Friday, January 20, 2017

REVIEW: We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

I'm lately very curious about co-written novels.  How they originated, how they work, who writes what, when.  I find it fascinating.  It makes me think of future pairings, dream writing teams...

And this book, We Come Apart, written by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan is very intriguing. I've read books by Sarah Crossan before and loved everything she's written and also read the one book by Brian Conaghan and found it very unusual and interesting. This pairing isn't one that would spring to mind naturally, but I think it worked very well.

We Come Apart is a novel told in verse. I love verse novels, I think they manage to convey so much depth and emotion in fewer words and I'm usually in awe of that fact. This book manages that very well.  Some of my favourite poems were quite short but each word managed to hit a place in my heart.

This is a dual-perspective verse novel told in alternating chapters from the two main characters. Nicu is a Romanian immigrant in the UK with his family. His parents are hoping to earn enough money for Nicu to return home and marry, though Nicu is struggling with the limitations on his future. And Jess is also struggling in her home life that is overshadowed by an abusive step father.  The pair meet after being caught shoplifting and sentenced to community service.

I think one of my favourite aspects of We Come Apart is how subtly it engaged my emotions. As in, I wasn't fully aware of how much I had to come to care for both Jess and Nicu until something more dramatic began to happen in the last quarter of the novel that made me realise that what I was feeling was shock, anger and devastation.

My only complaint about this book is that I wanted it to be longer. Well I appreciated the ending that this book has, I also wanted more.  I wanted more of these characters and to learn more about their stories.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

REVIEW: The Memory Book by Lara Avery

The Memory Book by Lara Avery ended up being an incredibly quick book to read that was emotional but not overwhelming.  I'm glad I gave it a chance and I loved how sweet the book ended being.

I was a bit conflicted about reading The Memory Book by Lara Avery.  The cover itself makes it look like a book I'd want to pick up and flick through... but once I found the story revolves around 17 year old Sammie with a rare disease, Niemann-Pick Type C, a genetic disease similar to dementia in which Sammie will slowly lose her memory as well as other cognitive functions, I was a little less keen.  Only because a member of my close family suffers from dementia and I worried that this book would feel like too much

Luckily for me, this book is very readable.  There were moments of heart-break, but the overall tone of the book is very positive and hopeful and that comes across very well within this book.  It's essentially Sammie's diary as she tries to make sense of this condition she's living with, trying to record the important events but also as she's trying to work towards her goals, her new relationship and the rest of her life as it is becoming.  

I think the fact that Sammie is quite young and dealing with this disease and also her character's approach towards it made it far easier to read her experiences.  Yes, she's going through something awful, but she has such a good attitude about it that it felt harder to feel sorry for her and I think even her denial that she might not achieve some of her goals  is what helped create some distance in the emotional aspects of the story line.  

Because Sammie is such a driven character. She's determined to do All The Things: win the national debate championships, be valedictorian, go to New York for university. She realises that Niemann-Pick will affect her life in some ways but she's determined to live out her goals anyway.  I also enjoyed her burgeoning friendship with ex-friend, Cooper, and new love interest, Stuart.  It was nice to see that this book was very much about the experiences of a teenage girl with romance and troubled friendships.  I loved everything else going on in Sammie's life.  

But I think ultimately what I enjoyed the most about this book is that it is a very life-affirming story of hope and love and slowing down and treasuring the things most important to us. 

Monday, January 09, 2017

REVIEW: Consumed by Abbie Rushton

Consumed by Abbie Rushton was a really, easy readable book.   Right from the beginning I wanted to know more about the two main characters, Myla and Jamie and I wanted to know more about their individual situations. I liked that the story includes some aspects of mental health but at the heart of it, Consumed is a thriller and the identity of who did it kept me guessing!

The two main characters are Myla and Jamie and they're sort of thrown together in a well-meaning attempt at kindness between Myla's parents and Jamie's aunt.  Myla is suffering from panic attacks and agoraphobia after the murder of her sister two years ago, and Jamie is staying with his aunt for the summer following some troubles at home and a problem with eating. It is thought that perhaps the two could be good for each other and, after a rocky start, they seem to be!

I liked that the two main characters are both dealing with mental illnesses.  While I feel like Rushton's portrayal of Myla's agoraphobia and panic attacks didn't feel quite like it hit the spot for me and that perhaps other authors have done this better, I did appreciate the addition of a male teenager with an eating disorder.  I'd very much like to see more of this in YA. Jamie is really struggling throughout this story about eating and control and I really liked that his aunt in particular was quite supportive of Jamie's route towards recovery.

Aside from the thriller aspects, which I'll get to in a minute, and the mental health issues, my favourite part of the book is that Myla is a food blogger and spends a great deal of her time indoors cooking food and writing blog posts about food.  I'd love to read some of her blog posts! I loved the variety from the origins of carrot cake, Mauritian food, and her attempts at the perfect recipe for chilli brownies, I think it'd make for fascinating reading.

In fact, Myla spends a lot of her time online. From updating her blog, her online friendship with a girl called Eve ... but she's also interested in setting up a website that exonerates the man who has been convicted of her sister's murder.  This is obviously a contention between Myla and her family and is the basis of the thriller-ness of Consumed. I think the small-town setting helped this story along, as well as the different characters and how Abbie Rushton weaved everything together. I was definitely doubting many characters throughout the story unfolding and I love to be kept guessing like that!

So while there were some faults with Consumed it was definitely an interesting and pleasurable book to read and spend several hours with!

This book counts towards my British Books Challenge 2017!

Thursday, January 05, 2017

REVIEW: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer was a book that I'd heard about years ago, starting reading last year and only finished early this year.  It's a book about animal welfare, animal cruelty and the morality of eating animals.  I found it fascinating. It was definitely a book that was difficult to read, but it feels like an important book to read as well. I'm really glad that I have.

As I said, this book is a non-fiction book written by a well-known literary author, Jonathan Safran Foer. He spent several years researching this book after pondering the idea of how moral it is to raise, kill and eat an animal for the food.  As well as having quite a lot of facts in this book (there was at least two pages on my Kindle that listed all the sea life that is harmed or endangered from modern methods of farming fish for food consumption!) there is also some thoughts from the author himself, extracts from people in the farming communities, protesters against factory farming and a really wonderful narrative about eating as story-telling that ties all the different threads of this topic together.

I think the facts speak for themselves on this one. I think most sensible people will realise the harmful impact of factory farming on the animals themselves, pollution etc. But I think the extent of the harm is what is eye-opening about this book.  To me, at least. I knew that things were bad, I didn't realise how bad. Or perhaps I was just entirely disinterested in knowing and thus didn't look into further because of how much I enjoy eating meat presently? I think the latter is more likely the case.

The author delves into the welfare of animals currently being factory farmed, predominantly in the US but he brings up in the text that practices are no better in other countries such as the UK.  The lives and deaths of chickens, pigs, fish, turkeys and cattle are in the main spotlight in this book.  But also the economic reasons for factory farming, detailed accounts of what the different farms for these animals look like, what the lives of these animals consist of. It also looks at a handful of farmers who are trying to be more compassionate in the ways in which they farm animals. The facts portion of this book made my stomach clench, my conscience kick in and it had me seriously considering vegetarianism.

There was also a large section of information regarding the spread of disease that is caused by factory farming and information regarding the extent of pollution.  But I think my favourite aspects of the book revolved around eating as a means of social culture and the thread of story-telling and our eating practices.  I really loved these parts of the book and I could really relate as well. I think what we eat, how we eat, who we eat with are definitely areas that shape our identities which means making large changes in our eating habits difficult for a lot of people to do.

Though the author himself, after doing the research for this book, admits to becoming vegetarian himself, it isn't his aim, I don't believe, to advocate for readers to turn vegetarian themselves. He seems to want to bring the facts to life and is really advocating for better, more responsible choices in terms of animal welfare and well-being.

I really found Eating Animals to be an engrossing, thought-provoking and emotional read. And I, will definitely be considering my eating choices in the future based on the facts provided to me here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

British Books Challenge 2017

The British Books Challenge is the only reading challenge I historically sign up for, so it should come as no surprise that I'm signing up for it this year as well!  This year, Chelley from Tales of Yesterday is hosting and I'm really looking forward to all the prize packs, authors of the month etc that will be coming from her through 2017!

The aim of this particular challenge is to read at least 12 books by British authors during the year, review them and for every link added to the monthly link up pages you are in for a chance of winning prizes. It's pretty simple but fun. And, as you know, I very much enjoy supporting British authors when I cam.

Normally at this point I'd be sharing with you some of the UKYA books that will be published this year that I'm hoping to read for the challenge ... but I think I'll mostly be focusing on some of the books by British authors that I already own.  So, some, but not all, of the books I'm hoping to tackle this year include:

Consumed by Abbie Rushton
Crush by Eve Aisnworth
The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone
The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick
All About Pumpkin by Natasha Farrant
The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla
Welcome to Nowhere by Elizabeth Laird
Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson
Wing Jones by Katherine Webber
The Last Beginning by Lauren James
The Deviants by CJ Skuse

Which books by British authors are you hoping to read in 2017? Have you joined the British Books Challenge?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Happy New Year!

In which I wish you a very Happy New Year, share with you my family's New Year's Day tradition and tell you my three resolutions for 2017. 

First of all, Happy New Year! I hope whatever you were up to last night, you were happy, and safe.  As I'm writing this in advance, I can only say that my PLANS were for a quiet night in with my family and a friend.  I was really hoping to finish the two books I'd previously started earlier in 2016 and never finished, so I'll be happy if I got anywhere near finishing those two books!

I only have the one New Year's Day tradition, really. But I think it's a pretty good one.  N and I like to start the new year fresh. And clean.  And we do that literally by wearing new clothes on January 1st. Something new, anything.  It doesn't have to be an entire outfit, but it usually is.  And we like to give the house a good clean beforehand, so when we wake up just feels nice to have a clean house, the laundry all done.   It feels like a literal clean slate.  To leave all of 2016 in the past and start new in 2017. It makes me happy to do this. And I think starting a new year in a happy way is a great step forward. Start as you mean to go on, right?

Which, I guess leads me to my resolutions for 2017.  In previous years I'd broken my resolutions down into personal goals, reading goals, blogging and booktubing goals.  But I think this year it's probably best to keep things a little simple as most of 2016 was spent in a perpetual reading/blogging/booktubing slump:

1) Find my love of reading again

2) Find my love of blogging again

3) Find my love of booktubing again 

...I guess you could say there's a bit of a theme going on there, yes? I guess I could expand a little more on some of them.  I'd like to continue supporting books and authors that I've previously supported: UKYA, books and authors with elements of mental health, LGBT and POC story lines, or story lines with differing religions, abilities, economic backgrounds. That sort of thing. But I feel like those are both a given at this point?

In terms of my personal life, that's a bit more extensive. Find a job. Continue being creative. Be more mindful. Be kind to myself.

Do you make any resolutions? Do you have any New Years traditions? 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New To Me Authors in 2016 and What I'll Read Next Because of Them

In 2016 I read...

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

I'd had this book on my shelves unread for many years. For most of my life I've avoided reading Vietnam-centred stories but I chose to read this book this year because of the connection it has with my father as well as a recommendation from a close friend.  I loved this book utterly.  It was beautifully written and an incredibly emotional reading experience for me.

Next, I think I'll pick up...

Other books about the Vietnam war, particularly maybe If I Die in A Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien, but also maybe Dispatches by Michael Herr or a book about the Vietnam War from a non-American perspective such as The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh.  I would also like to read more short story anthologies on any topic. Hit me with your recommendations for either war stories or short story collections in comments!

Underwater by Marisa Reichardt, When We Collided by Emery Lord, A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard, and Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

All four of these books were really well-written and were stories that had elements of mental illnesses.  Particularly OCD and agoraphobia. Because mental illness is something that is a large part of my life I think that I will always seek out books that deal with mental health issues.

Next, I think I'll pick up...

All of these books were incredible books that looked at different aspects of mental health. I'll definitely be on the look out for other books involving mental health in YA.  It's an area that I've already read extensively, so it might be difficult to give out recommendations for me in this area, but if you're feeling brave, I'd love to hear from you.  Books I've already got on my radar to possibly read in 2017 include Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley, Paperweight by Meg Haston and The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur 

I absolutely fell in love with Rupi Kaur's contemporay poetry examining love, recovery, picking oneself up after trauma.  She really captured so many relatable things in her poetry and I love her for it. Modern poetry really stole my heart this year.

Next, I think I'll pick up...

Just based on some Amazon recommendations, I've added two contemporary poetry collections to my wish list, based on the fact that I read and loved Milk and Honey: the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace and salt by nayyirah waheed.

George by Alex Gino

I absolutely loved this middle grade book about a trans character.  I loved the story of it, I loved the characters. I love the simplistic cover and the feel-good message of George's story.  It was a wonderful book and I'm so glad to have read it this year.

Next, I think I'll pick up...

Other #ownvoices books, particularly for trans stories.  I have If I Were Your Girl by Meredith Russo on my kindle that I still haven't read.  I really need to get to it already.  Other own voices trans stories coming up in 2017 that I need to look out for?  Do let me know in comments!

What new to you authors have you discovered in 2016? And does that change your reading habits for 2017 like it does mine? 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Series Endings in 2016

It wasn't a conscious decision to not read many series books in 2016, but that's the way it sort of went.  Besides the books I'll be mentioning in this post, I only read two other books in a series. One being the third in an unknown number of books in the series (All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes in the Natural series) and one other book that is tentatively linked by the setting (Defending Taylor by Miranda Kenneally in the Hundred Oaks series). The rest of the books I read in 2016 (admittedly I didn't read that many books this year, especially in comparison to previous years!) were all standalone books, non-fiction books or poetry books.  

But I think it's fairly fitting that I talk about the three books I read that finished their trilogies that I read in the last few weeks of this year.  Fitting, right?  Ending a trilogy read at the end of the year? Not too much of a stretch, right? Even if it is, please stay with me :)

Witch's Pyre by Josephine Angelini

First, I finished the Worldwalker trilogy by Josephine Angelini.  I was actually a little bit wary to start this trilogy. Especially as I read the first book in Angelini's Goddess trilogy, was really engrossed in it, felt excited to continue the trilogy... and then couldn't find my feet in the second book in that trilogy.  So it was with some trepidation that I started the Worldwalker trilogy.  

And I needn't have worried.  I found all three books in the trilogy immensely readable and highly addictive. It's about alternative worlds and witchcraft, responsibility and that blurry line between good and evil and how and when you cross that line into doing bad things for the right reasons.  It's also very much a love story at the heart of these books but I loved that there is also much else around this book that gives it its heart other than Lily's romantic entanglements. 

While I didn't think that Witch's Pyre had the emotional highs that I loved so much in the second book, I felt like there was a good conclusion to both Lily and Lillian's stories as well as the worlds that are inhabited and an outcome that was satisfactory, at the very least. I felt like some of the set-up for the ending took away a little bit from the pace of the novel but I was still there with these characters all the way up to the end, I still wanted the best for them, and I was happy with the way things ended.  A little bit good, a little bit bad.  It kind of fit with the whole trilogy's themes of blurry grey patches in between the black and white of morality and good and bad.  I enjoyed it and I can very much recommend this trilogy for fantasy lovers, for those looking for adventure, addictive reading, a great heroine at the heart of the story, romance lovers. 

The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's trilogy by Marie Rutkoski has been one of my favourite trilogies ever.  I was completely blown away by the first book in the series (The Winner's Curse), I thought the second (The Winner's Crime) was somehow even better building more and more on what I loved about the first book in the series and, if I'm honest, I was so nervous to start the third and final book in the trilogy, The Winner's Kiss for fear of this third book wouldn't live up to the others, that somehow I'd find a way to be disappointed. In the characters, in the relationships, in the way the story progressed.  That is why I put off reading this book for such a long time.  Someone needs to go back and shake past-Michelle.  Past-Michelle was an idiot.  Because The Winner's Kiss was everything I wanted in the conclusion to Kestrel and Arin's stories.  And for all of the characters.  

This trilogy was so much about strategy and political intrigue.  I loved how much this book is about politics and how much the lies and decisions of the things they'd done in the past weighed heavily on our characters.  It's also a book about friendship, about memories, about family and priorities. 

This book and the entire trilogy felt so incredibly emotional to me.  I was constantly crying or laughing or had my heart in my throat wanting to know what would happen next, how could this characters live with the actions they've done?  The entire cast felt so real to me, the characters of Arin and Kestrel in particular.  And while I was happy with the ending given to them both, I was also disappointed that I would no longer be living alongside them in this world that Marie Rutkoski created. 

Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle 

And the third and final book I wanted to talk about today is Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle the third book in the Blood for Blood trilogy.  Wow, I love this trilogy so much. It was originally pitched to me as a modern day Romeo and Juliet set in Chicago with two warring Mafia families.  And I think what that mini-description misses out is the huge cinematic feel to this story.  Where all the characters and events from gun battles and explosions and heart-wrenching conversations under the stars all feel so real.   So real that I sometimes forgot I was reading this book as opposed to living it.  

The stakes were high in Mafiosa, right from the very first page I worried for the main character, Sophie. That she was in too deep, that the actions at the end of the second book would eat her up, that being involved with the Mafia in the ways she has been would change her too much.  I worried throughout most of the book, in fact. I loved the surprises in this story, I loved where everything ended up going.  I felt so connected to the story, so emotionally invested.  I knew there couldn't be a happy ending for everyone involved, but I liked how each character, even some of the minor characters, were able to shine a little bit on the pages of this story before the end. Before their ends.  

Again, I didn't want this story to end.  I loved Sophie. I loved Millie. I loved Luca. I wanted it all for all of them.  But I'm happy that they all got endings that were right for each of them.  Everything felt pretty true to their characters and I love that I have such a strong opinion what would be true for these characters because of how well Catherine Doyle delivered them on page.  This trilogy definitely comes very highly recommended from me! 

Did you finish many series books in 2016? Which were your favourites?

Friday, December 23, 2016

On Confidence

I haven't worked in ten years, did you know that?  I gave up my job as a supervisor in a bookstore in order to raise my eldest son. Which in time became my two boys. And for a million reasons, though it was always my intention to go back into paid employment, me going back to work never happened.  There was a blip a couple years ago in which I thought it might happen ... but at the last hour everything fell apart with a shocking lack of childcare options available to me.

So... I kind of gave up. Figured that wasn't how my life was supposed to turn out just yet.  I finished my university degree, I kept up with the blogging and booktubing.  And I threw myself into the parts of my life that I could control. Me as a parent, me as a friend, me as a book blogger.

But you know, over time, being out of work, being a little ...isolated from that life, my confidence has seriously dwindled.  When I did work, I was sure of myself. Of my abilities, of my strengths and weaknesses, the things I was good at, the things I could accomplish.  I was a really good bookseller. Passionate, enthusiastic. And being a stay at home mother for so very long robbed me of those feelings.

And, actually, a lack of confidence is something I've struggled with my entire life. Events growing up, experiences that I had always made me feel this overwhelming lack of self-confidence.  But I'm in my 30s now, and you know what? Things aren't the same anymore.

And this is what I realised.  My confidence now? comes from many things. And I'm writing this post partially because I went for an interview this past week, thought I did really well in it and was emailed today to inform me that I hadn't made it to the next stage in the process.  And that seriously bummed me out because I was so hopeful about it, so ready to get back into work.  I wanted that job. I'd have been great at that job.  But do you know what? I'll be just fine.  Because little by little, my confidence grows. And I can take from this minor setback with more interview experience and also a little more hunger to change my life in this way.  There will be other jobs that come my way, I'm sure of it.

So today, I thought I'd share some of the ways I've gotten to this point in terms of my self-confidence.

1) Surrounding myself with my people

This seems pretty obvious, but I've surrounded myself with great people.  People who lift me up, who support me.  Who help when things are tough and who celebrate with me when things are good.  No more dead-weight from the friends who never bother, no more negativity from that friend who spends more of our interactions complaining at me, being negative about other people, about the world.  I just decided that I don't have time anymore for anyone in my life who isn't real with me.  I need people like that in my life, people who are my biggest cheerleaders but who are genuine about it. Good people.

2) Accepting myself

This was a hard one.  I'm ... a little weird. I'm hugely sensitive, I'm imaginative, creative. I have this weird childlike wonder and excitability about me sometimes. I don't often like to throw in funny comments into situations if I'm not sure how they'll be taken. I used to not like to share my opinions or make decisions for the same reason.  And now? why not?  Mostly because I've realised that my friends and family have long ago accepted me for who I am, I may as well do the same and unleash my fun/weird personality on the world while I'm at it.

3) Reframe past experiences

Together with accepting myself I also have to accept the things that have happened to me, reframe those experiences and move on.  You might not quite understand what I mean by that?  But do you ever have one of those times where you say or do something in front of someone else and then beat yourself up about it forever afterwards? I do that all the time.  Which is kind of a fun, light-hearted example of what I mean by 'reframing my past experiences' but I sat down very purposefully and went through old memories of things that had happened. And I look at them from a different, more adult perspective. And instead of putting the blame/guilt/whatever on myself, I've made those memories and experiences more positive in some way. So they don't feel so heavy. So they don't continue to hold me back in my current situations. I'm taking some of the things that helped shape my low self-confidence, removing them and trying to do better!

4) Doing something I'm good at

Doing something you're good at gives a boost of confidence in itself. Just knowing that you've put hard work into a thing, and your reward seems to be the ease that you do these things, maybe the recognition you get from it, just the overall level of productivity. Whatever it is, they're all good things. Can be tricky finding the right things that you're good at to put your energy into, but once you have? Sorted.

5) Surround myself with happy things

There's a little more to it than just 'surround myself with happy things' of course.  Most of this one is actually ... put all the junk in my house in its own proper place so things aren't all in disarray and unorganised and cluttered. Because that sort of stuff just drags me down rather than anything else.  But aside from that? Surround myself with happy things.  I've tried for there to be something in each room of my house that makes me really smile to see it.  It could be the colour of the walls, a piece of artwork, a blanket that I love. Something.  It's a small thing, but it makes a huge impact for me.

6) Dress comfortably

There is so much to be said for going through your wardrobe and throwing out absolutely everything that is too small, too big, uncomfortable, ripped, faded, or just otherwise makes you unhappy when you wear it. Holy crap, I felt so much relief when I did that.  And for years I'd always had in the back of my head this idea that I'd wear nothing but dresses and skirts all year-long.  I now have over 30 dresses alone and it makes me absolutely happy every single day that I put on one of my pretty, happy dresses.   And now that I've organised my closet so nicely too.  I love organising and tidying things. So very happy-making.

7) Stay on top of my mental health

I've struggled off and on with depression since I was an early teenager. And I feel I'm quite high-functioning with my anxiety.  And like anyone, I need a little help sometimes pulling through the more challenging elements of my life, of my brain.  So I stick to a fairly rigid routine to help along a positive mental health. This includes sleeping well, eating regular meals, exercising, being creative, meditating, talking with other people.  I have a pretty great self-care system in place. One that works for me and for the dips that I face on a fairly regular basis.

8) Try new things

Something that gets me going is constantly changing my interests, trying out new projects.  Finding out what other things I'm good at, that I might enjoy doing.  This has included so many different things lately. Dabbling in artwork, clothing, balloon animals, learning Spanish. And I feel like it's ME that is the constant project. But I also like that too. I like the possibility of always trying new things, of evolving into a different person with all sorts of different experiences and interests.  This makes me happy.  It might not make everyone happy, but it works for me!  I just like ... that nothing is closed off. I am open to these possibilities.

9) Me time

Over the years, I've been able to pretty accurately work out who I am. And who I am is a very highly sensitive, introverted, shy person.  And because of all three of these things, it requires me to spend a lot of time on my own, recuperating from all the things in life that make things harder or more challenging for me.  And I need some time alone, just for myself.  To sort stuff out in my head, to calm down, to find myself again in a world filled with noise and other distractions.  I can do this in any number of ways ... me with my laptop, writing, like I'm doing right now. Me with a book in a quiet room. Soaking in the bath. Me on a chair, meditating. Going for a run, a walk in the forest.  Whichever way I feel like getting some alone time in.  Whatever works.

10) The right attitude

I think I just got to a point in my life where I thought to myself 'why aren't I my biggest cheerleader? why are so many other people and not myself?' and that has sort of been the impetus for this whole change in myself. And I think it can be difficult to pull off positive affirmations in the mirror or combating really negative past experiences without that realisation.  So, while everything is still a work in progress, I feel like I'm at least moving in the right direction...

I mean, this isn't the limit on the things I do to boost my confidence, to feel better about myself.  When I walk, I listen to kick-ass music. I read self-help articles that make me feel good, I've stopped putting things off, I'm more productive, and organised.

I'm just ... happier these days. More confident.  And that's definitely a good thing.

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.