Blog Tour – Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five Part One by R. J. Furness

Genre: YA Fantasy

Similar to: A little bit Golden Compass, serialised à la The Green Mile

Could be enjoyed by: People who like their fantasy in bite-size chunks

Publication date: 16th March 2019

Blurb (4)

Have you ever seen something you can’t explain? Did it vanish as fast as it appeared? Perhaps that thing you saw was lurking in the shadows, and you caught a glimpse of it before it went back into hiding. There’s a good chance, of course, that the thing you saw simply emerged from your imagination. Or maybe, just maybe, it didn’t… Sapphire Smyth is no stranger to rejection. When she was only a baby, her father abandoned her after her mother died. Since then, Sapphire has never felt like she belonged anywhere, or with anyone. To make things worse, her foster carers have now turned their back on her – on her eighteenth birthday. After living with them throughout her childhood, Sapphire has to find a new home. Is it any wonder she finds it hard to trust people? Abandoned by the people she called family, Sapphire is alone and searching for some meaning in her life. Except that meaning has already come looking for her. When she discovers mysterious creatures lurking in the shadows, Sapphire soon realises that her fate is unlike anything she had ever imagined.

Blurb (3)Now don’t get me wrong, I love a big epic fantasy novel. The Chronicles of Amber, The Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time; I’ve really enjoyed them all (actually, I’m only on book four of WoT… so perhaps let’s gloss over that one. Guys it is SO LONG)… Anyway, I adore getting stuck into a huge heavy tome that I struggle to fit into my handbag and gives me backache. So, I was a little concerned about reading a fantasy novella – how would they fit in all the world-building? Surely the first 100 pages of any fantasy book barely scratches the surface of the storyline? How on earth do you build a narrative arc – won’t it end just as I’m getting into it?

FEAR NOT READERS!!!

Sapphire Smyth and the Shadow Five worked reaaaaaalllly well as a serial. The writing was immediately engaging and fast paced. There was a good narrative arc – the book ended in a *ahem different place to the beginning, which meant that there were some nicely defined boundaries and a natural place to pause. Despite my reservations, I actually quite liked the short novella style – it was different, sure – but once I had got my head round the idea that the story was to be continued, it was much like mentally agreeing to read to the end of chapter four.

EXCEPT YOU CAN’T IGNORE YOUR OWN LIMITATIONS AND READ ON ANYWAY AAAARRRGGHH WHAT EVEN IS THIS

Unfortunately, I did find that the payoff for having such a direct, action filled plot was that the word building suffered a little. I struggled to visualise some elements and thought that in places more detail was needed. I also thought that there were certain parts where a slower build up/acceptance of what was going on would have worked better. For example, Sapphire seemed pretty accepting of certain situations – like her almost comically quick assertion that she was in a different realm – which I felt let the storyline down a little.

However, as a character I really liked Sapphire and her kick-ass persona. I thought that her and Ben’s relationship was great and I’m excited to see how it will develop. I loved the idea of the mythical daemon/patronus/familiar fox that kept appearing and the concept of terrifying shadow creatures was truly creepy.

The only thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the ending on the futuristic transport thing… I’ll just leave this GIF here…

 

Overall, I loved this little gem of a fantasy novella/part one of an epic. The pacing was super quick and engaging, the characters were awesome and the overall idea was really unusual and just the right amount of creepy. I would have preferred slightly more description and perhaps a slower pace in some areas but this was a minor criticism. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

 

Four “What the fox say?”s out of five.

Brilliant writing, an engaging storyline and a fantastic format make Part One of Sapphire Smyth… a winner for me. Can’t wait to read more!

Blurb (2)Author R. J. Furness has been passionate about great stories since he was able to read. At an early age, he would frequently create new characters, worlds and creatures then write crazy tales all about them. However, until now, he has always kept those ideas completely secret. After having a lifelong interest in animals, music and anything spawned from pure imagination, R.J.’s first loves are now his wife and children. Over time, he has also developed an overwhelming desire for mugs of tea and good biscuits to dunk. He lives in Southport, England, with his family, a dog and several fish, chickens and quails.


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Blog Tour – The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

The Gilded King – Sovereign Book One

Genre: Paranormal romance

Similar to: Well, it’s a romance about gentle vampires… (DON’T SAY TWILIGHT!)

Could be enjoyed by: People who have read the prequel

Publication date: 25th June 2018

Firstly, I’d like to say thanks to Dave and everyone in The Write Reads gang for all of the love and support and for including me on this tour. It’s been AAAGGGEEESSS since I’ve published anything on here so being forced to post asked to participate in a blog tour has been a great way to get me back into the swing of things!

Synopsis…

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well. Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside. But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained. Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight. One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.

My thoughts…

My initial reaction to this novel was “is this self published? Wow!” Now, I don’t mean to have a go at any of the excellent authors out there who have published their own amazing stories BUT The Gilded King feels… professional. It reads like it’s been edited by someone who isn’t a family friend. The narrative flowed well and I was soon hooked into the story. Most importantly… no typo’s.

Unfortunately, as I began to get deeper into the story, I started to get a little confused. I was expecting some kind of world building or backstory… anything to explain all the things going on like The Fall or the location of The Blue or the link between the vaccine, Silvers and the Weepers. However – nada. In fairness to the author, there is a prequel novella (which I haven’t read) which I guess would explain things in a bit more detail but as a stand alone novel I felt that there should have been more explanation. Plus, every time The Fall was mentioned I pictured this:

 

I quite liked all of the characters, even if Claudia was a bit wet and Cameron was often utterly clueless. There was some good, slow building m/m queer representation and I loved Felix – I think his character will really develop in book two. I liked Julia too and thought it was fantastic to have a self-described “plain” looking girl as the main heroine – what a refreshing change!

As far as the storyline went, I really got into the book and read it in only a couple of days. I have to say though, I did get a bit confused by the three different names for vampires, plus the elite vampire guard and I sometimes struggled to work out who the characters were and what side they were on.

Overall, I liked The Gilded King and now that I’ve got my head around the setting I think books two and three will be really interesting. The novel wasn’t without it’s faults but it was a good narrative  – I could just have done with reading the prequel novella beforehand!

Three and a half “they’re VAMPIRES???”s out of five.

Well written, exciting stuff from a genre that I don’t normally read. The scene is set nicely for book two!

 

*PSSSSSST The Gilded King is FREE right now on Kindle! Links here:

Amazon US and Amazon UK

 

About Josie Jaffrey…

I live in Oxford, UK, with my husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for me to wear black, which is largely why I gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, I still miss my old wardrobe.

 


Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of The Write Reads. Thanks Dave!

 

Gateway Books Part One

Hello Bookworms!

I’ve fallen down a nostalgia induced Google wormhole today trying to research this blog post – aargh!

*Bonus points for knowing what 90’s music video this is from

Why have I spent the last hour chuckling at images of old Just 17 magazines and frantically trying to place random tv theme tunes? Well, I’ve been looking back through my life to see which books have been the real game-changers… the ones that I’m calling:

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A whole new worrrrrrlllllldddddd….

Ahem.

So, I thought it would be good to start at the beginning, when I first began to choose my own books. I guess at around ten years old I was mostly reading:

Children’s Fiction (unsurprisingly)

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I remember reading Goodnight Mister Tom with the rest of the class at primary school and it was so sad but utterly captivating too. Even the annoying kids with poor concentration were absolutely gripped by the story! The backdrop of the war led me to  other books like Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo and Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and when I was even older, books like All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr and Birdsong by Sebastien Faulks (which I purchased years ago and still haven’t got round to reading, oops).

I also LOVED all of those animal stories written for children like The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith (which was made into the film Babe) and Charlotte’s Web, which very nearly made me a vegetarian (but failed at the first sniff of a bacon sandwich). I still love books about animals – I recently read The Bees by Laline Paull which was both super interesting and super-disturbing.

I also read lots of…

Children’s Classics

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I went through a big Enid Blyton phase when I was younger, especially The Famous Five (I wanted to be George, obvs) and Mallory Towers, which made me want to go to boarding school. I can draw a direct line between this book and a later series of books set at a somewhat more magical boarding school… in hindsight these books are pretty problematic but at the time I loved them.

I also loved books like What Katy Did, where naughty Katy got her comeuppance and learnt to be good by following the meek and mild Aunt Helen. I have SUCH vivid memories from this book – the medicine bottles on the shelf, the cracked staple holding up the fateful swing, the menus she would have to write where she complained that every meal had to either be pork, chicken or beef and couldn’t someone just invent a new meat (something I regularly think about when I can’t decide what to cook). The feminist in me shudders at this story now but at the time I couldn’t get enough of it. I have equally fond memories of books by E. Nesbit like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, which led me to the fantastical, magical stories of people like Neil Gaiman.

Finally, I also got very much into…

Humour/Humorous Poetry

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(Aargh why won’t these pictures align????)

I went on holiday when I was about eight or so and, glory of glories, there was a whole bookshelf full of (adult) books for any of my family to borrow. I chose to read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 which, in hindsight, was far too old for me (I think I just skipped over the parts that I didn’t understand) and Some More of Me Poetry by Pam Ayres, which was really funny in a very innocent 1970’s way (or at least, that’s how I remember it). Both of the books were brilliantly amusing and made me love that kind of downtrodden working class sense of humour, leading me on to the rest of Sue Townsend’s works and even into stand up like Victoria Wood and working class folk-rockers like Grace Petrie:

 

And with that solid grounding in literature, I ventured into my teenage years… which will have to wait for another post!

So, what books did you enjoy growing up? How do you think they influenced your reading tastes now? Did they a wider impact on you as a person? Let me know in the comments!

End of Month Mini-Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

I’ve had a terrible months blogging activity so I’m desperately trying to get reviews done for all of the books that I’ve recently read! Thank goodness for mini reviews!

So, in light of the fact that I’ve not really done very much recently, today’s theme is…

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The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend

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Eva’s twins have finally been packed off to university and she’s decided that she’s had enough. Enough of the daily drudgery of housework, enough of her tedious husband, enough of being at everyone’s beck and call. So, she decides that it’s time for a well earned rest. Eva takes to her bed and decides that everyone else can look after her for a change. In typical Sue Townsend style this quickly develops into a farcical comedy, with Eva’s husband Brian moving into his purpose built shed-cum-lovenest with his new squeeze Titania (Tit) and Alexander the white van man being left to hold things together.

I liked the easy style of the writing but what this book (and all of the books in this post) suffered from is a lack of robust plot line. Yes, it’s a fun, light book but it’s hardly a page turner. I love Sue Townsend as a writer so it’s still good but it’s nowhere near her best work.

 

Three “It’s not Adrian Mole” out of five

 

Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney

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Well, this has certainly turned out to be a controversial choice – it’s had accusations of being un-feminist, lacking in plot, failing to follow the basic rules of grammar, being confusing, poorly written… I could go on. And yes (she says, flouting the rules of grammar herself), perhaps all of those things are true – although I don’t think it’s un-feminist to write complicated, emotional female characters – but I still liked it.

Frances is a young, possibly bisexual woman who becomes involved with Nick and Melissa, a slightly older monogamish married couple. Nick begins an affair with Frances, whilst Frances’ ex-girlfriend Bobbi begins a flirtation with Melissa. Frances does very little in the way of work – she’s a performance poet with Bobbi, she lives rent free in a flat owned by her uncle, she states that she never wants a job. Indeed, she’s only forced to get one when her father’s allowance stops, following his descent into alcoholism. Her lack of structure leads to an awful lot of soul searching, in the way that you can only do when you’re young and in love and don’t have to also worry about a million other boring adult issues.

Despite the annoyingly millennial (Gen Z?) characters, I loved the subtlety of the prose, the devastating one liners, the horrid complications of trying to love someone when you don’t love yourself. I could really relate to Frances and her unemotional dialogue which betrayed an ocean of pain and suffering below her bland exterior. I thought that Sally Rooney absolutely caught the aimless horror of being in your early twenties, indecisively drifting between friends, partners and jobs. Urgh. Youth really is wasted on the young.

Four “Not entirely sure how I just enjoyed a book where nothing happened” out of five
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
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An unnamed narrator (I never realise that until I come to write the review) decides that

she needs a rest, so visits a quack “doctor” who prescribes her with ever increasing numbers of sedatives, uppers, downers and everything in-between. The narrator then proceeds to quite literally sleep for an entire year – not going out, not really eating, not menstruating… nothing but popping pills and occasionally buying coffee from the local shop. Whilst I’m sure we’ve all had days where this type of self induced coma sounds rather appealing, it doesn’t exactly make for a page turning novel.

I didn’t like any of the characters in the book (I say any, there’s really only two) but even the peripheral boyfriend and dead parents are incredibly narcissistic, unlovable people. The only vaguely interesting bit of tension comes from your realisation that the “year” is 2001 and the setting is New York City… as you get closer to September you obviously know what’s about to happen but even that gets passed over with very little emotion.

There is something oddly compelling about the writing though. In a weird way it reminded me of American Psycho – that ultra-privileged antipathy, the desire to do something destructive just because you’re bored and you’ve got the money to get away with it. However, murder makes for a far more interesting storyline than sleeping, so I’m only able to give it a Goodreads-unfriendly…

Two and a half “And I thought nothing happened in Conversations With Friends” out of five
AAAAAND RELAX!

 

So, do you think the idea of doing absolutely nothing sounds really appealing? Could you manage to get an interesting book out of it? Do you like books that are more focused on characterisation than plot? Let me know in the comments!

Mid Month Mini Reviews – May

Hello bookworms!

Welcome to my a-bit-later-than-planned-mid-month mini-reviews!

I’ve been trying to read more diversely recently and so today I’m focusing on black female authors. All of these books are absolutely excellent and they’ve all made me think about race, racism and privilege (amongst other issues) from entirely different angles. I’d highly recommend them all.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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I didn’t go into this book with high expectations but I was blown away by it – not only by the sheer force of Michelle Obama’s drive and ambition but by how well written and engrossing it was. As a British person I don’t understand the system that the US uses to elect its politicians so I had hoped the autobiography wouldn’t get too politically technical and thankfully, it didn’t. What it did do, however, was show what a truly inspirational person Michelle Obama is. Her sheer determination to do well in life was astounding – just the lengths that she had to go to just to get a good education were ridiculous and her constant willingness to defeat the obstacles put in front of her was amazing.

I loved hearing about how Michelle took the role of First Lady and made it her own, with her unique blend of optimism, personality and hard work. I also loved getting a behind-the scenes glance at what life in the White House was really like, especially when you’re also trying to bring up a young family. It was great to hear about what a nuisance the Secret Service were when you were trying to organise your daughter’s sleepover or what it was really like to meet the Queen when you’d only a vague idea of protocol!

Overall, I thought this was a super-interesting look at an amazing woman and her incredible life so far. My only criticism would be her cheese on toast making skills – guys, she used the microwave. Whaaaaat???

    

Four “That’s not how you make cheese on toast, Michelle” out of five.

 

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

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Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #2 Read an alternate history novel.

Oh. My. God.

I don’t know that anything could have prepared me for this book – especially with that ending – but safe to say that I loved it, even though it was upsetting and graphic and difficult to read in places.

Noughts and Crosses is set in a world where power has been flipped on it’s head – black people (crosses) are the ruling elite over the just-out-of-slavery whites (noughts). Sephy (a cross) has been lifelong friends with Callum (a nought) but when their friendship begins to develop into something more, the trouble begins.

There’s a lot of adult themes in the book – not just around privilege, power and racism but also rape, abuse and murder. These topics are handled incredibly sensitively though and although in parts it’s a difficult read, the writing is so outstanding that you’re unable to put the book down. The characters are multi-faceted, complicated individuals who often act irresponsibly – entirely how teenagers should behave – and this made the story seem all the more real to me.

Overall, I thought this was a great book with a very important message – I can’t wait to read the rest of the series.

 

Four and a half “You can’t do that to a main character!” out of five

 

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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This is an odd book to review. On the one hand, I enjoyed reading it but I found that it was only after I’d finished that I truly understood how great it was. I just couldn’t. Stop. Thinking. About. It. And every time I considered the novel from a new angle, I found a whole slew of other issues hiding behind it.

An American Marriage is the story of a married couple, Celestial and Roy, who become separated after Roy is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. Roy goes to prison and Celestial is left to build a life on her own, with just the shadow of her husband looming in the background.

It’s the omnipresence of Roy in Celestial’s life that really gives the book some tension. Their marriage is always there in the background, overshadowing every move they both make. The issue of their legal union binds them together and creates all kinds of questions about freedom – it acts as a kind of metaphorical, socially driven prison of their own making. It really made me think about injustice and how punishment of an individual ripples out to affect the whole family.

There’s many things about the book that mean it shouldn’t work – the characters are unlikable, the plot isn’t particularly dynamic, the ending is a bit disappointing. However, there’s something about the writing that compels you to keep reading. I should have hated it but instead I loved it.

 

Four “those dolls sound hella creepy” out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of these books? Do you make an effort to read from a diverse range of authors? Let me know in the comments!

Calendar Girls May: Favourite Book With A Mother/Daughter Relationship

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls, which I totally forgot to post yesterday! I’m so sorry guys!!!

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Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer Reads It is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favourite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post.

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…

calendar girls may

 

…and my top pick is…

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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When I first saw the theme of mother and daughter relationships I was initially a little stumped. I don’t read a lot of novels that focus on family ties so I had to cast around on google for a bit to see what I could come up with. Then it hit me – I was looking for positive, healthy Mum/Daughter bonds… but what about toxic relationships? That’s when I knew exactly which book I’d recommend – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

In the book, Eleanor lives a life of pared down efficiency. Her meals are one pot, one plate. Her shoes are smart but comfortable, with Velcro for quick fastening (none of those inefficient shoe laces). Her role as a finance administrator requires analysis and ordering of numbers, which can be broken down into repetitive tasks and scheduled accordingly. All of this means that Eleanor creates minimal fuss and requires few interactions with other people. Everything seems to be pretty normal (if a bit lonely) until you realise that Eleanor treats vodka like an essential basic grocery and thinks of a pot plant as her one and only friend.

Eleanor struggles with people, and as the book progresses, you start to guess at what might have happened in her childhood to make her so ill equipped to deal with social situations. Apart from having burn scars across her face and body, Eleanor has a very troubling relationship with her mother (Mummy) who she only contacts via telephone for 15 minutes on a Wednesday (and thank God, because this woman is a BITCH). As the book progresses, Eleanor makes some woeful (often hilarious) attempts to make herself more attractive to her crush and through a freak event is forced to spend time with Raymond, who she knows from work. Through this very off-kilter friendship Eleanor begins to accept herself and deal with her past… and her mother.

I thought that Eleanor was such a great character and although she is clearly odd and her life is terribly sad, the novel is written in such a way that you don’t ever feel that you’re laughing at her, or at least not in a malicious way. When she acts inappropriately you can see it’s because she doesn’t understand social norms and never because she aims to cause offence – but to outsiders I suppose she seems aloof or downright rude. It’s this constant formality and awkwardness that made me empathise so much with Eleanor – you can’t help but be completely on her side.

The ending of the book has a fantastic twist that I half guessed at but the sadness of the whole situation really hit me. I loved how Eleanor’s past was hinted at throughout the novel and that by the end of the book everything had come to light. I really liked how what could have been fluffy chick lit was turned into something much more challenging and emotive by offsetting the lighter elements with something far darker. The book is very well written and a fabulous debut – everyone should read it!

 

Have you read Eleanor Oliphant…? Do you have any favourite books with toxic mother/daughter relationships in them? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

TL;DR April Review

Hello Bookworms!

HEATWAVE!!! HAPPY EASTER!!! BANK HOLIDAY!!!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I can’t believe how warm it was over the Easter bank holiday weekend! We went out on bank holiday Monday in SHORTS and I had to put suncream on! We even sat out at night in the garden with our wood burner going after having a barbecue and it was lovely.

April saw the launch of the library as a full volunteer led community resource, which means we’ll have much more flexibility about the kind of things that we can use it for – we already have a poetry evening, farmers market and various kids clubs but we’ll be expanding even further, which is both super exciting and a lot of work. The launch day itself was really great – the whole community pulled together to create a fantastic atmosphere. I got up at the crack of dawn to marshal a fun run but it was all for a good cause so I didn’t really mind.

I’ve been out quite a lot in April – we visited Snowshill Manor for the non-hubs birthday (getting more usage from our National Trust membership) which is absolutely fascinating as it houses the most eclectic collection of hand crafted items from all over the world. The interior of the house reminded me of Grimmauld Place so it was perfect for a mooch around; this is just one of the many rooms:

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We also had a meal at The Fleece Inn near Evesham which was amazing – a proper traditional English pub with a great beer garden and fabulous, locally sourced food. We even went back there a few days later after we’d been out antiquing at Malvern, where I got a lovely German studio pottery bowl and French vase.

We had my parents over for Easter Sunday lunch which involved loads of hot food, wine and chocolate which was really nice. My Mum had her birthday too so we went to Edingale, the village where she used to go during the holidays (some scheme run by the Church maybe?) to stay with a woman called Miss Abel. She hadn’t been back since the 1950’s and amazingly it hadn’t changed much. It’s a lovely place, still very rural and the house that she used to stay in was still there, looking pretty much the same.

Our other house is slow going – we’re still sanding down the cement like filler round all the door frames but we’re close to finishing the woodwork, so that’s something. Disasters this month have included ants in the kitchen (why? there’s literally nothing for them to eat) water ingress into my lovely new kitchen (I think the upstairs window is leaking) and some more problems with the plasterwork but we’re on top of them now.

In terms of my book blogging life I’m now halfway through the Read Harder Challenge which is obviously ahead of schedule and I’m doing ok in the Goodreads Challenge, although I have slipped back a bit.

This month, I took part in the April Calendar Girls meme where I chose Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough as my favourite book with a surprise ending. I took part in a blog tour run by The Write Reads for After the Green Withered by Kristin Ward and expanded my mini review feature to two postings a month – Mid-Month Mini-Reviews and Monthly Wrap-Up Mini-Reviews.

I also did a discussion post about blogging pressure called Are We Having Fun Yet? and continued with Sorting Out the Shelves #5.

I posted eight reviews despite having a pretty bad reading month quality wise:

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie: A fantastic essay that really cut to the bones of why it’s important to be an intersectional feminist in the 21st Centuy. Loved everything that she had to say. Five out of five stars

Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler: I loved this novella, especially as it felt like proper old school sci-fi. I’m super interested in the rest of the series now! Four out of five. 

After the Green Withered by Kristen Ward: An interesting debut with a great message but a few problems with pacing and structure. Three and a half out of five.

A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor: I found that again, a restrained, something-might-happen-but-then-it-doesn’t plot dull as ditchwater. Some characters were brilliant but unfortunately they didn’t feature heavily enough for me.  Three out of five. 

First Love by Gwendoline Riley: One word: depressing. I hate books that don’t have redemptive arcs and this was just one horrible character after another, even though the writing was excellent. Two and a half out of five.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry: I didn’t hate this book but it dragged on and on with very little in the way of plot. It was beautifully written but I needed more action. Average. Two and a half out of five. 

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley: I hated this book – the confusing structure of some sentences, the character names, the incongruous details that didn’t sit well within the Victorian setting…urgh. I made it through to the end but my God it was a slog. One out of five. 

The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville: I hated every single thing about this book and DNF’d it half way through. One out of five.

So that’s April wrapped up! Did you read better books than me? Are you making plans for the summer? Let me know in the comments!

Monthly Wrap-Up Mini Reviews – April

Hello bookworms!

Since my mini-reviews have been such a hit (and I have a massive backlog to get through) I thought I’d attempt them twice a month – ooooh! So, welcome to my monthly wrap-up mini-reviews!

Today, I’m focusing on my recent forays into the world of novellas and short essays – tiny reviews for tiny manuscripts!

 

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimanmanda Ngozi Adichie

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I LOVED everything about this essay/novella that was adapted from Chimamanda’s Tedx talk of the same name. Considering how short it is (60 pages) she does an absolutely brilliant job of defining modern feminism in an eloquent and engaging way. I completely agreed with all of her points about why a patriarchal society is bad for everyone (not just women) and the ways that we can all work together to combat systematic inequalities that hold everyone back.

Many books about feminism are written by white, middle class women with a limited experience of the world outside of Europe/the US/Australia so it was interesting to read about the viewpoint of someone with a completely different background. I thought that all of the author’s points were well reasoned and that her unique perspective brought something genuinely new to the debate.

Overall, I loved the passionate, informative way that the essay was written and think it should be required reading!

Five “It’s not as boring as it sounds!” out of five.

 

Bloodchild by Octavia E Butler

Bloodchild

 

WHY have I never read Octavia E Butler before? Bloodchild is a tiny little novella that took me about half an hour to read but it was A-MA-ZING. The basic premise (from what I could tell – the writing is s p a r s e) is that there’s a planet occupied by both space aliens and people. The space aliens need human hosts to incubate their eggs which the humans submit to sort-of willingly (presumably for peace? I’m sure this is explained better in subsequent books).

I loved everything about the story – how old school sci-fi it felt, how exacting the prose was, how original the idea was…also, it was free download from the Kindle store (yay!) It really reminded me of something written by Philip K Dick (a personal favourite of mine) but with more – I don’t know – emotion? Humanity? (Tries desperately to avoid gender stereotypes when thinking about how this might relate to the author).

In short (literally) Bloodchild was a fabulous taster of the world that Octavia E Butler has built. I’ll definitely be checking out the rest of the series.

 

Four “I’ve been missing out!”s out of five

 

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

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I picked this novella up in a charity shop while waiting for my car to be fixed purely because it had been previously nominated for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. It was a lovely sunny day, I was sitting in a delightful cafe on the high street with a nice big pot of tea and… this was totally the wrong book to be reading. It is dark and depressing and has absolutely no redemptive arc.

The main character is called Neve and the book focuses on her emotionally and physically abusive relationship with her horrible bellend of a husband. It also moves back and forth through key parts of her life, showing the toxic relationships she has had with other people – her grotesque father, her unreliable mother, her unloving ex. I wasn’t exactly sure what the point of the book was – were these depressing little vignettes meant to offer an explanation as to why Neve didn’t just up sticks and leave? Were they to garner sympathy for the character? Was I meant to be apportioning blame for the choices that Neve had made? I didn’t get it.

In saying that, I thought that the writing was very good. It gave a very realistic portrayal of several abusive relationships and all of the characters were complicated individuals, despite the brevity of the prose and the sparseness of their descriptions. Overall though I felt that the book was too unbalanced, too wayward and too bloody depressing to warrant anything more than an average rating.

 

Two and a half “RED FLAG!”s out of five. 

 

So, have you read any of the above novellas? Do you enjoy shorter books? Am I still allowed to count them towards my Goodreads challenge? Let me know in the comments!

Sorting Out the Shelves #5

Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of sorting out the shelves! I haven’t done one of these for a while and although I thought I’d mostly covered the books I wanted to get rid of, when I looked harder I still have loads more to get through. So, it looks like this feature is here to stay!

Today, I’m looking at books that I bought when I became interested in two very different topics – fantasy writing and gardening! Soooooo… it’s time for Own or Re-Home!

Own

Assorted works by J. R. R. Tolkien

I love that edition of the Hobbit…

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The copies of LOTR are some of my most battered books (having been obtained when I was a student and surviving four different house moves – including a period where they were kept in my Grandma’s shed) but they’re also amongst my most loved books. Confession: I essentially stole them off my then boyfriend and never returned them – oops – but that was fifteen years ago and he never asked for them back, so… yeah. Mine now! He recommended that I read them despite my initial trepidation – I’d made an attempt at reading The Hobbit when I was about six or seven and thought it was the dullest book in the world. Surprisingly, I loved them and that started my journey into fantasy. I bought the special edition copy of The Hobbit mostly because it was pretty but when I actually read it again I loved it – I think I’d just been too young the first time round. Now, I fondly look at these books as a kind of gateway drug into a world that I didn’t know existed and even though I really don’t like my ex I’m grateful that we had a relationship purely for the book recommendations!

Re-home

A selection of gardening books that all pretty much say the same thing…

We have the internet now…

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All of these books have been gifts (because what else do you buy for someone who likes both gardening and reading?) and although they were initially useful, they’re pretty basic and the internet has much more up to date information. I haven’t referred to any of them in years, so off they go to the used bookstore at the library.

 

Do you have any “long term loan” books lurking on your shelves that you’ve never got round to returning? What were your “gateway” books that introduced you to a specific genre? Are reference books even remotely useful in the 21st century? Let me know in the comments!

 

Viewpoint – Are We Having Fun Yet?

Hello Bookworms!

I realised that I haven’t bashed out a discussion piece in ages, due to the inevitable end of year wrap ups, challenge completion and resolution posts so I thought I’d write about something that’s been on my mind for a little while now. So, grab yourself what looks like a horrible instant coffee, slip on some unattractive slippers, find a fire hazard of a carpeted hearth (is that even legal?) and lets have a chat about blogging and pressure.

adult beverage breakfast celebration
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I really enjoy blogging (and obviously reading) but there seems to be a darker side to running a blog that I’m just becoming aware of (hilariously, after three years of doing it). I’ve only just joined Twitter (THAT’S where you’ve all been hanging out!) and, well, I’m addicted. It’s far more interactive and faster than blogging, you can find out the latest happenings within the bookish community, you can engage with authors and famous people. That’s all super-smashing-great but the thing is, all of this checking of social media takes time and effort and what with writing posts, blog hopping, responding to comments etc., it’s taking up a lot of my day.

facebook instagram network notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’ve seen super organised bloggers who have content scheduled months in advance and I’ve seen bloggers who bash posts out and publish them immediately (guess which one I am) but we all seem to be saying the same thing – sometimes, we just don’t have the time and/or capacity to keep up with it all. And when that happens, most of us beat ourselves up for it.

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Why?

Because there’s a lot of pressure on bloggers to meet various deadlines (ARC’s, blog tours etc.), complete reading challenges, engage in the latest debates… but the thing is, this is meant to be FUN. What started as a nerdy little hobby for most of us can easily get out of hand and turn into a full time job. That’s a lot to take on, so no wonder we frequently hear the terms “burnout”, “blogging hiatus”, “reading slump”… if we didn’t run book blogs, would we even notice that we were in a slump? Would we tone down our use of social media without feeling the need to announce it to the world? Would we have “scheduled reading”? Would we be keeping detailed spreadsheets of any other aspects of our lives?

The best, most addictive thing about social media is the external validation that you get from seeing the number of people who have responded to your content. It’s the most instant, obvious way to see how unambiguously “popular” you are – and when those stats are going up, it feels great. However, what happens when you publish a post that only a few people interact with – or when you realise that someone started a blog three months ago and has ten times the number of followers that you do? It doesn’t feel great, does it – but what can you do?

Look at this awful, shameful display of self promotion…😉

Well, there’s two ways of looking at this. The first is to chase those stats – review popular books, write content that you think other people will find interesting, blog SEVERAL TIMES A DAY, tweet ALL OF THE TIME, read some novellas to hit that Goodreads target, even pay another blogger to promote you. But really, who has the time? And how long can you realistically keep it up for? The instant gratification wears off pretty quickly and you’re left chasing even greater numbers, with a mountain of self-generated work to do in the meantime. Over the years, I’ve seen bloggers explode onto the scene with tons of posts, an immediate number of followers and constant engagement but then the shine wears off and they disappear, never to be heard from again. You have to wonder, what was the point?

The second way is to actively try to manage your expectations. Review what you want, limit your time on social media, try to follow a few blogs consistently instead of checking out random posts based on what pops up on your Twitter feed. You won’t get the numbers in terms of your own stats (although, consistently following a handful of blogs is arguably more beneficial as people tend to reciprocate) but you’ll be setting up a realistic blogging habit that works for you long-term. It can be hard when you’re three years in and still aiming for 500 followers but I really treasure the few proper blogging friends that I have – and isn’t that what this whole blogging thing is all about really? Making human connections with like-minded people?

I know that for most of us, we keep ourselves in check and mostly manage to balance our actual lives with our blogging activities – and that for the majority of the time, blogging is fun – even with all of the additional admin. But it can easily get out of control and I think we (myself included) need to step away from the stats and celebrate what we’ve achieved – content that we love, blogs that reflect our individuality and creativity and a positive, supportive community – regardless of how many people have clicked that follow button.

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So, be honest – how often do you check your stats? Do you do anything to actively increase your number of followers/page views etc.? Do you agree that blogging is about far more than metrics? Let me know in the comments!