December wrap-up: What I Read

 

Dec 17 Wrap-upIn which I make a last minute rush to 2018

I was still struggling with November’s slump when the month began, and then you add in the chaos of Christmas season. Presents to buy and wrap, food to organise, children’s school events… Up to Boxing Day, I’d read a grand total of three books and a short story. Then along came Kendall at The Geeky Yogi with a readathon and I added five to make the month look a little more respectable. Thank you!

What I read

The highlights

IMG_20171219_202956_303Ruin and Rising is the final book of the Grisha (or Shadow and Bone or whatever we’re supposed to be calling it now) trilogy, and part of a buddy read organised by the brilliant bookstagram.buddy.reads. I didn’t mind the slower start – the Apparat was so decidedly creepy and I enjoyed watching him and Alina try and manipulate each other. When Alina left the tunnels the pace picked up again, and the stakes rose and rose, with gut-wrenching moments where I wondered how there’d be any coming back. Nikolai remains my favourite character, and I would have loved to see more of his story arc. I liked the twists with the Amplifiers; it didn’t go down the easy route with Alina’s powers. There were serious sacrifices required of several characters, but not all of them stuck, which was a little disappointing. I also felt the Apparat’s part in the story fizzled out, when I was expecting consequences to the early conflict. Still, there was drama and pain and action, the plot took some surprising turns, and the ending was bittersweet and mostly satisfying. Despite my quibbles, it was the best book in the series, and I gave it 4.5 stars.

IMG_20171216_003659_863The first thing about The Language of Thorns is that it’s absolutely stunning. The front cover, the illustrations inside and the way they build up page by page as the layers of each story are revealed, even the text is coloured to add to the special feel of this book. The stories are glorious little masterpieces, the dark sort of fairy story where there might be justice at the end but it’ll probably make you uncomfortable. They’re as beautifully written as they are illustrated, and pull you into their world with vivid characters and settings. You can usually see the inspiration of a fairy tale we know well, but they’ve been taken in completely original directions. My favourite might be Amara and the Thorn Wood, but there wasn’t a single one I didn’t thoroughly enjoy. 5 stars.

IMAG2202~2The Hate U Give is one book that absolutely deserves its hype. I mean, really, just go read it. Powerful and thought-provoking, with an MC I could get behind and feel for, and a three-dimensional and varied supporting cast. There were no punches pulled in depicting the reality of the character’s lives and the prejudice and unfairness they faced. But it’s not just an important book about an important topic – it’s also a really good YA contemporary about a girl dealing with the problems of growing up and figuring out who she is and her place in a much less-than-perfect world. 5 stars.

IMG_20180206_221203_944After mixed reviews I didn’t have high expectations of Wintersong, but I ended up loving it. It was otherwordly and yet familiar, with danger around every corner and the sharp, greedy viciousness of traditional folk tales where happily ever after isn’t guaranteed. Liesl wasn’t always easy to like but she was passionate and relateable and I loved her difficult, complex relationships with her family. I was aware she was written (#ownvoices) as having bipolar disorder, although it is never named as such in the book, due to the limited knowledge of the time period. However, the author’s note to the sequel, Shadowsong, acknowledges being hard to like is often an effect. My only (minor) criticisms are that while the Goblin King’s history was fascinating, I didn’t find him as charismatic and mysterious as I think he was supposed to be, and that the pace lagged in the last third or so. 4 stars.

The rest

Do you ever scroll through an author’s page on Goodreads and discover random short stories they’ve published online? Well, The Wives of Azhar was one of those. By Roshani Chokshi, and apparently inspired by Bluebeard’s habit of killing his wives. It was creepy and evocative, altogether unsettling, and while it’s hard to rate something so short and so random, I’d probably say 4 stars.

IMAG1507~2Ok, I’ve never watched The Princess Bride. I’m not sure how; it’s exactly the sort of film I spent a large proportion of my life devouring, but there you have it. If I’d seen it, maybe I would react differently to this book, but having no emotional attachment to the characters, I found the chemistry of this supposed great love story sadly lacking. The action was fun and frantic, the side characters generally enjoyable, and for the first two-thirds of the book I was enjoying it, despite the lengthy asides from the “author” (actually editor) who came across as a hateful and bitter soul. But the ending felt off, unsatisfying, and I couldn’t give it more than 3 stars.

The Thousandth Floor wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t know a huge amount about it, only that it was sci-fi, maybe edging towards dystopian. What I got was more like a book version of those TV shows that follow a bunch of glamorous young people while cracks appear in their perfect lives and everything basically disintegrates around them. Almost all of them were unlikable to some degree, though there were Reasons that were slowly picked apart throughout the book. I’m not usually a fan of poor little rich girl tropes, but the cast was surprisingly varied and not all of them fell into that stereotype. I couldn’t look away, and ended up racing through the book in no time. The opening scene was a shocker, and then you’re whipped back in time by a few months and spend the rest of the book trying to work out who, what and why. 3.5 stars.

IMG_20171213_222614_994Another series finale, Frost Like Night ends the Snow Like Ashes trilogy. Unfortunately the MC Meira remained a little too special snowflake for me. But I loved finally getting Ceridwen’s POV, and all in all this was a dramatic and satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, with enough death, sacrifice and suffering to make the conclusion feel well-earned. The world-building has always been strong and felt more well-rounded in this instalment. Still a touch too simplistic and with some of the problems overcome too easily for my liking, which prevents it getting a higher rating than 3.5 stars, though it was definitely the best of the series, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the author’s new book These Rebel Waves.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares didn’t do anything for me. A pretty typical YA contemporary with characters who grew on me by the end, although I started out not really liking either of them, for completely different reasons. Dash was just unlikable. Lily was Too Damn Cheerful. So sweet she’d give you toothache. It had potential and was well-written, I liked the concept, but it fell short. 3 stars.

December book haul

IMAG2208~2Otherwise known as Christmas! Yes, I managed not to buy a single book for myself this month. It helps that I can fulfil my bookish shopping urges by making sure everyone I know gets at least one book for Christmas, sometimes (often) more.

The books you see in the picture were all presents – and special mention for the Fantastic Beasts book, which was chosen for me by my 8 year old daughter. Yep, I’ve got her well trained.

Let’s chat!

There’s a comment button right below, whether you agree or disagree with my reviews. I’d love to know what you think.

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On not quitting

notesThere are times – many of them – when I wonder if it would be easier. Easier to sit back, turn off the computer and admit I’m never going to make it. I’m never going to hold that finished, published copy of my book and file it, weepy-eyed, in pride of place on my shelf. I could save myself the heartache of trying, and put the time and effort I spend staring at blank pages and flashing cursors to some other use.

Then there are times when I wonder how much of those thoughts of giving up are rooted in depression, the ever-present bully on my shoulder who wants me to believe I am worthless. There’s no sure-fire way to tell, even after all these years of living with the bully and learning, slowly and painstakingly, how to be kinder with myself.

Because the odds are long. Every one of us who sits down at a keyboard or with a pen and seriously commits to the idea knows how much luck is involved, how few people who say “I want to be an author” actually make it. Where lies the line between realism and pessimism? Wherever it is, I know it’s a thin one.

Time to get like Dumbledore

He might be morally dubious at times, but he knew what he was talking about. The easy choice isn’t always (isn’t often) the right one.

Giving up on writing is giving up on my dream. The one I’ve had since I was 12 years old, when I Mary-Sued myself into a portal fantasy with not insignificant similarities to The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce. I’ve learned a lot about writing since then, through practice and research and practice and reading and practice and lots more practice. About the craft of it, but also about the work involved. The sheer, sometimes endless, sometimes soul-destroying slog of stringing words together on a page.

Whether I like it or not, I have stories in my soul. Characters in my head who won’t shut up and fade away if I simply refuse to write about them. Anything from a car advert to the latest inanely addictive game on my phone, to a book I read and loved to one I hated can spark another scene or character or ENTIRE THREE-BOOK STORY ARC DAMN YOU in the recesses of my brain. Before I know it there’s a queue of fifteen plot bunnies waiting not-so-patiently for their turn to be taken into the light, examined and hammered into shape.

What does not quitting look like?

For me, it sometimes looks like simply showing up at the keyboard, and adding a few words to my WIP, despite the mental fog telling me I can’t do this. As few as ten, as many as two hundred. It’s still a commitment to the book. To the process.

Sometimes it’s scheduling time to write – fifteen minutes here, twenty minutes there – and instead of getting angry with myself when I can’t do it, simply scheduling the next session and committing – there’s that word again – to try again.

Sometimes it’s as basic as not deleting the whole draft in a fit of anger and belief it will never be good enough.

Sometimes it IS deleting the whole draft – after careful consideration leaves me no choice but to acknowledge its shortcomings and that the story I’m trying to tell needs to take a different shape.

A lot of the time, it’s forgiving myself for not living up to my ridiculously high standards. Trying (often failing) to shake off the all-or-nothing mentality. Finding a way to keep going through the rough patches instead of wondering if this time I’ve broken whatever it is that the writing stems from. Allowing myself a break, time to heal like a wounded fighter from the stories I love who needs to regroup in order to fight again another day, and knowing the difference between that and defeat.

Didn't quit

Maybe it looks something like that for you, or maybe it’s something completely different. Either way, it might be pointless to say I hope you don’t have to face the monster in the dark that preys on all your worst, most self-hating thoughts and fears. Many of us do, and there’s no controlling it. But if (when) you do, I hope you’re able to hold onto your dreams and remember that one bad spell, bout of self-doubt, or failure to meet your own expectations doesn’t have to be the finish line.

What are you reading Wednesday

What I'm Reading

Welcome back to What Are You Reading Wednesday!

The idea of these is for book lovers and bloggers to share, discuss, and recommend the books they’re currently reading.

All you do is answer five questions about your current read then head over to one of the hosts (Marissa at Marissa Writes, Kendall at The Geeky Yogi and Rhianna at Tsundoku Girl Reads) to link up your post. Have fun and don’t forget to check out everyone’s posts as well!

What I finished since last time

I missed last Wednesday’s post – but you didn’t miss much! It took me over a week to make my way through Lord of Shadows, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because fitting 701 pages around my daily life was a challenge! Since then I’ve had a bit of light relief with a deliciously magical MG read, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, and it’s short story prequel, The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland (But Only For a Little While) – and they were both marvellous, with plenty to grab an older reader’s attention as well as the stated audience (my 8yo, at the younger end of the MG spectrum, loved them too).

What I’m currently reading


IMAG2088_2I’ve just started I Am Malala, but I’m not far enough in to really make much comment on it. Aside from that, I’ve been making progress with my Autoboyography audiobook, and I’m now about two-thirds of the way through. Here’s the synopsis:

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

1. What made you pick up this book – cover or content?

Content – I’m picky about YA contemporaries but a diverse cast, a hint of deeper issues being tacked alongside the fluff, and an element of geekiness, and I’m sold. Especially when the geekiness relates to writing and books.

2. Who is your favourite character so far, and why?

I’m not sure I can pick one! Tanner irritated me at the beginning, but he’s definitely grown on me, though I question his decision-making abilities. Often. He’s trying so hard to make his way through a really muddling situation, and he might try to hide it behind sarcasm and enough shading of the truth to suit a faerie, but he really does care about so much. But then, Sebastien is just plain awkwardly adorable. And Autumn is every geeky, strong-willed heroine I’ve ever admired rolled into one.

3. Will you finish this one?

Oh yes! I’ve loved it so far, the romance is fantastic, and I’m getting the sense that everything’s about to hit the fan (see Tanner’s poor decision making!).

4. Finish this sentence: This book reminds me of…

Definite Becky Albertalli vibes. Simon Vs… is the obvious comparison, given the subject matter, but the characters and writing style could slot neatly into any of her books.

5. What type of read is this one?

I reckon the paper copy would be a nice quick read. That’s actually what puts me off audiobooks, often; I know I could get through it much quicker if I had it in my hands. But the narration’s good on this one and it’s not bothering me too much. As for the story, it’s one of those (again like Becky Albertalli) where a seemingly light style and subject hides more. I’m sort of waiting for it to punch me in the gut.

Your turn

What are you currently reading? Have you read any of these? Are you considering it? And what’s your take on audiobooks vs. physical? Let me know in the comments!

November wrap-up: What I Read

Nov 17 Wrap-upIn which the Slump hits

This was not a good month. Not in any sense. I won’t meander too far into what and why, but my mental health hit possibly an all-time low, I completely flunked NaNoWriMo and I barely managed to read 6 books. 3 of them were graphic novels. And I wouldn’t even have managed that much if I hadn’t committed months ago to a readalong of the Grisha trilogy with a group of bookstagram friends. I might have spent the month terminally behind, but it was the only scrap of motivation I could find this month, so a double shout-out for @bookstagram.buddy.reads and Alex who runs it.

What I read

The highlights

IMG_20171203_231133_667Siege and Storm is book 2 of the Grisha trilogy (are we supposed to be calling it the Shadow and Bone trilogy now?) and more importantly, the book where I finally met Nikolai Lantsov! Priorities in the right place, people. I was prepared to be disappointed – he’s such a hyped character – but I loved him, he was easily the best thing in this book. The story got off to an explosive start and there were several twists that I didn’t anticipate. Alina started to try and take some control over her life, but Mal just became supremely annoying and I didn’t like the introduction of another half-hearted love triangle. This is still a fast, fun, exciting read (well, it would have been fast if I hadn’t been so horrendously slumped!), and the writing style and worldbuilding continue to be outstanding, but the trilogy isn’t going to overshadow the Six of Crows duology any time soon. 4 stars.

Saga Volumes 2 & 3 continue the weirdness of Volume 1 – but they’re still weirdly compelling! I love the art, the characters are vivid and refreshingly different, the world is vast and detailed. The story took several unexpected twists, the death toll continues to mount, and the core story – the survival of Hazel and her parents – is impossible not to get invested in. I gave both volumes 4 stars.

SAM_4991Runaways Volume 1 was my first attempt at reading a graphic novel in ebook format, and I’m glad I could do it on my laptop because I don’t think it would have worked at all well on the smaller screen of a tablet or phone. This is the old version of Runaways, which I’m trying to get up to speed with before I pick up the new Rainbow Rowell version that started this year. And I loved it! The art was the cleaner, brighter style I prefer, the characters were diverse and relatable. The concept of a bunch of teenagers finding out their parents were supervillians was fantastic, and all the squabbling and sparks flying between the runaways as they started to come into their own powers really added to the story. The only downside was the fact this volume contained a lot of set-up, but I can’t wait to continue with the next volumes and see what happens. 4 stars.

The rest

I won’t go into depth on Shadow and Bone, as it was a reread (and the second time this year, so pop over to March if you want the proper review). Suffice to say I still enjoyed it, particularly the world-building, but it will never be my favourite Bardugo and doesn’t live up to the Six of Crows duology.

SAM_3519These Broken Stars was the sort of sci-fi that’s a lot heavier on the romance than the science. Now, I don’t mind that as long as there’s some compelling characters to carry it, to make me care about the romance. Tarver and Lilac were a bit bland, and I don’t particularly like the poor little rich girl trope. Nevertheless, the plot was a pretty good survival story, which I’m always a sucker for, and it kept a good pace, with hints of a wider mystery/conspiracy. I’m hopeful it will come good in the remaining books of the trilogy. 3.5 stars.

November book haul

IMG_20171130_212824_590Look how restrained I was! Two from my FairyLoot subscription box. One second-hand impulse buy, and a couple of ebooks. Practically nothing. Though, I also read practically nothing (and mostly library books), so it doesn’t help at all with my attempts to get my TBR under control. I clearly haven’t got the hang of this.

Let’s chat!

There’s a comment button right below, whether you agree or disagree with my reviews. I’d love to know what you think.

What are you reading Wednesday

What I'm Reading

Welcome back to What Are You Reading Wednesday!

The idea of these is for book lovers and bloggers to share, discuss, and recommend the books they’re currently reading.

All you do is answer five questions about your current read then head over to one of the hosts (Marissa at Marissa Writes, Kendall at The Geeky Yogi and Rhianna at Tsundoku Girl Reads) to link up your post. Have fun and don’t forget to check out everyone’s posts as well!

What I finished since last time

I finished Tower of Dawn, though it was a bit of a slog at times. And… Oh, that’s it. That’s the trouble with reading big books. You feel like you’ve done so much reading, but there’s still only one ticked off the TBR list!

What I’m currently reading


IMAG2004~2Lord of Shadows
, the latest in the Shadowhunters world created by Cassandra Clare. It probably doesn’t need an introduction, but here’s the synopsis (WARNING – there are spoilers for Lady Midnight if you haven’t already read that):

A Shadowhunter’s life is bound by duty. Constrained by honor. The word of a Shadowhunter is a solemn pledge, and no vow is more sacred than the vow that binds parabatai, warrior partners—sworn to fight together, die together, but never to fall in love.

Emma Carstairs has learned that the love she shares with her parabatai, Julian Blackthorn, isn’t just forbidden—it could destroy them both. She knows she should run from Julian. But how can she when the Blackthorns are threatened by enemies on all sides?

Their only hope is the Black Volume of the Dead, a spell book of terrible power. Everyone wants it. Only the Blackthorns can find it. Spurred on by a dark bargain with the Seelie Queen, Emma; her best friend, Cristina; and Mark and Julian Blackthorn journey into the Courts of Faerie, where glittering revels hide bloody danger and no promise can be trusted. Meanwhile, rising tension between Shadowhunters and Downworlders has produced the Cohort, an extremist group of Shadowhunters dedicated to registering Downworlders and “unsuitable” Nephilim. They’ll do anything in their power to expose Julian’s secrets and take the Los Angeles Institute for their own.

When Downworlders turn against the Clave, a new threat rises in the form of the Lord of Shadows—the Unseelie King, who sends his greatest warriors to slaughter those with Blackthorn blood and seize the Black Volume. As dangers close in, Julian devises a risky scheme that depends on the cooperation of an unpredictable enemy. But success may come with a price he and Emma cannot even imagine, one that will bring with it a reckoning of blood that could have repercussions for everyone and everything they hold dear.

1. What made you pick up this book – cover or content?

Content – I’ve read everything in the various Shadowhunters series so far, and I’m ready to find out what happens in the next instalment.

2. Who is your favourite character so far, and why?

Probably Mark Blackthorn. I love the conflict between his faerie and Shadowhunter sides, how understanding and compassionate he is with Emma, how he’s learning to be part of a family again.

3. Will you finish this one?

Yep.

4. Finish this sentence: This book reminds me of…

The other Shadowhunters books, obviously! Cassandra Clare’s got a recognisable style that’s all over this one.

5. What type of read is this one?

Long! 701 pages is going to take me a while to get through, even though it’s pretty fast-paced. It switches between several viewpoints fairly frequently and sometimes it takes me a moment to orientate myself – right, who are we with now? But there’s already lots going on to hold my interest, 120 pages into the book we’ve got at least three major plotlines and hints of a few smaller ones.

 

IMAG2088_2I always like to have an audiobook on the go for school runs and chores, and Autoboyography is my current one. Here’s the synopsis:

Three years ago, Tanner Scott’s family relocated from California to Utah, a move that nudged the bisexual teen temporarily back into the closet. Now, with one semester of high school to go, and no obstacles between him and out-of-state college freedom, Tanner plans to coast through his remaining classes and clear out of Utah.

But when his best friend Autumn dares him to take Provo High’s prestigious Seminar—where honor roll students diligently toil to draft a book in a semester—Tanner can’t resist going against his better judgment and having a go, if only to prove to Autumn how silly the whole thing is. Writing a book in four months sounds simple. Four months is an eternity.

It turns out, Tanner is only partly right: four months is a long time. After all, it takes only one second for him to notice Sebastian Brother, the Mormon prodigy who sold his own Seminar novel the year before and who now mentors the class. And it takes less than a month for Tanner to fall completely in love with him.

1. What made you pick up this book – cover or content?

Content. I’m all for queer YA romances, and this one throws in my other love, writing, so it sounds like the perfect sort of book for me. It’s also had rave reviews from a few people who’s judgement I trust.

2. Who is your favourite character so far, and why?

I’m not very far in, but Tanner is already annoying me! I think it’s deliberate, though; he’s supposed to be a bit of an arrogant jerk and hopefully we’ll see that develop over the course of the book. I’ve not seen enough of the other characters to really fall for any of them, but Autumn’s got promise – in some ways she reminds me a lot of myself as a teenager.

3. Will you finish this one?

I expect so. It takes a lot for me to give up on an audiobook, because I listen in such small snatches and it doesn’t stop me reading other things in the meantime.

4. Finish this sentence: This book reminds me of…

The voice and some of the themes so far remind me of Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda or maybe Been Here All Along, but then the writing side reminds me of Fangirl – I reckon Autumn and Cath would get along pretty well.

5. What type of read is this one?

Too early to say!

Your turn

What are you currently reading? Have you read any of these? Are you considering it? Let me know in the comments!

A (fashionably) late post about goals

goalsBecause why not?

Yes, an organised person would have had this drafted by the end of December, ready to finish and post in the first week of January, like all the people whose reading and writing goals I’ve already read about. But I ended 2017 still not sure what my 2018 goals were going to look like. I’d already signed up to Beat the Backlist and A Series A Month but I was still dithering about whether to aim high or realistic with my Goodreads challenge, and whether to even set a writing goal.

So it’s nearly a miracle this post is happening at all, and we’ll all just have to put up with the lateness, including the perfectionist part of me which is currently complaining that no one wants to read about 2018 goals when January’s almost gone already.

Reading goals

The big one, of course, is the Goodreads challenge. Drum roll please… My target for books I want to read this year is 85.

I almost, almost set it to 100. Aim high! In 2017 I exceeded my original goal of 50 and my revised goal of 65 by a huge margin, coming in at 117 books (ok, so it includes short stories and graphic novels, but if Goodreads thinks they’re books, who am I to argue?). But then the year before I only managed 46, and I am trying to be gentler with myself this year.

As part of that 85, I want to read at least 50 backlist books and twelve complete new-to-me series. That’s not as daunting as it sounds; there’s a lot of overlap! I’ve talked about those in the respective sign up posts linked at the top there, so I won’t do it again.

I will talk about the series I’ve started and abandoned, poor things. There’s 6 I really want to get finished with (or at least up to date, because some of them haven’t finished being published yet:

For Tearling, Penryn and the End of Days, and The Great Library I’ve only read the first book, for Percy Jackson it’s the first two (and I own the complete box set, so no excuse!), and for Red Queen it’s two plus the prequel novellas.

And then there’s Throne of Glass. Where I’ve read the first four books, plus all five prequel novellas, plus three, no four… er… five short stories. And then gave up. I have mixed feelings about where the series has gone and is going from here, but dammit, after all that effort I’m going to finish the thing! Empire of Storms and Tower of Dawn this year, ready for the finale whenever it arrives. And you know, then I can read it a couple of years later.

Read more diversely

IMG_20171202_205235_122What do I mean by that? Two things. I did pretty well reading books with diverse rep last year, but rather than treat it as a checklist of different types of diversity I want to tick off, I want to more generally broaden what I read. The big gaps last year were non-western settings and different religions, especially in non-SFF books, so that’s where I’m going to concentrate this year. I’m aiming for one a month.

Of course I’m going to continue to read books with all other sorts of diversity as well, but that’s thankfully becoming easier to find, especially in YA fiction, so I think of it more as part how I choose my reads, rather than a separate target.

I also want to broaden what genres I’m reading. I used to read a lot of classics, and I’ve somehow stopped. Unless you count rereads of the Austens that I’ve probably read about ten times each by now. So I want to read at least 10 classics this year, ones I’ve always meant to read and somehow never got round to it. I’m off to a good start – one advantage of posting this so late is I can tell you I’m already halfway through Dracula. Oh, and if you want to read more classics, I recommend a free app called Serial Reader that breaks them down into manageable chunks of 10-15 minutes and sends you one a day. That’s how I got in the classics I did read last year. All five of them. Ahem.

Writing goals

SAM_4820I haven’t set myself a writing goal this year, at least in terms of wordcount or drafts or my main WIPs. I hit my worst writing slump ever at the end of last year, and I’m still piecing together my mental health. My confidence and motivation are very lacking, my ability to focus is shot to pieces and I’m generally a lot more fragile than I’d want to be. Setting a goal I’ve got – at best – a 50/50 chance of hitting is not going to help. So while it would be nice for this to be the year I produce a finished draft of one of my WIPs, I’m not aiming for that.

Instead, my goals are much simpler. Get better, and get writing again.

There’s no magic number to hit so I know I’ve got there. No final page I can turn to say I’m back in control now. My focus is on slow, steady improvement until I find a writing routine I can stick with again. Whether that’s writing every day, or four days a week; whether it looks like 500 words a day or 1,000 or only a goal of focusing on my work for half an hour at a time without interruption, I won’t know until I get there. But I’m not risking another burnout like this one by pushing too hard or too fast.

Secondly, and linked to the first goal, I’m going to make a habit of writing smaller pieces which aren’t connected to my main WIPs. Short stories and flash fiction. Writing exercises. More regular blogging. All to flex those word-producing muscles and oil the sluggish bits of my brain. Work on the craft and the creativity alike, until I feel like a writer and not a frightened hole-dwelling creature again. Probably I’ll start posting about them on here, to create some accountability for myself.

Let’s chat!

Do you make reading goals outside of Goodreads? What sort of writing goals have you made this year? Do you have any tips on how to balance aiming high with being realistic and not stressing yourself out? Share your thoughts in the comments!

October wrap-up: What I Read

Oct 17 Wrap-upIn which I surprise myself

I may have mentioned, y’know, once or twice, that I’m a fantasy fan at heart. Especially YA fantasy. Well, this month I broadened my repertoire and as it turned out, only one of my favourites was fantasy – a middle grade that doesn’t even fit the usual mould of what a fantasy novel is (that’s Neil Gaiman for you). Instead, there’s a children’s classic, an adult historical (WWII, as well, which is not my preferred time period for historicals), and a YA thriller (I don’t even read thrillers!) I mean, I’m pretty sure this is a Good Thing; it is the whole point of my wanting to read other genres, but it’s just not what I expect to happen.

What I read

The highlights

The Prince and the Pauper was a lot older than I thought it was, and that was reflected in the tone and language, but it was beautifully written, tightly plotted with a number of story threads woven into a very short space, and the strength of the characters (even if they weren’t the most three-dimensional) carried it. A charming children’s classic that I’d still recommend for kids today. It seems ridiculous to be rating it – who am I to argue with the hundreds of years of readers who’ve turned it into a classic? – but I gave it 4 stars anyway.

All The Light We Cannot See was my stand-out book of the month. It was a slow read, because there was so much detail, atmosphere and language on every page. It sprawled over a huge span of time, and I loved that we got to see Marie-Laure and Werner as children, learning who they were and what shaped them before the impact of the war. The characters – both main and side – were unflinchingly real, their good and bad, courage and cowardice all shown, and Werner in particular was extremely compelling – the choices and lack of choices he had, the misgivings that plagued him even as he became part of the war himself. While this wasn’t a book that went into graphic detail about the worst of the Nazi atrocities, it didn’t sugar-coat anything either. It would have been easy to plaster on some kind of happy ending, but in the last few chapters my heart was shredded again and again. 5 stars.

Coraline is one of those rare well-loved book to film transitions, and like most of the others… I haven’t seen it. So I went in without much of a pre-conceived idea of the story. It was weird, atmospheric and definitely creepy. Coraline was a great protagonist, brave, stubborn and resourceful, someone a child of the intended audience would be able to identify with. It’s a short book, and there’s not a lot more to say than I loved it. 4 stars.

IMG_20171008_223247_733I’ve never liked thrillers, and I don’t think I ever will. But the YA versions are safer territory – the language and gore toned down for the audience – and One of Us Is Lying turned out to be a great read. The four viewpoints were pretty distinctive, and the little dripfeed of lies upon lies (spoiler: they’re all lying) kept me guessing what was going to happen next. The main plot twist isn’t impossible to spot (I got it quite late, but then I am Terrible at spotting twists) but all the little details of the four character’s lives coming unravelled kept me hooked anyway. My favourite character arc was probably Addy’s, but they were all well written and far more than the stereotypes the blurb suggests. Two notes of caution – I’ve seen some people upset with the way depression was presented and used in the plot. As a sufferer myself, I didn’t find it hurtful, but others may, so I wanted to flag it. What I did find more grating was the way one character’s sexuality was used as a plot twist. I can understand their reasons for keeping it a secret, and even the less-than-ideal steps they took to keep it so made sense for that character (news flash: teenagers screw up, just like everyone else). What I didn’t like was the way it was hidden even in their own POV chapters, so that it could be used for shock value. Aside from that, this was really enjoyable – 4 stars.

The rest

I ordered To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before from the library before my bad experience with Jenny Han’s Summer trilogy last month. It might have worked out; authors do change and improve over time. Well. It was better. But only really served to finally confirm that this author is not for me. I didn’t like many of the characters, again the protagonist seemed very young for her age, and yes, again with the predictable love triangles. I didn’t want to throw the book across the room when I was finished, but all in all it was pretty average and I’m not sure why it has such rave reviews. 3 stars.

Screenshot_20180118-124045The Dark Days Pact is the second Lady Helen book and had a lot of the same fun, fast-paced action and conflict between Lady Helen’s role as a Reclaimer and the social restrictions society puts on a young, unmarried woman. This book didn’t need as much set-up as the first, and Lady Helen (for various spoilery reasons) has a lot more freedom to get on with the demon-hunting. The complications and raised stakes made for some good tension. However, I am definitely not a fan of the romance – I’ve lost count but we might be up to a pentagon by now, with the amount of pining and falling in love the characters are doing. Honestly, he’s not that irresistible! 3.5 stars.

I also read the short story Lusus Naturae, which is from Lord Carlston’s perspective. I’m not always keen on having scenes from the original book rehashed from another character’s point of view, but I did enjoy this, both for his narrative voice and the insight.

IMAG0741Alex, Approximately was a cute, fun contemporary read, but there’s not a lot more I can say about it. The MC was endearing, the love interest had a decent personality, the plot wasn’t exactly original (another example of the online friends who know each other in real life without realising) but it’s a trope I haven’t got sick of yet and it felt fresh enough. There wasn’t a lot going on beside the romance plot, but if you want something light-hearted and quick this was pretty enjoyable. 3.5 stars

Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes was my second foray into graphic novels. This one had a more traditional comic book style of art which I didn’t enjoy as much as the cleaner art of Saga. It also wasn’t so much a continuous story as a series of episodes revolving around the character of Dream, and there were several different styles of storytelling involved. I liked some aspects of it, the concept of the characters, the blending of fantasy and reality, but I’m not sure whether I want to continue the series. 3 stars.

Screenshot_20180118-124055I’m a little conflicted over Anna Dressed In Blood. On the one hand, I loved the creepiness, the ghost-hunting concept and how Kendare Blake wasn’t afraid to dive straight in with the brutal death toll. The characters (with one or two exceptions) were well-rounded, and I particularly appreciated the pretty, popular girl having a decent personality instead of being reduced to a cliche. On the other hand, the romance wasn’t far short of insta-love, and Cas was a bit of a special snowflake, with a dash of too-stupid-to-live. I liked him as a character, he had a sort of arrogance at the beginning but wasn’t above learning better, but it was never (satisfactorily) explained why he was so special that this bloodthirsty ghost didn’t kill him on sight. I gave it 4 stars.

As a hard-core Potterhead, I’m not sure how I got this far without having read Tales of Beedle the Bard. It’s a very short book, and the Tales themselves are delightful, bite-sized pieces of magic that perfectly fit in with the voice and tone of the world we all know so well. I did find it a little odd that the Dumbledore commentary on each story was as long as the stories themselves, and didn’t enjoy those bits quite so much, but overall, it did a good job of being exactly what it is – a brief dip back into the wizarding world. 3 stars.

October book haul

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I spent the very last of my birthday gift vouchers this month. Don’t let that fool you – only 3 of the books in this picture were covered! Yep, I’m as susceptible to impulse buys as ever. There’s also a few ebooks that didn’t make the picture, even though I’ve virtually stopped reading them due to the headaches I get from using the Kindle app on my tablet for too long. I may need to invest in a Paperwhite so I can make a real dent in my backlog.

Oh, and since only two of the books I read this month were ones I own hard copy (the rest were library books, and a couple of ebooks that were new purchases anyway) my backlog is getting bigger and bigger.

Let’s chat!

There’s a comment button right below, whether you agree or disagree with my reviews. I’d love to know what you think.