February Favourites

Image from Delia Online

Image from Delia Online

1. Pancakes! – It was Shrove Tuesday on the 17th and my sister and I made pancakes with a lovely Delia recipe. They actually went really well and of course we had to make them again on Wednesday when my other sister came home from uni…

2. ebooks – Wait, wait! Hear me out! I am not a huge ebook reader. I like the feel of a book in my hands, and I like seeing them on my bookshelves, but this month I have started reading some ebooks as well as physical books. The main reason for this is what I’m away in London at the moment for a trip lasting two weeks and I just couldn’t fit enough books in my suitcase to last me two weeks, especially not at the rate I’m reading at the moment. I decided to download some ebooks from my local library. I have to admit that for books I don’t particularly want to keep, it’s a reasonable substitute for real books when circumstances call for it! I’m not sure I would ever buy ebooks though, especially not when they cost nearly as much as physical copies.

3. Cardigans – I decided to buy a couple of short cardigans this month as I only really had long ones that stick out under your coat and look silly or really thin cotton ones for the summer. I bought two wool cardigans and am loving them, especially now the weather it getting a little bit milder.

4. Urban Fruit – This is something I have liked for a while, but it’s a particular brand of dried fruit which is really nice as a snack or if you’re on the go. It’s baked rather than dried and is literally just fruit. That’s it. I particularly like the strawberries, but mango and pineapple is good too. Another good brand is Bear Fruit which is the same thing. I alternate between these depending on which is cheapest/available at the time.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Books from the Last Three Years


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week I’m listing my top ten favourite books I read in the last three years:

1. More Than This by Patrick Ness – I keep going on about this book, but it was my first experience of Ness’ writing and I found it to be complex, masterfully written, and it made me think. What more could you ask for?

2. The Book Thief by Markuz Zusak – I know, I’m way behind everyone with this one, but I read this about two years ago, pretty much in one sitting. I think I left it to attend one of my few contact hours at uni and then read until I finished it, with tears and that sense of breathlessness that comes with the final pages of a good book.

3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – The book we were all waiting for but didn’t know we needed. I loved this book and felt a definite connection with the characters and the portrayal of fan culture. Apparently there’s an a sequel of sorts coming out in October of this year, so I’m looking forward to that.

4. Portrait With Keys by Ivan Vladislavic – This was by far one of the best books I read for my degree. For some reason it had a lasting impact on me and I hope to read some of his other work at some point.

5. The Waves by Virginia Woolf – Another course reading list book, but one that I loved. I found it completely immersive and beautiful and I didn’t understand 90% of it, but I’m okay with that.

6. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill – I only finished this recently but I honestly believe it’s one of the most important books to come out of YA in a while. It’s not perfect – what book is? – but it’s bold and downright scary in how close it comes to the truth.

7. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – This was the last novel I read for university, in my penultimate term, and I think by that point I’d started to realise what I was losing and made it my goal to thoroughly enjoy every minute of time I got to discuss this book with my class group. I actually really enjoyed it and there’s so much to say about it. I’m not sure I’ll read the ‘sequels’ though. Part of me feels like dystopia works best as a stand-alone.

8. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – Another one I go on about a lot. For good reason, though.

9. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – As cliched as it is, this book is sort of what helped me fall back into reading YA. For a while, I read almost exclusively adult fiction, but then I watched Green’s YouTube channel and discovered booktube and although this may not have been the first YA book I picked up again (I genuinely don’t remember), I feel that it is, in some small way, responsible for the entire trajectory of my life right now. That’s quite a lot to put on a book, I suppose.

10. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling – Forever one of my favourite series, this has been my go-to comfort read for so many years. I dip in and out at random points in the series and whenever I watch one of the films I get this urge to reread the books.

What are your favourite books from the past three years? Let me know in the comments, or link me to your own TTT post.

Review: Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

only ever yours

Publication date: 3/7/14
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 9781848664159
Source: The proofs shelf at work (I love it when things I have my eye on turn up on there!)

This is a brave step away from the almost complacent dystopia that has been lining the YA shelves recently. Instead of a vaguely futuristic society with apocalyptic problems, Only Ever Yours focuses in on one particular problem, that of a heteronormative ideal that has been naturalised by society. Namely, the patriarchy. This book returns to the core aims of dystopian fiction as a genre and strives to teach us something about ourselves.

That’s not to say this book is flawless, however. There are times when the characters lack depth, and so many things are not explained properly such as the story surrounding one of the main characters, isabel. I’m still not sure that the conclusion of the book really explains her behaviour. There are other annoying little things such as references to “ePads” and “MyFace” – I felt this too obvious a plea for the reader to identify and it wasn’t really necessary to make the connection to our current society so blunt.

I quickly got over that though, and there are also lots of good elements such as the ranking of the girls based on appearance. I particularly enjoyed the critique of social media and the dependence of the girls on sharing their lives online as a means of constructing their identities.

This is not a book for people who want a happy ending; a lot of YA dystopian novels have redeeming endings so I kept expecting things to work out ok, but O’Neill does not give us one here.

Overall, an amazing debut and an incredibly important book for everyone to read regardless of gender, age, or politics. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Boys Don’t Read

There has been a lot of talk within the book industry over the past week or so about gender within the publishing industry both in terms of differences in reading habits between boys and girls, and in the gender balance of people who work in publishing.

My interest was sparked initially by an article written for The Bookseller by Nosy Crow business development manager, Tom Bonnick, who tackled the issue of encouraging boys to read. Prompted by the announcement of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize shortlist which features only 3 male writers out of the eighteen shortlisted authors, Bonnick discusses the statistics which show that boys do not read as much as girls. I have to say that these statistics did surprise me a little, but there are so many factors involved that I think it’s difficult to draw solid conclusions from such limited data.

I was most interested in looking at how these figures had changed over the last year and one statistic really stood out for me:

68.7% of parents of boys said they read with their child daily whereas the figure for girls was 75.3%. This survey was carried out on parents of 3, 4, and 5 year old children. Surely, if by the age of 5 there is such a discrepancy between parents’ attitudes towards reading, dependent on the gender of their child, it is no wonder boys read less than girls as they grow into independent readers.

When we break this statistic down further, it is seen that the real difference comes at the age of 5 where the percentages of boys who read every day drops to 62.1% from 72.1% for 4 year olds. Although there is also a drop for girls, their figure remains at 73.5%, higher than the highest percentage for boys across all three years. Perhaps this shows that at the time when children are just starting to read independently, we need to be encouraging and supporting them more rather than letting this reading habit slip away.

This means supporting them in reading across all platforms however. Nobody is trying to pretend that reading on a touch screen in the same as reading a printed book. It’s not. It’s a different kind of reading that involves different processes in the brain but, as Bonnick states, we won’t encourage boys to read “by categorising some forms of reading as more valid than others”.

Perhaps one of the most important things Bonnick said with regards to this discussion of gender is that “Male authors and male readers are not the same thing”. We have thankfully moved past the time when authors such as J. K. Rowling were encouraged to use initials instead of a first name to make sure boys weren’t put off by their books. Now we have authors such as Liz Pichon, Francesca Simon, and Julia Donaldson, all of whom have been highly  successful with girls and boys alike.

Returning to the issue of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize shortlist, I would argue that, although the majority of the authors on this list are female, the target audiences of their books are not necessarily solely female. People seem to have taken issue with the teen shortlist most of all, so I’ll use that category to demonstrate my point here. In case you’re not aware, the shortlisted books in the teen category are:

  • Half Bad by Sally Green
  • Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
  • Dead Ends by Erin Lange
  • The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
  • Smart by Kim Slater.

only ever yoursOf these, I would say that only one (Only Ever Yours) has a gendered cover with a picture of a girl on the front and a title that could reasonably be mistaken for a romance novel – although that is the furthest thing from the truth.

Half Bad looks to me as if it’s being targeted at a male readership, or at least a gender-neutral readership, with a neutral colour palette, a male protagonist, and the promise of adventure.

The other four titles fall somewhere in between, and although I have only read half of this shortlist at the moment, I would not say that it is unbalanced in terms of its readership, only its authors. As we delve deeper into these issues of gender, we find ourselves caught up in all sorts of other debates. Are there as many men writing YA as women? In my experience, no. Perhaps this is coincidence, or perhaps it has something to do with the general outside opinion of YA as the home of frivolous, morally simple books. We also get caught up in the gendered cover debate (one of my favourites to rant about) and can consider things like Maureen Johnson’s coverflip challenge.

It’s clear that this is a debate that spans so many areas and isn’t going to find a fix-all solution any time soon. In the meantime, all we can do is keep talking about these issues in an open and honest way. The NLT statistics showed there was an overall improvement in reading levels from 2013 to 2014, and however small it is, that’s a step in the right direction.

Further Reading:

February Wrap-up

In January I read a total of ten books, which I was fairly pleased with considering the amount of time I spent watching The Vampire Diaries and random gymnastics documentaries/films on Netflix (it’s a guilty pleasure – I find it fascinating that people can actually jump and twist and stuff when I can hardly even do a handstand for half a second).

This month I have read a total of ten books:

1. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli – I received this as an uncorrected proof copy through work and read it as a top priority, having heard a lot of people saying how great it is. I wasn’t disappointed. Its release date is the 7th April and I’ll be posting a review a bit closer to the time, but this is definitely one to watch out for.

only ever yours2. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill – This was another one I picked up at work and it was everything I hoped it would be from the blurb. Bold, honest, unafraid of being labelled a feminist work. This was scary in a way dystopia really should be and it was a refreshing change from some of the happy-ending dystopia we’ve seen on the YA shelves recently. Again, a full review to come in the next month.

3. Arsenic for Tea by Robin Stevens – I loved Robin’s first book, Murder Most Unladylikeand was excitedly anticipating the sequel. It definitely didn’t disappoint. In fact, I would say this is actually even better than the first. I really enjoyed seeing Daisy’s family and the insight this gave me into her character. It was also nice to have the Detective Society expand a little, if only temporarily. Once again, I’ll be posting a more detailed review in a few weeks.

4. Half the World by Joe Abercrombie – I used to a read a lot more fantasy than I do now, and I discovered Joe Abercrombie when I went to a talk at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival in September 2014. I quickly picked up his YA/adult crossover novel, Half a King, and loved it. This sequel was a special purchase for me because I had planned on not buying any books for a while, However, I am lucky enough to own a signed hardback of the first book so when I saw we had signed hardbacks of the second I just couldn’t resist. I’ll be talking about this one in more detail too.

5. Geek Girl by Holly Smale – I happened across this when I was browsing my library’s ebook collection for the first time. Their collection of YA titles is pitifully small, in my opinion, and this was one of the only titles that really stood out as a) something I recognised b) something that wasn’t already out on loan. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my thing, but decided to give it a go with the knowledge that it would be useful for my job even if I didn’t enjoy it. However, I did enjoy it. It wasn’t particularly intellectually challenging, but was instead an easy read with well-defined characters and a likeable protagonist. I won’t be reviewing this because there’s not much I can say that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by somebody else.

6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – I used to get Christie’s books out of the library in piles. I saw a set on The Book People last month and decided to revisit them. I have definitely read this one before, but luckily I couldn’t remember the identity of the murderer so it was still a mystery right until the end!

7. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff – I’ve heard this title a lot, but didn’t really know much about the book itself. It wasn’t really what I was expecting and I couldn’t get my head around the main relationship in the book (even though it’s technically not wrong, the way it was portrayed made it seem so taboo and I couldn’t get past that). I know there’s a film adaptation, but I have to say that after reading the book I’m not rushing out to see the film. That’s not to say it’s a bad book, I just didn’t connect with it as well as I’d hoped to.

Film still from saoirseronan.info

Film still from saoirseronan.info

8 & 9. Divergent and Insurgent by Veronica Roth – I’m going to list these two together because I read them one after the other in one day and can’t really remember exactly where one book ended and the next began. I suppose that’s a good thing for a trilogy. This is one of the few instances in which I have seen the film for a book before reading the book itself, and it definitely helped me to visualise the events, although I’m not sure how much it skewed my perception of things. For example, Tris saying she’s not pretty is difficult to imagine when you keep picturing Shailene Woodley’s face! I enjoyed these in a very self-indulgent, immersive kind of way and am looking forward to reading Allegiant as soon as I can get my (virtual) hands on it. I’m also intrigued by the idea of seeing things from Four’s perspective, so will probably read the short story collection too, if I can.

10. Geek Girl: Model Misfit by Holly Smale – See Geek Girl, above. I felt pretty much the same way about the sequel as I did about the first book in this series. It was good to see Harriet’s conflict about her baby sister, because we don’t often see that tackled from the perspective of an older child/teenager (Harriet is fifteen).

I’ve had a fairly YA-heavy month which is not altogether unusual, but I normally read at least one or two adult books as well. Not that I’m complaining. What have you been reading this month?

Friday Wishlist #1

I’m borrowing this idea from Jane Emily over at Beyond Seventeen Reviews. These are books I would love not only to read, but also to own at some point. Here are a few of the books currently on my wishlist:

1. The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

the art of being normal

Two boys. Two secrets. David Piper has always been an outsider. His parents think he’s gay. The school bully thinks he’s a freak. Only his two best friends know the real truth – David wants to be a girl. On the first day at his new school Leo Denton has one goal – to be invisible. Attracting the attention of the most beautiful girl in year 11 is definitely not part of that plan. When Leo stands up for David in a fight, an unlikely friendship forms. But things are about to get messy. Because at Eden Park School secrets have a funny habit of not staying secret for long …

Everyone is talking about this book, and I mean everyone. If I wasn’t on a mission to half my TBR list and pretty much on a self-imposed book buying ban then I would have this in my arms already and we would be so happy…

2. No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

no matter the wreckage

I mentioned a few days ago how much I love spoken word poetry and one of my favourite spoken word poets is Sarah Kay. A whole book of her poetry? Yes, please.

3. Alice and the Fly by James Rice

alice and the fly

Perfect for fans of Nathan Filer’s THE SHOCK OF THE FALL and Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME, comes the book of the year…A spellbinding first novel by a British author about how obsessions and phobias can upend your entire life. This is a book about phobias and obsessions, isolation and dark corners. It’s about families, friendships, and carefully preserved secrets. But above everything else it’s about love. Finding love – in any of its forms – and nurturing it. Miss Hayes has a new theory. She thinks my condition’s caused by some traumatic incident from my past I keep deep-rooted in my mind. As soon as I come clean I’ll flood out all these tears and it’ll all be ok and I won’t be scared of Them anymore. The truth is I can’t think of any single traumatic childhood incident to tell her. I mean, there are plenty of bad memories – Herb’s death, or the time I bit the hole in my tongue, or Finners Island, out on the boat with Sarah – but none of these are what caused the phobia. I’ve always had it. It’s Them. I’m just scared of Them. It’s that simple.

I have mentioned wanting to read this book before, and with a cover as gorgeous as this one I would love to see it on my shelves.

Which books are currently on your wishlist?

The Comfort of Old Favourites

Image from bookriot.com

Image from bookriot.com

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m at least partly a mood reader. Now, what this means to me is that I choose which book to read next based on how I’m feeling at that particular moment rather than going by a pre-set list or order of reading. For example, at the time of writing, I am about halfway through The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton which is an enjoyable read, but it’s fairly complex in its narrative style and content. Yesterday I felt like reading something easy and immersive so I loaned the ebook of Divergent by Veronica Roth from my local library service.

Every now and then I go through phases where no matter how many unread books I currently own, I only want to fall back on a familiar story. I’ll pick up a Harry Potter book or reread The Darkweaver Legacy by Mark Robson or something similar. When I’m in that kind of mood it has to be something I read as a child, and also something I’ve read a number of times. I need to lose myself in the story, enjoy remembering the details I’d forgotten and discovering new details I hadn’t noticed before without the pressure of following the storyline.

Most recently, I decided to revisit the stories of The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. I no longer own any of the books so I had to settle for listening to the free abridged audiobooks we got free with a newspaper a few years ago and watching the 1995 TV series on YouTube. There was something so comforting about the familiar characters and well-loved stories that new material just couldn’t offer me. I intend to reread as many of the books as possible when I can afford to re-buy them or can get to the library to borrow them.

Are you a mood reader? Which books do you fall back on when you need familiarity and comfort?