January Reading Wrap Up

Buckle up kids, it’s the first reading wrap up of 2018. I’ve set myself a target of 45 books on Goodreads, but I’m not planning to get so caught up in numbers this year – instead, I want to connect with the books I read more. I’ve already started writing my mini 2018 book journal to keep track of what I read and what I think as I’m reading it. So far, so good, and I’m looking forward to what this year will bring. For now, a summary of what January brought me.

First up was Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, the second book in her trilogy which I am thoroughly enjoying. Since finishing it, I’ve decided to save the third and final instalment for a little bit so that I don’t have the same problem I had last year when reading series in one go, and become bored. I think I enjoyed this sequel more than the first, or at least I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first half of book one. Laini Taylor is an incredible storyteller, and she somehow makes every book seem unique with new ideas and unthought of tales, which makes reading even more enjoyable. If you’re looking for something fantastical, this is the series for you.

giphy-13

To make sure that I didn’t go from one fantasy to the next and have some variety in what I read, next I picked up Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake. I really enjoyed this collection of his poems, and it’s definitely made me want to keep discovering more poets and their different styles. A strange reading experience, as although I’ve never sat down and read any Blake before other than snippets, I wasn’t expecting to know a lot of his works. Yet so many of his poems triggered so many different memories, knowing that I’d heard snippets and refrains of his before now. As someone who feels like they don’t know that much about poetry, I truly enjoyed reading Blake.

Then, my guilty pleasure of the month, Brave by Jennifer L Armentrout. I adored her books as a teenager, which managed to blend fantasy with comedy with the pure fun that exists in teenage literature. Whilst her books are now classed as Young Adult, I’m so glad that they have that element of fun that make reading her books such a delight. It’s interesting to see the development not only of her writing but her ideas, as I’ve noticed the darker themes she has taken on over the years in her work – I, for one, think she does it fantastically well, especially as she still incorporates laughter and lightness in her stories.

giphy-14
giphy

My fourth and final read of the month was my first piece of non-fiction of the year, and what a good one it was. Bitch Doctrine by Laurie Penny was utterly wonderful, and I’m so glad that I’ve made a pledge to read as much non-fiction as possible this year. Each chapter of Bitch Doctrine felt like a rallying cry, and I wanted to answer every one. I wanted to discuss this book with everyone, and I nearly did. Penny manages to tackle so many different ideas and themes, and not once do you feel like any point they make lacks substance or depth. What I especially appreciated was that this was by no means a ‘white feminist’ book, and instead made such an effort to look at intersectional feminism, and how race, gender, sexual orientation, and more comes into play – and why each of them have feminism in common. Strong arguments, persuasive points, and just brilliant writing – this is definitely a book that I’ll remember.

And those are my January 2018 reads! I’m currently reading my second ever Ali Smith novel, and also have such a huge tower of a TBR pile that I’ve given up being daunted by it. I’m so excited to start all of these wonderful books, and my only concern is that I won’t be able to get to them all this year.

A good problem to have, I think.

Advertisements

2018 Reading Goals

I hadn’t planned to make a post about my goals in terms of reading for 2018, mainly as I only had one or two items on that particular list. But honestly, the more that I think about it, the more goals I keep adding to that particular list. So, as it continues to grow, I want to start talking about some of the things I hope to do more of when it comes to reading. If you follow me on my other blog, alwayslovetowrite, you’ll know that I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions – mainly that I don’t like them because I don’t want to feel stressed or set myself up for failure. Even when the goals are manageable, my brain somehow manages to create a severe pool of anxiety and stress about them, as well as telling me that maybe I’ll fail and what’s the point and, before you know it, I’m ranting online about resolutions.

So, to be clear, these aren’t set goals that I have to hit or my whole life will fall to pieces. These are goals to improve my reading experience, as well as widen it.

Firstly, I want to try to read more non-fiction this year. Whenever I describe my reading tastes, I tend to talk about my fantasy addiction and general love of beautifully written fiction, writing non-fiction off entirely. Yet, so many books that I love are non-fiction. Take Insomniac City for example, one of my all-time favourite reads – it is very clearly non-fiction. I keep having to reevaluate what I value in reading, as I usually say that I love reading because it transports me to another world – yet I forget that non-fiction can do that just as easily as fiction. Sure, it may not be a fantastical world where dragons can talk and pigs can fly, but it is the world of someone else. Bill Hayes took me into his world, into his life in New York and his story of how he met, fell in love with, and built a life with Oliver Sacks, ending with how he lives with the grief over his death. That memoir taught me that real lives are emotive in ways that fictional ones can never hope to be, and that’s something I want to keep reminding myself of.

Not to mention that I want to keep learning. I’m proud that I sound like a complete nerd when I say that I love learning, that I love to build on my knowledge. Reading is one of the ways that I can achieve that, and I just want to keep building and building, as well as renovating when I’m given a new opinion or a different perspective.

This leads me nicely to my next goal – that I want to read more diverse authors. In my previous post, I mentioned that I wanted to read more from POC authors – but I don’t want to stop there. I want to read all kinds of authors, ones from marginalised communities, ones that have to deal with race every single day, ones that are talking openly about gender and rights that I probably don’t think enough about.  I want to be shown different perspectives, to remind myself of everything that’s going on around me and be better informed on how I can actually help to make a difference. I want the things I read to challenge me, in more ways than one. I’m very aware that I’m a cis heterosexual white girl, so it is so important that I don’t forget my privilege and become more aware of the people all around me, and make sure that I help ensure they are heard.

A few friends last year made goals to read as much of, if not all of, a certain author’s work that year. At this moment in time, I would love to do the same – and the author I want to try to read as much from this year is Virginia Woolf. She’s one of those authors that I’ve read a lot from, but don’t think I’ve actually sat down and read one of her books from start to finish. I’ve also bought myself several of her books recently, so now I definitely need to at least attempt this one.

Finally, I want to engage more with what I read in 2018. Quite often I’ll forget what I’ve read and will be unable to recall a thing about something I read the month before. In 2016, I kept a little book journal where I wrote down my thoughts and opinions of the books I read, keeping track of the books somewhere other than Goodreads. I want to write about the things I love most about each book I read, and about why I loved, or really didn’t love, them.

And that is my list of 2018 goals – so far, at least. I’m excited to try to work towards these goals, and I know they’re ones that I can continue to grow upon throughout the years. Whether I end up only having 20% of the books I read this year being non-fiction, or if I only read one diverse author to every white one, it’s still a step in the right direction. I for one hope that it does me a world of good, because I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. Hell, my top five books last year included two non-fiction, a POC author, and an author from the LGBTQ+ community. If that isn’t a sign that I should definitely be hunting out more of the same, I don’t know what is.

Let me know if you have any reading goals for 2018, or more importantly if you have any recommendations for books I should read that would help me with mine.

 

Favourite Books of 2017

2017 was a brilliant year for me in reading terms, with only a few books that I didn’t give four or five stars. Still, there were a few that still shone out from the rest, so these are my Top 10 favourite books I read in 2017. First of all though, honourable mentions go to The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson, A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas, and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. All three fantasy books were definitely some of my favourites read this year, two of which were final instalments of trilogies I adored.

Moving on to the top 10, this ordering of the list is subject to change many times due to my inability to be decisive when it comes to things I love and choosing between them, as really there’s no comparing a few of them. Can anyone truly say that their adoration of an epic fantasy book is in any way comparable to a piece of emotive literary fiction that had their heart clenched within its grip from start to finish? I get very different versions of enjoyment and entertainment from different genres, so as much as I want to list my top three fantasy, top three fiction, top three non-fiction and so on, I’m just going to stick them in an order that works for me at this moment in time.

Who knew a top 10 needed such a preamble. ONTO THE LIST.

10. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I loved reading this book, but I’ve grown to love it even more since finishing it and discussing it with others. There was a lot of ‘hype’ and anticipation going into it, which is probably why I was so conflicted about my feelings of it, as although I thought it a brilliant piece of fiction it didn’t change my whole world. Yet, I admit, since discussing its nuances and clever points with friends, I can say that it deserves all of the praise it receives.

IMG_0608

9. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Perhaps one of my favourite fantasy authors, the Darker Shades of Magic trilogy was the first book of Schwab’s that I picked up. I finished the first two in as many days, and before the third was released I read several of her other books and equally adored them, so to finish the trilogy that started my love for this author was bittersweet. I’m so happy with how it ended, and can’t wait for what this author will bring in 2018.

IMG_0239

8. The Northern Lights series by Philip Pullman

Maybe cheating a little, but I’m listing the whole Northern Lights series as my number 8 for 2017. I read the whole series last year, a feat I’m rather proud of, and plan to read The Book of Dust sometime this year. The first instalment was my first read of 2017, and definitely set the standard for the books that I read afterwards. A brilliant series, one that took me by complete surprise, and I’m so grateful that I finally got a chance to read it for myself.

IMG_0093

7. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest

I’ve been thinking about reading more poetry since finishing university, and after a friend highly recommended Kate Tempest I was so glad that a) my friend has good taste and b) Kate Tempest exists. A beautiful collection, one that is inspiring me to read more and more poetry (recommendations are more than welcome please and thank you).

IMG_1029

6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Damn, it’s hard to pick between your favourite reads – as if they’re all children who have fulfilled your every wish. The Secret History is a book that everyone and their mothers have been badgering at me to read and, finally, I can say that I fully understand why. Prose so eloquent and rich that I felt like I had to reread sentences, because I was pretty certain that just reading  them once wouldn’t be enough to fully appreciate the complexity of graceful talent that exists within every one.

IMG_1442

5. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Ah, Pachinko, you still make my heart ache. Whilst it wasn’t as gutting and soul-destroying as A Little Life (in a good way), it was still emotive enough to have me texting friends at all hours with updates of where I was for emotional support. A beautiful piece of fiction, and a family-saga the likes of which I’ve never enjoyed more.

IMG_1519 2

4. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

Perhaps one of the most important pieces of non-fiction to read in 2017, and I hope that it’s one that everyone does read. Charming, hilarious, and moving, this has you crying from laughter one moment and just all out crying from despair the next. Brilliantly told, and its message is unmistakable; we need to help our NHS, and we need to do it now.

IMG_1412

3. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Ah, the top three. What a wonderful place to be – and in third Laini Taylor has more than earned her spot, her Strange the Dreamer winning my heart within mere pages. It was fantasy the likes of which I can’t ever remember reading before, the type that would make your heart feel full and send your spirit soaring. Strange the Dreamer felt like it was written just for me, for all those dreamers and book-lovers in the world who find solace within the written word and see stories and adventures where other people would see lines on pages. After reading this book, I bought the whole of her previously written trilogy without even reading the blurb of it, knowing that this author would not fail me – and having just finished the second in the series this afternoon, I’m pleased to say that this statement holds true.

4AE4F871-447E-46CB-8C63-D55A8625EC18

2. Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

I don’t think I’ve stopped talking about this book since I finished it. I also have continued to recycle the same sentences when trying to describe it, telling everyone that it is a love letter to New York and captures Hayes’ life with partner Oliver Sacks. It’s filled with stories of his work as a photographer and the people he meets, and the love story between him and Sacks pretty much had me in a constant state of vulnerability and warring emotions as I tried not to descend into sobs. Truly beautiful, and it’s a book that has sparked a need inside me to read more and more non-fiction – I honestly feel like I owe so much to this one book. An incredible writer without doubt, and there is no reason that I could think of as to why someone wouldn’t like this book.

9781620404935

And, finally, my number one.

1. Circe by Madeline Miller

This book hasn’t even been published yet, but it still remains as my favourite read of 2017. The Song of Achilles holds its spot at the top of my all-time favourite reads, and Circe joins it in the ranks. It’s everything I want from a book, with classical inspiration, beautiful prose, and characters that make me want to fling myself into the narrative just so I can spend some time in their company. Miller’s use of language is skilled and seemingly effortless, and the Classicist within me is so grateful and overjoyed to have her writing such excellent fiction based off of myths. She manages to rewrite them in ways that make them seem fresh and new, without changing anything fixed – she merely adds elements that, if you didn’t know any better, Homer must have just left out. She brings new life to these old characters, and even though you know how their stories end she still manages to keep you hooked, and also cruelly gives you a glimmer of hope that tragedy will not come their way. Just superb.

IMG_1297

And that, reader, is my list of my top 10 reads of 2017. Let me know your favourites and what you’ve read, or if you agree with any of my favourites. Go forth, read widely and diversely, and report back. I personally hope to gain even more from what I read in 2018, from reading more non-fiction to reading more from POC authors. It’s very apparent that I have hardly any POC authors near the top of my list, which definitely means that I’m not reading enough by them. If anything, reading opens up the world in a way that nothing else can, and it’s very clear that if I only read white authors, that’s the only view from which I’ll be able to understand the world around me – and I’m a girl who likes her varied vantage points.

So, once again, let’s smash 2018.

 

December Reading Wrap Up

Well we made it – only a few hours to go and then it will be 2018. It’s been one hell of a year and I’ve read some fantastic books, but before I write about my top books of 2017, here is my December Reading Wrap Up.

First off, I finally finished the Northern Lights series with The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. An incredible finale to such an amazing series, which was far more complex and richer than I had anticipated. The first book was your classic fun-loving fantasy adventure, but over the course of the sequels it morphed into this fantastical essay about religion and life, with very strong ties to Milton’s Paradise Lost. I’d recommend this to people of all ages, and I’m so glad that after a short break I was able to get back into the series with such excitement.

book-reading-words-flying-by-animated-gif
bestanimations

After so much fiction, I decided I needed some non-fiction to give my imagination a rest and challenge my mind a little. I picked up Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, a memoir that looks at gender, her marriage, and motherhood. A truly brilliant piece of literature, and I want to encourage so many people to pick up this little gem. Filled with insightful thought and intelligent notions, this truly encapsulated the themes perfectly.

Clearly after that I was craving fantasy again, as I whizzed through Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I adored her book Strange The Dreamer, so I was expecting to enjoy this immensely – I just didn’t anticipate how quickly I’d get through it. Whilst I found the first half more engaging than the second, it definitely set up the world and had me desperate for more. I’ve already read half of the sequel, which I plan to finish early 2018 and pick up the final instalment soon after.

giphy-11
giphy

Finally, I finished off the year with the Queen of Roman History, Mary Beard, and her new novella Women & Power. Short but definitely not sweet, this book gets right down to the nit and grit of our past responses to women and their association with power. It definitely could have been a whole novel, and I hope one day she uses this as a starting point for such a piece of literature, but this was the perfect size to incite the mind and get my blood boiling. Once again, I would highly recommend.

And that was 2017. I’ve ticked off another feminist book, a series I’ve started, a blue cover, and a book from my TBR. I’m so happy with how my 17 challenges have gone so far this year, and only two weren’t completed. The 4 Classics goal was almost completed, but I made the mistake of listening to my 4th classic Bleak House on Audible, so I still have a long way to go. The other challenge that is left uncompleted is the character with my name, but I’m not too fussed about that.

  1. ***4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. ***A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. ****‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. *A Horror Book
  8. ****Finish a series you’ve started
  9. ***A friend’s favourite book
  10. **Poetry book
  11. **Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. ****A book from your TBR
  17. *******Book published in 2017

 

I already have a few challenges in mind for 2018, and whilst I’m not going to do 18 challenges to mimic this year, I’m certain that it will keep me busy. So far, my goal is to read more non-fiction (for every 2 fiction books, I’d like to read a non-fiction book) and I’m also hoping to read a lot, if not all, of Virginia Woolf’s books. I’ve read so many extracts from them, but never read one cover to cover, so that is my main goal for 2018.

I’m sure I’ll think of other challenges along the way, but for now I’m going to sit back, relax, and enjoy the last moments of 2017. So Happy New Year everyone, and may your 2018 be filled with books!

Reading Slump/November Reading Wrap Up

November has probably been the best month I’ve had of this year in terms of happiness and life goals, but was by far my worst month for reading. Whilst those two statements by no means hold any correlation – aka I was not happy because I wasn’t reading, and in fact my only source of discontent this month was that I couldn’t really read much – it was so beneficial to my reading goals to have a break.

Through the month of November, instead of reading on the tube every day and before I went to bed, I was writing in an attempt to write 50,000 words in one month – something which for the first time ever I managed to do. It’s amazing in retrospect what we make time to do, and it was a great chance for me to see just how much I could do in a short space of time. Whilst I love writing and still adore the idea of one day publishing a book, at this point in my life it isn’t something I’m pursuing full time. Instead, I want to be reading all I can whenever I can, which is why my commute time and pre-bed routine has returned to reading, reading, reading.

In October, I was also in quite the reading slump toward the end of the month. Whilst I had been loving the Pullman series, having finished The Subtle Knife and diving straight into The Amber Spyglass, I found that they were so dense and intense that it was too much to go straight from one to the next. Having two chunky books in the same world meant that I wasn’t reading as much, and going straight from the end of book two full of action and plot twists into book three which started off with descriptions and setting up the story, the change in pace threw off my reading burst. November gave me a break from reading which I didn’t know I needed.

It got to mid-November and I found that I was actually truly missing reading, but knew I wouldn’t be able to fit in a whole novel amidst typing out almost 2000 words every day. So I picked up a small collection of poems by Keats, the one thing that I read front to back in November, and truly enjoyed it. Small enough not to bog me down with pressure of finishing it in time, and beautiful enough that it only inspired me further, I found that I was counting down the days to get back into reading.

One thing that NaNo helped me see was that you can so easily get bogged down with plans and goals, something which sometimes the challenge of reading 50 books in a year can do to me. Having this time out has only benefitted me, shown that I’ve picked up The Amber Spyglass again and am now racing through it and enjoying it so much more.

 

October Reading Wrap Up

I read some great books in October, and now that I’ve hit my goodreads goal of reading 40 books this year I feel so much more relaxed, it’s ridiculous. It’s amazing, really, how much stress is added to a fun activity just by putting on a reading challenge. Still, I’ve completed that goal, so now I can just focus on reading whatever I please at whatever pace I desire – which is good, considering this month I’m also trying to complete NaNoWriMo (if you’re not sure what that is, head over to my other blog here).

I read some pretty chunky books this month, clearly following a trend that I started back in September, and first up was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. This was a book that my colleagues at work practically bullied me into reading, and I’m so glad that I fell to peer pressure. A family generation saga, this book mainly follows the story of Sunja, a young girl living in South Korea who becomes pregnant out of marriage, and ends up marrying a pastor and following him to start a new life in Japan. Moving, heart-wrenching and just pure wonderful, this book had me feeling such heartache for Sunja and her family, completely immersing me into their stories. It’s rare that an author is able to create characters so well that it feels as if they’re real, and the author is merely relating their life to you. Top marks from me.

IMG_1519 2

After this I read Dark Matter by Michelle Paver, and author who I loved as a child reading the Wolf, Brother series – yet her adult horror has definitely ruined any warm and fuzzy feelings I had towards her works. Brilliantly unsettling, this book put new meaning to horror for me – it felt isolating, and the setting of an icy landscape definitely seeped into my own world. A perfect horror read, ideal for Halloween and freezing temperatures – but I wouldn’t recommend reading it in the dark.

Then I decided I wanted to read the second and third instalment in the Northern Lights trilogy by Philip Pullman, and in October I finished The Subtle Knife. Very different from the first book, this had me loving the series even more – and with the release of his new book La Belle Sauvage, I felt the excitement and anticipation as I read it. I’m onto the third book, The Amber Spyglass, now and am looking forward to seeing where this series goes.

So although it was yet another short reading month for me, I’m incredibly pleased with the books that I read – and knowing that I’m probably going to be reading less in November, what with NaNoWriMo and the busy Christmas period kicking in at work, I’m looking forward to what the rest of 2017 will bring. I can also finally tick off that pesky horror book goal with Dark MatterPachinko added another notch to a book over 500 pages, and The Subtle Knife added yet again to a friend’s favourite book – because so many people adore this series so much that it feels sacrilege to admit to not having read them, which I’m luckily rectifying now.

 

  1. ***4 ‘Classics’
  2. *A Man Booker nominee
  3. **A Baileys nominee
  4. **A Feminist Book cover to cover
  5. ***‘A Blue Cover’
  6. *A Graphic Novel
  7. *A Horror Book
  8. ***Finish a series you’ve started
  9. ***A friend’s favourite book
  10. **Poetry book
  11. **Book over 500 pages
  12. *Book under 150 pages
  13. Book with a character with your name
  14. *An autobiography
  15. **A play
  16. ***A book from your TBR
  17. *******Book published in 2017

Why Kindles aren’t (too) bad

Everyone seems to have a very strong opinion about whether reading e-books, most popularly on Kindles and other e-readers, is good or bad. The debate seems to centre around Kindle vs Physical Books, with the main arguments normally consisting of weight (aka, the ability to carry many books on Kindle instead of just one or two physical books), feel, authenticity, and preserving the bookshop.

As a bookseller, I have my own opinions on this topic, but as a reader I have even more – put together, there’s really only one sentence that I think really sums up my thoughts on whether we should use Kindles or Physical books and that is:

Reading is reading.

giphy-9

Before starting my work in a bookshop, I predominantly used my Kindle. It was light, it was easy, and books were far, far cheaper. I hadn’t picked up a proper physical book in a long time, and the books I typical read were more romance and whimsical, with no real weight to them (pun intended, although that was a pretty poor one). I still classed myself as a bookworm and voracious reader, but it wasn’t until I started working in a bookshop that I realised how much it felt like I missed out on. My first day of work, I walked into the staff room to see everyone reading proof copies of A Little Life by Hanya Yanigihara, which of course I then picked up and read (review here). Not to sound too cheesy, but this book honestly changed my life, and completely changed the way I read books. All these books I’d read on Kindle couldn’t even hold a candle to this novel – because whilst you can get all sorts of books on e-readers, I tended to buy the cheapest, which didn’t always mean they were the best quality. For my first year of work, as you can see on this blog, I continued to read on my Kindle, but also began to read more and more physical books, and really from the beginning of 2017 I’ve barely used my Kindle.

For me, it felt like my love for books and reading had be reignited. When a customer comes in and talks about buying all these books they see on their Kindle, I usually shake my head and tut. “It’s the independent bookshops you’re killing!” I’ll tell them with a laugh, as they sheepishly grin. And whilst this holds truth, and whilst I still believe that Amazon is the devil in the book world, I don’t think we should discourage the use of Kindles, e-readers, and other ways of accessing e-books.

As I said earlier, e-books are usually far cheaper than physical books. For 99p, someone can download many different books straight onto their phone or computer. In this age of technology, there are so many ways someone can access reading – and no matter what, I stand by my opinion that reading is reading, and no form of reading should be discouraged. Whilst older generations may wag their fingers at youngsters reading books on their phones, what they’re doing is not discouraging using phones to read books, but reading entirely. Kids may be more attracted to shiny gadgets over paper (and what a generalisation that is, a stereotype that everyone uses), but what should that matter if they’re reading? For them, it means they may well pick up the new Percy Jackson or Roald Dahl or even Dickens, but will read it on their phone instead of buying a physical copy. For many, they can’t afford to buy books and don’t have access to a library, so to have a more painless, easy way to access literature is a godsend.

tumblr_m5xstz8E9Z1qa70eyo1_500

I joke around a lot about Amazon, threatening to disown members of my family who buy physical books off there (and I hold by that threat, no family of mine buys physical books off Amazon without incurring my wrath), but what they have managed to do is bring a new dimension to reading. I for one am a huge fan of audiobooks, something which I would never have dreamed of investing my time in before audible became available to download on my phone.

Reading is reading, and whether someone is reading from a huge tome, a computer, a phone or a Kindle, no one should be discouraged from unlocking these many worlds that books bring to us.

Rant over.