2017’s Top Ten(ish) Books

I did not read as many books in 2017 as I would have liked. In fact, I was a whole 20 books of meeting my Goodreads challenge! In spite of that, 2017 was a really good reading year and I discovered some new favourite authors and some new favourite books. I can never pick ONE favourite book but it takes something special for a book to worm its way onto my favourites list and this year at least TWO of the books I read made the cut…possibly even three. I’m undecided.

Anyway, I thought I would recap my year in books by sharing my top ten reads from 2017…but then I couldn’t quite whittle it down so it’s my top eleven. Who’s even counting?!

I have never really listened to audiobooks. I like to hold the actual book and savour the words in my own time. I’ve also previously struggled to find narrations that don’t annoy me. This year, however, saw the addition of a puppy to our family and with her arrival went a good chunk of my peaceful reading time. So I decided to give audiobooks another try to stave off the story withdrawal, since I can listen to them whilst I walk the pup. And now I’m hooked. It still all depends on the narration, as there have been a couple of books that I haven’t got more than a few minutes into before giving up through sheer annoyance at the narrator’s voice, but here are four audiobooks which not only had excellent narration but were also outstanding stories in and of themselves.

How To Stop Time – Matt Haig

Matt Haig is one of those authors who I have been meaning to read for forever. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a while and have a huge amount of respect and gratitude for his openness about mental illness and the way in which he offers support and encouragement to those who are struggling with their own mental health. I’ve read a few of his books this year and he has quickly become a favourite author.

How To Stop Time is a beautiful, eloquent portrait of what it means to be human: to want, to feel, to fear, to contemplate, to search, to love. Haig weaves and paints prose that reads like poetry until you are so enraptured by the image before that you hardly notice that he also wields words like a sword, until the moment when it pierces right to the heart of something you didn’t even know you were holding inside you. With compelling characters and an intriguing, twisting storyline, this is a tale to get lost in. The story, much like Haig himself, is endlessly quotable and is a veritable treasure trove of wisdom. This was the one downside of listening on audiobook: there were so many points when I wanted to stop and write down or just re-hear a quote (not really achievable when out walking an energetic puppy). With the help of Goodreads I managed to track down some favourites:

“Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.”

“Everything is going to be all right. Or, if not, everything is going to be, so let’s not worry.”

“A problem with living in the twenty-first century….. we are made to feel poor on thirty thousand pounds a year. To feel poorly travelled if we have only been to ten other countries. To feel old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren’t photo shopped and filtered.”

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

“We have the knowledge to realise we are just a mess of quanta and particles, like everything else is, and yet we keep trying to separate ourselves from the universe we live in, to give ourselves a meaning above that of a tree or a rock or a cat or a turtle.”

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is one of the most discomforting and yet endearing characters I have every come across. From very early on in the book I was intrigued by Eleanor’s unique way of seeing and operating in the world and desperate to understand more about her and her history. Raymond is a wonderfully loveable character and the development of his unlikely friendship with Eleanor is heartwarming – I loved every second of seeing it grow. Eleanor Oliphant is darkly comic in its exploration of the impacts of childhood trauma and the story raised both laughs and tears. I have to give special mention to Cathleen McCarron for her excellent narration of this tale – she really brought the characters to life and I so enjoyed listening to her unspool this story.

Although I have never experienced anything like what Eleanor has been through, I still found a lot to relate to in her character. Honeyman’s writing is amusing and highly relevant to so much human experience, here are just a few of my favourite quotes:

“A philosophical question: if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? And if a woman who’s wholly alone occasionally talks to a pot plant, is she certifiable? I think that it is perfectly normal to talk to oneself occasionally. It’s not as though I’m expecting a reply. I’m fully aware that Polly is a houseplant.”

“I simply didn’t know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”

“In principle and reality, libraries are life-enhancing palaces of wonder.”

“There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar. A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock. The threads tighten slightly from Monday to Friday.”

“Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.”

“LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally.”

“If I’m ever unsure as to the correct course of action, I’ll think, “What would a ferret do?” or, “How would a salamander respond to this situation?” Invariably, I find the right answer.”

“My phone doesn’t ring often—it makes me jump when it does—and it’s usually people asking if I’ve been mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance. I whisper I know where you live to them, and hang up the phone very, very gently.”

The Keeper Of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

The Keeper Of Lost Things is a wonderful story of loss, love, finding and letting go. I was captivated by the idea of lost things being carefully collected and catalogued, eventually to be reunited with their owners and the cast of characters had the added charm of being lost on their own ways as well. The alternating narratives across different character’s perspectives and time provides a breadcrumb trail through the story – the connection there the whole time but just out of reach and understanding, until right towards the end. Happiness and heartache in almost equal measure make the story compelling and thoroughly enjoyable.

“Her grandmother had once told her that one could blame ugliness on one’s genes and ignorance on one’s education, but there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for being dull.”

“Common decency, good manners, kindness and hard work were treated as peculiarities”

“A hush is a dangerous thing. Silence is solid and dependable, but a hush is expectant, like a pregnant pause; it invites mischief, like a loose thread begging to be pulled.”

The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

This is one of my absolute favourite books, not just of 2017 but ever. I listened to the audiobook and was so utterly enraptured by the story that I am dying to get hold of a hardcopy so I can reread it and savour every word again. The first in the Winternight trilogy and voted best Sci-Fi and Fantasy book of 2017, The Bear And The Nightingale is one of those rare reads that is so immersive and enchanting that you forget you are reading (or in my case, listening) at all. I could feel the icy breath of the Russian winter with every turn of phrase and the magic seemed so real I felt Morozko himself dogged my footsteps. Here is a world caught in balance between the realities of harsh, arctic winters and the old, fantastical magic woven into centuries old folklore. It made me want to learn Russian and read every folk and fairytale I could get my hands on, and I did not want to leave the realm of the winter-king.

Arden’s prose is so lyrical it weaves a spell all of its own and her characters are so well developed that they step into being with barely the lift of an imaginary finger. The story was exquisitely narrated by Kathleen Gati and her voice only added to the wonder of the story. When I started listening I hadn’t realised it was the first of a trilogy so my excitement was palpable when I noticed The Girl In The Tower will be gracing bookshelves any day now. If I were to recommend any book from 2017, it would be this one.

“Wild birds die in cages.”

“Nay, it is the coming storm. The first sign is fear. The second is always fire. Your people are afraid, and now the fires burn.”

“It is a cruel task, to frighten people in God’s name.”

“But I think you should be careful, Batyushka, that God does not speak in the voice of your own wishing.”

Dear Ijeawele: A Femenist Manifesto In Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I discovered Adichie through TED talks when I stumbled across her talk ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and read her book of the same title off the back of it. I am yet to read any of her novels but immediately picked up Dear Ijeawele when I saw it and enjoyed it even more that We Should All Be Feminists. Both books should be required reading for everyone but Dear Ijeawele especially spoke to something deep in the heart of me. Direct, perceptive, and wryly amusing, Adichie’s letter to her friend gets to the root of what it is to be a woman in the 21st century.

A quick and compelling read, it’s one to shove into the hands of anyone and everyone. Politely of course.

“Your feminist premise should be: I matter. I matter equally. Not “if only.” Not “as long as.” I matter equally. Full stop.”

“If she likes makeup, let her wear it. If she likes fashion, let her dress up. But if she doesn’t like either, let her be. Don’t think that raising her feminist means forcing her to reject femininity. Feminism and femininity are not mutually exclusive.”

“Because you are a girl” is never a reason for anything. Ever.”

“We teach girls to be likeable, to be nice, to be false. And we do not teach boys the same. This is dangerous. Many sexual predators have capitalized on this. Many girls remain silent when abused because they want to be nice. Many girls spend too much time trying to be “nice” to people who do them harm. Many girls think of the “feelings” of those who are hurting them. This is the catastrophic consequence of likeability. We have a world full of women who are unable to exhale fully because they have for so long been conditioned to fold themselves into shapes to make themselves likeable.”

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Not ordinarily one to reach for contemporary reads, I was pleasantly surprised by Me Before You. In fact, I loved it. I absolutely adored Louisa Clark and quickly wanted to make friends with her and sit down for a cuppa and a heart to heart. The story itself is also engrossing, being both heartwarming and heartbreaking in equal measure. I think what I loved most about this book though was that it didn’t succumb to the temptation to make everything all right in the end. There was something viscerally real about the stories understanding that love does not automatically make everything ok and that sometimes a happy ending doesn’t seem all that happy or look at all how you pictured it. I haven’t yet read the sequel to this book but and very much looking forward to it.

“You only get one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.”

“I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.”

“I hadn’t realized that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.”

“You can only actually help someone who wants to be helped.”

The Princess Saves Herself In This One – Amanda Lovelace

I love a good poetry collection and this one really hit the spot. Gritty, unashamedly honest and beautiful, there is something profoundly relatable in Lovelace’s poetry, in spite of the differences in my personal experiences. I don’t really have an awful lot more to say about this one because I find poetry to be a very personal thing. It does deal with some very difficult and potentially triggering issues but I found The Princess Saves Herself In This One to be validating and inspiring.

“ah, life—

the thing

that happens

to us

while we’re off

somewhere else

blowing on

dandelions

& wishing

ourselves into

the pages of

our favorite

fairy tales.”

“repeat after me:

you owe

no one

your forgiveness.

– except maybe yourself.”

“once upon a time, the princess rose from the ashes her dragon lovers made of her & crowned herself the mother-fucking queen of herself.   – how’s that for a happily ever after?”

“fiction:

the ocean

i dive

headfirst

into

when i

can

no longer

breathe

in

reality.

– a mermaid escapist II.”

Blankets – Craig Thompson

Much like audiobooks, I’ve never really got into graphic novels but I’ve had a couple by Craig Thompson on my bookshelves for ages that my husband read and loved. So, over Christmas, I thought I’d give them a go and found I really enjoyed them. Blankets in particular was an excellent read with Thompson’s graphics really bringing the story and the characters’ struggles to life. The tale is both moving and thought provoking on a subject I have always found interesting and challenging: the tensions between the sense of belonging and the expectations present within a religion or religious community. The characters in Thompson’s story are imperfect and therefore very real. Whilst I’m not sure they will ever have the same richness as stories written in prose, I’ll definitely be trying more graphic novels as there they offer something unique.

“How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement – no matter how temporary.”

“Sometimes, upon waking, the residual dream can be more appealing that reality, and one is reluctant to give it up. For a while, you feel like a ghost — Not fully materialized, and unable to manipulate your surroundings. Or else, it is the dream that haunts you. You wait with the promise of the next dream.”

“On my first visit to the public library, I was like a kid at a candy store where all the candy was free.”

“At night, lying on your back and staring at the falling snow, it’s easy to imagine oneself soaring through the stars.”

Reasons To Stay Alive – Matt Haig

Another wonderful book from Matt Haig; very different from the first mentioned in this post but just as profound. Haig’s unflinching account of his experiences of depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts is raw, moving, and strangely uplifting. He gets right to the heart of what it is to be trapped in your own mind and the horrifying experience of not being able to be fully present in your own life, even when it’s a wonderful one. Reasons To Stay Alive gives you just that; as well as truly nailing the torment of mental illness, Haig’s account also provides a funny, even joyful reminder of what it is to truly love, and why we should strive to stay alive even when it seems the dark is closing in. It is a tale of survival as much as of struggle and reading it felt like being offered a hand to hold and hearing, in the voice of a friend, that we are never truly alone.

Recommended reading for all.

“THE WORLD IS increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business.”

“Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.”

“And most of all, books. They were, in and of themselves, reasons to stay alive. Every book written is the product of a human mind in a particular state. Add all the books together and you get the end sum of humanity. Every time I read a great book I felt I was reading a kind of map, a treasure map, and the treasure I was being directed to was in actual fact myself.”

“Maybe love is just about finding the person you can be your weird self with.”

“To other people, it sometimes seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire and no one can see the flames.”

“You can be a depressive and be happy, just as you can be a sober alcoholic.”

The Power – Naomi Alderman

The Power is one of those books that I started shoving into everyone’s hands the moment I finished reading it. Before I finished reading it in fact. It is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and disturbing books I have ever read and it made me think about our world in a different way. It woke me up to some uncomfortable truths – some of which I had been aware of but somehow seemed to have accepted as just being the reality of things, and some to do with my own thinking which I was saddened to realise existed in my own thought patterns. Graphic, visceral, and haunting, it provides a frightening portrait of society, past, present, and…future? One can only hope not. With themes similar to those in The Handmaids Tale, The Power strikes at the heart of some of the most vivid fears, hopes, and tortures of being female, in any society, in any age. Whilst part of me wanted some of the storylines to be more rounded and developed, the messages of the book were sharp as a blade and I found it interesting to discuss the story with friends, both male and female, and everyone seemed to have taken something different from it. Above all else, it really seemed to highlight the dangers of power: in anybody’s hands.

“This is the trouble with history. You can’t see what’s not there. You can look at an empty space and see that something’s missing, but there’s no way to know what it was.”

“One of them says, ‘Why did they do it?’

And the other answers, ‘Because they could.’

That is the only answer there ever is.”

“Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not, Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.”

“the highest among us aren’t always the wisest…”

“We’re only pretending everything is normal because we don’t know what else to do.”

Strange The Dreamer – Laini Taylor

Strange The Dreamer was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it did not disappoint. Taylor’s writing is rich, magical, and utterly mesmerising and her latest, long awaited, book is wonderful and beautifully strange: a dream in every sense. Uplifting and heartbreaking and utterly fantastic – stepping into this story is to have tour imagination ripped open in the best possible way, to find stars and flowers and terribly beautiful monsters waiting above. I didn’t think that Taylor would be able to beat the magic she wove with her Daughter Of Smoke And Bone trilogy but with Strange The Dreamer she did just that and I did not want to leave Dreamer’s Weep.

“”You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

“Beautiful and full of monsters?”

“All the best stories are.””

“It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming.”

“I turned my nightmares into fireflies and caught them in a jar.”

“And that’s how you go on. You lay laughter over the dark parts. The more dark parts, the more you have to laugh. With defiance, with abandon, with hysteria, any way you can.”

“You think good people can’t hate?” she asked. “You think good people don’t kill?”[…]”Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.”

“Without his books, his room felt like a body with its hearts cut out.”

“There was a man who loved the moon, but whenever he tried to embrace her, she broke into a thousand pieces and left him drenched, with empty arms.”

“The library knows its own mind… When it steals a boy, we let it keep him.”

So there you have it, my top reads of 2017. I highly recommend that you pop off and read every one of them immediately. Just the thing to brighten up the wet, cold start we’re having to 2018.

Happy reading!

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If In Doubt, Go To The Library

I am just coming to the end of four glorious days staying at Gladstone’s Libary in North Wales. It is housed in a beautiful red brick building and is one of the finest residential libraries going. Staying here has been an introverted bookworm’s dream, and was the ideal place to nurture the aspiring writer in me. I got to stay here with my reading-writing-partner-in-crime – my mum! To some a trip like this would seem the height of boredom but it’s has been truly wonderful for us. We have been able to read and write to our hearts content in the beautiful surroundings of the library, stopping only to sample the delicious coffee, cake and regular meals in the restaurant, and the occasional conversational interlude. It is quiet and peaceful here and the history of the place itself provides a comforting atmosphere – somehow it feels familiar and there is a sense of unspoken community with bibliophiles past and present.

Each day, we have proceeded to the library or the common room, armed with books, notebooks, pencils and iPads, and luxuriated in the opportunity to explore all the ideas and possibilities that live inside our brains, that every day life just never seems to leave room for. We played with concepts that have lurked on the edge of consciousness for time untold and discovered new writing inclinations we didn’t even know were there. It has been restful and productive, and although I am looking forward to getting home to my hubby and my own bed, I will miss it here and know I’ll be coming back.

One thing that this trip has really brought home for me is that I really DO want to write. If only for pleasure, I find there is a certain peace and clarity that comes from just putting something down on paper. I have long harboured a secret ambition to be a writer but it always feels like such an indulgence, and also such an effort, that I rarely allow myself the time. I fret that there’s no point in spending the time writing if it’s not going to go anywhere, and the likelihood is that it won’t. I worry that my writing isn’t really any good and I always want to produce something that appears polished and complete the first time around – editing scares me because I’m always convinced that when I come to edit my own writing I’ll just want to scratch the lot. But here’s the thing: I really do enjoy writing, even if it’s imperfect; even if it will never be seen by anyone; even if what comes out on the page is nothing like what I had in my head. So it’s time to find time. I have no doubt it will be hard at first to create writing time in my routine, that I will fail miserably on more than one occasion to put pen to paper instead of scrolling through instagram, or get up early rather than lying in bed. But my commitment to myself is to keep coming back, to keep trying, and to remember that I do want to write for writing’s sake, without agenda or expectation.

Not every aspiring writer has the luxury of taking time away to attend a retreat or stay somewhere quiet for a few days. It’s certainly not something I have done before and although Inhope to do it again I know it won’t be a regular occurrence. So I thought I would close by pulling together some of the elements of this week that I have found helpful that could feasibly be recreated on a smaller scale at home. 


How to create a DIY mini writing retreat:

  • Find a space that is conducive to your writing – this might be as simple as clearing a work surface at home or it might be a visit to a local coffee shop or library. Find a space with the right noise levels for you or put together an appropriate playlist if you like a bit of background noise.
  • Take a notebook and pencil. Even if you generally prefer to type, there is something very freeing about writing by hand with a pencil. 
  • Take something for inspiration – but not too much! I have endless books with writing exercises and an extensive Pinterest board filled with images and prompts. I love them but all together they are too much to be helpful. Before I started writing, I gave myself 15 minutes to scroll through my pin board and screenshot a handful of prompts that I was drawn to. Then I picked one that appealed to me as a warm up. It was nothing to do with anything I had planned to write but it ended up being a really fun piece of writing!
  • Take sustenance! Staring at a screen or a page for a long time always gives me a headache but having a bottle of water or juice to hand and a packets of mints or a couple of biscuits helps combat this and keeps me going a bit longer.
  • Take a book. Sometimes when you try to write the words just won’t come. And that’s ok. When this happens I like to turn to a book for a) distraction from the writer’s block and b) inspiration! Something I find often helps is to read until I come across a word or line that jumps out at me, and then to use that as a starting point for free writing or found poetry. Even if what you end up with is a load of nonsense, at least it got you writing!
  • Go easy on yourself. Whether you manage to find half an hour or a whole day, whether you write a couple of sentences or a whole manuscript, go easy on yourself. If you berate yourself for not writing enough or not writing welll you will taint the experience and be less and less likely to give yourself time and space to write in future. No one is expecting perfection, except you. And you’ll be a lot happier if you let that go.

So there you have it! My rambling, barely tried and tested advice. I’d love to know of any other tips and tricks that help you get writing so stop by in the comments and say hi.

Huge thanks to the staff at Gladstones Library for making our stay so wonderful, and , as always, to my mum for her company, friendship, support, and all the giggles.

Sacred Stories

Every now and again we come across a story that sticks with us. Words or characters that speak to our experiences or our hopes or our fears; a tale that brings us comfort or inspiration. For me, finding a story like that is akin to a spiritual experience: in the moment that story moves me or speaks to me, I feel a deep connection with something beyond myself. “It was books that made me feel that perhaps I was not completely alone.”

When I’m asked what my favourite book is I can never answer, because there are just too many. I could list ten…or maybe twenty…favourite books and series but narrowing it down beyond that is simply impossible. There are, however, undoubtedly some books that really stand out. One of those, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the Harry Potter series.

I put off reading this series for a long time when it first came out, unconvinced that it would be for me. When I eventually gave in, the first three books had been published and I was quickly hooked. I devoured those first books and waited impatiently for the next…and the next and the next and the next. I loved them because here was a world I could completely immerse myself in and characters I could relate to. But it was not on first reading that I came to adore this series. Or even the second. In fact, it is probably only in the last few years, on my umpteenth re-read (I have no idea how many times I’ve actually read them now – I stopped counting after 10…) that they have some to mean so much to me. Because reading them now, as an adult, not only do I still love immersing myself in that magical world, not only do the characters seem so relatable, but the story itself speaks to me on a whole new level. There is so much wisdom and comfort in it and I keep finding new things to love.

The first time I read it The Deathly Hallows was one of my least favourite books of the series but on my last re-read it was one of my favourites. There’s always something more to find and I always seem to find what I need.

I’ve recently discovered (and been binge listening to) the Harry Potter and The Sacred Text podcast which has opened up yet another incredible layer of these amazing stories to me. I absolutely love it. Working from the question “What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred?“, the hosts , Vanessa and Casper, are reading through the Harry Potter series and looking at one chapter each episode through a given theme. They then use traditional practices from different religions to examine the text as if it were sacred.

I have always taken great joy in finding connection and meaning in the stories I love and that shape my life, and listening to this podcast has given me a new opportunity to do this with a series that has brought me so much comfort and inspiration already. It feels very communal, especially since Vanessa and Casper invite their listeners to contribute their own ideas, and actively listen and respond to those contributions. I often wish I were in the room with them whilst they discuss the chapter. I strongly recommend any HP fans to give the podcast a listen. It really is fabulous and brings the magic home.

Are there any books or series that are especially important to you? Have you ever read a non-religious/spiritual text as though it were sacred? I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts in the comments.

Ticking Along Nicely

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November has got off to a lovely start. I was completely spoilt for my birthday, with tons of books, clothes, books, games, books, chocolate, and other goodies, but more importantly with the love and time of lots of my favourite people. We talked, we ate, we danced, we watched fireworks: it was perfect.

The first week of November has also seen the beginning of my first ever NaNoWriMo – I’m not embarking on a whole novel or even aiming for 50,000 words, I simply want to improve and increase my writing practice. So far I’ve outlined a handful of short story and poetry ideas and today I actually started writing one! It feels good to write.

With all the birthday busyness, planning/writing time, and a hectic start to the half term, I haven’t done as much reading as I normally would. I got a stack of amazing books for my birthday to add to my already humongous TBR pile and yesterday I decided to crack into one of them: My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises. I’m about a quarter of the way in and I’m completely in love with this quirky story. It’s original, funny, and moving in so many ways and I have come across some real gems to add to my ever growing list of favourite quotes. Most of them are about grandmothers. I’ve found them especially appealing because I’ve been thinking about and missing my own Gran a lot recently – I can’t quite believe how long she’s been gone – and so many of these beautiful lines reflect exactly how I feel about her or are exactly the sorts of things she would do or say. So to round off my little ‘Ticking Along Nicely’ post, I thought I’d share a few with you.

“Having a grandmother  is like having an army. This is a grandchild’s ultimate privilege: knowing that someone is on your side, always, whatever the details. Even when you are wrong. Especially then, in fact.”

“A grandmother is both a sword and a shield.”

“Only different people change the world,” Granny used to say. “No one normal has ever changed a crapping thing.”

“There’s something special about a grandmother’s house. You never forget how it smells.”

“It’s much more difficult to have conflict when there are cookies around.”

I highly recommend picking up this book, especially if you have a grandmother you love (and especially if that grandmother is a little eccentric).

I hope your November is going as well as mine.

x

 

Wisdom for the Week

Image found here via Pinterest.

Now coming to the end of a busy second week of the new school year, this quote seems very apt! After the luxury of a long holiday it can feel like a bit of a shock to the system when the working days and weeks are flying by and it seems I barely have time to eat and sleep, let alone anything else. But reading is important. Reading teaches us things and reminds us of things we know but might have forgotten. Reading takes us out of ourselves and helps us reflect on ourselves. Reading is an adventure and a quiet space to rest in. So we must make time to read, no matter how busy life gets.

How I Fell in Love with Reading

  
Last week I shared the questions we had been asking students at school, to celebrate world book day. I promised you my answers so here they are:

1) What is your first memory of reading?

Honestly, reading has been part of my life since before I can remember. So much so that there isn’t a specific memory that sticks out because reading just was. I have many memories, all blurred together, of reading with my mum, my dad, and my gran, in particular. Bedtime stories were the norm. Morning stories were the norm. Mid-afternoon stories were the norm! 

I remember Mum reading Tubby and Tootsie to me and my brother in the car when were parked up somewhere, early in the morning. Mumhated that book but she still read it with all the enthusiasm necessary to make telling a story an enchanting experience…which is why I asked for it again and again!

I remember sitting with all my cousins, cosied up in the duvet on the big double bed in the spare room at my gran and grandpa’s house, eating toast squares and listening intently as Granny read aloud from The Children of Cherry Tree Farm for the umpteenth time. We all used to imagine what it would be like to have a squirrel for a pet or to meet a wild-man named Tamylan living in the woods nearby. 

I remember Dad reading bedtime stories as he tucked me in for the night. I couldn’t tell you what story, but I can tell you how safe and loved I felt in those moments. Strong hands tucking my duvet in. Deep soothing voice intoning whatever my chosen story was, or speaking of clouds to lull me to sleep.

I have so many precious memories around reading but it wasn’t just the books and the stories I loved, it was the experience of reading with people I loved that made it so special.
2) What is your favourite story?

I don’t think I could answer this question if I tried! I have so many. But I suppose what I love is the story where good wins; where things aren’t perfect but people are happy anyway; where truth is discovered; where corruption is challenged; where evil is overcome; where love is found; where different worlds and times and cultures come alive and dance off the page. My favourite story is the one I can get completely lost in.

3) What book(s) have you read that you think I should read?

This could be a very long list… I’ll give you a few but this is by no means an exhaustive list!!

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Harry Potter

His Dark Materials

Jane Eyre

Winnie the Pooh

The Night Circus

Mist Over Pendle

Bird by Bird

To Kill A Mocking Bird

I Capture The Castle

…I’m going to stop now or we’ll be here forever.

4) What book, story or character has changed your life?

(Why did we make these questions so hard?! They’re killing me!!)

Again, I could list so many and for so many different reasons. I’m going to try and restrain myself and just mention 2. Firstly, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a really important story for me because its ideas of difference, identity, and mental health just hit home. Although my personal experiences were nothing like Charlie’s, I could still empathise so much with his character. His story spoke to me. Secondly, Mist Over Pendle as this was the first book that I remember being really enchanted with the language and the crafting of words. I think this is where my appreciation for beautiful writing, not just stories, began.

5) Is there a place you would like to visit, or a journey you would like to go on, based on a book you have read?

Lots probably, but the one that springs to mind is Prague, which I have wanted to visit since reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone. It just sounds like the most amazing place and I’m dying to see the astronomical clock!

6) How did you fall in love with reading?

I guess my answer to question 1 answers this one too! I fell in love with reading through the love of stories and books my parents and grandparents shared with me. Through the experience of togetherness I had when being read to or read with, I came to love stories for just that: an experience. Through the wide range of stories told to me, and books I was introduced to as a child, I came to love them for the words and the worlds they contained. I continue to fall in love with reading everytime I pick up a book; the look and the feel of the book itself, the smell of the pages, and the enchantment, wisdom, and illusion that unfolds from the letters printed within. (Who knew you could create such beauty from black squiggles on a page?) 

How else can you travel the world and beyond, or see into the minds of great thinkers of the past without leaving the comfort of your home…or even your bed?! Books and stories are such an incredible gift and I thank all the people who have brought, are bringing, and will bring these things into the world. You are truly magicians. 

I’d love to know your own responses to any or all of these questions. Please feel free to share in the comments below!

Happy reading. 😊

 

Another Year Read

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Happy New Year lovely people! It’s hard to believe another year is over – 2015 seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye! I did an awful lot of reading in those 12 months (and took a lot of pictures of books!) so I thought I’d do a year in books round up – here is a list of everything I read in 2015:

1. Unwind – Neal Shusterman

2. The Rithmatist – Brandon Sanderson

3. Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo (read for work)

4. The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami

5. The Library of Unrequited Love – Sophie Divry

6. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck (re-read for work)

7. Romeo & Juliet – Shakespeare (re-read for work)

8. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (re-read for work)

9. Abomination – Robert Swindells

10. Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

11. Only Ever Yours – Louise O’Neill

12. The Golem & The Djinni – Helene Wecker

13. Not That Kind Of Girl – Lena Dunham

14. The Innocent Mage – Karen Miller

15. Thief of Time – Terry Pratchett

16. The Infographic Guide to Literature – Joanna Eliot

17. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

18. The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman

19. Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

20.  Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe –  Benjamin Alire Sáenz

21. The Coincidence Authority – John Ironmonger

22. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

23. The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman

24. The Looking Glass Wars  – Frank Beddor

25. All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

26.  The Innocent Mage – Karen Miller

27. The Awakened Mage – Karen Miller

28.Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham

29. Earth, Air, Fire and Custard – Tom Holt

30. The Chrysalids – John Wyndham

31. The Soul Trade – E.E. Richardson

32. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

33. All That is Solid Melts Into Air – Darragh McKeon

34. The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

35. The Witches – Roald Dahl

36. The Glass Books of The Dream Eaters – Gordon Dahlquist

37. The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

38. Where The Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silversten

39. The Tempest – William Shakespeare

40. DNA – Dennis Kelly

41. Ella Minnow Pea – Mark Dunn

42. Very Good Lives – J.K. Rowling

43. How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

44. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss

45. A Mislaid Magic – Joyce Windsor

46. Seraphina – Rachel Hartman

47. Smilers Fair – Rebecca Levene

48. The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett

49. Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham

50. Eunoia – Christian Bock

51. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

52. Night of Cake and Puppets – Lani Taylor

53. The Paper Magician – Charlie N Holmberg

54. The Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

55. Eros Unbound – Anais Nin

56. Will Grayson, Will Grayson – David Levithian & John Green

57.The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavander – Leslye Walton

58. Rules of the Red Rubber Ball – Kevin Carroll

59. Tales of Beedle The Bard – J K Rowling

60. Giver – Lois Lowry

61. Sun and Moon – Lindsey Yankee

62. Mental Morfosis – Franz De Paula

63. Throne of Glass – Sarah J Maas

64. Tiny Book of Tiny Stories – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

65. Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 2 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

66. Tiny Book of Tiny Stories 3 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt

67. Crown of Midnight – Sarah J Maas

68. Night Owls – Jenn Bennett

69. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J K Rowling

70. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – J K Rowling

71. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J K Rowling

72. The Rest of Us Just Live Here – Partick Ness

73. Fever Crumb – Phillip Reeve

74. Heir  of Fire – Sarah J Maas

75. The Fox and The Star – Coralie Bickford-Smith

76. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett

77. Magonia – Maria Dahvana Headley

78. Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

79. An Ember in The Ashes – Sabaa Tabhir

80. Poisoned Apples – Christine Heppermann

 

I could honestly recommend any one of these books but my favourites were: Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Wise Man’s Fear, Shadow and Bone, An Ember in the Ashes, Harry Potter (all of them!), The Uncommon Reader, The Throne of Glass series, Very Good Lives, Magonia, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry and Ella Minnow Pea.

Hoping you had a wonderful Christmas and New Year and wishing you a fabulous 2016!

What I’ve Been Reading

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I shared, back at the beginning of April, all the lovely books that I had read so far in 2015. I thought it was time for an update. 🙂

I seem to be going through phases at the moment; one week I’ll be reading up a storm and get through 2 or 3 books, the next I won’t even get halfway through one. Whichever state I’ve been in I have still managed to devour a good number of books, all of which I have enjoyed. So here’s the list of my reads from April-July 2015 (in no particular order):

1) The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

2) The Invisible Library – Genevieve Cogman

3) Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

4) Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe –  Benjamin Alire Sáenz

5) The Coincidence Authority – John Ironmonger

6) The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

7) The Sleeper and the Spindle – Neil Gaiman

8) The Looking Glass Wars  – Frank Beddor

9) All the Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

10) The Innocent Mage – Karen Miller

11) The Awakened Mage – Karen Miller

12) Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham

13) Earth, Air, Fire and Custard – Tom Holt

14) The Chrysalids – John Wyndham

15) The Soul Trade – E.E. Richardson

16) The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

17) All That is Solid Melts Into Air – Darragh McKeon

18) The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

19) The Witches – Roald Dahl

20) The Glass Books of The Dream Eaters – Gordon Dahlquist

21) The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

22) Where The Sidewalk Ends – Shel Silversten

23) The Tempest – William Shakespeare

24) DNA – Dennis Kelly

25) Ella Minnow Pea – Mark Dunn

26) Very Good Lives – J.K. Rowling

27)How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran

I really did enjoy every single one of these books, however my absolute favourites were The Knife of Never Letting Go, Ella Minnow Pea, Where The Sidewalk Ends, Very Good Lives and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

The Knife of Never Letting Go and Aristotle and Dante both moved me to tears (for completely different reasons) and are both beautifully written books with fantastic characters. Very Good Lives was a super quick read and is full of pearls of wisdom; a real manifesto for first world living in the 21st Century. Where The Sidewalk Ends is just a wonderful collection of Shel Silverston’s poetry and made me smile so much. Ella Minnow Pea is, quite frankly, a work of genius. As well as being a great story it is just incredibly clever.

So there you have it. My reading update for 2015 taking me nicely to 43 books read so far this year. I’m slightly behind the 50 mark I was hoping to have hit but I’ve got a few weeks of summer left to catch myself up and a couple of long haul flights in October should help as well! 🙂

What have you been reading lately?