Tuesday, May 01, 2018

52: Write a poem a week

I went back and forth about whether or not I wanted to share some of the poetry that I’ve been writing over these past few months. I’ve decided that I won’t share every poem and it probably won’t be shared often, but here we go. The following poem I wrote during week two and the theme was ‘a journey’ - please be kind, the only people who have ever read any of my poetry are two close friends who are more than a little biased.



It started to rain just as we left the house
Just after we had decided to walk instead of drive
Thinking the weather would hold out just that little bit longer
It was a drizzle at first
Then got heavier, wetter
Our walk quickly transformed into to a damp, cold sludge

Silently, I pulled my hood over my head
and he did the same
and in that moment, without complaint,
I remembered other such walks in the rain
Where he'd cry over his cold fingers or wet face
And I'd blow warm air onto his hands or bring out mismatched mittens from my bag
Little snacks or funny faces to distract from the slow torment of water creeping into shoes
Other walks where he'd be delighted
Jumping over puddles, into puddles
A muddy, happy mess of a boy
Him wearing his Spiderman boots and holding my hand.

As we near the school, I stand at the gates and watch
With his hands in his pockets, his hood up
He walks off
Without a backward glance.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Home and Belonging, #YAShot2018

I feel like I will have many thoughts about the panels and 'in conversation' events I saw during my time at YAShot and I may very well blog about more of them soon, but... for now, I just wanted to send out this one particular thought. I was at a panel about Home and Belonging chaired by Cecelia Vinesse with SE Durrant, Will Hill, and Eleanor Wasserberg.  Home and belonging is something I feel very strongly about and it was a panel I was very much looking forward to.  As I've been fairly out of the loop, book-wise, I'd only read one book by the panelists (Cecelia Vinesse's Seven Days of You) but I was very intrigued by all of the stories and I was excited to hear them talk about what thoughts they all had about both subjects.  And it was a really interesting panel.  I was engrossed.

But one thing stood out for me more than others.  I think the topic was about setting.  And how certain places feel like home and how the characters in Will Hill and Eleanor Wasserberg's books (both books set in a cult environment) would still wish to connect with people in their same circumstances even after the disbandment of their cult environments and Cecelia Vinesse (who grew up between the US and Japan) felt the same way about her school in Japan.  How she just felt very immediately connected to anyone who attended her same school, because they just knew in a way that nobody else could what it felt like to live somewhere else, to live in Japan, to have these particular experiences that only a small group of people would understand.  

And I've never grown up in a cult. I've never attended school in Japan, let alone ever set foot in the country.  But there was this sense of ...home being at YAShot.  Being surrounded by authors and bookish people, sure.  But more so, the book bloggers.  Not only is the UKYA community a wonderful, supportive place to be part of, it also just feels like home to me. 

Nobody else really gets what it means to be a book blogger except other book bloggers.  The time and energy put into it, the pressure we put ourselves under, the juggling act, the towering TBR piles, the unsolicited emails and books, the book events, the struggles only book bloggers face. I could sit in a room for hours with another book blogger and I'm sure we'd never run out of things to say to each other, comparing experiences, talking about schedules or balancing social media, or what we're reading or whatever.  I've felt that so often in the past 12 years I've been blogging.  Bookish people are my people without a doubt, but fellow book bloggers: you are my home. 

Thank you for being amazing.

Friday, February 09, 2018

When Books Inspire

Have you ever read a book and then felt so inspired by it that you feel you just have to do something about it?  I have.  Recently, on a whim, I picked up Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.  I honestly don't think I knew very much about the book before I started reading, but I like going into a book blind.  And it isn't the story so much.  The book is about a girl, Bailey, who moves across the country to live with her dad and spends the summer trying to track down an online friend, Alex, that she's been flirting with, only to start having feelings for her 'archnemesis' and colleague, Porter.  It's pretty cute and there's a Vespa and surfers and an odd museum and it was just the sort of lovely, romantic reading that I've been craving lately.


BUT! And here's where we get to the good part.  Because Bailey and her online friend, Alex, are totally into classic film.  That's what they bond over. They talk about meeting at the end of the summer at a local film festival to watch North by Northwest together. They talk about classic film actors and actresses, Bailey mentions one of her favourite films is The Philadelphia Story and so much of the book is littered with talk of all these people or films I've heard about ...but know nothing about.  Until now. 

I so want to start watching some of these classic films.  I'm thinking if I can find the right place to find these films I might do at least one a week.  Perhaps more if I'm really enjoying them?  To broaden my horizon and to finally do a thing I've wanted to do for awhile. 

Some of the classic films I'm considering, but please feel free to suggest others in comments or on Twitter. Or in person if you are lucky enough to see me in person, ha.  I'm going for a broad range of films and not just the romantic stories as this idea started off as!

North by Northwest
The Philadelphia Story
It Happened One Night
The Maltese Falcon
Bringing Up Baby
The Birds
Rebel Without A Cause (technically seen once, but don't remember)
Some Like It Hot
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
His Girl Friday
The Big Sleep
Roman Holiday
The Grapes of Wrath
On the Waterfront
The 39 Steps
The African Queen
Rebecca
Citizen Kane
A Streetcar Named Desire
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Third Man

Have you ever been inspired by a book? Can you recommend a good place to start with classic films?!

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

52: Write A Poem A Week

So... as it is now February, I thought that it would be a little too late to write a post entitled 'What I Got For Christmas' but that is sort of what I wanted to write about today.  I may have mentioned before that I have a Happiness List (like a Bucket List but with a more positive spin) and also a Year of Fun plan that I put into place every year.  I want 2018 to be a year where I accomplish things, where I push myself creatively and also in other ways.  I want to get back into both reading and writing this blog, naturally.  But one of the other things I really want to do this year has to do with this book...



I got this book, 52: Write A Poem A Week by Jo Bell and various for Christmas and I just love the idea of it.  It's a collection of poetry writing prompts for every week in a year and it includes a poem with each prompt to give the reader an example of sorts but also to introduce certain types of poetry writing techniques.  It sounds pretty good for a complete beginner like me.  If I'm honest, I've only read the first prompt and poem and have been mulling it over ever since (I read that first prompt on Christmas Day, ha!)

But that's a thing I want to do this year.  Perhaps not every week and who knows? Maybe I won't use this book for inspiration or guidance for long.  But it's a start.  Poetry has had such an enormous impact on my life over the last couple of years and I really want it to play a part in my present and in my future too.

Do you have any creative goals for yourself in 2018?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

British Books Challenge 2018

The British Books Challenge, hosted by Chelley from Tales of Yesterday, is the only reading challenge I take part in every year.  I love reading books by British authors and love to support them by reviewing their books.  I am, of course, signing up for the challenge this year.  If you too would like to join in, check out the Sign Up information.



Here are some of the books I hope to read and review this year on this blog, taken from books already on my TBR pile:

Truly Wildly Deeply by Jenny McLachlan
Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard
Street Song by Sheena Wilkinson
Hope by Rhian Ivory
Shell by Paula Rawsthorne
It Had To Be You by Keris Stainton
After the Fire by Will Hill
Songs About Us by Chris Russell
Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence
The Last Days of Archie Maxwell by Annabel Pitcher
It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne
Hero at the Fall by Alwyn Hamilton
Blade and Bone by Catherine Johnson


I also hope to read some non-fiction and poetry this year by British authors. We shall see.

What reading challenges are you joining this year? What books by British authors are you dying to read? Let me know.

Friday, December 29, 2017

A New Start

So... I've been sort of absent from here for awhile.  And it was only today as I booted up my brand new (shiny, exciting!) laptop that I realised that the main reason that I had disappeared from blogging and disappeared from social media is that my old laptop was so broken and unreliable that it made doing the things that I loved doing unhappy experiences.  I've just spent the last 30 minutes responding to emails and generally tidying my Inbox and it's seriously the happiest that I've felt in awhile. I don't know why I'm so bad at realising how things connect, but there you have it.

So now! Even before everyone else gets into their New Year's resolutions and everything I'm going to say that this right here and now is my new start.  Beginning with this gorgeous laptop with its ridiculously large screen and crisp new keyboard is my new start.  Let's do this thing again. 

To be honest, 2017 was a year of really low lows and I'm quite happy to see the back of it.  I'm really hoping that 2018 brings better circumstances.  It will be better partly because I'm working to make it so but here's hoping it's a worldwide bettering, if you know what I mean.  I feel like raising a glass and toasting this occasion.  I won't though. Because that might be slightly weird.  But here I am again, I hope you will like this new development!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

REVIEW: Flesh and Blood by Simon Cheshire

I really enjoyed Flesh and Blood by Simon Cheshire. It had just enough levels of creepiness and unease throughout for me to remain really hooked on the story and wondering what would happen next?

Flesh and Blood reads like a thriller as the main character, Sam, is this teenage boy who moves into a new neighbourhood and is keen to flex his burgeoning journalistic muscles by investigating and writing an article about the dead body that has appeared in the area.  As he begins to ask questions, he begins to piece together this rather odd and ...unsettling series of events that possibly relate back to his next door neighbour. 

Honestly, I really liked this book.  I like Sam and the ways in which he goes after this story, how he writes about his experiences with some measure of hindsight.  I found his new friends to be entertaining, his crush on the prettiest girl in school, Emma, was rather entertaining. 

But ultimately this is a horror story.  And as I was reading this, I feel like the levels of creepiness was rather subtle in the beginning and it just built over time.  Dead bodies, creepy old houses, strange sounds in the night.  But also this feeling of powerlessness as the adults in this story seem a little zombie-fied of no control of their own which leaves poor Sam and his friends fighting against something big and terrible and really rather scary. I loved the medical elements included in the horror and I'm really just pleasantly surprised by how much this story got under my skin. 

If you're looking for a creepy scary read around Halloween I really recommend this book and the entire series of Red Eye titles!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

REVIEW: The Haunting by Alex Bell

The Haunting by Alex Bell has a really interesting concept.  I love the idea of a cursed Cornish inn, the idea that it ties into witches and a witch's curse and that the main character comes back into the story 7 years after being injured in an accident at the inn.  However, The Haunting never quite lived up the chills promised from such an intriguing premise.

The setting of this book is The Waterwitch, a Cornish inn that is made from the salvaged timber of a cursed shipwrecked boat.  Our main character is Emma, she's 17 and is in a wheelchair after an accident at the inn occurs when she's 10.  Her family moved away and she's never been back to The Waterwitch.  That is, until her nan, who owns the inn, falls ill and Emma chooses to spend her half term break visiting her grandmother and reacquainting herself with The Waterwitch and also with her old best friend, Jem, and his younger sister, Shell. Ghosts and hauntings ensue.

I think part of the problem for me with The Haunting is that we have a high level of creep factor already.  We've got this creepy inn, an interesting back story and characters with complicated relationships that should provide plenty of tension.  However, I was a bit let-down with the ways in which Emma and Jem interacted with each other.  In that, they barely interacted with each other, despite having what could have been an intense meeting fraught with guilt on Jem's part in his role in Emma's disability or with longing and nostalgia for what they had as a friendship as children? But they had very little to do with each other throughout the story and it was such a disappointment.  And while my expectations we're set that high for the horror or scary elements to the story, I didn't think it was ever realised for me.  I think perhaps the story and build-up towards a frightening ending were just a little bit too subtle for me.

What I did love about the book is Emma's relationship with her guide dog, Bailey and it's Emma and Bailey that I felt provided the emotional heart to the story. I just wish a little bit more was done with the relationships in the story and also with the elements of the paranormal.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

REVIEW: Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle

Oh why did it take me so long to read Crongton Knights by Alex Wheatle?! I loved Liccle Bit, the first in this companion trilogy, and was really excited to read more ...and it was only recently that I picked this one up.  It won't be as long until I read the third book, Straight Outta Crongton because I love these boys and their friendship and the ways in which Alex Wheatle brings this neighbour hood to life. 

If you haven't read Liccle Bit, you needn't worry. Crongton Knights brings you up to speed with the events that occurred that are of importance before getting into this story.  This trilogy by Alex Wheatle looks at life in South Crongton on a council estate with gang warfare and rife with crime.  Crongton Knights, which obviously features the other boys, is McKay's story. 

I adored McKay and getting to know him a little bit better in this book.  His mum has died and he's living with his dad who is working all the hours to try to keep the bailiffs away and his older brother, Nesta.  Meanwhile, Bit persuades McKay and Jonah on this heroic (knightly!) crusade into another neighbourhood in order to protect the dignity of Venetia, Bit's crush. While reluctant at the danger of such a mission, everyone does go ahead and, of course, things go badly wrong.  I adore these types of ...heroic journey-type stories.  It really puts pressure on McKay and the others to define who they are as people and what their friendship means to each other.  It was really quite sweet.

I think what I love so much about these books is that it really combines some great things together.  McKay is a wonderful main character, he's very relateable and I love his complicated family life with his dad struggling with former gambling debts and his older brother, prone to getting in trouble but very much looking for McKay so that he doesn't follow him down the wrong path.  I also think McKay's friendship with the other boys is lovely and the setting of Crongton is so well described that I feel like I'm there with McKay as I'm reading.  I'd say my only (slight) criticism is that all of the characters sounded roughly the same, even when it doesn't make much sense that a boy from private school and a refugee from another country both sound like the others who have grown up on the estate. But other than that, I fell in love with this book and these characters and I cannot wait to read the rest in Straight Outta Crongton!

Monday, October 23, 2017

REVIEW: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland

Oh I adored A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares by Krystal Sutherland.  Adored it.  And it was such a surprise of a book too.  You know how when sometimes a certain title or a specific cover design just speaks to you on another level?  That's what it was for me with this book.  I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading this book but something about the title and especially that lobster just really appealed to me and it meant I had to read it, just to find out what it meant.  And as I said, it was love.

I remember that I did read the synopsis of the book before I read it but I'm pretty sure I didn't really understand what was going on from the brief blurb.  And that's okay with me, I actually really love the idea of going into a story blind.  But if you're not into the blind-reading thing, then this book is about Esther and her family.  Esther and the Solar family believe that their lives are consumed by One Big Fear and that eventually each family member will die because of their fears.  Esther's brother's fear is the dark, her father's is agoraphobia, her mother is superstitious about bad luck.  Esther isn't sure what her Big Fear is yet but she still lives in fear and carries around a list of her fears that could potentially be The One. 

Then one day, Esther gets pick-pocketed by Jonah Smallwood, someone she used to know in elementary school.  And despite this theft of epic proportions (he stole a fruit roll-up) Esther and Jonah become friends and Jonah ends up helping Esther confront her fears one at a time to show her that life is about more than fear.

I'm finding it difficult to put into words how much I loved this book.  It's very quirky.  Esther and Jonah and everybody who populates this book has their own little quirks and ways of speaking.  Esther is continuously dressing up in outlandish ways, her brother and their entire family are all just so ...different.  But I felt like it just worked within this story. 

There's also a sort of magical realism vibe to the book, some sort of magical quality because of Esther's view of the world of the world, of her family, of the curse and her view of herself.  I loved the ways in which serious topics such as mental illness are discussed in this book and I thought that the story unfolded in a way that was both believable and hit the right tone.  I thought there were some fascinating characters in this book, some really sweet relationships and friendships.  And the Solar family will definitely be a family that I remember for a very long time. 

But it's definitely Esther and Jonah that stole my heart in this book. I feel like reading this book all over again in order to spend more time with them, getting to know them both as they got to know each other.  I really do recommend this book.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

REVIEW: Wishbones by Virginia Macgregor

Wishbones by Virginia Macgregor was a book that I wasn't expecting to be sent for review and that would normally mean that it isn't as high a priority to read as other books in my possession.  But something about this book intrigued me. I liked the idea of it being set in the UK, I'm all for supporting UKYA of course.  I also like the idea of a book exploring elements of mental health and the idea around the story of a very obese woman.  And while I had hoped to really like this book ... I felt that the idea of the book was better than the actuality of the story.  

Feather is our main character in this book.  She really wants two things out of life: for her mother to get better and to win the junior swim championships. The second goal is pretty straightforward, she needs to work hard and concentrate. However it's the first goal that really proves more challenging.  

On New Year's Eve, Feather comes home to find her mother in a diabetic coma.  This is obviously very traumatic for her and her parents.  Feather is determined to do whatever it takes to help her mother become healthier.  She thinks maybe it'll just take a better diet and some exercise to fix things, however, Feather soon realises that her mother's health, like most things in life, are so much more complicated and Feather begins this detective journey in order to unravel her mother's personal history and get to the root causes of her mom's obesity. 

My main problem with Wishbones ended up being two-fold.  The first is that Feather's voice felt very young.  She comes across as being really innocent and naive, much younger than one would imagine she would be respective of her age.  It wasn't that she was young or naive that was the problem, it was that she didn't feel believable for her age.  The second problem was that the author's voice is quite patronising throughout.  It really started to grate on my nerves but wasn't such a persistent problem that it made me quit reading but it did hamper my enjoyment of the story.  Which is a shame, as there was elements of the story that I were really intriguing. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

#KindnessMatters



Recently I was contacted by the lovely Sabrina from Harper Collins about this new initiative, #KindnessMatters The idea of the project is to do something small and kind for someone else.  And this goes along with this lovely book Kindness by Jaime Thurston, the founder of 52 Lives.  I absolutely loved this idea and I love taking part in this, even belatedly.

During September, I wasn't in the very best shape mentally.  You can see mid-September I just stopped blogging and the two are very much linked.  I have a pretty good self-care routine and structure going and I could identify that my priority had to be myself for awhile.  The kindness that was best shared was with myself.  Doing nice things for myself, being kind to myself while I worked on my own mental health issues and everything else gets to take a back burner.

But that was last month.  And I still wanted to bring up this idea and project.  The book that Harper Collins sent over is an absolutely gorgeous little hardback book and it's filled with colourful pages and ideas about how kindness can be shared and spread.  I feel like I'd love to make these acts of kindness a regular thing, taking lots of inspiration from this book.  Today, though, I wanted to talk about one regular kindness that I already do, and it's something very close to my heart.



This is my local supermarket.  In the last year, my local store has increased the drop off point to include double the amount of space for people to donate in their store.  I fear it is because the need for local families to receive food from our local food banks has increased.  Despite living in a very affluent area there is nowhere that is free from struggling families that need a little extra support.

The reason that food banks in particular are an area that I feel very strongly about is because I grew up in a household on the poverty line.  My family needed the extra support food banks provided and those boxes of food saved my life.  Every single week, without fail, I pick up something and add it to my weekly shop in order to donate to my local food bank.  Because I remember what a lifeline it was and because I am no longer in a position where I struggle financially.  I am happy to do my small bit in order to help and support those who are still in that position.

I usually vary the items that I donate, though always taking inspiration from the list of recommended items that are always much in demand: tinned vegetables and meats, cartons of milk and juice.  But I also try to donate non-food items such as toothpaste, deodorant, cleaning supplies, nappies or wet wipes, feminine hygiene products, shampoo.  It's only a few pounds a week that I add to my weekly shop but I feel like it'll mean a lot to some local family.  I do it every week and I feel like if every one who is able to do so also donated more regularly it would make a huge difference in all of our communities.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

REVIEW: The Crash by Lisa Drakeford

The Crash by Lisa Drakeford has an interesting premise.  The unfolding of a car crash that was witnessed by several different people and how that eventually plays out.  In The Crash, we have two teenagers and best friends, Sophie and Tye, who are indoors watching a film when a car comes crashing into the house, with twins Harry and Gemma in the car.  The entire scene is also witnessed by next door neighbour, Issy. 

What was interesting about The Crash is the ways in which the different perspectives add layers to the story as we find out more about each of the characters and their relationships to each other or about what has gone on in their lives beforehand that lead to this rather unfortunate set of circumstances.  The ways in which Sophie and Tye's friendship had been changing subtly before the accident, Gemma's rather dark relationship history, Issy's home life.

I think, having read a previous book by the same author, I went into The Crash thinking I'd unravel the different strands to the story and it will end up being very different to the snap judgements I made at the very beginning. And that is true.  However, I ultimately found The Crash to be just a little bit too dark and a little too heavy on the details of some of the events that occur.  While I wanted to enjoy this book more than I did, I found myself a little uneasy with several of the story lines and that hampered my enjoyment.  I didn't feel it was necessary to provide quite so many details of family violence and abuse amongst one strand to the story, nor did I fully believe in the actions and choices made by some of the characters, namely Harry and Gemma.  While I appreciated the elements of a toxic relationship amongst an impressionable teen I felt like the combination of everything together in this one story was just (for me anyway!) was too heavy. 

There were some more light-hearted moments to The Crash with the burgeoning relationship between Sophie and Harry, but even that is weighed down with Sophie's guilt of beginning a relationship with the person who caused her best friend to be in a coma.  I just wanted there to be ...something else.  It's hard to put my finger on what it is exactly that I wanted to be different. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Life Update

So, phew.  After a very, very long search looking for part-time work in my local area that would roughly fit in around the school run (SUCH a challenge!) I have finally found work.  I'm very excited.  It's my first paid employment in over a decade, so I was very excited/nervous about what going back to work would be like. 

I struggle quite a lot with my self-esteem and I have to constantly remind myself that I'm good at stuff.  Otherwise my anxiety runs away with itself and causes me no end of grief.  So before my first day started I had to stop with the 'oh my god, what if everyone hates me? what if everyone is younger than me? what if I'm crap at this job?' and get going with telling myself, actually I'm very good at meeting new people, I'm friendly and bubbly and the majority of people like me.  Also? I'm a very capable person and because I'm NEW at this job, nobody expects me to be a pro right from the first second.  (But yes, most people are younger than me!)

So with that pep talk in mind, I absolutely rocked my first day.  And all the days since that day.  I still have to give myself encouragement though.  Because Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is my own self-confidence, even in the face of such overwhelmingly positive results.  I'm thrilled to pieces to have my very own job.  This job gives me a specific purpose during the week.  For the last ten years, my job was to Be Awesome In Every Way, and I've managed that.  But this job allows for specificity in that awesomeness ...and comes with a pay cheque.  I find that specific purpose is what I need in my life.  And also for that purpose to include other people and for it to not happen in my own house.  (Extra income also a bonus!)

I've loved Going To Work on work days, I've loved meeting new people at work, having conversations and a life outside of the four walls of my house.  I love my house and my life over the last decade, but it has sometimes felt very restrictive and isolating over these last ten years and I feel like now I'm expanding.  And I couldn't be happier about it.