in love with it as I am? Have any tips on fitting reading and writing around the demands of Real Life™? Let’s chat in the comments!

 

Friday 5@5

friday-55This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt:

Characters that would be in your squad

Can’t I just have all of them? Pretty pretty please?

Alright, I’ll try and narrow it down, but I’m going to have to have some combined entries on here or my five slots would be taken in the space of two books!

The Dregs Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom

Seriously, the combined skills of these six has to make them an essential part of any squad! There’s no way to single out one or two of them… they come as a package deal.

Everyone from Shades of Magic

Shades of Magic seriesAnother squad who come together or not at all. How could anyone possibly choose between Kell and Lila? Or Alucard? Or even Holland? And it wouldn’t be fair to leave Rhy behind, even if his… um… talents aren’t quite in the same league as the others (sorry!). Aside from the obvious magic, this lot make the cut for sheer determination, ferocity and refusal to give up.

Hermione Granger

You can forget about Harry – Hermione’s where it’s at in this series. This girl’s got brains, spellwork and courage in abundance. Leaving aside the fact she would probably disapprove of every single other member of the squad and their methods (looking at you, Kaz Brekker. Oh, and you too, Lila Bard).

Glass SwordCal Calore

I just want him along, alright? Alright? Good.

FlashfallOrion

She might not be the cleverest, or the most powerful, but she’s loyal to the core, fierce as hell, strong and resolute, and if anyone can keep such a disparate bunch of egos together, Orion can.

 

Do you agree with my choices? Have I missed someone? Let’s chat in the comments.

Friday 5@5

friday-55This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt:

Books you read based solely on the cover

Would you look at that, I actually managed to post it on a Friday this week. Cover buys are so definitely a thing. Shallow? Me? I’ve been lucky with them, in the most case – the recent ones, anyway, have been good reads as well as eye candy for my shelf. Also, I blame bookstagram. Entirely.

Queen of the Tearlingqueen-of-the-tearling

Simple, dramatic, dripping with ominous symbolism. What’s not to love?

Firebird trilogy

Look at them. Do I have to say any more? And this was definitely bookstagram’s fault; they’re so photogenic they were all over everyone’s feed and I couldn’t resist.

 The Mortal Instruments

tmi-spinesThis is possibly the most shallow of all. I read these because everyone was talking about them, and because I’d watched the City of Bones movie and quite liked it (don’t judge), and everyone said the books were better. But I read them as ebooks from the library, and had no intention of buying them – I enjoyed them, but didn’t love them. And then they were re-released with some really stunning cover art. And the spines. The spines did it. When I saw the box set for cheap while I was out buying Christmas presents, it just kind of… jumped into my trolley.

red-queenRed Queen

Is anyone sensing a theme here? If Queen of the Tearling was dripping with symbolism, this time we have a crown that’s literally dripping. With blood. Yup. Of course I wanted to read it. I’m a lovely person in real life, honest.

the-diabolicThe Diabolic

Okay, cheating slightly. I haven’t read this one yet. But it’s sitting on my shelf, because I bought it after loving the cover too much not to.