A Pause, A Ponder And Some Poetry

After a brief, unintentional hiatus, I’m back and trying to figure out how on Earth to balance a busy day job and a more-hectic-than-usual home life with the writing life I crave. During the summer lull, I had managed to start to create time during my days to write or at least play with ideas for writing. I had been posting regularly on the blog and creating regular content for my bookstagram account, both of which grew in followers and engagement. I was loving having the time to enjoy my creative life. And then the new term started. I was utterly snowed under within a matter of days and, even on the evenings when I wasn’t having to bring work home with me, I was so shattered and anxious from the accumulated stress of the work day and then the waiting housework that I had no energy for writing or taking photos, even when I could have found the time. So all of my creative pursuits fell by the wayside. My journal pages stayed empty. My notebook gathered dust. My latest blog post aged slowly in its corner of the internet. My bookstagram started to stagnate. And I felt guiltier and guiltier for not managing to summon the energy for these creative pursuits; for not managing to do it all.

I’ve still not managed to pull myself out of that particular guilt rut and I’m starting to realise it maybe runs a bit deeper than I’d thought.

It’s frustrating to feel I’ve lost the momentum that I had started to build – it all feels a bit ‘one step forwards and two steps back’. But I can’t deny that my brain – which is doing all sorts of unpleasant things right now – needed a break. Juggling all the many aspects of life (wonderful though most of them are) is exhausting sometimes. Occasionally, some balls are going to slip and fall. Sometimes it will take a while to recover them. And most of the time I know that’s ok.

I did manage a little flurry of bookstagram posts last week which I actually wanted to share here as well.

Last Thursday was National Poetry Day and, as I’m a huge poetry lover, I wanted to take the chance to share some of my favourite poets/poetry collections. So following my pause and my ponder, I present you with some poetry recommendations:

First up is the fabulous Nikita Gill whose poetry is a poignant reminder that though we may be inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe we are each as miraculous as the stars. Beautiful, lyrical, empowering poetry.

Next up is Nocturnal by the oh so talented Wilder – I absolutely ADORE this collection. Not only is the poetry thought provoking, moving and beautifully written, but the book is exquisitely designed with accompanying illustrations by the author. I devoured this when I first got it and turned back to the first page for a reread as soon as I’d finished. Simply gorgeous.

Another favourite poetry collection of mine is Chasers Of The Light by Tyler Knott Gregson – simple and elegant, these appealingly presented typewriter poems show the power of poetry to capture poignancy in the smallest moments.

I fell in love with Amanda Lovelace’s poetry with her first collection – the princess saves herself in this one – but for me, her second collection – the witch doesn’t burn in this one – is something truly remarkable. Raw and empowering, Lovelace uses not just the words but the form of her poems to raise a call to arms at the same time as inviting you into the embrace of the sisterhood. This collection raised the hairs on my arms with its power and the connection it offers.

Last but certainly not least in my poetry favourites is this exquisite book from Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – the illustrations are absolutely stunning, seeming to live right off the page, and combined with the wonderful collection of acrostic poetry celebrating the natural world bring back all the wonders of a childhood spent in the garden and exploring the woods. Filled with nostalgia, hope and marvel this collection is the antidote to our hectic digital lives. You’ll want to wander in the great outdoors from the first page.

Do you have a favourite poem, poet or collection of poetry? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments as I’m always on the look out for new poetry to enjoy.

Believe Me – Social Media Tour

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I will admit that when I’m looking for a new read thrillers are rarely my go to. In fact, they’re never my go to. But when Quercus contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in receiving a review copy of JP Delaney’s Believe Me, and I read the marketing blurb, I was intrigued.

From the Quercus website:

In this twisty psychological thriller from the New York Times and Sunday Times bestselling author of The Girl Before, an actress plays both sides of a murder investigation

One aspiring actress from the UK pays for her acting class in New York the only way she can: as a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers, hired to entrap straying husbands. When the police begin investigating one of her targets for murdering his wife – and potentially others – they ask her to help lure the suspect into a confession.

But with the actress pretending to be someone she’s not, differentiating the decoy from the prey becomes impossible – and deadly.

I’ve tried to step outside my reading comfort zone a bit more this year and here was an opportunity to do so again.

I’m so glad I did.

I started reading Believe Me as soon as it dropped through my letter box and it did not take long for me to feel completely hooked by the story. The opening pages set up a disturbing scenario, which you can’t help but want to understand, but the thing that really drew me into this narrative was the way in which the main character, Claire’s, interactions are, in part, presented like scripts. It really pulled me into the character’s mind seeing how her actor’s perspective influences how she experiences the various aspects of her somewhat unusual life, and these scripted interactions actually hold much greater significance than is initially apparent. Her theatrical tendencies were so appealing and there was one early description of being backstage that was particularly evocative, brilliantly illustrating Delaney’s skills as an atmospheric writer, as well as a storyteller.

This compelling atmosphere becomes more intricate as the story progresses, building in layers as the mystery and tension set by the original scenario thickens. Descriptions of Claire’s acting classes add almost a sense of magical realism to the twisting tale in which she becomes entangled. This is only emphasised through the excellent use of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) as a central plot device. Both beautiful and terrible, Baudelaire’s poems capture the essence of the evil Claire is confronting whilst increasing the enigma of who, exactly, is at its root.

The story only becomes more compelling as it unfolds because it doesn’t actually unfold at all – it folds itself in tighter and tighter. Every time I though I was getting a sense for what was going on, something else happened that made me question what I thought I had just begun to figure out. There are so many twists in this tale that I began to feel I was getting whiplash! Each twist, often coming out of nowhere, is brutal and begins to paint an increasingly disturbing picture. At times I wanted to stop reading because what was being revealed seemed so horrifying but I just couldn’t put it down.

By the end, I felt disturbed and relieved in equal measure because, although the mystery was unravelled and the loose ends tied up, I was left with the discomfiting feeling that all was not quite well, and I couldn’t help but wonder what path Claire’s life would take following her deep entanglement with such horror.

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Believe Me was a quick and compulsive read which I didn’t know what to expect from, even after I’d finished. If you’re after an easy but addictive story, with more twists than your average rollercoaster and and edge of tension that will linger after you turn the final page, then I recommend you pick up a copy.

 

Thanks to Quercus for the review copy. You can find out what some other fabulous bloggers and Instagrammers though of Believe Me by following the Quercus Social Media tour. 

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The Long Awaited Music Of Words

Being a mood reader, there are not often books that I eagerly anticipate the release of; that I cannot wait to get my hands on and that I clamour for an early copy of. I usually browse in bookshops or see what takes my fancy on Bookstagram and pick up what takes my fancy. But this is one of those rare books I have been waiting for for a long time.

This week saw the release of C.G. Drews’ (aka Paper Fury‘s) A Thousand Perfect Notes, into the wild. I have followed Cait’s blog for years and she never fails to make me smile and always makes me want cake. Her blog is full of enthusiastic shouting about books, relatable moaning about the misunderstood difficulties of bookworm life, lots of extolling the virtues of desserts and the odd insight into her writing life. I have lurked in the background (no, it’s not creepy, I promise), watching her tenaciously work towards her dream of becoming a published author. This year that dream became a reality and I am over the moon for her. I also could not WAIT to get my hands on her book baby and devour every word.

I was amazingly blessed to be sent an ARC but, I’ll be honest, I had a moment of panic. What if I didn’t like it?! Here was a book I had been eagerly anticipating from a writer who, unlike most other authors I read, I actually occasionally interact with on her blog and on social media. If I didn’t like it what would I SAY?! It turns out I needn’t have worried. I read it practically in one sitting (that pesky thing called work got in the way of a true binge read) and I absolutely loved it.

Here is a story that is shot through with passion, heartache, friendship, and hope. The characters sing off the page, along with Beck’s music, and the relationships between them were so heartfelt and real. The Maestro, Beck and Joey’s violently obsessive and overpowering mother, is a truly terrifying figure but she also has such a believable vulnerability that begins, ever so slightly, to bleed through her vicious exterior, that even whilst I wanted to run screaming from her I also wanted to reach for her and try to bring that humanity out.

Beck is so lost within his incredible talent, heartbreak, and longing for a dream of his own, that I wanted to take his hand and hold him tight. I was so moved by his uncertainty and passion, and his relationship with his sparkly little sister is just so beautiful. A fabulously rendered sibling bond; equal parts love and irritation.

When August bounced across the page it was like a crescendo and a splash of colour. She is such a beautifully vivid character and I loved the glimpses into her quirky life:

“There are a few cats and a goat but we’re only babysitting the llama.”

“Naturally.”

August is a much needed balm to the pain and heartache of Beck’s reality and their unlikely but burgeoning friendship is so wonderful to read.

There were highs, there were lows, there were points when I wanted to climb in between the pages, squeeze myself into the story and find a way to make everything ok. I laughed out loud. I cried. And when it was over I kept trying to turn the page in the hopes there would be more. This is one of my favourite reads so far this year. If you’re on the hunt for an immersive YA contemporary read, this is it.

Thank you to NetGalley and Hachette for the ARCs.

The Joy of A Moment

Yesterday, I walked in the spring sunshine with snow swirling round me on a wintry wind. I watched my spaniel companion try to catch snowflakes in her mouth and leap amongst the tussocks with sheer joy and abandon. I had taken my kindle with me because I was so engrossed in my current read (A Thousand Perfect Notes by C G Drews), and so I walked through two worlds, alternately losing myself in the music woven into the words of the story and revelling in the beauty of the snowy, sunny, spring world around me. I had the works of some of my favourite composers playing in my ears, the twining melodies and harmonies lifting me from the inside and somehow heightening the many and varied beauties around me. All these little, everyday things, in which I found such delight, came together, as I reached a small rise at the edge of the field, and I felt a profound moment of joy and peace.

In the chaos of everyday life, and particularly through the struggles of coping with mental illness, it is so easy to forget what an exquisitely beautiful place the world is, and just how miraculous it is that we exist at all. As the height of that poignant moment passed, and settled into a quiet contentment, I found myself wishing I had a way to catch that peace and carry it with me, a way to hold it inside me somehow and bring it out when I needed it.

I have a lot of joy in my life. I am exceptionally lucky in my friends and family, my love and livelihood. And yet I sometimes lose myself. I become mired in worry and fear and an unfounded conviction that life is just too difficult and I can’t do it, despite evidence to the contrary. I have come to realise that this is one of the reasons I write – one of the reasons I want to write more: so I can capture those moments of joy and peace, and so hold on to them. So I can capture those moments of panic and fear, and so let them go. Writing has the magical property of allowing me to do both.

I have recently been practising (albeit sporadically) mindful writing, a concept I discovered through the book ‘The Joy of Mindful Writing’ by Joy Kenward. I have found it invaluable in helping me focus on those small moments and recalling past joys. I have found that the exercises help me feel centred – in a way that other mindful practices have not – and have the dual benefit of getting me to write and getting me to engage in some meditative practice. If you’re looking for a way to combine creativity, particularly writing, with mindfulness, I would highly recommend giving this book a read.

I really just wanted to write this today as a reminder, both to myself and to anyone who happens to be reading, that there is joy to be found in the everyday, even when life is hard or the world seems dark or you just feel lost. When you notice it, do what you can to catch it and carry it with you.

Wishing you all a peaceful week.

It’s #TimeToTalk Recommended Reads – Anxiety Journal

This is just a quick little recommendation, as I’ve only just come across it myself but thought it still seemed worth a share.

The Anxiety Journal is actually something my lovely husband found and suggested to me, and I’m so glad he did. It is another beautifully presented book, very simply formatted, with lots of white space, which makes it a lovely, calming book to flick through.

It provides a combination of insightful quotes, thoughtful reflections and exercises, and simple illustrations. I have found it the perfect book to end the day with. Just before bed I can sit and open it to any page and use what’s printed there to help me take stock, reflect on the day, and deal with any anxiety or panic that may have built up. Combined with a scented candle, a warm drink, and some quiet music, it makes for a lovely bedtime routine.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.

The Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org

Mind – http://www.mind.org.uk

Young Minds – http://www.youngminds.org.uk

Papyrus (prevention of young suicide) – https://www.papyrus-uk.org

Self Harm UK – https://www.selfharm.co.uk

Time to Change – http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

Rethink Mental Illness – http://www.rethink.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – https://www.afsp.org

Please do not struggle alone.

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!

2016: A Year of Books

It’s that time again; we’re saying goodbye to the old year and hello to the new. There has been a lot about 2016 which has been unpleasant, worrying, and sad, and I’m making an effort to remember that it hasn’t all been bad by any stretch. We’ve had some wonderful adventures and happy news throughout the year and I have been blessed, as I am every year, with opportunities and love. It’s also been a brilliant year for reading! (So it definitely can’t have been that bad.😉) At the beginning of the year I set myself a challenge to read 100 books, and I managed it (just)! I’ve actually just finished my 101st book of 2016 so I even managed to beat my goal. I thought I’d share with you my reading year and recommend some of my favourites. Here’s a round up of my year in books (be warned, it’s lengthy!)…


I started the year with some brilliant books: I devoured Illuminae and read the whole thing cover to cover on New Year’s Day. It’s definitely one of the most original books I’ve read in terms of execution of an idea and I found it compelling to read a story told in such an unique way. 

I also read, and adored, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I so enjoyed heading back to this world (Rothfuss is a genius of the genre) and I found this tale told from Auri’s perspective to be haunting and moving. It’s not an continuation of the Kingkiller Chronicles and I know many were disappointed because of this, but I found it utterly enchanting and a true testament to Rothfuss’ skill and imagination. 

Another favourite was Uprooted, a truly engrossing fantasy. I loved how unusual the magic was in this story and loved the characters and how they developed throughout. I’ve lent this to many people, all of whom have loved it. (It’s also one of the most beautiful books on my shelves!)

I enjoyed revisiting an old favourite series  in The Black Magician trilogy – The High Lord is one of my favourite characters. 

Bird by Bird was one of my favourite reads of the year. It really made me want to write more of my own and made me feel like it wouldn’t matter if it turned out to be utter tripe, as long as I had the courage to actually write it! I haven’t done as much writing as I had hoped but thei book certainly spurred me on to write more than I’ve ever managed before.

My mum lent me a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth and I thouroughly enjoyed it. A fantastical world filled with entertaining word play. A great fun read!

A couple of highly recommended books on bookstagram that made my reading list this year were Queen of Shadows and Shatter Me. I really enjoyed Queen of Shadows, in fact I loved the whole series – Caleana is a great character! Unfortunately, I did not feel so positive about Shatter Me. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it just didn’t grab me. I normally enjoy reading YA but this one just felt too young, somehow. I know many people loved it though and it’s an interesting premise so I’d still give it a go.

I enjoyed The Martian immensely and it’s one of the few books that I have read AFTER I’ve seen the film. It’s funny and somehow still profound: I just love Watney’s dry humour. I’d also highly recommend the film as a really try interpretation of the book – Matt Damon is excellent!

The Catcher In The Rye is on that I have been meaning to read for an absolute age and the couple of times I started it I just wasn’t in the right mood. Not the case this time! I always think it’s worth persevering with classics if they don’t quite grab you the first time, as I have found with many that when I eventually get my brain to engage then I really enjoy them.

Ah, so many good ones in this little batch! The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet is a compelling and original story which Infound incredibly thoroughly gut provoking. It’s sci-for as I’ve never read it before and I completely fell in love with the crew of the Wayfarer. I’m excited to read the sequel in 2017!

I finally got around to reading a couple of children’s classics which I had never read before: Peter Pan and A Little Princess. Both were wonderful! Peter Pan is wonderfully weird and fantastical but the classic story which many of us grew up with (regardless of whether you’d read the book or not) doesn’t fail to engross, even as an adult reader. A Little Princess is completely enchanting and has some of the most beautiful lines and turns of phrase in it. I grew up loving the film adaptation of this book, my favourite part of which was always the magical transformation of the attic – it was just as magical, if not more so, in the book! Loved it!

I also have to mention Girl of Ink and Stars – this book is utterly wonderful. You cannot help but fall in love with the characters and the island, and the storyline strikes the perfect balance between being vividly real and disturbingly fantastical.

Two more favourites from this year were Rebel Of The Sands and The Reader On The 6:27. Rebel Of The Sands is magical and bursting with imagination. It’s so brilliantly written that everything leaps out at you – you can almost feel the heat rippling off the page and constantly expect to find grains of sand trickling into your lap. Read it.

I continued my re-reading of Harry Potter over the summer which is always a favourite of mine. If you’ve not yet read this series then you should give it a go.

Queen of The Tearling was a great new fantasy read and, again, I’m excited to read the next in the series in 2017. 

The Red Notebook is a really lovely story – great for fans of The Storied Life of AJ Fikry!

I am not normally one for non-fiction or biographies but I had to give I am Malala a chance and I was not disappointed. I already knew something of Malala’s story but reading it in her own words was truly moving and made me feel proudly fortunate. I was also so struck by what an incredible man her father is – we need more men like him in the world.

I was excited to receive The Graces in my Illumicrate box in July and really enjoyed reading it. I felt it took a little while to get going but was one of those I couldn’t quite put down.

Sleeping Giants was initially a cover but (so pretty!) but I was really pleased to have picked it up. It has echos of Illumicrate but is adult sci-if rather than YA. I also enjoyed reading a sci-fi that was set entirely on Earth!

I had so much fun reading all the new wizard of world books released by Pottermore this year – I loved reading a bit more about some of my favourite characters, particularly McGonagall. If you’re a HP fan and haven’t read these yet then you should go and read them. They’re inexpensive, quick to read, and a delightful trip back to the wizard of world.

Other favourites from this bunch were Ted Hughes’ poetry collection, Crow, and the recently published Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, which it inspired. Both were dark, profound and deeply moving. Anyone who has grieved will find something of truth in these pages and it is strangely comforting.

Pax is one of my absolute favourites from this year. A thoroughly moving story about a boy and his best friend, who happens to be a fox. It’s a lovely tale but the thing that struck me much was how TRUE the pages from Pax’s perspective felt. That might sound strange, after all how on earth would I know what a fox’s perspective would sound like, and yet it felt completely right. It wa the perfect autumn read.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises joins Pax on my absolute favourites of 2016 list. This book was charming, magical, relatable, and laugh-out-loud funny. I have bought at least 3 copies to give to other people and cannot recommend it highly enough.

Probably the most controversial book I’ve read this year is Harry Potter and The Cursed Child. I have seen such mixed reviews about it: some love it, some hate it, some have gone so far as to say they feel betrayed by JK for putting her name to it(?!). As far as I’m concerned it was great fun! It was NOT the 8th Harry Potter book but I never expected it to be. It was fun to return to Hogwarts; it was fun to imagine the possible futures of my favourite characters; it was fun to see something of the next generation of witches and wizards. Yes, there were some slightly questionable plot points, yes, it did read a little like fan fiction – but, honestly, I still loved it. I would happily read it again and I really, really hope I get to see the play at some point.

My last big batch of reading from 2016 included some of my Christmas favourites: A Christmas Carol is to this day the only Dicken’s book I have read all the way through. I hope to change this in 2017 as I really do love this book and although Dicken’s writing is incredibly wordy I think it is beautiful.

Chasers of the Light was a Christmas present and I absolutely loved it. Simple, but stunning, poetry typed on found paper – a joy to read.


My 100th book of the year was The Snow Child which has been on my bedside table for 2 years waiting to be read. This tale is achingly sad but beautifully written. It is a haunting tale and Ivey perfectly evokes the ethereality of deep winter and human desire for connection and love.

As well as reading my 100 books, I’ve also had another great fun year on bookstagram! Here are my #bestnine from 2016…


There’s clearly a favoured theme since I haven’t stuck to one theme all year but these all got the most likes. I haven’t decided what I might do with bookstagram in 2017 (to stick with one theme or keep a messy feed, that is the question…) but I do know that I still love this online bookish community. The pictures are beautiful and inspiring and the people are kind and encouraging. It’s a great little creative outlet and I look forward to another bookish year being a par of it.

So there you have it, my year in books! I hope you had a wonderful year, whether it was bookish or not. Please leave any of your own recommendations/favourite reads of 2016 in the comments.

Whatever your 2016 was like I wish you all the happiest of New Years, and love, peace, and joy for 2017.

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?