Monday, November 28, 2016

In Defense of Abandoning Books

So, the other day, I decided to raid my TBR shelves.  For reference, I have five rather large shelves specifically for filling up with unread books.  My normal practices include weeding books out at the end of every month when I add to these shelves the books I had received during that month for review plus the books that I bought myself.  But this past week, despite regularly discarding books on these shelves, I cleared almost an entire shelf of books that I either no longer want to read OR that I flicked through and decided very quickly that I did not want to continue reading.  So I abandoned more than 15 or so books.

And I feel no guilt for that whatsoever. None.

And this is obviously not the first time that I've openly admitted to quitting books based on the covers, the blurbs, the first chapter, sometimes even the first few sentences. Other people have shaken their virtual heads at me in disappointment and quoted their own rules, like giving a book a 'chance' by sticking with it for 50 pages or 100 pages or a number of chapters. Some people keep with a book for the entire journey just for the sake of completion and I do not fully understand any of these thought processes.

And I think the the thing that I find the most baffling with this train of thought, these seemingly bizarre rules for reading ... is that it seems to be the only form of entertainment that is being held to this line of 'giving it a chance'  You never hear of people needing to finish 25% of their meal to see how they feel about a new food option? Or watching an hour of a movie to give it a chance? Listening to an entire song in order to respect the amount of work put into the finished product?  No. To all of the above.

If I hear a song on the radio and hate it, I'll turn the radio off or to a different station.

If I watch a TV programme and something about the first episode drives me crazy (laugh tracks, for instance) I won't sit through any more episodes to see how I feel.

I won't watch more than a few minutes of a movie if I know in those first few minutes that I don't enjoy it.

I know how I feel about stuff, I know the reactions that I have for when I'm enjoying something and when I'm not. So if I pick up a book, and I'm not enjoying it, why wouldn't I stop?  I absolutely trust my own judgement. I cannot think of many (if any?) books that I abandoned too quickly, went back to give the book a second chance and found that initial reaction was too hasty.

Also, I'm aware that there is a lot of input into going into making a book the best it can be. So much work by the authors, obviously, but agents, editors, cover designers etc. And they're all working so hard because they believe in the appeal of this particular story for whatever reason and they work in their separate or overlapping areas in order to give this book the absolute best start in life to find the right audience.

So I figure besides the cover design and blurb, the start of the book has to be it, right? That first sentence is crucial. The start of the book. That first chapter. And I think as a reader, a lot has to be conveyed right from the start. The tone of the book, the style of writing, something of the characters. And something in all of that, needs to grab me as a reader.  And if it doesn't do that straight away? Then that's a whole team of people who did their best.  But I am not the right reader for this book. And I'm okay with that.

There's a whole lifetime of other books in which to devote to my time and energy towards.

Do you have any 'reading rules' ??

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What I've Been Listening To Lately

Things have been a little tough for me lately. I'm currently writing this from a B&B in Oregon as I'm halfway through a two-week visit to see my dad.

Earlier in the year I visited my dad here and it's hard not to compare that visit to this one. It's pretty clear how much my dad's condition has declined from then to now. I mean, it's been a good trip. There was even a couple moments of recognition. But it's also been really hard to see him like this. Several of the days (like today) have been very challenging.

If I were more forward thinking I might have brought DVDs to watch, or downloaded TV programmes or something to watch onto my laptop. But I didn't.  I have my Kindle, my laptop and my iPod.  And while I haven't been reading or writing for this blog very often lately, inevitably it's music that's getting me through.  And it's mostly been Motown. It just seems to fit right now.

I grew up listening to Motown. These were the songs my dad grew up listening to as well and it just became the sound of my childhood. When I was old enough to choose or purchase my own music ... I mostly stayed in the region of 60s music. Then branching out more, but always returning to it when it was necessary.  And it feels necessary right now.

These Arms of Mine by Otis Redding

I absolutely adore Otis Redding. I have a bunch of other songs by him on my iPod... I've Been Loving You Too Long springs to mind first, but others too.  I go through phases where I like to put one song on repeat and this has been that song lately. I really just love it so.  He has so much soul in his voice, Otis Redding. And? I only just cottoned on that this is the song that's playing when Baby goes to visit Johnny in Dirty Dancing.  That movie, you guys.  (no judgement!)

Wonderful World by Sam Cooke

It was a toss-up whether to include Wonderful World or Cupid in this post. I love both songs and play them endlessly.  They're just so happy and those high notes in Cupid make me go a little swoony, if I'm honest.  Both are about finding love and they just make me happy.  Both songs I've mentioned by Sam Cooke make it difficult for me to not sing in public while listening to my iPod. Ha.

The Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson

Out of the three songs I think this is my favourite.  I like the upbeat music, the general tone of the song ... but with the lyrics being quite melancholy.  I really relate to this song right now. Being happy, painting a smile on our faces when in reality we're dying inside. I get you, Smokey.

What are your favourite songs at the moment?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

#YAShot and Book Events

Over the last few months I have attended two amazing book events, YALC and the Electric Monkey Blogger Brunch.  I did mini-recaps of both events on my youtube channel and I've included them here in case you haven't yet subscribed.  I think being invited to events such as blogger brunches and meeting up with other book bloggers and book tubers (as well as authors!) at events like YALC are my favourite things about being a book blogger and booktuber.

And just thinking about those two events made me realise that I haven't yet discussed an absolutely amazing event that is upcoming very soon ... #YAShot2016

YAShot is an amazing YA and middle grade festival that is in its second year. Through its designs it pairs authors with libraries in order to inspire a love of reading and to create a programme in which young people benefit through the hard work of Alexia Casale and all the authors and other contributors.  

I went last year (and despite leaving early than I'd expected with a migraine!) I had the absolute best time. Last year there was a great vibe amongst the different venues, lots of passion and enthusiasm, a great line-up and some wonderful people attending and taking part.  I went to lots of different panels, heard some fascinating people speak, had lots of my books signed, laughed and caught up with new friends and old and generally felt the entire day was such a good one.  And I've been looking forward to the attending this event again this year.  

Both last year and this year, I've been asked to take part in hosting a blogging workshop! Here's the little write-up plus bio that appears on the YAShot website:

16.40-17.35 Blogging across different platforms with Michelle (Fluttering Butterflies/Bookish Brits)
Don’t know which platform or combination is for you? Need to figure out what sort of content suits which platform? Not sure how to link everything up or how to balance your time between things? Want to set up a group blog or channel? Get the low-down along with Michelle’s advice on working out what’ll work for you.
Michelle is a YA book blogger, booktuber and founder of the booktuber collab-channel Bookish Brits, as well as being a lifelong bookworm. She loves YA, poetry, celebrating diversity, talking about mental health and supporting UKYA and libraries. Michelle is an American/British mother of two, a part-time university student and a roller-coaster enthusiast. She’s been blogging for over 10 years and, during that time, Fluttering Butterflies has been named in CISION’s Top Ten Teen Literature blogs in the UK for three years; Fluttering Butterflies and Bookish Brits have also been shortlisted for the UKYABA.

So... that's pretty cool, right?  Here's the thing though. I'm definitely bringing lots of passion and enthusiasm to this workshop and over 10 years' worth of experience from a blogging perspective. But help me out here, what is it that you would be interested in hearing from me? I honestly could speak forever about my blogging tips and advice, sharing my blogging advice and highlights ... but what would you really like to hear about? Like I said previously, being part of this community is one of my favourite things ever so I'm reaching out for some advice to make my workshop the most helpful and useful that it can be!

I'd love to have a rough idea of what you'd like from me beforehand and of course if you're in Uxbridge and are free on Saturday 22nd October, I'd love to see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

When Books Inspire

I recently wrote a Top Ten Tuesday blog post about books that have inspired me to try or learn something new. And I hinted in that blog post that I'd be saving one particular book for its own upcoming post and it is!

I love it when books inspire. You can see from that TTT that there have been ways that books have inspired me over the years. Mostly in terms of my creativity. I love trying out new types of artistic ventures and I'm sure that won't stop any time soon.  But I also just loved being inspired in general. It doesn't have to come from books. Colours inspire me, nature, people. Without trying to sound overly cheesy, here's plenty of inspiration all around.

But today's inspiration is literary inspired. I recently, as you may have noticed, taken an interest in poetry. And one of the first collections of poetry that I bought myself was Twenty Love Poems and A Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda. I just adore Pablo Neruda's poetry but I've only ever read his poetry on free poetry websites or in collections of other poetry together with other poems and poets. What I really wanted to do was read Pablo Neruda on his own and probably especially this collection of his poetry.  Love poetry! I think Pablo Neruda is so passionate and sensual ...and the earliest poetry I've read of his was always poems where I felt like every word was beautiful, each poem deserved to be read aloud and savoured.

So, yes. I bought this book of poetry ... and as expected, I loved it. I wanted to read every poem aloud, I wanted the language he chose to wash over me.  That was all to be expected. But what I didn't expect was that each of these poems were presented in the Spanish that Pablo Neruda (I'm assuming?) originally wrote the poems in and also the English translations.  And when I was reading these poems I began to wonder what, if anything, might be lost in translation?  Would his work be even more beautiful in the original (maybe?) Spanish? And also, I really wished that I had a better grasp of the Spanish language in order to read these poems in Spanish.

I took several years of Spanish in high school. And I was pretty good at it. They even allowed me to skip my second year of Spanish and transfer immediately from my first year to third year Spanish because I had a natural ability. And I guess enthusiasm for learning languages.  It was something that I really enjoyed when I was younger and I'd forgotten that throughout the years since then.


So reading this book, seeing something I adore written in Spanish, meant that I was inspired. And because I wanted to take up Spanish again, and because I wanted to brush off all the cobwebs in my brain and get going again instead of putting it off or delaying ...I did.  I took up a Duolingo course ... and within 88 days had completed their Spanish course. It was a pretty amazing two months. I loved having this ... purpose. I loved being able to easily see a goal of mine being achieved. I had a lot of fun delving into verb tenses and vocabulary. And it seemed to eat into all areas of my life ... I'd be in the garden with N and the boys having a conversation and would just automatically translate what was being said into Spanish. It was the most fun I've had in ages.

I found the entire Duolingo website easy to use, including the mobile website.  At times I had some issues with the microphone but it wasn't a big problem at all. I liked that the lessons were quite varied and interesting and because of the shortness of them, I was able to breeze through many in a day rather than relying on the recommended two lessons per day.  I had so much that I'm contemplating starting up a French course. Possibly starting this course alongside E and The Littlest? We'll see.

And while I can't say that I can specifically read Tonight I Can in Spanish, at least I'm one step closer.  I was even given a Spanish translation of my favourite children's book in order to work through in order to kickstart a more practical approach to learning Spanish.  Here's to carrying on my Spanish skills!  I hope to some day soon be sitting at a cafe in Spain ordering my food and drink with confidence!

Friday, September 09, 2016

What's Next

I know I haven't been around much lately... and again, I'm not going to apologise.  It's been difficult lately. For so many reasons.  I was going to write a much different post than this one tonight but in the end, this felt like what I needed to write.  Stick with me.

Reason Number 1)

Summer was pretty hard to manage. At times I wanted to read more, blog more, film and edit more videos and instead of doing any of that, so much of my time was spent out with the boys. We did so many things this summer.  We went to theme parks (of course we did) we went to the park and rode bikes and played basketball and tennis. We walked for miles in the woods, around lakes. We played Pokemon, we drew and painted and (they) read books and made forts and watched films. We laughed and had fun.

 And I don't regret one second of that.  Even if it meant the entire summer went by and I hardly read but a few books.  Life is too short, and E and The Littlest won't always want to spend this time with me, you know? I'm making the most of it now.

Reason Number 2)

But it wasn't just the summer either. In early July, I read the most incredible book, Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield (I've already written a review of it and posted that recently!) and it was just so emotional and I felt very ...involved in June's story and her experiences and I was left so wrung out after reading it that I just couldn't bring myself to pick up another book for absolutely ages after that.  Don't you just love books like that? I do. One of those books where it just obliterates me ... it makes me want to either hug the book closer to me and read it again or pass it onto someone else so that her heart can be crushed the same as mine. Or worse. I love passing that emotion along!

But it wasn't even just that.

Reason Number 3)

I'm just not in that place where I'm in love with reading anymore. I don't know what it is.  I mean, I sort of do.  Things are shitty with my dad, with the family I grew up in. I'm in a weird place in my life right now.  And all of that has had a severe blow to my mental health which prevents me from doing things I love.

But what's the hardest for me right now is that through everything in my life, I've always had books to turn to.  Books and stories have always been there for me to help distract and entertain me, they've always been there for me to escape into.  And for some reason, that outlet has been missing for awhile. I've tried shaking things up.  Reading different styles and genres and formats.  And that's had mild success.  The poetry, the non-fiction.

So, what's next?

I know I shouldn't put pressure on myself. I shouldn't force the issue of me not reading.  I know that.  But ... I want to be reading again.  It's been too long now.  At the start of this more-than-year-long-reading-slump I was thinking 'yay, this will be good for me' because it made me examine my identity. It made me work out who I am when I'm not reading, when I'm not blogging or booktubing.  I had a real identity crisis for awhile.  And before it was always just there.  It was always something in my life that I never questioned or considered.  And now I have.  And now I choose to be a reader. I choose to be a book blogger and booktuber. I choose to be part of this community again.  I don't think it'll happen over night, but my plan is to find my way back to those things again.  I realise they might not ever be exactly like they were before, but that's okay.  I'm not the person I was before.  But hopefully I'll figure it out as I go along.

And to get there, I've downloaded three books onto my Kindle that I think will help me back into the place of being a reader and blogger again.  I've chosen three books that I am SUPER excited about, books that I hope will make me addicted to reading again and I hope soon I'll share my progress with you again.

Just to be held accountable, here are the three books up next on my TBR: Witch's Pyre by Josephine Angelini, which is the third book in the Worldwalker trilogy which has had me absolutely gripped!  I love the worlds Josephine Angelini has created, the characters and the relationships. The ending of book two left me desperate to read the next book and when I realised in my blogging malaise I'd somehow missed the release of this book I was super shocked and disappointed. I'm currently reading this and whew, I'm sucked in already.

I've also downloaded the new one by Rachel Vincent, The Flame Never Dies, the follow-up to The Stars Never Rise, which was a book that left me breathless with excitement.  Rachel Vincent really knows how to tell a fast-paced, emotional, addictive story and I cannot wait to see where she takes me with this book.

And the third and final book is Haunt Me by Liz Kessler.  I adore Liz just in general and loved a previous book of hers, Read Me Like A Book. So I'm excited to read more by her. Special bonus is the addition of the importance of poetry into this story of what I can only assume is a love story involving ghosts? I don't know? Don't care either. Without knowing anything about it except Liz Kessler and poetry, I'm already sold.

So there you have it! I look forward to being part of this community again.  Thank you for all your support.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

REVIEW: Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield

Paper Butterflies by Lisa Heathfield absolutely broke me.  I thought that I was emotionally prepared to handle this book, as I knew beforehand that it covered quite a heavy subject matter, but ... no. I wasn't.  I was completely knocked over by this book. In short, I was destroyed. But only in the best possible way.  Because while this book is heavy, it is heart-breaking and achingly sad ... it's also really beautiful. And hopeful. And that more than anything shone through as I was reading this book.

Paper Butterflies is June's story. And she tells the story in her own, flicking between chronological events as well as some time in the future where it feels like these two parts are distinctly a before and after but we're not sure what has happened in between.  And right from the first page, I fell in love with June. I felt for her, sure.  Lisa Heathfield dunks us immediately into a horrible situation as June has already started learning ways to survive her horrible childhood home with her father who isn't able to believe his new wife and stepdaughter can be so cruel and inhumane to June. We read of incident after incident of horrible child abuse against June. We witness numerous ways in which June faces acts of absolute cruelty.  But June finds comfort and hope in little things, big things, her friendship with Blister, the boy in the woods. But with that hope can June find freedom?

As I said, June broke my heart. And Lisa Heathfield so skillfully dismantled my heart. I'm not always so 'happy' when authors choose to describe child abuse/cruelty in as much detail as Lisa Heathfield does in Paper Butterflies but at the same time I also appreciated the fact that the author describes psychological abuse as well as other forms of abuse other than a standard form of psychical abuse. I think that a lot of child abuse narratives focus too narrowly on one type of abuse that it was interesting to read of other forms.

I think one of the reasons this book made such an impact on me personally is how rage-inducing several elements are. Obviously that June suffers at the hands of those meant to protect her. But also how little help or support June has available to her. Her father doesn't or chooses not to see. But so do teachers and other adults in June's life that are meant to be there for her.

Another reason I loved this book so much are the relationships. Obviously June and Blister's is the emotional heart of the novel. Blister and his family provide a ray of light in June's life that was very much necessary. I half fell in love with them all as I was reading. But aside from this simple friendship I also found all of the other, more complicated relationships to be fascinating as well, particularly June and her step-sister.

Paper Butterflies is such an incredible book, one that will stay with me for a very long time. It's painful and beautiful all at the same time and if you're up for it, I say give this one a chance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Top Ten Books that Inspired me to Do/Learn Something Else

This week's Top Ten Tuesday are about the books that have inspired us. Either to do something new or to learn something new. I really like this topic and of course had to join in. There is a major absence amongst this list of books but that's only because I had already planned to write about it separately. Look out for this related blog post very soon. I'm very intrigued to learn what books inspired you! Leave your TTT links in the comments below and do share your top inspiring blog posts, please. I'd love to hear them.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish 

The Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

I really adore Zoe Marriott and all of her books. I wrote last week about how Shadows on the Moon is one of my favourite all-time books but I do love them all. When reading The Night Itself, the first book in the Darkness Hidden trilogy with a basis in Japanese mythology, and more so when I attended an event in which Zoe Marriott was able to explain some of her writing process, I was hugely inspired to read up on other Japanese mythology. And just mythology in general, in fact!

A World Between Us by Lydia Syson

It's no surprise to anyone (I've written about it a lot on this blog!) that it takes a special book or author to really get me into historical fiction. Something about historical fiction just intimidates me.  But Lydia Syson's writing, and especially A World Between Us, was just so easy to get into. And I think it was a combination of Lydia Syson's writing style and because A World Between Us is about a time period I had absolutely zero knowledge about that it made things so much easier for me to fall in love with it so completely. In fact, reading this book inspired me not only to look into the Spanish Civil War more but just history in general.

Notes From the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell

Oh I love Notes From the Teenage Underground. Do you guys know Simmone Howell?? One of my first bookish events I attended was a Chicklish event with Keris Stainton, Sarra Manning, Luisa Plaja and ...Simmone Howell. And because I had already read and loved books by the other authors before I went to the event I picked up this book by Simmone Howell. And loved every second of it. It's about filmmaking and teenage life and feminism. And I remember after reading this book, I ended up buying other non-fiction books about awesome historical women (and starting up a new feature on this blog, Awesome Women).

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Anna Perkins

I'm a big fan of Stephanie Perkins' cute romantic stories. Though nothing really topped Anna and the French Kiss for me, what I loved most about Lola and the Boy Next Door is Lola's interest in fashion design and her wacky, outlandish costumes. And while I haven't yet gotten to the stage where I'm making my own clothes I feel like that will happen in the near future. So while I can't say for sure that Lola inspired me in the first place it was definitely something that helped the idea along.

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Oh how I adore Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley. It's such a beautiful book about three teenagers on one epic night. What I loved about it is how creative each of the main characters are. From actual graffiti to poetry to ... my favourite, glass-blowing. I can't say that I will ever indulge in glass-blowing myself, but I remember visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum after one of the characters in Graffiti Moon mentioned the beautiful green and yellow glass chandelier in the museum reception.  So, I'm counting that.

North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley

It's been awhile since I read North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley but it's still a story that has stuck with me over the years. I loved the themes of identity and image in this book and the many ways these themes are covered through the main character's birth mark on her face, her love interest's racial identity and wardrobe, the size and shape of her overweight mother. But aside from this, the main character is also quite creative and she works through some of her issues through the creation of different collages. And I love the idea of collaging, mixing different types of materials in order to create something beautiful. It really did inspire me to express myself artistically more than I have done.

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone

I love books like Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone. It's telling a really important story and it does so through the medium of poetry. I don't mean that it's written in verse, it's not. (there are lots of other great books that I've loved written in verse though! You should definitely read more books written in verse. I recommend Sarah Crossan's One or The Weight of Water.) But in this book the main character expresses herself and her feelings so well through writing and reading aloud her own poetry. And I loved that about this book. It really made me consider writing my own poetry. I'm still working on possibly sharing some of them with other people though. Baby steps.

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine

Oh I love Jenny Valentine. I remember reading Broken Soup years ago and it was just what I needed in order to inspire me to start writing again after a really long break and a big dip in my confidence. 

Looking For Alaska by John Green

Many years ago I read this book and decided it was just what I needed in order to shake up my life. Do things differently and get myself out of the rut I was in. It was only a mildly successful attempt but I think any progress in that area is a win! 

Regeneration by Pat Barker

I read Regeneration, the first book in Pat Barker's trilogy about World War I and there was so much to be fascinated by. War, new psychology practices ... but the thing that really inspired me was to read more WWI poetry, especially that of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon's poetry that was featured in the book. Which I did. Which was both beautiful and heartbreaking. 

Are there any books that have inspired you to do or learn something else?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

YALC panic

YALC is upon us very soon. I love YALC. It always excites me, the idea of seeing my favourite people, meeting up with book blogger friends, author friends, publishing type friends. All of us in one space there for the sole purpose of celebrating books and words and stories and reading. I love that.

In previous years I've poured over the author list, the programme. I'd create myself a schedule, a timeline of events. I'd try to narrow down the tower of books I wanted to bring with me for signing. In previous years I'd know who else was going to be there, who else I might likely bump into when I was there. That was half the fun.

This year, none of that has really happened. I'm still excited for YALC, I'll be there Saturday and Sunday. But I've barely looked at the authors coming, I don't know what the programme looks like on either day in there. No idea what books to bring, who will be there. I'm entirely unprepared.

Everything else in my life has just taken over. I imagine myself either getting more prepared before the end of the month OR more likely just rocking up to YALC with nothing more than my smile and my excitement for what I'll meet there. Maybe I'll just take it as it comes? See who I see, make it to whatever panels I can and just float between pockets of cool people. We shall see.

Are you going to be at YALC this year? What's your plan??

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Ten UKYA Books Set Outside of the US and UK

It's been awhile since blogging occurred here on Fluttering Butterflies! I'm sorry for my absence, it's been a challenging time for me lately but hopefully I'll be back with a little more regularity from now on. We shall see.

For my blogging debut, I thought I'd take part in this week's Top Ten Tuesday. It's technically meant to be books set outside the US only but I figured I'd do the same with the UK as well. AND just because I wanted to do a(nother) post here on Fluttering Butterflies celebrating UKYA (and one UKMG) books, all of the authors in today's posts are also by British authors.

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish 

Liberty's Fire by Lydia Syson (France)

Lydia Syson is one of my favourite authors. I love the way she writes historical fiction in such a way that it makes it so easy for me to get swept up in her characters and the time periods she writes about. Liberty's Fire is set in Paris, France during a revolution in 1870 and it follows the lives of four entwined characters who are on both sides of the political upheaval. And I loved every second of it! 

The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell (Russia)

I absolutely adored The Wolf Wilder! It's set in a fictional Russia in which wolves have been taken on as pets by royalty and then sent to a wolf wilder in order to be taught how to be wild again.  I love the concept of this book, the setting, the characters and definitely the adventure. This was such a sweet, fun book that I had to go out and pick up Katherine Rundell's debut book, Rooftoppers. 

Forbidden Spaces trilogy by Helen Grant (Belgium)

It shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that I'm a huge fan of the Forbidden Spaces trilogy by Helen Grant. All three books are set in the Flemish speaking area of Belgium and centre around serial killer goings on. I absolutely loved the pace, the intrigue and especially the relationship between the two main characters. 

The Last Leaves Falling by Fox Benwell (published under the name Sarah) (Japan)

The Last Leaves Falling is such a tear-jerker. It was one of those hugely emotional books that I read and just sobbed my way through. It's about suicide and suicide culture in Japan but it's also a book about hope and friendship and acceptance. It's just a really beautiful book and I definitely look forward to more from Fox... 

Stolen by Lucy Christopher (Australia)
I'm still kicking myself for having waited so long to read Stolen by Lucy Christopher. I was really intimidated by it for such a long time without ever coming to any conclusions as to why.  I think the thing I loved so much about this book is how emotional it is. Lucy Christopher described the outback of Australia so well that it felt like a character in itself and also she described how much the main character didn't want to be there that it made me feel that way too.  This setting of this book was incredible. 

Monkey Wars by Richard Kurti (India)

It's a bit of a strange one, Monkey Wars, in that unlike the majority of other books on this list it isn't a contemporary story. This is a book about warring monkeys in Calcutta, India. And it's fascinating. The different monkeys have such differing and powerful personalities. And this book is pretty gruesome. It's bloody and political and I found every page of it fascinating. I love how emotionally invested I became in monkeys on both sides of the conflict and how much I felt about them and their relationships. Such a surprising novel. 

Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott (Japan)

Shadows on the Moon is on my list of favourite books ever, that's how much I love it. It's set in a fictional fantasy feudal Japan, is a fairy tale retelling, it's got a great main character, great secondary characters, an emotional love interest and an amazing setting. I love the world that this book is set in. And I love the revenge and vulnerability... oh, I just love this book!

Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace (Zimbabwe)

I read Out of Shadows several years ago and I still occasionally find myself thinking about it. It's a book set in Zimbabwe during the 80s just after the war of independence. It's about an English boy in school during a time of great upheaval and racial tensions. Robert Mugabe is set to visit the school and that sets off this chain of events that occur. This book was a really powerful and unflinching story about bullying, race, belonging.

A Beautiful Life by Irfan Master (India)

A Beautiful Lie is such a sweet little book. Written back in 2011, this book is set in India during Partition in 1947. The main character, Bilal, is determined to protect his dying father from the news of Partition as he thinks it will break his heart. Set during a time of great turmoil, Bilal and his friends and everyone he can enlist throughout his village go to great lengths so that Bilal's father has peace in his final days. This book is equally sad and beautiful. 

Sophie Someone by Hayley Long (Belgium)

Sophie Someone is the most recent book I've read from this list. I loved the Belgian setting, specifically in Brussels. There was Flemish words thrown into the narrative, there was mentions of different ethnicities living within Brussels because of colonisation etc. It was just a really interesting general look at teenage life in another country as well as being an intriguing story about identity and language. 

What are your favourite books set outside of the US or the UK? 

Monday, May 09, 2016

Reshaping My Life: Reading habits

On Bookish Brits, which I really hope you already subscribe to, I discussed my changing reading habits during 2016. In fact, a lot of things have been changing this year and it's something I'd like to discuss a little bit more on this blog in the upcoming weeks. I hope you don't mind. I thought, because this is primarily a book blog, that I'd discuss the bookish thing first.

Over the last 5 or so years, I've read predominantly YA fiction. Previous to this, I kind of floundered in my reading habits, jumping between genres ... looking for my niche, I guess. It was a lot of literary adult fiction and I enjoyed what I was reading, but I didn't really find my 'passion' for it in the same way that I did YA when I 'discovered' it. Because I started gaining a readership on this blog from a YA audience, I kept at it. I love YA. Especially emotional, contemporary UKYA.

But recently? I've found myself feeling under pressure to continue reading and reviewing YA fiction. And partly because of this pressure and partly because of a change within myself, I've been yearning to read other things. So I have.

Here is a little pie chart I knocked up quickly to show you visually the different types of books I've been reading in 2016 and the amounts.

I think it's quite fun to see this change in my reading habits in such a visual way. Look at the almost equal pie slices of YA, poetry and (adult and new adult) romances! While it is still earlyish in 2016, this is a huge shift in a different direction. And I can definitely say I'm very much enjoying the diversity of topics and genres that I'm exploring this year. YA will always have my heart, but there is also plenty of room in my affections for other types of books as well.

As I mentioned in my video on Bookish Brits, the romances are in there mostly because they help me in times of dire reading slumps, when I really can't bring myself to read anything at all, romances are my lifelines. They won't always be as necessary as they have been during the last few months, but they will almost certainly always be present in a round-up of what I've been reading lately.

But it's the inclusion of literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry that has made the biggest different in my reading habits this year. And long may they continue, I say! The literary fiction book that I read this year I'd mentioned briefly in a blog post a few months ago when I first started reading it: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. This is a book of interconnected short stories about Vietnam. It's a book about war and the effects that the Vietnam war had on a group of men and their families and relationships but it's also a book very much about memory and about storytelling. It was a very powerful book to read and I felt incredibly emotional while reading it. Tim O'Brien is an amazing storyteller and the use of language in these flashes of stories were incredible. I was very impressed by it. I definitely want to read more stories like this.

I'll probably be discussing the non-fiction and poetry more on my YouTube channel, but just briefly, I've loved this foray into new areas. The three non-fiction books I've read are Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson, Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig and The Highly-Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron. I think it should be no surprise that each of these books have a focus on psychology. Mind Your Head is a non-fiction guide to helping young people navigate areas of mental health, Reasons To Stay Alive is a memoir/self-help guide chronicling the experiences of the author's depression and anxiety and The Highly Sensitive Person is a guide/self help book concerning the 'highly sensitive' personality trait, of which I would describe myself as having. Each of these books were very intriguing and they have helped me in other areas of my life that I'm hoping to reshape (and discuss in a later blog post!).

And then there's poetry. My love for poetry at the moment knows no bounds. This year I've read many collections of poetry which contained poems from many contributors (Poems That Make Grown Women Cry, Poetry Please: Love Poems, Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy) and also collections from individual poets (Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, 22 and 50 Poems by e.e. cummmings, The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy, Ariel by Sylvia Plath and Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda) and besides the ee cummings collection, I've loved them all. It makes me so excited reading poetry. I want to explore more and read more and ...feel all of the emotions from reading so much poetry lately. Reading this poetry has inspired me in more ways than one and I do hope to discuss that further in another blog post.

So those are the ways in which my reading habits have changed during 2016 and some of the books I've been reading because of it. I'd love to hear if your reading habits have changed lately and how? Do you have any recommendations for me based on my changes? Do let me know!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Another 'Where I've Been' Post

Hello. Long time since I've updated this blog and oh, I'm not going to apologise. Sometimes life just takes over.  It's been a challenging few months and family stuff and university work and my own mental health took priority for awhile. I've been very much hanging on by a thread lately and I didn't have the energy or enthusiasm that it takes to maintain a time-consuming hobby like book blogging. I hope you'll understand.

But, having said that, I feel like I'm at the point now where I'd like to return. Only it's really difficult after several months away from blogging to get back into it. To start up that routine again. I've thought about writing this post, or one very like it, every day for a week now and it hasn't happened until now. I've lost so much momentum and now it feels like I'll have to work really hard to just get back to where I was. I hope you'll stick with me for awhile as I start all over again.

I do have some ideas for future blog posts. Reviews, discussion posts, some bookish lists. Do you want to hear about my holiday to Italy? My adventures around UK theme parks? We'll see how I go with it.  Just out of curiosity, what would you like to see here? What, if anything, have you missed from me in my absence? Assuming you noticed my absence at all!

I look forward to being part of the book blogging community again very soon!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The YA Sisterhood: Writing Positive Girl Friendships in YA by Catherine Doyle

I'm really happy today to be sharing with you a guest post by Catherine Doyle, the author of both Vendetta and Inferno. Inferno was published at the beginning of this month and both books are incredible exciting and addictive and action-packed. There are wonderful characters and relationships and friendships. Sophie and Millie are such an amazing pair of best friends, so I'm glad Catherine chose to write about their relationship and about girls' friendships in general today. 

Over to you, Catherine...

The YA Sisterhood: Writing Positive Girl Friendships in YA 
by Catherine Doyle

When I set out to write the Blood for Blood trilogy, I had a very clear goal in mind. I wanted to write about that bright, positive light a best friend brings into your life, to explore that deep sense of loyalty within female friendships. I wanted to write about the relationships that have been most important to me, the ones that anchor and nourish.

I didn’t want to write about petty jealousy, or boy-stealing, or fat-shaming, or ‘mean girls’. I didn’t want to write a best friend who hovered in the background while the protagonist had all the adventures, nor did I want to create a cardboard cut-out character or a love rival. I wanted to write something real, something lasting, and most importantly, something aspirational.

Positive female friendships often feel like a rarity in YA fiction. Usually there’s a boy in the way, or an agenda, or, in the case of thrillers, an impending death. They don’t seem to last very long, or run very deep. Romantic stories and platonic friendship stories, for some reason, often seem to be mutually exclusive. If there’s a love interest in the story, the friendship aspect suffers. If there’s a friendship taking centre stage, romance doesn’t get much of a look-in. As much as I wanted Sophie’s story to be about romance, I also wanted it to be about friendship, too.

In the search for romance, the YA best friend often gets relegated to the back of the plot, where she waits for an occasional high-five, to give out a well-timed scolding or to turn her back on the protagonist at the first sign of strife. Or she’s the shoulder to cry on, the phone call in the night-time, always kept slightly out of the loop. She is a supporting character. She is very rarely the lead. And she should be. Romance cannot be the only thing that matters.

I’m not saying this isn’t indicative of some people’s teenage experience. At a time when young girls are trying to figure themselves out, the quest for boys can often override the desire to maintain a healthy, committed friendship. People drop the ball. It happens. And so it happens a lot in YA too. The problem with this is that it sends a message and it repeats a message that’s already out there: romantic relationships will fulfill you, and friendships should come second or third. No. No no no no no.

When I was a teenager I fell for a slightly sociopathic boy and didn’t heed my friends’ advice on the matter. I became enamoured with the idea of being in love – with the idea of being wanted. My priorities went askew. It took me a while to realize my mistake, and to learn a very important lesson: female friendships are a constancy – romantic partners, especially during your teenage years, are not. At the beginning of Vendetta, Sophie Gracewell might be a bit naive, but one thing she is sure of is her best friend, Millie. The greatest bond is their own. It is absent of resentment or jealousy. It’s a sisterhood. It’s important.

After Vendetta came out, I received emails from readers declaring themselves ‘Team Nic’, or ‘Team Luca’ (and even some, randomly, ‘Team Dom’). Inferno has just been released, and already I am getting feedback that diverts a little from the ‘I want a Luca’ and settles a little more firmly on the ‘I want a Millie.’ I’m not saying you can’t have both (wouldn’t that be great?!) – but to wish for a strong, empathetic, mutually-supportive friendship in your life is definitely a good thing!

Inferno by Catherine Doyle was published 7th January by Chicken House Books, I highly recommend that you go out and find a copy! 

REVIEW: Inferno by Catherine Doyle

Oh, this series. Inferno by Catherine Doyle is the second book in the Blood for Blood trilogy and oh my god, is it good. I felt like with this book Catherine Doyle took absolutely everything that I loved about the first book, Vendetta, and then just ramped everything up and gave me more. Inferno is incredibly exciting and addictive and action-packed! I loved the characters, the relationships, the friendships. This entire book felt like I was hurtling through everything at such a fast pace and like I just needed to hold on and enjoy the ride!

As much as I'll try not to spoil the events of Inferno, this book is the second in a trilogy and as such, there will be spoilers below for Vendetta. If you haven't yet read that book, please stop reading now. 

Right from the beginning, I really loved Inferno. Sophie went through a great deal at the end of Vendetta and I'm glad Catherine Doyle showed Sophie really at her lowest trying to find some semblance of normal again and putting herself back together both physically and emotionally. Sophie may have been a bit broken at the beginning of this novel but she just continues to grow and grow throughout Inferno and it made my heart happy to see her do this.

And I think the thing that helps Sophie so much is her incredible friendship with Millie. Wow, I love Millie. If I'm honest, I didn't pay that much attention to Millie in the first book so much.  But Inferno was different. Millie was absolutely necessary to Sophie and I loved how close the girls are and how wonderful they are with each other. I love such a central female friendship in any book but especially this one.

Everything to do with the Mafia was tense and nail-biting and surprising. Sophie does her best to take herself out of this thing she's in with the Falcone family but other things lead her right back there with them all. And in Inferno, Sophie discovers even more family lies and deception and it really goes to some dark places. And I loved exploring that darkness alongside Sophie. I was completely and utterly swept away in this series.

This review is turning out to be a list of all the things I love about Inferno, but I'm sorry. I can't stop now. I haven't even gotten to the boys!

First, there's Nicoli. Oh, Nicoli. Even during Vendetta, my heart had already jumped to a different ship, but I did find it fascinating reading more about Nic in this book. It was just really interesting and a little painful to watch Sophie interact with Nic and to piece through her feelings for him and to see him in this different light. And then there's everything delicious with Luca. Oh I love Luca. There's so much emotion there with the two of them. And that thing with the doughnut?? Swoonfest.

My only complaint was this book is that it ended and now there's this awful, gut-wrenching wait for the next book!  Honestly, this series of books is amazing and I love them.  Do read them if you get the chance!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Books I'm Excited For in January 2016

Last year, at the start of every month I tried to post a list of all the upcoming books published in the UK by British authors. I had a lot of fun doing these posts and I got a great response for them.  I mostly compiled those lists to help those of you taking part in the British Books Challenge I was hosting last year ... but this year I'm not hosting that challenge. And this year it feels like too much restriction to be posting only about British authors. So I've decided in 2016, instead, I'll just be sharing a smaller selection of those books I'm most excited to read. And maybe you'll also be excited by some of them too? Who knows. We shall see.

So here we are, a little bit late. The books I'm absolutely the most excited to either read or have more people reading during the month of January!

Inferno by Catherine Doyle

Luckily, I've already read Inferno, the explosive and hugely exciting sequel to Vendetta. You can look out for my review and a guest post from Catherine on the blog soonish. But definitely do get your hands on a copy of this book, if you haven't already or if (somehow!) it's slipped your radar! It's about a girl caught up in a complicated family thing involving the mafia.  There's love and friendship and family and action and I couldn't possibly love it anymore than I do.

Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson and Dr Olivia Hewitt

I'm a huge fan of Juno's in general, but I'm really super looking forward to this guide to mental health for teenagers and young people. From the second I heard that Juno would be writing another non-fiction guide for young people (following Being A Book and This Book Is Gay) I was very excited. Mental health is definitely a topic close to my heart and I really hope this book is as amazing as I hope it will be.

This Raging Light by Estelle Laure

I managed to get hold of a copy of this book absolutely ages ago and it is so incredible. I cannot wait for more people to read it.  I didn't know a thing about the book before I picked it up (but was really intrigued as to why the publisher chose to send the book along with some fajita seasoning!) but from the very first page I was swept away in the beauty of this book. It's such an emotional story about love and friendship, a great sisterly relationship and some difficult topics written about in such a gorgeous way.

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

This book arrived gorgeously packaged with this beautifully engraved comb with my name on it. It was described as being a fantasy, feminist, Finnish novel and doesn't that just sound incredible?! I've already started reading this book and I love the setting and the characters and everything already. More of my thoughts on this book soon!

Front Lines by Michael Grant

I'm also currently reading this book, the newest book from Michael Grant. It's his first book that I've attempted to read and so far I've found it really easy to feel sympathetic towards the characters I've met and the situation that they're in. I feel like I'll need to prepare myself for harder things to come however... this book is an alternative history book in which laws were passed that allowed for women to join the war effort as soldiers during World War II. Alternative history stories (and indeed historical fiction) aren't normally areas of interest for me, but I'm so curious about this book.

How Not To Disappear by Clare Furniss

I didn't know a single thing about the plot of How Not To Disappear when it was first offered to me for review but I accepted the request immediately because I adore both Clare Furniss and her debut book, The Year of the Rat. Both feelings were strong enough for me to be hugely excited about this one and dive in without knowing anything else. I figured it was going to be just as beautifully-written and emotional as Clare's first book. And so far it is. More to come! 

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

I'm very, very excited that Macmillan are publishing Courtney Summers in the UK. Especially All the Rage, her very important book that deals with rape and rape culture. I read this book last year when it was first published in the US (because I'm such a Courtney Summers fangirl!) and I'm excited and hopeful that the UK publication will bring lots more readers to both CS and this story.

What books are you looking forward to reading in January?