30 Day Reading Challenge

This is just a short update to say that I’ve decided to participate in a 30 Day Reading Challenge, and by participate I mean that I’ve seen a few other people do them and it sounds like a good plan to me!

The idea is pretty self-explanatory: you read for thirty days. I’ve decided to add another dimension to the challenge, because I already read most days and wouldn’t find just ‘reading’ every day as much of a challenge that I want, so I’ve decided that I’m going to set a target of reading 50 pages every day. These thirty days, starting today, will take me up to two days before my final ever exam at university, which marks the end of my university career, so in this time of extreme stress and anxiety, I want to make sure I’m taking the time to give myself a break and read something for fun. I always worry that I’ll kill my love of reading from revising all day or doing essay reading all day, so I’m hoping this ensures my consistent reminder that reading is fun.

Although this is a challenge, I’m not going to force myself to read if I feel like all I want to do is nap or do something else for a beak, but I’m hoping 50 pages is something that’s reachable whilst still being a challenge. I’m also going to include audiobooks, as I really want to finish the one I’m on (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) so I can make a start on the huge one I’ve got waiting for me (Bleak House). As most chapters are around 30 minutes long, I’m going to say I have to listen to at least one chapter or as close to 30/40 minutes I can get.

So this is day 1, and so far I’ve done 42 pages so I’m planning to finish off the challenge for today by doing some reading before bed. Wish me luck!

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

We all know I’m a fan of a pretty book, but Strange the Dreamer was at a whole other level on the scale of book porn. My specific edition is a gorgeous hardcover with these beautiful illustrations on the title page, signed, and has blue-sprayed edges. And to top it all off? It was a fantastic book as well.

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photo credit to my own instagram (plug plug) as I’m usually terrible at taking pretty book photos

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

***

I knew almost nothing before going into this book, but had seen a lot of hype about it on social media. All I knew was that it was a beautiful book that was fantasy, so imagine my sheer delight at finding it was about gods, goddesses, magic, and a protagonist who is a hardcore bookworm. I imagine most of us who like to think themselves bookaholics and writers would proudly accept the epithet of ‘the dreamer’, so to have your main hero be a lover of books and fairy tales? A joy to read.

‘His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales on the first day of the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange:head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy’ 

High fantasy at its best, this is a book that I just didn’t really expect. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now. Her writing flows so beautifully, and her descriptions are inspiring, poetic, and, without doubt, pretty darn magical. I didn’t expect to get invested so quickly, and as a wannabe fantasy writer myself I kept on thinking “How can this be so good?”. I kept on having to put it down and sigh, wondering why I even allow myself to fantasise about writing something myself, but then had to pick the book back up again because I really needed to know what happens.

A great start to a new series, and although there was some serious world-building that Taylor included, I can only hope she was just laying the foundations of what is to come as there is so much more of that world that needs exploring. It’s the kind of book that completely transports you into a different world and you soon forget that you’re reading, devouring word after word until you’re on the edge of your seat because of the drama going on. There were several plot points and ‘twists’ that I personally found slightly predictable, but the only reason they were predictable was because the author gave you the hints to reach that conclusion only moments before the other characters did.

Enjoyable, fun, endearing characters, and a fantastic, fantasy tale that will leave you ready to read the sequel as soon as you finish it – and once you do, you can join the rest of us in the waiting game, which I’m sure will be the best kind of agony.

March Wrap Up

 

Back again with another reading wrap up, this time for the glorious month of March. This is the month where I had the embarrassingly late realisation that I should probably count the books that I read for university in this wrap up, and maybe that way I’ll feel more motivated to keep reading them.

First up was the glorious Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab which I was very kindly sent by Titan Books for an honest review on the Waterstones website (and you can see what I said here – my review is titled ‘A Swashbuckling Finale’, which I was pretty proud of). It was a brilliant end to what has been a fantastic trilogy, and whenever I try to do my own writing for fun I think of how Schwab weaves together her masterpieces and marvel at her extraordinary imagination. If you enjoy fantasy filled with magic, pirates, parallel Londons, cross-dressing thieves, and a magical red coat, then this is the trilogy for you.

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The next book I read was Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, which I read for the Feminist Book Club I am a part of. It had such a powerful effect on me that I had to write a review on it straight away, which you can read here. I had to put this book down several times because I physically couldn’t read it all in one go just due to how painful to read it was – in a good way. It follows the story of a girl who lives in a small town who gets raped, and how her friends and family react to it. What makes this a very difficult novel to swallow is the fact that we see this girl before the rape, and she isn’t someone that you root for – she lies to her friends, maliciously degrades them, and overall just isn’t someone you want to hang around. As a reader, it’s very difficult to be thrown into a narrative alongside a character like this, especially as all you want to do is sympathise with her when she does get raped. And of course you do sympathise, and the author is powerfully demonstrating the message that there is no circumstance in which rape should be pardoned. A brilliant book with a very important message.

To recover from that book hangover, I read Blood For Blood by Ryan Graudin. The follow-up of Wolf by Wolf, this marked the end of a duology. I think I may have preferred the first book, but that by no means meant that this wasn’t a great conclusion. The characters are certainly explored and developed more, and I think the end was very fitting, if not very hard to accept personally due to what happens to some characters – and that’s as much as I’ll say.

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Following that I read two plays for university: The Island by Athol Fugard and Thebes Land by Sergio Blanco. Both were for a module on classical reception, the first of which is a famous reception of Antigone, the latter a reception of the Oedipus myth. Both were very dynamic reads, especially when you know the mythology inspiration behind them, and I wish I could see them performed.

Finally for March, I read Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, a book that I’ve put off reading because I loved Illuminae, the first in the series, so much that I was gutted to find out the sequel focussed on different characters. But oh my god how I’m glad it did, because the characters you meet in Gemina are, dare I say it, almost even better than the ones in Illuminae. A brilliant sic-fi read and the most interesting, using not prose but an amalgamation of emails, transcripts, the occasional transposed video blog, diagrams and more. It’s fun and a new way to read, one that I absolutely adored.

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Which brings us to my total of 12 books read so far this year, excluding the books that I read on my Kindle (because Amazon is the devil and we should support bookshops as much as possible). So to look to my 2017 reading challenges, this is what it looks like so far:

  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

Conjuring of Light ticked off the ‘Book over 500 pages’, Asking For It ticked off the ‘Feminist Book’ because although it isn’t non-fiction it is based on true events and it’s powerful enough to deserve that place. Blood For Blood sorted out ‘finish a series you’ve started’, the two plays obviously ticked off the ‘play’ challenge, and Gemina ticked off ‘Blue cover’ once more. So I have eight challenges left to complete this year: the four classics, a graphic novel, a horror book, a friend’s favourite, poetry, a book under 150 pages, a book with a character with my name, and an autobiography. The only ones I’m worried about are the classic challenge, the horror and the autobiography – mainly because I don’t know what to read. So if you have any recommends for horror books, hilarious autobiographies, or your favourite classics, then let me know in the comments. Please. I beg.

 

March Fairyloot Unboxing

I’ve received a few boxes from Fairyloot over the past year, one of my favourite book subscription boxes, and when I saw that not only was March their one year anniversary, but that the theme was ‘Myths and Monsters’, I obviously had to order one. (Being the fantasy/dragon/mythology/creatures lover that I am).

It did not disappoint.

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The first thing in this box were fairy lights, and not just any fairy lights but unicorn ones. You don’t understand how excited I was to receive these, especially as I broke my fairy lights a few weeks ago (I’m a bit of a klutz).

Next up were these two beauties – the first is a small handheld mirror with a brilliant mermaid design on the back, which is just beautiful. On the right is a pair of bookmarks which I adore, one of a dragon and the other a phoenix. You can already tell how well chosen these items are to fit with the theme, and the box includes such a range of fantastic items.

I didn’t think it could get much better, but lo and behold it did. There was a ‘Nephilim’ candle which packs such a punch smelling like cherries, and again just excellent timing as I’ve run out of candles. Then, my favourite item of the box (which I’ve already used) is a scarf of dragon scales. Ok, not actually dragon scales, but close enough. Pictured above, I’ve matched it with my dragon earrings and feeling like Daenerys ready to conquer the world.

Then, what we’ve all been waiting for, the book:

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I’ve seen this book all over the place, and for good reason. Laini Taylor is already well known for her bestselling series Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and to find out her new book fits in with a myths and monsters theme? I’m already a huge fan. This has definitely been added to my TBR pile, and I can’t wait to dive into it.

There’s a very good reason why Fairyloot is one of my favourite book subscriptions, and they’ve outdone themselves this month. 100% worth the money, and a UK company as well, so would highly recommend to everyone. If I had the money, I’d get it every single month – but, alas, I’m but a poor student. So if you can, definitely go out and get yourselves a Fairyloot! You won’t regret it.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

I’m part of a Feminist Book Club, and for next month we’re reading Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, a book that I had heard of briefly but didn’t know much about. Originally classed as YA, often today you’ll find this book among adult fiction and, honestly, even at 20 I found this book so difficult to read in terms of the themes and what happens in the book. Trigger warning for this discussion, as this book deals with rape, bullying, and suicide.

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In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way. 

Until that night . . . 

Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.

And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget. 

BOOK OF THE YEAR AT THE IRISH BOOK AWARDS 2015. The award-winning, bestselling novel about the life-shattering impact of sexual assault, rape and how victims are treated.

This first part of the review is spoiler-free, and I’ll indicate when I do go into spoiler territory. To start with, this book is all about a girl from a small town in Ireland who is gang raped after drinking and taking drugs, something that she has no memory of – only pictures that the boys took of her that were uploaded to social media.

The first half of this book leads up to this event, and whilst you go in knowing what will happen at the halfway mark, you are by no means ready for what will happen. Our protagonist, Emma O’Donovan, is not a character that you will like. Part of the popular crowd at school, she is mean, vindictive, spiteful, and all-in-all a horrible person, and it is this that makes this book even worse than you can imagine. Because, as a reader, you don’t like her. But you’re with her as she goes through this traumatic event and want to fight this battle for her as people turn on her, yet part of you still remembers how awful of a person she is. It’s like a huge slap to the face, a constant reminder that it doesn’t matter who she is or what she’s done – no one deserves to be so violently assaulted, and no one ever is asking for it.

We meet Emma and her so-called ‘friends’ in the first half, hanging out, going to parties, and living their lives. Emma is known for her beauty and she prides herself on that, judging those around her by their looks. She’s a bully, and uncaring towards everyone including her friends, only interested in someone if they can give her an advantage in some way. She’s loved by her family, in some kind of way, but they too value her looks and how she compares to others – they think of her as a ‘good girl’, one who never drinks or does drugs or has sex.

When reading the scene leading up to the rape, I had to put this book down to take a breather. I would definitely recommend making sure you’re in the right frame of mind to take on this book and especially would advise taking breaks, because I personally could not take it in all in one go. The aftermath of the assault is even worse, but you join Emma a year afterwards. That is as much as I will say in terms of plot for this non-spoiler section.

It’s gutting, this piece of fiction, mainly because you know that although it’s fictional and set in a fictional town, this is happening to girls – and boys – every day. You know it’s based on real events, and as much as it sickens you, there are still people who think ‘she was asking for it’. Even today, you go on the comment sections to awful news stories about people getting raped, and you’ll  have some people still saying that the rape victim is partly to blame, that they shouldn’t have been wearing such short skirts, that they shouldn’t have been drinking, that really they’re making themselves more vulnerable and ‘what do they expect to happen?’ And these people genuinely believe what they’re saying, as if the victim is at fault and is partly to blame. Because we live in a society where rape still isn’t as black and white as it should be. A woman gets mugged and the mugger is punished. A woman gets raped and she’s asked what she was wearing. One very poignant line that got to me in this book was the comment that the rapists are innocent until proven guilty, the victim guilty until proven innocent.

This book is so important, and should be read by everyone. Rape culture is something that needs to be addressed more, especially in how we present it. We should be telling people not to rape and punishing them if they do, not telling people how not to get raped. When you look at the most typical rape cases, the victim is normally wearing something that isn’t revealing, and often it’s by someone that they know. It baffles me that we’re still trying to change these ideas people have about rape. This book, I hope, will help to change that.

*Spoilers ahead*

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One thing this book does is let you see Emma go back to school for the next days after the rape, and then we lose all contact until a year later to see the aftermath. We’re not with her for the suicide attempts, we’re not with her for the abuse she gets, we’re not with her when she starts going to therapy, we’re not with her when her parents abandon her in almost every way – so when we finally do get back, it feels like there is no hope. It feels like, for a reader, there is literally nothing to be done. All we know is that Emma, in an effort to try and make it all ‘go away’, originally played it off as nothing and then only later agreed to say it was rape. You want to burst into this book and sit her down, much like her brother and therapist, and tell her that she is not at fault. Tell her that she is not the reason she was raped. Tell her that she should demand justice. Tell her to fight.

Yet I speak from a privileged background. I have a loving supportive network of friends and family, all who would stand by me and, most importantly, believe me if I told them I had been assaulted. It’s easy to say that I would fight for justice when I haven’t been assaulted, so it’s killing to watch someone – character or not – go through such agony only to fall. What makes it worse is that Emma recognises that when she was unconscious, those four boys assaulting her was rape, but before – when she has sex with Paul and is slightly drunk, when she doesn’t want to have sex and he ignores her – she doesn’t classify as rape.

The fact that her friend/rival Jamie was raped a year before the start of this book makes you feel even more inclined to dislike Emma. We know that Emma was the one to tell her not to say anything, and it’s almost, almost, understandable when Jamie turns on Emma.

The fact that this book ends with Emma telling her family that she wants to retract her statement, that she doesn’t want to go through with it, almost had me in tears. And when her mother and father smile at her afterwards, like they’re proud as if she won’t be the ‘raped girl’ anymore? Nearly destroyed me. Her own mother says the line ‘they’re good boys really. This all just got out of hand’.

This book is utterly heart-wrenching, gutting, soul-destroying, and at the same time exactly as it should be. You’ll find so many discussions about this book and the subject matter, and I for one would highly recommend listening to ‘The Banging Book Club’ podcast. They cover this book in their first episode, and it’s great to listen to other people discussing this challenging book.

February Wrap Up

I actually managed to get through another three books this month which I’m especially proud of, what with the sudden onslaught of university work that came my way – and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon. Still, there’s always a few moments I can grab to do some reading (and although I’m not mentioning them, I also read two books on my Kindle this month, both of which were easy, fun, and the complete opposite of uni reading).

First up was ‘Caraval’ by Stephanie Garber, which I’ve discussed previously in a blog earlier this month. It’s definitely for lovers of magic and fantasy, for fans of The Night Circus, The Crown’s Game and Schwab’s Darker Shades of Magic series. It definitely has that unputdownable element, as I read it late into the early hours of the morning. Fast-paced with fun characters and great twists at the end, after I finished I thought it was one of the greatest books ever. Once I’d had some sleep and reflected, I thought that whilst it wasn’t the best book ever, it’s certainly a great debut novel.

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Next up I read Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones. Inspired by Labyrinth with David Bowie as the Goblin King, this book follows Elizabeth as she tries to get her sister back. Surprisingly poetic, this is a book that is indeed pretty and dark at the same time. I almost wish it wasn’t tied to The Labyrinth as the writing really took off when it departed from the structure inspired by the classic. I did love how our heroine is always described as ‘unlovely’ of appearance, mainly because we were able to explore the different facets of her character. It was great fun to read, and I have a serious love/hate relationship with that ending.

And finally, I finished Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. I can easily recognise that this book is beautifully written, but for now I think I need to digest it and discuss it with others who have read it in order to truly understand what on earth has just happened. It seems I have more questions than answers, and I don’t know yet if that’s a good thing. I think I’ve found that I tend to prefer books that aren’t so literary, mainly because I find it difficult to escape within its pages to a different world. It’s a difficult one, as there are plenty of books considered to be literary that I’ve loved – take A Little Life, for example, which is still one of my favourite books. But as a wannabe writer, it’s good for me to see that complicated messages and symbolism don’t work for everyone, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good book.

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So for an update on the reading challenge – I can tick off Man Booker nominee thanks to Hot Milk, and both Caraval and Wintersong were published this year so that’s another one! I’ve decided in this ongoing process that books cannot have two ‘stars’ each or count for two different categories, just to make this more challenging for myself.

  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

Here’s to March!

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Childhood Favourites

There are so many books that make me think of childhood, from the picture books that I remember (Dear Zoo was such a classic) to the first series that I ever read (my thanks to Judy Moody for getting me reading). But there are some books that I didn’t read as a child, and instead saw their film adaptations, and over the past year I’ve picked up a few of those that always make me think ‘I should read that’.

First up we have the gorgeous, the beautiful, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I absolutely adored the film when I was younger, and can still quote the lyrics to the song off by heart. I didn’t actually discover that it was originally a book until a few years ago, when I saw the most stunning book cover (shown below). Gold background, shiny writing, and a majestic unicorn – what more do you need? So I asked for it one Christmas but, despite specific instructions, received a different cover which just wasn’t the same. Then last year I decided to just read it, so I did, and I adored it. There is so much dark humour and subtle jokes that I completely missed as a child, and the main character of the unicorn was no longer this pretty, sparkly image that I had when I was young, and instead was this unemotional mythical creature that really didn’t care about the stupid humans around her. Then, as if the universe was smiling down on me for finally reading this great book, I find the golden, gorgeous edition at my shop. It was meant to be.

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Shortly after that, I found a stunning edition of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie whilst at work, and of course decided that I had to read that as well. We all already know how much of a cover girl I am (exhibit a: everything I’ve written about The Last Unicorn just now), so it’s no surprise that I fell in love with this edition. Once again, it was completely different to how I imagined it as a child, and the film really doesn’t encapsulate all the little nuances of the book. We already know it’s about a flying boy who never ages, but there is so much more magic within the book – more along the lines of magical realism. There was one image that I loved at the beginning of the book, which was of Mrs Darling coming into the children’s room whilst they were asleep to sort out the ‘drawers’ of their minds, tucking all the bad thoughts away at the bottom of the drawers and leaving the fresh happy thoughts on top for them to put on in the morning. Little moments like that made the book so much more magical and enjoyable to read.

 

Oh, and not to mention the fact that the inside of the book was just as gorgeous as the outside.

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You can probably sense a trend here, but once again I picked up another childhood favourite due to the fact that I fell in love with a cover. I was always aware that The Northern Lights by Philip Pullman was a fantastic book, and I had heard multiple times that the film was utter tripe, but still never got around to giving the series another go. I tried when I was in primary school to read the first book and only got about a third of the way in, but just never picked it up again. So when I saw an edition that had all three books in one, I thought it was time to give it another try. Although it took me a few weeks alongside uni, I absolutely adored it – the writing style is flawless, the details and descriptions brilliant, and the imagination is just awe-inspiring. I admit that I did love the film, but now that I’ve read the book I completely understand why everyone lost their minds. A brilliant read, and I will definitely make time in the future to read the sequels – especially as Pullman has just announced a new series.

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And finally, the book series which I have finally started over the last year, is Harry Potter. I know, I know, I’m crazy/mental/stupid etc not to have read them up until this point but I have my reasons. (My older brother read them, and no way was I going to copy him) I downloaded the first one on audible and really enjoyed it, and as I had a subscription for a couple of months I bought the next two. It wasn’t until the third one that I fell in love with them, to the point where I wasn’t going to sleep so I could listen to the next few chapters. It was my first experience of audiobooks as well as the books, even though I’ve seen all of the movies. I’m now on Order of the Phoenix and am planning to keep listening until the very end.

It just goes to show that even though books are marketed towards a certain age group – in this case, children – there is no reason why anyone can’t read them and, more importantly, enjoy them. I highly recommend it to everyone to read something not necessarily tailored towards you, because you just might find a new love.