Top Ten Tuesday – Books On My Summer 2021 TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Books On My Summer 2021 TBR

Honestly, I don’t know how much time I’ll have for reading this summer. I’m publishing a book of my own in seven days *incoherent screaming* and uni is about to get super-busy again. But a girl can dream, and here are some of the books I’m dreaming of…

HMS Expedient by Peter Smalley

Summer is the time of year when I crave a good old-fashioned adventure story. I usually turn to Patrick O’Brian for nautical shenanigans, but I’m going to give Peter Smalley a go.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

It’s about time I dived into the Grishaverse. And apparently Six of Crows is the place to start if you’re a sucker for found families.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

I love Angela Carter’s short stories. Her prose is so rich and so purple, it’s like scoffing a whole box of Milk Tray. I may have to read this novel in short bursts to avoid indigestion, but I reckon I’ll enjoy it.

Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery

I’m loving my re-read of the Anne of Green Gables series. I vaguely remember this one being full of letters between Anne and Gilbert, so I’m steeling myself for mushiness! Also, Ann has just graduated college and been offered the principalship of a school. Clearly a Bachelor’s degree was worth a lot more in the olden days!

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

My pen pal described this book as “an asexual Native American teen with a ghost dog solving a supernatural murder case”. So it has ace rep, spooky stuff, animals, and an amateur detective – all my favourite things!

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl was one of my favourite books of 2020 (Yes, I know it was published in 2012) so here’s hoping Sharp Objects is just as deliciously twisted.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

I’ve only read three and a half Terry Pratchett books (I consider Good Omens to be 50% Pratchett) so I better get my arse in gear if I expect to read all of them.

Kid by Simon Armitage

“Kid” is one of my all-time favourite poems, so I don’t know why I haven’t already read this collection.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

I adore Zadie Smith but I’ve never read her debut novel. I know she writes brilliantly about friendship, and she writes so vividly about London you can almost smell that lovely sooty air. This book is all about the later lives of two wartime friends living in London, so I’m anticipating good things.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers

Mum is way ahead of me with the Wayfarers series, so I need to catch up!

Thanks for reading, and feel free to share your own summer TBR in the comments. If you’ve read any of these books, what did you think of them?

Also, if you’re buying books this summer, please consider supporting indie authors. My YA contemporary novel Other People’s Butterflies is being published by the indie press Art Over Chaos, and the eBook is available for pre-order here

“Other People’s Butterflies” Cover Reveal

Here it is – the gorgeous front cover for Other People’s Butterflies!

Ain’t she pretty?! I take no credit for this cover, as it was designed by Rose Sinclair from Art Over Chaos and the sum total of my input was “Errr, maybe it should have butterflies on it?” I’m not the best when it comes to aesthetics.

The eBook is now available for pre-order here (the paperback version doesn’t have a pre-order unfortunately) and it’s only $4.99/£3.52. Slightly cheaper than a Grande Skinny Vanilla Spice Latte from Starbucks!

Yep. Mystery, intrigue, high school drama, 1940s spy drama, ace/aro representation and some serious friendship feels could all be yours for the price of a ridiculous coffee. Here’s the blurb to give you a better idea of what it’s all about:

“Gwen Foster has never been kissed. But when she gets the chance to finally see what all the hype is about, it’s with her best friend’s crush. Embroiled in relationship drama she doesn’t understand, and ostracized from her friend group, Gwen escapes the angst by using her favorite femme fatale as a role model… and makes snooping on her classmates her new pastime. 

Gwen’s detective work appears to be going well, until an unknown social media account starts spilling all the scandalous personal details she’s uncovered. Now this wannabe spy must stop whoever is behind it before everyone’s dirty laundry is aired, and Gwen is forced to finish high school without any friends.

Other People’s Butterflies is a coming-of-age contemporary mystery about not needing to find your first love – but yourself – and how to mend the relationships that matter to you.”

Readers and Reviewers Wanted!

My debut novel Other People’s Butterflies is being published next month *hyperventilates* and I’m looking for book lovers to read and review! If you would like to receive an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) in exchange for an honest review of the book on your blog or other social media platform, please fill out this short form.

What is Other People’s Butterflies like?

My novel is a contemporary YA with an aromantic-asexual protagonist, so the most obvious comparison that springs to mind is Alice Oseman’s Loveless. However, I think the plot is more Harriet the Spy meets Gossip Girl. You may be interested in it if:

  • You enjoy contemporary YA.
  • You enjoy contemporary YA with some 1940s spy stuff smuggled inside it.
  • You are interested in books with LGBTQIA characters and themes.
  • You like books about friendship, self-discovery, and the messiness of growing up.

Why are reviews so important?

For a debut author – especially an indie author like me – reviews are priceless. They can build credibility and increase sales, and also provide valuable insight into what readers want. Since this is my first published novel (hopefully the first of many) it’s important to know what readers are enjoying and what I need to work on.

So, if you fancy helping out a debut author and think that Other People’s Butterflies might be your sort of book, please fill out this form to enjoy a sneaky peek before everyone else!

Top Ten Tuesday – My Ten Most Recent Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

My Ten Most Recent Reads

Between working, studying, and preparing to publish a novel (six weeks until Other People’s Butterflies gets published!) I’ve not had much time for reading, and this list takes me right back to 2020.

Educated by Tara Westover

It’s not an easy read but, despite the brutality of Westover’s upbringing, this isn’t your average misery memoir. It’s hugely insightful, and sheds light on the type of rural, religious family that’s often reduced to a caricature.

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

I’m a relatively “unschooled” writer, so I feel like I should be reading more books like this one. It’s an unstuffy writing guide that offers lots of helpful tips for making your writing snap. But some of the grammatical stuff is pretty intimidating!

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

I loved Anne of Green Gables as a kid, but wasn’t so keen on the other books in the series. Was this because the books decrease in quality? Or did I find “grown-up” Anne less easy to relate to than Anne as a child? Definitely the latter. Anne of Avonlea is beautifully written and an ideal comfort read. Also, it turns out that “grown-up” Anne is only 16!

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey

If you’re a fan of Lana’s music, this is a must-read. Her poetry explores similar themes to her lyrics, but in a slightly different (perhaps more vulnerable) way.

Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian

Hooray for reliable escapism! This is the fifth book in O’Brian’s series and has sea battles, spies, and the ever-entertaining friendship between main characters Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin (who are basically an old married couple at this point).

Common Bonds by various authors, including me!

Obviously I read my contributor’s copy of Common Bonds – an anthology of short stories and poetry centred on aromantic characters and platonic relationships. Seriously, if you’re looing for aro representation, or heart-warming stories of friendship, family, found-family and platonic partners, this is the book for you.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

SPOILERS, but I kinda wish Little Women ended halfway through. Poor Beth! And poor Jo, marrying some guy who’s twice her age and calls her stories trash!

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein

I finally got around to reading this, and it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t mind a slow-paced story as long as there’s a lot going on inside the characters’ heads. But these guys just spend forever deciding where to walk.

The World for a Shilling by Michael Leapman

If I had a time machine, The Great Exhibition of 1851 would be my first stop. Technologies and treasures from all over the world – including a 16 foot telescope, rare diamonds, and a precursor to the fax machine – were displayed in a purpose-built “crystal palace”. The book gives a vivid impression of what it must have been like for visitors.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

A murder-mystery that wastes very little attention on the murderer and contains one of the oddest sex scenes in mainstream fiction. Come for the weirdness, stay for the heart-wrenching portrayal of loss and grief.

Okay, not a bad bunch of books. Have you read any of these? What are some of the best books you’ve read recently?

Four Quick Writing Tips from “The Sense of Style”

I recently read Steven Pinker’s excellent writing guide The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. It’s aimed at non-fiction writers and I read it for my Science Communication MSc, but it also contains a lot of useful stuff for fiction writers. Here are four quick tips from the book that fellow writers might find handy…

“Beautiful” is more beautiful than “very beautiful”

When I was a teenager, I used to cram my writing full of intensifiers like “very”, “extremely” and “exceedingly” (Exceedingly was my favourite – I thought it made me sound fancy). This is an easy trap to fall into, because we can all get a little over-enthusiastic when we’re trying hard to get a point across.

The problem is that intensifiers can actually undermine the point you’re trying to make. As Pinker explains, an adjective on its own tends to be interpreted categorically. Someone is either completely honest, or not. Someone is either entirely beautiful, or not.

If you add an intensifier like “very”, you turn this all-or-nothing thinking into a spectrum. Someone might be quite beautiful, very beautiful, extremely beautiful, etc. It muddies the waters and takes away the impact of the adjective.

Save the heaviest for last

If you’re writing a list, the longest or most important word or phrase should go at the end to maximise its impact. For example, if you’re writing about a burglar who stole a bunch of things, it should be “He stole a TV, a laptop, and 2000 dollars in cash,” rather than “He stole a TV, 2000 dollars in cash, and a laptop.”

Importance should generally be prioritised over length. For example, “He stole a TV, 2000 dollars in cash, and a baby” is better than “He stole a TV, a baby, and 2000 dollars in cash.”

Watch out for zombies!

Before reading this book, I’d never heard of a “zombie noun”, and probably used them without meaning to. It’s a noun that’s derived from a verb, such as “make an appearance” (derived from “appear”) or “put on a performance” (derived from “perform”).

When a verb gets turned into a noun, it becomes lifeless and zombiefied (yes, that’s a word). Too many zombie nouns will make your writing sound stuffy, so it’s best to avoid them.

Learn the rules, then go ahead and break them

One thing I enjoyed about Pinker’s style guide was its impatience with grammar Nazis and language purists. We’ve all been annoyed by seeing “your” and “you’re” used interchangeably for the millionth time, but someone who acts like their world is falling apart every time someone makes a small error really needs to get a life.

The book argues that language is constantly evolving. If a word or phrase is used “incorrectly” by 90% of the population, and has been used by respected writers, there’s not much point in labelling it “incorrect”.

Also, (whisper it) there are more important things than grammar. If a woman prefers the term “chairperson” to “chairman” or a non-binary person uses singular “they”, it’s a dick move to insist that the rules of grammar are more important than equality or identity.

I hope you found these tips helpful. Got any quick tips of your own? Please share them in the comments!

Other People’s Butterflies – Introducing the Characters

(I’m updating this because I forgot to include a rather crucial character!)

It’s now less than two months until the planned release date of my YA novel Other People’s Butterflies. I’m more or less done with editing and you know what? I still don’t hate this book! Usually, editing has me shaking my head and muttering “Who wrote this shit? Oh, right.” But despite my insecurities, I’m really excited to get this novel out into the world.

This is partly thanks to my excellent editor, who was kind enough to point out things he likes as well as things that need fixing. But it’s partly because I just love these characters. Maybe it’s big-headed to say that, because I created them, but I can’t help it. I have a lot of affection for them and I want readers to meet them.

So I’m doing a quick post to introduce my main characters, and I also want to hear about yours. Who are the star players in your WIP? What makes them loveable, hateable, or love-to-hateable? Introduce them in the comments!

Gwen (the protagonist)

  • Easily bored
  • Wants to understand everything
  • Understands very little
  • Makes questionable decisions
  • Aro-ace as hell, but doesn’t know aro-ace is a thing

Martine (Gwen’s bestie)

  • Shy
  • Always smiling (it’s a defence mechanism)
  • Will read every historical romance ever written
  • A dreamer
  • Overprotected

Angie (also Gwen’s bestie)

  • A tomboy
  • Boy-crazy
  • Won’t wear clothes without pockets
  • Pockets are always full of sweets and/or condoms
  • Good at sports

Ethan (a childhood friend who reappears and complicates everything)

  • Total nerd. Owns it.
  • Seventeen, and owns more toys and games than most seven-year-olds
  • Speaks slowly, which makes some people think he is stupid
  • Definitely not stupid
  • Wants to be “more than friends”

Lana Barrington (Gwen’s girl-crush)

  • Fictional (I know they’re all fictional, but she is extra fictional)
  • Badass spy
  • Very glam
  • Good people skills
  • Doesn’t like people

Top Ten Tuesday – Places in Books I’d Love to Live

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Places in Books I’d Love to Live

I’m currently living in a draughty room in a shared house. The kitchen is always messy and the bathroom is always occupied. So please allow me to indulge in a few fantasies of where I’d rather be living…

Bag End (from The Hobbit)

“It was a hobbit hole, and that means comfort.” The only drawback I can think of is a lack of natural light. Otherwise, Bilbo’s home in a hill seems perfect.

Manderley (from Rebecca)

I remember a guy from my old writers’ group describing Rebecca as “property porn”. I think it’s fair to say that the beautifully spooky country house, and its grounds full of blood-red rhododendrons, are described with more passion than the lukewarm love affair between the nameless protagonist and Maxim de Winter.

Mistlethwaite Manor (from The Secret Garden)

Creepy manors are ten a penny in classic literature, but this one definitely has the best garden.

Villa Villekulla (from the Pippi Longstocking stories)

Maybe it was the house, or maybe it was the childhood fantasy of living with a horse, a monkey, and no parents. Either way, I definitely wanted to live in Villa Villekulla when I was a kid.

Baba Yaga’s hut (from various folktales)

I first encountered Baba Yaga in a story called “Vasilisa the Wise”. Baba Yaga is a strange, ambiguous character with an equally strange house that walks around on giant chicken legs. You could escape from noisy neighbours and unwanted visitors at the drop of a hat!

The gingerbread house (from Hansel and Gretel)

Look how adorable it is! Child-eating witches always have the best houses.

Echo Lodge (from Anne of Avonlea)

Echo Lodge isn’t as well know as these other homes, but Miss Lavender’s house is the perfect place to become a cheerful, slightly batty old maid.

Neverland (from Peter Pan)

This one is a general place rather than a home, but I wouldn’t mind setting up camp here. Fairies, pirates, mermaids, no school, no growing up and having to pay a mortgage – the benefits are endless.

Wonderland (from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

You’d never get bored…

Wayne Manor (from the Batman comics)

Yep, comic books count as books. And who wouldn’t want to waltz about like the lady of the manor all day, then go down to the bat cave and get ready for a night of crime fighting?

So what do you reckon? Would you rather live in a cosy hobbit hole, a spooky manor house or a hut with giant chicken legs?

What to Read When You Don’t Have Time to Read

Grad school is kicking my arse at the moment. Juggling work and study is much harder this year because the structure of the course has changed due to COVID, and because the teachers are making up for the lack of face-to-face teaching by giving us extra homework. The end result is that I have very little time to read. A depressing state of affairs for any bookworm.

So, I’ve been thinking about the sort of thing a book lover can realistically read when she’s short of time. There’s not much point getting into a chunky historical novel or epic fantasy series, but here are some ideas for quick reads…

All the poetry! (But especially chapbooks)

Poetry can contain complex events, fully-formed characters or even entire worlds in just a few lines. Being short of time is the perfect excuse to indulge in poetry, particularly chapbooks.

In case you’re not familiar with chapbooks, these are short, pocket-sized poetry collections, often based on a specific theme. If you’re not a poetry afficionado, these are less daunting (and cheaper) than a full-length collection. Dancing Girl Press has some great ones, and they’re going to publish mine later this year. 😊

Short stories

Seriously, why don’t short stories get more love? There are some brilliant collections out there. Three of my faves are The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, and Grand Union by Zadie Smith.

Middle Grade

MG novels are usually shorter than adult or YA novels, with brisk pacing that encourages a quick read. Trust me, some of them are every bit as good as you remember. Which brings us nicely to…

Re-reads

I’ve always found that re-reading is easy to do in short bursts. You know what’s coming next (unless you read it ages ago) so you’re less likely to read ten chapters at a time because you just have to know what happens.

Comics

It’s delicious to lose a whole afternoon to comics – getting lost in the artwork and enjoying the nuances of the story – but it’s just as fun to whiz through them like a nine-year-old who’s eaten too many Haribo.

I’m embarrassingly basic when it comes to comics, and mostly read superhero stuff (Marvel for the heroes, DC for the villains of course). Lately I’ve been loving The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.

Audiobooks

Audiobooks must be the ultimate time saver, which is why it’s very weird that I haven’t listened to any since the 90s, when they were called “books on tape” and my mum played them to stop me complaining on long car journeys.

Now seems like the perfect time to start listening again, but I want to start with a really good one. In particular, I’m looking for something where the narration adds something to the story. Any recommendations?

A Good Thing, a Very Bad Thing, and a Poem

A Good Thing

So, I’ve not had the best week. But to start things on a positive note, I’ve been in touch with Rose Sinclair from Art Over Chaos, and things are moving along with my YA contemporary novel, Other People’s Butterflies.

It’s with the editor, and we’re aiming for a June release date, which is (checks calendar) three months away!!! There’s still work to be done, of course, but it’s all very exciting and I’ll be keeping you updated.

A Very Bad Thing

I rarely post personal stuff on this blog, which doesn’t make a lot of sense because my writing is full of personal stuff. Last Thursday, I got an unexpected phone call telling me that one of my oldest and closest friends had died. She was a truly incredible person in so many ways. She was also 32 and planning a wedding, and I can’t quite get my head around it.   

A Poem

I wanted to post a poem to honour her, but none of mine are good enough so I’ve borrowed one from Carol Ann Duffy:

“Miles Away”

I want you and you are not here. I pause
in this garden, breathing the colour thought is
before language into still air. Even your name
is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again
and again, it will not stay with me. Tonight
I make you up, imagine you, your movements clearer
than the words I have you say you said before.

Wherever you are now, inside my head you fix me
with a look, standing here whilst cool late light
dissolves into the earth. I have got your mouth wrong,
but still it smiles. I hold you closer, miles away,
inventing love, until the calls of nightjars
interrupt and turn what was to come, was certain,
into memory. The stars are filming us for no one.

Wonderfully Weird Words

We’ve all known someone with a passion for quirky words, and for me it was my grampy. If a word was obscure, unusual or ridiculously long, he would hoard it like a treasure and drop it into conversation to amuse himself.

So I’m channelling Grampy today, and celebrating five unusual words related to books and writing…

  1. Librocubicularist

Are you a librocubicularist? I certainly am. It just means someone who reads in bed.

2. Hypergraphia

Hypergraphia is an overwhelming desire to write. So it’s basically the opposite of writer’s block.

3. Rhapsodomancy

This is the practise of divining the future by picking a passage of poetry at random. I tried this myself with a book of Dylan Thomas poems and got the following stanza:

Sing and strike his heavy haul

Toppling up the boatside in a snow of light!

His decks are drenched with miracles.

Oh miracle of fishes! The long dead bite!

So now I’m feeling slightly nervous about what the future has in store for me, especially with that last line.

4. Bildungsroman

This is a literary genre that focuses on the protagonist’s formative years. Think The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, or even the Harry Potter series.

5. Omnilegent

I hope to be omnilegent someday. An omnilegent person is someone who has read ALL THE BOOKS, or at least has an impressive familiarity with literature.

Got any quirky, book-related words to add to the list?