Sunday, 31 January 2016

On Reading for Book Clubs

I've always wanted to be part of a book club.  Meeting with like-minded people over a drink or two to gabble about a book sounded ideal.  The reality has been...disappointing.

During the end of last year and the beginning of this year, I've felt a renewed vigour for reading and have been excited about it again.  I've rifled through my collection of books and been full of enthusiasm for the older books among my stash, the quirkier classics and the darker literary fiction.  I've started to get into graphic novels and tried out comics.  The more I've read, the more excited I've been about talking about reading.

Until a week ago.

My book club's next "meeting" is on Thursday.  The chosen book is The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop.  I wasn't overwhelmed with glee at the choice, not necessarily being swayed by endorsements by Woman and Home magazine, The Sun and The Daily Mail.  A colleague had finished it early and offered to lend it to me, though, so I figured I'd give it a try.  And just like that, my enthusiasm for reading fled.  I've watched episodes of Blacklist and The X Files in the evenings.  I've messed about on apps on my phone.  I've scribbled in my journal.  I've done all sorts of things but read.  I've read a few pages here and there and I haven't liked what I've read.  The writing is haphazard, awkward and clunky.  Characters stand next to each other gazing at their reflections in mirrors and give physical descriptions.  The descriptions of buildings and settings are saccharine and feel flimsy.  For a book written by a woman, the male characters are surprisingly sexist and I'm not sure if that's a character trait or how Hislop writes men.  Either way, reading about a man telling his wife that she's beautiful and that's the main thing so stop interfering in men's business is just plain annoying.  So I stopped reading it.  I chose my love of reading over my love of being in a book club.

It might get better.  It might be gripping historical fiction and I might just be missing out on something great.  It  might just be that I'm not in the mood for it at the moment.  I'm not sticking around to find out.  It turns out that one of the most important things about being in a book club is finding readers who have similar tastes to you, otherwise it becomes a chore.  I was reminded about this old post about why reading shouldn't be something that's hard work; it should be the opposite.  So I guess that this post is part musing and part resignation?  I'm going to stick on the book club's email list for a little while longer to see where they go but I'm no longer going to pretend to myself that I'll read whatever they pick just so that I can be in a book club.  

When I joined the book club, the first read I made it to a meeting about was Bossypants by Tina Fey.  That was followed by The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.  So far,so good.  I missed a few meetings then because of work but the choices were solid - The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and The American Boy by Andrew Taylor.  I read a short story horror collection by Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghosts, which was definitely not within my comfort zone and wasn't necessarily my thing but was at least interesting to discuss.  Recently, though, my interest is waning.  The club went through a run of lengthy non-fiction books that weren't on topics that I was interested in.  An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield, which sounded far too much like self-help for me.  H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, which doesn't really appeal to me because I'm actually quite frightened of birds.  The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson, which I was never going to read because there was no chance I was financially supporting Boris Johnson in any way.  The books I've suggested have never been 'chosen'.

If one of the books I read every month is going to be for a book club, they need to be books that I actually want to read.  Not necessarily ones that I would have chosen for myself but ones that intrigue me or that it seems as though there's something I'll take from it other than just the opportunity to discuss it with someone else.  I'm disappointed that being in this book club hasn't necessarily turned out how I wanted but I'm excited about reading again and I'm going to keep it that way!

I'd be interested to hear whether I'm just contrary and not made for a book club or whether anybody else has had similar experiences?  Any tips on how to keep engaged with a book club that isn't going in the direction you thought it would?

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Graphic Novel Review: 'Nimona' by Noelle Stevenson

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.

But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.


"Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism!"

I have a feeling that 2016 will be the year that I really get into graphic novels.  I bought a little stash recently and it's taken a considerable degree of self control not to devour them all over the past couple of weeks.  Not that there would have been anything wrong with that of course but they're quite pricey and I'm vaguely trying to keep the number of books I'm buying down a tiny bit until we actually have shelves again.

Nimona hasn't really helped my resolve.  It's genuinely funny in a dry, sarcastic way (the best way) and the story is fun without being too frothy and I really enjoyed it.  There are dragons and some appropriately fantastical-sounding science. There's also magic, a powerful organisation with dubious motives and plenty of disguises.  I'm sorry, but really - what's not to like?  There's a quote from Rainbow Rowell on the front cover that describes it as "full of humour and heart" and I'll be damned if she isn't spot on.  I picked it up wanting something to distract me from the lingering effect of The Collector and I don't think I could have picked a better diversion.

For a relatively short book that has plenty of action, there's a surprising amount of character development.  Nimona is a kick-ass shapeshifter full of bravado and snippy comebacks but she's also vulnerable, with a dark side that's more fond of villainy even than the kingdom's most wanted villain, Lord Blackheart.  Lord Blackheart, meanwhile, fights against the established power (the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics) and is lauded as a villain but is obviously conflicted.  Plenty of the other characters are equally well fleshed out.  It could have been just another bad guy v. good guy story and the wit would have carried it but it was smarter and more subtle than that.

And since this was a graphic novel, let's talk about the art.  I was a big fan.  It's vibrant and colourful but without feeling flippant.  The panels darken and the colours deepen as the story does, creating a sinister atmosphere that sets off the writing perfectly.  I may not know much about graphic novels but I do know that this was one I "got" and really liked.

Overall:  Colour me pleasantly surprised! Nimona is a fabulous pick if you're an adult looking for something to keep you entertained for a few hours that has a bit more about it.  I'll be keeping an eye out for Noelle Stevenson's comic series, Lumberjanes, without a doubt.

Date finished: 16 January 2016
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Graphic Novel; YA
Pictured Edition Published: in May 2015 by HarperTeen

Need more convincing?  You can look at an earlier version of the first three chapters for free HERE!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Crimson Petal and the White: A Read-Along!

I bought The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber at the end of last year and it looks amazing.  It also looks very long.  And what do long books need?  A read-along!  

I can't actually take the credit for this idea.  It was Hanna's.  We were talking about the book and she suggested a read-along.  I was that easily persuaded.  I'll post a schedule nearer the time but my current plan is to split the read-along across 6 weeks, starting on Sunday 14th February and finishing on 27th March.  This means we'll be reading about 140 pages a week. I'll do a post every Sunday with some prompts or something based on the week's reading for us to talk about.

If you haven't heard of the book, it's a historical fiction novel set in Victorian London:  
Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them...
So begins this irresistible voyage into the dark side of Victorian London. Amongst an unforgettable cast of low-lifes, physicians, businessmen and prostitutes, meet our heroine Sugar, a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can. Be prepared for a mesmerising tale of passion, intrigue, ambition and revenge
I've heard nothing but wonderful things about it.

Need more persuading?  Here's the pretty bloody perfect opening paragraph:
"Watch your step.  Keep your wits about you; you will need them.  This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before.  You may imagine, from other stories you've read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged.  The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether"
You can sign up in the linkie below.  You don't have to have a blog to take part - feel free to tweet about the read-along, Instagram your way through the book or keep track of your reading on GoodReads.  Wherever you like!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Review: 'The Collector' by John Fowles

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Withdrawn, uneducated and unloved, Frederick collects butterflies and takes photographs. He is obsessed with a beautiful stranger, the art student Miranda. When he wins the pools he buys a remote Sussex house and calmly abducts Miranda, believing she will grow to love him in time. Alone and desperate, Miranda must struggle to overcome her own prejudices and contempt if she is understand her captor, and so gain her freedom.


"Just those three words, said and meant. I love you.

They were quite hopeless. He said it as he might have said, I have cancer.

His fairy story"

The Collector is really something.  I've been watching a few YouTube channels recently that tend to feature mostly literary fiction and this book is one that came up more than a few times and it flew onto my wishlist.  When Laura bought it for me for Christmas, I waited only as long as it took me to finish a book I'd already started before cracking it open.

The story is pretty simple.  Frederick is a lonely man with little in his life but his aunt and cousin and his collection of butterflies.  When he wins a fortune, it occurs to him that he longer needs to limit himself to butterflies.  The beautiful woman that he has admired from afar can be his.  He can take her beauty and have it all to himself.  So he does.

The stream of consciousness style of the first part took a bit of getting used to but once I was used to it, the effect was completely unnerving.  Fowles' writing is manipulative and disorientating.  I knew that I was reading the narration of a deeply disturbed man who had kidnapped a young woman just so that he could have her as part of his collection and yet I found myself completely taken in by him.  His motives are perverted and his love is deeply flawed (if it can even be called love at all) but he truly believes that if he can only keep Miranda long enough and force her to get to know him, she'll grow to love him. As Miranda wheedles and pleads and lashes out, I felt sorry for Frederick.  His illusion is shattered and his despair is gut-wrenching.  I felt sorry for a deluded sociopath, knowing that he was a deluded sociopath.

I've read a lot of reviews that criticise the second half, which shows Miranda's perspective on the events of the first.  I'll admit that it doesn't have quite the same disconcerting quality (there's something much less unique about feeling sorry for someone who is being held captive) but it does add a lot to the novel in a different way.  It recounts some of the same events told by Frederick earlier but in doing so it throws into sharp relief just how disturbed he is.  It can be repetitive and it can blur off into tangents about art and Miranda's life before she was incarcerated in Frederick's cellar but it's the writings of a woman trapped underground and it fits.  Where Frederick's narrative is told in the past tense and with the benefit of hindsight, Miranda's is told in the present tense and shifts with her moods and the events that she is writing about.

And the ending!  Oh, the ending.  I can't think of any way that I would change it.  Absolute perfection.

When I first finished The Collector, I gave it 4.5 stars for some nagging feeling that the section of Miranda's writings was just a little too long.  Three weeks later, though, and the book is still haunting me.  I still find myself thinking about just how clever it was and how disturbing the closing paragraphs were.  Any book that has that kind of effect has got to have 5 stars, really.

Overall: A dark and sinister novel that is very powerful in its own quiet way.  If you aren't put off by different styles of narrative or by pitiable sociopaths, I really can't recommend The Collector enough.  It had me thoroughly creeped out and pensive while I was reading it and it's still lingering around in the back of my mind.  Just excellent.

Date finished: 10 January 2016
Buy here
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Gifted for Christmas - thanks, Laura!
Genre: Literary Fiction; Classic
Pictured Edition Published:  in October 1998 by Vintage
Originally Published:  1963

On finishing this, I remembered that I also owned The Magus by John Fowles.  Has anyone read it?  Recommendations for other similarly disorientating books are welcome too!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Graphic Novel Haul

In 2014, Hanna bought me Relish by Lucy Knisley for Christmas.  I read it in January and was kind of surprised by how much I liked it.  Laura helped me continue my foray when she bought me French Milk, also by Lucy Knisley.  I might not have reviewed it but I did really like it and it made me want to branch out and try some graphic novels not written by Lucy Knisley.  And then Bex (aren't book blogger friends great?!) bought me the first volume of the Fables comics for my birthday and it was so much fun.  What can I say?  I've kind of caught the graphic novel bug.  On a whim over Christmas, I headed over to the Book Depository and bought up most of the graphic novels on my wishlist...whoops?

Ok, so the pile might scream 'Graphic Novels for Beginners' but I'm pretty damn excited.

First up is Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.  Told in black and white comic strips, this is the story of Satrapi's childhood in Tehran during years that (according to the blurb) "the overthrow of the Shah s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq".  It sounds utterly fascinating and I've heard that it's also very witty and very moving.  It's not the glossiest on my pile but I'm really looking forward to it.  

Sticking with the 'moving' theme, I also got The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman.  I've been curious about this for years and finally took the plunge and bought it.  I'm sure you've all heard of it but, in case you haven't, it's written and illustrated by a man whose father was a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust and tells of the horrors of the holocaust by depicting the Nazis as cats and the Jewish population as mice.  The book won a Pullitzer prize and I have extremely high hopes for it, even while I'm wary to start out on what promises to be quite a harrowing journey. 

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll is another book that I've heard a lot about.  The paperback copy that I have is gorgeous.  The cover has a gnarled feel to it and the drawings are stunning.  It also promises to be seriously creepy, featuring five stories set around journeys in to or out of the woods.  Patrick Rothfuss' review on Goodreads sums up with "This freaked my shit out".  I'm intrigued and I'm going to brave my wimpy instincts to explore these "fairy tales gone seriously wrong".

Lightening the bundle up is Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, which honestly just sounds like it will be so much fun.  It has a quote from Rainbow Rowell on the front for heaven's sake that declares the story "full of humour and heart".  It's the story of a young girl, Nimona, who is sent by an agency to be the sidekick to Lord Ballister Blackheart, a supervillain.  I've heard that it's sharp and that there will be chuckles.  From a quick flick through, the illustrations look bold and colourful and I can't wait to get stuck in.  The back of my copy shouts about "Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism!" Yes, please.

The last new arrival is the next instalment in the Fables series, Fables: Animal Farm (Volume 2) by Bill Willingham.  This series seems pretty popular among the bloggers that I follow and if they carry on in the vein of the first instalment, I can see why.  They're pretty expensive (although this one is actually £3 cheaper now than it was when I bought it) so I'll probably be taking the series pretty slowly and won't be picking this one up straight away.  I could obviously borrow them from the library (I say 'obviously'...I haven't checked...) but now that I have a couple, I kind of want to collect them all.  The illustrations are super detailed and they're quick to read so they're the kind of thing that I can see myself flicking back through when I'm further through the story.

And there you have it!  Which ones do I need to be picking up sooner rather than later?  Anything else that I need to be picking up to add to my fledgling collection?

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Bout of Books: Sunday and Wrap-Up


Pages Read today: 102 pages
Books Read From: The Collector by John Fowles

Thoughts from Sunday:  I do love Sundays.  A brie toastie for brunch with a vanilla cardamom coffee, a 2 hour walk through the fields near our house and roast pork for dinner.  Among all of that, I read the ending of The Collector and it was bloody brilliant.  I'll be reviewing it over the next couple of weeks - it's the kind of book that just needs to be discussed!  It's dark and manipulative and it's absolutely fascinating.  If anyone's read it, I'd love to know what you think!  I'm calling it a day now because I don't want to pick anything up so soon after finishing The Collector.  The ending was pretty intense so instead, Boyfriend and I are going to watch The Butler and tuck into some Christmas chocolates.  Hope you all had a wonderful week (read-a-thon or no read-a-thon) and read something fabulous!


Total time spent listening to audiobook: 6 hours 45 minutes
Total pages read:  407 pages
Books finished: 3 - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; Yes Please by Amy Poehler; The Collector by John Fowles

I'm actually really pleased with my read-a-thon!  I'd already started both Station Eleven and Yes Please when the week began but I'm really happy to have finished both and to have read all of The Collector.  The stand-out for the week has obviously been The Collector. I've been banging on about it on Twitter and here so I won't labour the point again but it's reminded me why I ought to read more classics and more literary fiction.  It's been a challenging read in many different ways and I'm hoping to try more books like it this year.

Looking back at my goals, I fared pretty well when it came to the reading goals but not so well when it came to getting "out and about" and engaging with other participants.  The reality is that my free time has been limited and reading and blogging takes up a lot of it.  I am going to make more of an effort to discover new blogs in 2016 but this week it didn't work out for me.

What I have done this week is rediscover my enthusiasm for blogging.  Writing less formal posts for a week has helped phase me into a different, less structured way of writing.  

I hope everybody has read something excellent and had a great week!  Tell me about your favourites!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Bout of Books: Saturday

Bout of Books

Running Totals for Saturday

Pages Read today (as at 7.05pm): 88 pages
Books Read From: The Collector by John Fowles
Totals so far (as at 7.05pm): 6 hours 45 minutes spent listening to audiobook; 305 pages
Books finished: 2 - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; Yes Please by Amy Poehler

12.38pm:  I've had a deliciously slow start today.  I got up at about half 8, had some kippers on toast for breakfast (I know it's old people food but I love kippers...) and read some of The Collector while sipping on a chocolate and ginger coffee.  It was glorious.  I've been thoroughly manipulated by John Fowles' writing and I'm so glad I picked The Collector up before my enthusiasm for it wore off.  Laura sent it to me as part of my Secret Santa gift this Christmas.  She has excellent taste in gifts.  I've reached about half way now and the narrative has shifted from Frederick to Miranda, his captive, going back to the first week of her imprisonment and showing events that Frederick has already recounted from her perspective.  It's chilling and so hard to put down!  We're heading into town later on this afternoon to do a bit of shopping with some gift cards but other than that, it'll be a quiet day with my book.

7.05pm:  Shall we be repetitive?  Let's be repetitive.  The Collector is fabulous.  It's fascinating and clever and I'd love to talk to someone else who's read it!  I've only managed maybe 40 pages since my last update but that's largely because we had lunch and then headed off into town earlier for some fresh air and a nosy around a few shops.  I got a new dress that is super cute and was half price so that was fun.  We also picked up some ingredients for some guacamole and salsa and a fierce chilli for dinner this evening.  Admittedly, the guacamole and salsa have been mostly scoffed but the chilli's simmering nicely and should be just how we like it in about half an hour.  More time with my book shall be had in the meantime!

Later:  A few beers, a bowl of fiery chilli and a couple of episodes of Blacklist on Netflix.  It might not have boosted my page count but it was a fun evening.  I've read, I've watched some excellent drama and I've had plenty of down time.  That's what I call weekending.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Bout of Books 15: Monday to Friday

Bout of Books

To give myself a fighting chance of getting some reading done, I'm going to keep my updates pretty simple.  This post will feature updates for Monday through to Friday.  

DAY 1:  Monday 4th January

Time spent listening to audiobook today: 1 hour 39 minutes of Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Pages Read today: 81 pages
Books Read From: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Totals so far: 1 hour 34 minutes spent listening to audiobook; 58 pages

Thoughts from Monday:  I am in *love* with Yes, Please.  I have the paperback and I've read some and it was funny but the audiobook is even better.  It features cameos from all sorts of comedians that Amy Poehler has worked with and it's extremely well put together.  On the reading front, I got home earlier than Boyfriend for a change and it was chilly so I curled up under a duvet and spent some time with Station Eleven.  I have to admit that I wasn't overly keen at first.  I struggled to connect with any of the characters and although I did think that the connections between the characters and how they were revealed were clever, I was struggling.  With the last 100 or so pages, though, I've really been getting into it.  I've got about a quarter left and I'm heading off to get to it!  Hope all of your Mondays are going superbly.

DAY 2:  Tuesday 5th January

Time spent listening to audiobook today: 1 hour 34 minutes of Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Pages Read today: 46 pages
Books Read From: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Totals so far: 3 hours 13 minutes spent listening to audiobook; 127 pages
Books finished: 1 - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Thoughts from Tuesday:  I'm writing this on Wednesday so that kind of tells you all you need to know about Tuesday, really!  I finished Station Eleven in the evening but other than that, I worked, I went spinning, I ate and I slept...Station Eleven had some clever moments but wasn't quite the new favourite I was hoping.

DAY 3:  Wednesday 6th Jauary

Time spent listening to audiobook today: 1 hour 34 minutes of Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Pages Read today: 31 pages
Books Read From: The Collector by John Fowles
Totals so far: 4 hours 47 minutes spent listening to audiobook; 158 pages
Books finished: 1 - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Thoughts from Wednesday:  Ok, so not exactly a great day for reading! I'm arranging my little sister's hen do though and it's in about 8 weeks so I've spent the evening doing some organising and I'm so excited so it's worth sacrificing reading time :)  Amy Poehler is still going HILARIOUSLY, though, and I adore her and it.  I have managed to make a start on The Collector by John Fowles and so far, so creepy.  It's about a lonely man who collects butterflies and takes photographs whose life changes when he wins a fortune and he sees his chance to finally 'have' the woman he has been observing from afar.  It's so sinister and creepy but in a subtle way that makes it all the more disturbing.  I'm really enjoying it so far and at the moment, I'm glad I've taken a bit of a step outside of my comfort zone to try it.  We'll see how long that lasts...

DAY 4: Thursday 7th January

Time spent listening to audiobook today: 1 hour 38 minutes of Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Pages Read today: 25 pages
Books Read From: The Collector by John Fowles
Totals so far: 6 hours 25 minutes spent listening to audiobook; 183 pages
Books finished: 1 - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Thoughts from Thursday:  Thursday was crazy busy at work and I got back home from the office at about 8.30pm.  After eating and spending a bit of time catching up with Boyfriend, that didn't leave a great deal of time (or energy) for reading.

DAY 5: Friday 8th January

Time spent listening to audiobook today: 20 minutes of Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Pages Read today: 34 pages
Books Read From: The Collector by John Fowles
Totals so far: 6 hours 45 minutes spent listening to audiobook; 217 pages
Books finished: 2 - Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Thoughts from Friday:  Friday was a little better at work and I made it to a Legs, Bums and Tums class over lunch (that my muscles are punishing me for now!).  It was my third gym trip this week so I'm keeping nicely to my 'fit in more exercise' resolution.  It's easy to get caught up in work and spend all day at my desk but making the effort to get out and do some exercise actually makes me more productive when I'm at my desk so it's definitely a change for the better.  Anyway, books!  I finished Yes Please, which is sad.  I loved it.  There were some anecdotes that I didn't necessarily "get" because they were about people I hadn't heard of but it was funny and charming and feminist without being curmudgeonly.  I've also really got into The Collector.  I don't want to talk about it too much because I'll definitely be writing a review when I'm done but it's just so darn clever and the writing is quirky and perfect.  I went to the pub with Boyfriend after work so we could catch up after a busy week so I didn't get much reading done but it was a good day all the same.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Bout of Books 15: Sign-up and Goals

Bout of Books
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 15 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team
I passed on Bout of Books over the summer because it fell on the week of my birthday and I knew that I'd be around very little and able to read even less.  Tomorrow will be my first day back at work since 23rd December and I'm expecting to be swamped during the week.  I'm hoping that a bunch of graphic novels and comics that I ordered will be delivered tomorrow though and I have an audiobook on the go for while I'm commuting so I'd like to focus on those during the week and then get into a book over the weekend (which we have designated as what we anticipate will be much-needed recovery-from-first-week-back time).

For me, the week will just be about focussing back on my books after indulging in much socialising and such like over the past few weeks.

Bearing all of that in mind, my goals are pretty low key and simple:

1.  Read something every day

This fits neatly with one of my resolutions for 2016 to make more time for reading.  I don't envisage having a lot of free time over the next few days so I'm keeping my objectives low and just aiming to make sure I pick up a book every day.  That might be Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, which is my current read, or it might be a graphic novel.  Either way is fine by me.

2.  Spend some time with my audiobook

This is easy and I'd probably be doing it anyway but whatever.  I drive 40 minutes each way to work and have Yes Please by Amy Poehler as my current audiobook.  It's hilarious and so well put together so listening to it is no chore.  

3.  Engage with other participants

Usually the first thing that drops off when I get busy.  I'm not committing to roaming about the blogging world and commenting wherever I go because I probably won't.  What I can do, though, is tweet about what I'm up to (@LitAddictedBrit) and check in on the "official" hashtag  (#boutofbooks ) and chat there a bit.

Bring on the books!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

2016 Resolutions and Whatnot

I don't tend to make many resolutions.  I usually have things that I'm trying to work towards or goals but I never seem to stick to "proper" resolutions and I've stopped making them over recent years.  This year, I've spent the last couple of days mulling over a few habits that I want to change and some behaviours that I want to make stick so here they are.  Some are bookish and some aren't but all are things that I think are achievable and are things I feel I can stick to.

1.  Read an average of one book per week (or really just make more time for books)

I've been busy at work this year and my reading has taken a bit of a battering in favour of idly watching Netflix in the evenings because it's easier on my tired old brain.  While I am in no way being disparaging about television, I'd like to spend more quality time reading quietly and less time watching comedy repeats of things I've already seen.

Image from Pinterest
2.  Write something in my journal once a day

Even if it's just a quote I like or a word that sums up my day, I want to make an effort to spend just 10 minutes in every day scribbling down something about how I'm feeling or an idea that I've had or whatever.  December was busy and I didn't write as much as I'd have liked.  I'm not beating myself up about that or anything because December seemed to pass by in a blur of Christmas parties, wine and cheese and it was wonderful but January will almost certainly be much quieter so it seems a good time to get this habit firmed up.  I have plenty of lovely coloured pens and washi tape and stickers and I want to play around with format a bit.  I'm not necessarily the most creative when it comes to doodling or sketching but I just want to make my journal something prettier than pages of my tiny handwriting.

3.  Read at least 2 books from the Wheel of Time series

I read the first two books in 2015 and I'm itching to carry on.  The Dragon Reborn is up next and it's one of my favourites from the series.  After that is where it gets a bit challenging because the fourth instalment, The Shadow Rising, is a whopping 1,006 pages and is one that I remember being a bit less action-packed on my first reading.  I obviously know that the next books return to form but that one might need a bit of effort.  Reading this series makes me happy so this might seem a bit throwaway but I really want to see how the characters' stories ends and this focus will help make that happen.

4.  Do some form of exercise at least 4 times a week

I tried out a few classes at my new gym near where I work before Christmas and was surprised by how much I actually liked them and felt challenged by them.  I'm usually "a runner" but I'm injured and not running has been...unpleasant (Ellie at Lit Nerd wrote a post about not running that sums this plight up perfectly HERE).  Finding an alternative form of exercise that I enjoy has been a bit of a Godsend.  I'm hoping to do 3 classes (one Body Pump, one Spinning and one 'Legs, Bums and Tums') during the week and then to do something outdoors every weekend.  Not necessarily a run but at least a walk or gentle bike ride for some fresh air.

5.  Buy less

This doesn't only apply to books but to Stuff generally.  Coffee, for example.  I usually head in a Starbucks/Caffe Nero direction once or twice a week but I got a coffee maker for Christmas and I want to use that instead and get into the habit of topping up my travel mug before I head out in the morning.  I want to buy fewer books and read some of the many, MANY books that I have stowed in the loft (which will be easier when we've put the reading room/study together later this year).  I want to buy fewer items of clothing, or at least sort out what I have before I do.  Really, I just want to think a little more before I spend this year.

6.  Post on Lit Addicted Brit once a week

When I'm busy, this is the first thing that can fall by the wayside, which is a shame.  I've been trying to change how rigid I am in my approach to blogging recently and my posting pace has picked up so I think the key is trying less to post reviews in the order I've read books, to accept that I probably won't be able to review everything I read and to mix in posts that are personal or generally easier to write than reviews.  I need to cut myself some slack, basically and remember that this is supposed to be fun, not a chore.

Do you have any resolutions for 2016 or any habits that you want to try to cement?  Any bookish or blogging goals that you'll be focussing on?

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 End of Year Book Survey

Ah, end of year survey time.  It's been a funny old reading year.  On the numbers front, I've read fewer books this year than I have in past years.  Achievement wise, however, I've toppled two pretty intimidating (and lengthy) classics and I've started a re-read of a favourite fantasy series that also includes some pretty chunky instalments.  All is well.

Thanks for this survey and the adorable graphics to Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner.  Not only is this survey about all my hangover-addled brain can cope with writing at the moment but it gives me chance to talk about some of the books that I didn't manage to talk about while the blog's been quiet.  On with the questions.  Links throughout are to my reviews.

Number Of Books You Read:   49 books (19,332 pages)

Number of Re-Reads:  2 books (a first for me) 

Genre You Read The Most From:  I'm not 100% sure but from gazing at the list of books I read this year, I'd guess fantasy.  Not a surprise.

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?

I read some excellent books in 2015.  According to GoodReads, my average book rating for the year is a pretty solid 3.7.  I gave 6 books a lofty five stars:

The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
The Ballroom by Anna Hope

Of those, I think I'd say that my favourite was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  The most fun I've had in book form for years.  
2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix.  I'd been hearing about the series for years, with seemingly endless numbers of fantasy readers singing its praises and citing it as a favourite in the genre.  I was completely underwhelmed.  Some of the ideas were good but the second and third books were both far, far too long and felt rambly, too many characters were awfully whiny and I found finishing a struggle.  I was so excited to see them appear on my library's eBook site and they just weren't what I was hoping for.
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  The 1,000 page plus Russian classic is an intimidating beast that I doubt I'd have picked up if it hadn't been for Hanna's read-along over the summer.  What was surprising was how accessible it actually was.  I'm not saying I breezed through the pages and that it was all sunshine and balls but it was far more engaging than I'd ever dared hope.  I'm really looking forward to the BBC adaptation starting later this month.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

I don't know if anybody's actually read the books that I've been trying to force on them but I've been rambling about The Wheel of Time all year.  I ran a giveaway and also sent Hanna a copy because I'm that pushy when it comes to this series.  I have the third book ready and waiting and I'm excited to continue on with my re-read this year.
5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?

Best series started:  Easily the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.  The first book is outstanding and I already have the next book ready and waiting on my Kindle.  This is one series that really is every bit as good as everybody says.

Best sequel:  If we're talking next instalment generally, Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas because that series is incredible.  If we're strictly talking 'second book' (which is kind of what comes into my head with the word 'sequel'. it'd be The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan.  

Best series ender:  So it turns out that I only finished one series this year: the Blood of Eden series by Julie Kagawa.  By default, that makes me favourite series ender The Forever Song.
 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

There are a few authors that I'm glad I found this year but I think topping the list would be Jon Krakauer.  I read very little non-fiction but I found Into the Wild to be such compelling listening and I will definitely be hunting down other books of his for 2016.
7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales by Kate Mosse.  It's not necessarily out of my comfort zone but I barely ever read short story collections and this one was stellar.
 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  I absolutely flew through that novel and loved every single sentence.
 9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

As always, none.  I'm re-reading the Wheel of Time series but other than that, I won't be re-reading anything next year.
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?

11. Most memorable character of 2015?

Melanie from The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey.  It's really hard to describe why without spoiling the book so this is a little bit of a lame answer but it's the only one I have.
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales.  Absolutely stunning.
13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.  I wasn't expecting much but it's really stuck with me since I finished it.  Christopher McCandless' story is tragic but the detail that Krakauer enhances it with really make the book something really memorable.
 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett.  I've obviously read other Discworld novels but I haven't ever read the first book before this year.  It was fun and witty and charming and everything I've come to expect from Terry Pratchett. 
15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?

"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty" [Taken from a letter Christopher McCandless wrote to a friend from Into the Wild]

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?

Longest:  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1,024 pages)
17. Book That Shocked You The Most

The Dinner by Herman Koch.  That book is messed UP.
18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)
(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)

Still Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series.  I read the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, this year and I still love those two.  That is one hot Scot.
19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

I love the friendship between Celaena Sardothien and Lysandra in Queen of Shadows but I think they're pipped at the post by Kelsier and Vin in The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.  In a lot of ways, it's your normal mentor/mentee relationship but it's perfect.
20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

The Ballroom by Anna Hope.  I read Wake last year and loved it and The Ballroom has cemented Anna Hope as one of my favourite authors.  Her latest book is set in an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire Moors in 1911.  Every week, the men and women meet in the ballroom and dance.  The blurb describes it as a "a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which".  Couldn't say it better myself.  
21. Best Book You Read In 2015 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure

Moby Dick by Herman Melville.  Shame on you, Hanna.  Shame on you.
22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?

Rowan from Queen of Shadows.  I didn't really get in in the third book but in the fourth, he's frankly incredible.
23. Best 2015 debut you read?

I don't think I actually read any.  Huh.
24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

The city of Luthadel and the magical system in The Final Empire were amazing.  
25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Easy!  Ready Player One.  Next.
26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?

Oh, loads.  I do a lot of crying at books!  A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness completely slayed me.  To be fair, it's a book about a young boy dealing with grief and anger while his mother is being treated for cancer so I should have guessed that I'd end up crying into my Kindle.  Add to that the fact that the story is based on an idea that Siobhan Dowd died before getting to write it herself.  It's a real gut-puncher.
27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder by J. W. Ironmonger.  Hanna recommended it to me but I've never heard of it before or since so I'm still counting is a hidden gem.  It's a really quirky story about a man who has killed his best friend and is about to cut out his brain.  The story is told in a haphazard manner, with memories woven together loosely and doled out between excerpts from Maximilian Ponder's writings.  
28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

A Monster Calls.  Oof.
29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?

I'd have to go with The Notable Brain of Maximilian Ponder, again.
30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Moby Dick.  Someone needs to tell me why that utterly hateful book is a classic and why unsuspecting readers are still lead to believe that it's worth reading.  Despicable.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS!  What were the highlights of your reading year?  Let me know what I need to have on my 2016 TBR pile!