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

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?

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?

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?

Top Ten Tuesday – New-to-me Authors I Read in 2020

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…

New-to-me Authors I Read in 2020

Since 2020 was such a clusterf*ck of a year, I did a fair bit of comfort reading. But amongst all the books by familiar old favourites, I did manage to find some new authors who I’ll be reading again.

  1. Gillian Flynn

I finally read Gone Girl and I feel like this is one of those occasions where the hype is justified. Sharp Objects is high on my TBR.

2. Lauren Groff

I read The Monsters of Templeton after my mum recommended it. Mother knows best, of course – Groff is a superb writer and the book is a great family saga with some subtle supernatural elements.

3. Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld is one of the most purely fun books I read in 2020. Somebody please make this rip-roaring, daft-as-balls adventure into a movie. Or a TV show. Or both.

4. Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of the reasons I am determined to read more sci-fi in 2021.

5. Arthur Ransome

You’re never too old for a children’s classic, and Swallows and Amazons is as classic as they get. There are twelve books in the series and I expect I’ll be dipping into it again when summer arrives.

6. Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones is such a rare thing – a book that begins with a murder and DGAF about the murderer. More victim-focussed crime books, please.  

7. Hank Green

I’d read a couple of John Greens, but this year I read An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green and found it both an excellent sci-fi and a thoughtful exploration of fame, especially “internet fame”.

Since most of the authors I’ve mentioned so far are well-known, I’m going to narrow my focus a little. I read an anthology of fairytale retellings called Unburied Fables in 2020. And while I’m always up for a fairytale retelling, I particularly enjoyed these ones because so many of the stories feature characters who, like me, are asexual or aromantic or both. The stories also have lots of other forms of LGBT+ representation.

The authors all write beautifully, so which story you would prefer probably depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re after a sweet, grounded, m/m romance, I recommend The Last Lost Boy by George Lester. If you prefer sci-fi with richly detailed world building, you’ll like The Suns of Terre by Will J. Fawley. But three authors I really hope to read again are…

(SPOILERS for these stories)

8. Laure Nepenthes

No prizes for guessing which fairytale Handsome and the Beast is based on, but it’s the first story I ever read with a “happily ever after” ending for a platonic relationship.

9. Moira C. O’Dell

O’Dell’s story Satin Skirts and Wooden Shoes is a retelling of Cinderella. I’ll never get tired of aromantic characters using magic to wriggle their way out of unwanted marriages!

10. Minerva Cerridwen

Match Sticks is waaaay less depressing than the fairytale it’s based on, and a celebration of so many different types of love and relationships.

2020 Reading Recap

There’s no getting around it – 2020 was a shit show. And books, as always, were a reliable source of comfort, escapism and inspiration. I finished 27 in total, which I know is hardly anything compared to some committed readers, but I feel like 2.25 books a month is pretty respectable.

As for the type of books I read, I did notice a couple of trends. I read more non-fiction than usual this year (inevitable for a grad student) and I read more books from series. I also stepped out of my comfort zone and read some very girly, fluffy chick lit.

My favourite/least favourite books of 2020

Maybe this makes me a basic bitch, but I finally read Gone Girl and I absolutely adored it. I want to read everything Gillian Flynn has ever written and get a tee-shirt with Amy Dunne’s “cool girl” monologue on it!

The most disappointing book I read was probably Death Comes to Pemberley. I was all set to enjoy Elizabeth and Darcy solving murder cases together, but that dream was just too good to be true. Elizabeth hardly gets a look in, and Darcy gets embroiled in a boring courtroom drama.

My reading goals for 2021

  • Read more YA. This is appalling, but I didn’t read a single YA book in 2020. I plan to make up for it in 2021.
  • Read more sci-fi. I generally lean more towards fantasy (sci-fi’s hippy older brother) but in 2021 I will give sci-fi the attention it deserves.
  • Read more indie-published/self-published books. Find hidden gems and support scrappy authors making a living outside the mainstream? Yes please.

Recommendations are very welcome. If you can recommend an indie-published or self-published YA with sci-fi elements I will be eternally grateful!

Top Ten Tuesday – Books to Read in Winter

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…

Top Ten Books to Read in Winter

I’d always thought of winter as thriller season. But when I sat down to write my top ten list of books with wintery vibes, it didn’t include a single thriller. It does, however, include six classics. So curl up by the fire with a hot cuppa (or a good whisky) and enjoy…

  1. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

The name alone makes this an obvious winter read, but the chilly setting of the Canadian prairies seals the deal. Also, hooray for queer characters in historical fiction! LGBT+ people have always existed, and have always found ways to live a life of our own choosing.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane’s entire childhood and adolescence seems like one really long January. Then she grows up and goes wandering over windswept moors. It’s enough to make you shiver.

3. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

This is pure fairytale gorgeousness and will make even the most determined sun-worshipper wish for snow.

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This one always makes me feel Christmassy. Yes, that is a real word.

5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Anything set in Victorian London seems to give off winter vibes. Also, I always think of Holmes as a slightly chilly character, though that’s probably more to do with certain adaptations (especially the modern-era one with Benedict Cumberbatch) than how he is in the original stories.

6. Northern Lights

My favourite book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. This is an epic adventure story, full of wintery delights.

7. Heidi by Johanna Spyri

This cosy children’s classic is a perfect read for when you want to imagine a simpler life on a snowy mountain.

8. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

If you’re looking for something a little less cosy, The Call of the Wild presents the harsh realities of a frozen landscape as well as the allure.

9. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Though this novel spans years, it seems like it’s always winter. Maybe that’s a coincidence, or maybe it was a deliberate choice to reflect the inescapable chill of grief.

10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I suppose it ought to be a Halloween read, but this book feels like winter to me. Maybe it’s the essential harshness of the story, or just the icy ending. Brrrrrrr.

Have you read any of these? And what do you like to read when the days are cold and the nights are long?

Top Ten Tuesday – Titles That Would Make Good Band Names

Top Ten Tuesday – Titles That Would Make Good Band Names

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…

Titles That Would Make Good Band Names

If I had to choose between books and bands, I’d choose books. But only just! Here are my top ten, totally imaginary, book-named bands.

1. I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle

Dodie Smith’s gorgeous coming-of-age novel would make a great name for a sensitive indie band with awkward charm and whimsical lyrics.

2. Autonomous

Autonomous

In contrast, Autonomous would be an industrial music band who take pride in making your ears bleed.

3. Gone Girl(s)

Gone Girl

Pop a “s” on the end of the title and it becomes a good name for a 90s riot grrrl band.

4. Kings of the Wyld

Kings of the Wyld

These guys would play swaggering stadium rock, plus some more intimate acoustic numbers with mystical, pagan vibes. My dad would adore them.

5. The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife

If The Velvet Underground wasn’t called The Velvet Underground, it would be called The Subtle Knife.

6. The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck’s classic might be a serious novel, but I always thought the title was kind of funny. Aren’t grapes like, the least angry fruit? This would be a pop-punk band with a lot of rage but a sense of humour too.

7. Dracula

Dracula

A darkly glamorous band. Lots of eyeliner, black lace and sexual ambiguity.

8. The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers

This would be an all-female, hipsterish folk band. They would write the kind of lyrics that make you do mental gymnastics before you can understand them.

9. Wise Blood

Wise Blood

Woozy, bluesy swamp-rock.

10. Hogfather

Hogfather

Terry Pratchett’s Christmas classic would make a perfect name for a heavy metal band.

 

Which of these awesome imaginary bands would you listen to?

My 2020 TBR

Since I have a lot of reading to do for my MSc, I’m keeping my TBR for 2020 short and sweet. There are a couple of next instalments from series that I love, a couple of children’s classics and a couple of authors who I’ve been meaning to read more of. What books are on your list for the new year? And have you read any of these ones?

  1. Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. An epic fantasy about a gang of middle-aged, washed-up mercenaries, full of adventure and humour – Yes please!
  2. The Mauritius Command by Patrick O’Brian. Because I did the 2019 Reading Women Challenge, I haven’t read any Patrick O’Brian in a year and I’ve missed him. Time to get back to the nautical adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin.
  3. A biography of Sir Isaac Newton. I don’t read much non-fiction (except for my MSc) but I do like a good biography and Isaac Newton fascinates me. I want to find out more about his experiments with alchemy, his nervous breakdown, and what exactly happened with the apple.
  4. The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante. I am in urgent need of the fourth and final instalment of The Neapolitan Novels. What the hell happened to Lila?!
  5. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. This is one of those classics that I never read as a child, but I like the sound of it. It’s about a bunch of kids having adventures in the Lake District, in the days before anyone worried about health and safety.
  6. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield. Another children’s classic that I never got around to reading. Possibly because I gave up ballet at age 5.
  7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I can’t quite believe I’ve only read two and a half Neil Gaiman novels (I consider Good Omens to be 50% a NG novel, since he co-wrote it with Terry Pratchett). I plan on remedying this by reading a bunch of NG in 2020, starting with this one.
  8. Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust. I’m a sucker for a fairytale re-telling, and this one is described as “Frozen meets The Bloody Chamber”. Gimme gimme gimme!
  9. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I’ve heard many good things about this award-winning space opera.
  10. Swing Time by Zadie Smith. I’ve just finished Smith’s Grand Union Stories and I want more of her impeccable writing. I love stories about close but complicated friendships, and have high hopes for this one.

The 2019 Reading Women Challenge – What I Learnt

So far this year, I’ve read nothing but female authors. I feel like I’ve learnt a few things from the 2019 Reading Women Challenge. Mostly about my own reading habits, but also about the different things that male and female authors focus on when we write.

Differences between male and female authors

I wish I’d noticed something more profound but honestly, the first thing I noticed is that female writers seem to focus more on food. When reading an epic fantasy written by a man, I’ve found that it’s normal to get through the whole quest without anyone stopping for a bite to eat. Does that happen in the same kind of novel written by a woman? Hell no.

Food is mentioned in every book I read for the challenge, often in lingering detail. There are probably all sorts of complex reasons for this. Historically speaking, women have been mainly responsible for food preparation, and it could be argued that women have a more complicated relationship with food because we’re under constant pressure to be skinny. Whatever the reason, I’m glad female authors focus on food because it’s such an important part of everyday life.

The next difference I noticed was that when writing about a character’s appearance, female writers tend to focus on different body parts. You know how women like to make fun of male writers who focus too much on a female character’s tits? (“She breasted boobily down the stairs”) Well, it turns out some female writers have an equally obsessive focus on eyes.

If a male character is attractive, his eyes are often described in rather ridiculous ways. They are given all sorts of flowery adjectives. They are always doing something sexy, like flashing or smouldering or turning the colour of storm clouds, rather than just sitting there like two blobs of jelly with a biological function.

Where are the male authors writing female protagonists?

All books read for the Reading Women Challenge had to be by or about women. So I could have read male authors as long as their main characters were women, but there don’t seem to be many men writing female protagonists. This is surprising, as women buy more books than men, so surely a male author would want to appeal to female readers.

Maybe they’re just not interested in writing female characters, but I suspect the reality is much more complex and beyond the scope of this blog post. I’d just like to say to any male writer who wants to write interesting female characters – Do it! It may be more difficult than writing male characters, but it will be worth it!

My reading habits

This reading challenge has taught me a lot about my own reading habits, and one thing that has become clear is that it often takes me a while to “warm up” to a book. Sometimes I love a book from the first page, but sometimes it takes me a few chapters to get into the style. DNFing a book before the halfway mark is a very bad idea for me.

I also realised that the only books I really dislike are the ones that disappoint me. If I suspect from the beginning that a book is going to be cheesy or have under-developed characters, I can still enjoy it for what it is. But if a book shows loads of promise and then screws everything up, I’ll never quite forgive it.

This challenge has pushed me out of my comfort zone a few times and I’m glad about that. But it has also reminded me that when it comes to books, I should follow my instincts rather than the opinions of others.

For example, I was planning on reading “Gods Behaving Badly” by Marie Philips for Challenge #13 – A myth retelling. But then I read a bunch of recommendations for “The Song of Achilles” and bought it instead. I didn’t hate the book, but I certainly didn’t see what all the fuss was about (this often happens with romantic books). I suppose there’s a delicate balance to be struck between reading outside your comfort zone and acknowledging that you know your own taste.