Saturday, 26 December 2015

One Little Word 2016

Last year I posted that I was taking part in One Little Word and about my reasons for choosing my word, gratitude. Honestly it was one of the best things I've ever spent money on, allowing me a way back into paper and pen creativity and giving me something to focus on and work towards. I feel like I learned a huge amount from having gratitude as my word this year and there's a lot I'm going to carry on into 2016 with me. Keeping a gratitude journal, although I don't do it every day, really helps particularly on days when I'm feeling inexplicably down or having a crappy day, and I also make mandalas when feeling rubbish. Although others in my life may not see the difference as much as I'd like, I do honestly feel like my word has changed me this year so I'm excited to continue the journey in 2016!

Inhale the future, exhale the past.

That said, I had a bit of a problem choosing my word for this year. For a while I was torn between a few, but eventually I settled on Breathe. A lot of the things I've been thinking about this year involve breathing more and calming down, and it incorporates the other three words that I was mulling over; focus, simplify and mindful. I've decided to focus on a few things this year to encompass everything.

I'd like to give myself room to breathe by simplifying the way that we live and minimizing our possessions.

Incorporating daily meditation so as to give myself a regular time to just focus on breathing and have a little space just for myself.

Regular exercise.

Reminding myself to take a deep breath before responding to anything and thus keeping calm (or at least calmer).

Personally, focusing on a few projects rather than loads. For 2016 these will be: the Little House Read-Along, the Panels Read Harder Challenge, my #yearofmaking and sewing one thing each week on my sewing machine.

Mental breathing space by unplugging. I'd like to have one night a week completely without screens at all, and I'm also planning a one month long Digital Break Up at some point. I know that I am a better person,partner and parent when I'm not constantly checking my phone. I've already disabled notifications for my email and have been unsubscribing from everything I don't really want to be receiving and it's made a noticeable difference.

Sometimes we just need to Breathetake it one second at a time..,-inspirational-quotes-9:

I'm reading Rachel Macy Stafford's Hands Free Mama to kick the year off, and it's handily organised into twelve sections so my plan is to read it and then re-read it a chapter a month and implement some of the weekly intentions. It's really great so far - it doesn't focus entirely on being hands free in a digital sense (although that is in there) but rather actually having your hands free to engage with your kids and it's a reminder that I needed I think, as a person who's often distracted even when I think I'm not. 

I'm excited to start focusing on Breathe this year. I've started a Pinterest board for this year, as I did for  last and I've been collecting inspiration. I can't wait for January 1st and the first prompt! If you'd like to join in with the One Little Word fun, you can do so here.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Panels Read Harder Challenge

I've been reading challenge free for a few years now, and I'm starting to feel the list making urge returning. Although I don't want to commit myself to not being able to read what I want when I want, I do seriously love the idea of the Panels and Book Riot Read Harder Challenges, and some of the best books I've read in 2015 have been outside my comfort zone so why not continue the trend?

I'll do two posts as each challenge has a lot of categories and I'll probably list multiple titles for each, so best to split it! Rather than a definitive list of things I will read, I'm seeing this more as a list of inspiration.

For the Panels challenge there are 18 categories which are thus:

Read a self-published comic

I have nothing for this. Please feel free to suggest things to me.

Read a feminist comic

I'm thinking Bitch Planet at the moment, but also maybe Black Orchid by Neil Gaiman (as I own it already), or Tank Girl for the same reason. A-Force by G. Willow Wilson and Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe (whose Peter Panzerfaust I'm currently reading the first volume of) also look intriguing, and Lumberjanes and Hark! A Vagrant have been on my wishlist for years, so it's quite likely I'll read more than one for this category.

If anyone's interested I can highly recommend anything by Alison Bechdel, Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, Saga or of course Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Read a comic featuring one or more teenage protagonists

This has to be Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, or maybe Morning Glories (which is a hilarious name if you're British and is what's put me off it so far, but it does sound good).

I'd recommend Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba for this category, although the third and fourth books are a really long time coming. Hurry up, will you??

Read a superhero comic whose race or gender has been swapped from the original or traditional hero

I feel like there's going to be a lot of Kelly Sue DeConnick on this list... I have to go for Captain Marvel I think, but I would recommend G. Willow Wilsons' Ms Marvel although I've only read the first volume.

Read a complete run of a comic

I'm just finishing up Fables by Bill Willingham (massively recommended) after about four years of reading it. I've been looking at Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan (again) for a while and I think this will be the year for it! Also I have a few volumes of the Moomin comic strips by Tove and Lars Jansson so maybe those, as an excuse to buy the rest?

I'd highly recommend Fables, The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, and I don't know if it counts in this category, but Hyperbole and a Half  by Allie Brosh.

Read a comic based on a book and the book that it's based on

Going for The Hobbit here because we've had the graphic novel for years and Rhys has read it and I haven't and I always feel slightly uncomfortable when that's the case, as it is with probably the majority of our graphic novel collection actually!

Read a graphic biography

I have previously mentioned John Porcellino's Thoreau at Walden, but it's even more fitting now that I'm actually reading Walden! So this could also count for the previous category I guess.

Read a comic that was originally published in a language different to your own

I know I've mentioned it before, but a friend told me about Blacksad literally years ago and I still haven't got around to it, so that as a first port of call definitely! I also like the look of Bluesy Lucy: The Existential Chronicles of a Thirtysomething by Veronique Grisseaux and Catel. Given my love of all things Chinese history I guess it won't be surprising for anyone to hear me mention that I've been talked out of buying A Chinese Life by Li Kunwu and Philippe Otie several times this year. I may well cave in 2016.

Obviously my own recommendation for this category, as my reading is disgustingly limited, would be Persepolis again.

Read a comic set in space

I had no preconceived ideas for this category but looking through the list that was linked on the Panels website I'm intrigued by Astronaut Dad by David Hopkins and Brent Schoonover. It sounds really interesting.

I guess Saga might count for this as well though? In which case I'm totally getting like all the remaining volumes which are out during 2016. It's happening.

Read a collected webcomic

Nimona all the way. I want to read this book soooooo much! For hopefully obvious reasons I also am oddly compelled by the idea of The Adventures of Dr McNinja by Christopher Hastings.

Recommendations would be the previously mentioned Hyperbole and a Half. It's hilarious.

Read a comic with at least one creator of colo(u)r

Genius by Marc Bernardin sounds incredible. I've also previously mentioned my desire to read March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. I'm sure there are many more.

Read a comic set in Asia by an Asian creator

Mythspace by Paolo Chikiamco sounds like it could be exactly my kind of thing. Also Halina Filipina by Arnold Arre.

Read a superhero comic NOT by one of the big two

I've picked up Grace Randolph's Supurbia a few times before - if you've read any of my posts about my trips to Forbidden Planet you'll know I generally allow myself one graphic novel, two at a push, and pick up a pile and let them fight it out. This sounds brilliant though, I want it now. I also really like the look of C.O.W.L by Kyle Higgins, Alex Siegel and Rod Reis.

Read a slice-of-life comic not set in the U.S

Having just finished and loved Lucy Knisley's Displacement: A Travelogue, I feel it's only fair to follow it up with An Age of License

Read a comic that has been adapted from a TV show or movie

I want to read Dark Shadows because it was adapted from a TV show and then there was a movie and I was in the minority of people who actually liked the movie. So.

Read a comic about a real life historical event 

Like, literally everything. March as previously mentioned, but also I'd like to finish Palestine by Joe Sacco and read everything Guy Delisle's written, and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, and The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert.

I'd recommend Maus by Art Spiegelman and obviously Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Read a black-and-white comic

I had to have a google to find out what was black and white and what wasn't because Panels haven't got a list for it yet, but Google tells me that Essex County by Jeff Lemire which I put on my wishlist a while back is black and white, so that.

Read a watercolour comic

I don't have one for this yet. I shall be eagerly awaiting the list on Panels.

So I'm really sorry that there are like, no graphics in this post, but I got to the end and there are soooo many titles and it's so full of goodness and possibility that I'm basically just staring into space imagining all the graphic novels I'm going to buy/borrow next year... Have you read any? Do you own any you want to lend me? (Laura, I'm looking at you because I know I bought you one of these titles :-p) Basically, tell me all the things!

Monday, 21 December 2015

2015 End of Year Survey!

Wonderful Jamie of The Perpetual Page Turner has created another brilliant End of Year Survey, complete with fantastic graphics that I will be stealing (full credit to her, obviously!) in order to analyse my 2015 reading to within an inch of its life! I am so excited to be able to properly talk about what I've read this year because I've actually tracked it, rather than having huge gaps in my memory. This is the best!

I've probably talked a bit about some of this in my posts for #amonthoffaves but I thought it made sense to collate it all in one place, so here it is.


Number of Books You Read: 92. I thought I'd hit 100 but I obviously haven't so apologies to all the people I inadvertently lied to on twitter!
Number of Re-Reads: 8
Genre you read most from: Really, really surprisingly the answer to this is YA with 21 books. This has never happened to me before, not even close. Obviously my A Way into YA series from earlier in the year had an effect!

1. Best Book You Read in 2015?
There are a few. I think it will have to be narrowed down by category...

Best Short Story Collection
Drown by Junot Diaz
Best Series
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Best Fiction 
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Best Nonfiction 
It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

2. Book You Were Excited About and Thought You Were Going to Love More But Didn't?

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey and Peter Gross was a series I'd been excited to start for a long time, but once I actually got to it it was...underwhelming. I didn't hate it, but we own the second volume and I read volume one back in August and I've still not bothered to pick it up. I probably will at some point, but I just found it a little bit less well developed than I thought it would be I guess. 

3. Most surprising (in a good or bad way) book you read?

Moby Dick, in the worst way. I don't know what I expected from this but I know a few people who really love it and it's a pretty highly respected classics and I just hated it. If you like, you can see my extremely ranty post on my feelings about it. 

4. Book You "Pushed" Most People To Read? (And They Did)

I'm still pushing The Night Circus on people. Of stuff I've read this year I don't know that anybody's actually read anything, although I have been shouting about It's What I Do and The Gracekeepers to everyone I see. 

5. Best Series You Started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?

Any other year The Lunar Chronicles would probably have won this, except this was the year I read Throne of Glass. I haven't read Winter yet and Queen of Shadows is obviously not the end so I can't answer the series ender question, but I think although best series is Throne of Glass, best sequel may well be Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, which I really enjoyed. I love the way that the fairytales are twisted in all three that I've read, but Scarlet in particular I thought was reworked very well and was full of characters I loved. 

6. Favourite New Author you Discovered in 2015?

I'm going to say Kirsty Logan, just because The Gracekeepers was such a gorgeous book. 

7. Best Book from a genre you don't typically read?

Has to be The Diviners. As I said, I really don't read creepy books but this was just too good to miss. 

8. Most action packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi was unexpectedly page-turning for me. I had no expectations and towards the end of the book I was actually trying to read without pausing for breathe so I could find out how it was going to end. Also Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins was pretty fantastic - I read it in one sitting and totally adored it. 

9. Book You read in 2015 that you're most likely to reread next year?

Moby Dick. (ha. That's a lie). No, honestly there are several contenders for this. Probably Carry On, because Rainbow wrote it. Also probably The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin because of my One Little Word for 2016 is going to be mindful and I think it has a lot to offer when I'm thinking about that (The Winter of Our Disconnect by Susan Maushart would also tie in well with a screen free project I'm planning). And maybe The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas since I still haven't formulated my thoughts enough to actually be able to write about it. Oh, and probably Throne of Glass etc. Hey, there'll be at least one re-read-athon to fit it all in!

10. Favourite Cover of a Book you Read in 2015?

11. Most Memorable Character of 2015?

Probably Celaena Sardothien of the Throne of Glass trilogy. I love how many facets her personality has, and how kick-ass she is but also how young. It helps that her story arc is so well developed and that Sarah J Maas keeps putting her together with all these awesome (and super hot) men.

12. Most Beautifully Written Book read in 2015?

Those previously mentioned, but also Drown by Junot Diaz. It's a collection of short stories featuring the character he always writes about, Yunior, throughout his life and they're often fairly brutal and bleak but just so beautiful. Love.

13. Most thought-provoking/Life Changing Book of 2015?

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario was just absolutely incredible. It made me think about things in so many uncomfortable ways (like, imagining what it would be like to be a Taliban wife. I never really wanted to think about that, but it probably did me some good) but it made me really think about them. Such an important book about so many of the things probably most of us heard about in the media and have purposefully avoided ever really thinking about too deeply, and so well written. Not easy, but so highly recommended.

14. Book You Can't Believe You Waited UNTIL 2015 To Finally Read?

Blankets by Craig Thompson has been on my wishlist for yeeeears, probably since I started blogging, and I never read it despite the library having a copy, just because it's pretty big for a graphic novel I guess. I finally did this year and it was fabulous.

Skipping a few because I don't have the data!

17. Book that Shocked you the Most

I think this is probably The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas who is honestly the queen of the unexpected in novels. I never know what to expect, but in this case it's more for one scene in it which I can't go into detail about cos spoilers but omg it has stuck in my head so vividly and was extremely unexpected.

18. OTP of the year

I never expected to be saying this, but Aelin/Rowan. I couldn't see it until I read Queen of Shadows but once it was a thing I was totally behind it. It made me squee with the awesome at times, and I can't wait for the next book!

Also I can't miss out Lola and Cricket from Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. They were so cute and I was happy when they finally got it together!

19. Favourite non romantic relationship of the year

This is a difficult one, but maybe Will and Jonah from If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie. I liked that they were such an awkward fit in the beginning - like they were totally accidental friends, but in the end they taught each other so much and totally had each others backs and I loved it.

20. Favourite Book You Read in 2015 From an Author You've Read Previously?

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I was kind of surprised because although I love and adore everything else she's written, I, like many other people, was unsure about an entire book of Simon and Baz, but it really, really worked. Actually they'd get a vote for OTP of the year too. Loved them.

21. Best Book You Read in 2015 That You Read Based Solely on a Recommendation from Somebody else?

It's What I Do by Lynsey Addario (recommended by Kim) or Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (Katie, Laura and the entire blogosphere, it felt like).

22. Newest Fictional Crush from a Book You Read in 2015?

I don't usually do a huge amount of fictional crushing, but I do have a bit of a thing for Chaol from the Throne of Glass series (hence why I didn't expect to like the Rowan thing, but I do). Also Bigby Wolf from the Fables series, although he's not new as I've been reading the series since about 2012. *sighs and gazes off into the distance*

23. Best 2015 Debut You Read?

The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic - Stanley, hands down. I just finished it and absolutely loved it. I can't recommend it highly enough.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read this Year?

Actually this would probably have to be Naomi Novik's Uprooted which I really enjoyed a few months back. The forest was so alive and malevolent and the descriptions of her surroundings were just incredible. I felt like I was there.

25. Book That Put a Smile on Your Face/Was the Most Fun to Read?

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell is just hilarious and even though I don't sell books, a lot of the things sounded familiar to my retailers ears! It's such a quick read I'd really recommend it for something to make you giggle.

26. Book That Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2015?

It's been a pretty long time since I've read anything besides Good Wives which made me cry (and I didn't read that this year), but I was pretty tearful during the Terry Pratchett Readathon to commemorate his passing earlier this year. I haven't felt the loss of an author as personally since David Gemmell died years ago.

27. Hidden Gem of the Year?

I guess worldwide this probably doesn't count as it was longlisted for a major award but here I've heard nothing about If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie and I should have!

29. Most Unique Book You Read in 2015?

Stylistically definintely The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton. I loved the way it was written and how it kept me guessing about what had really happened and what hadn't the whole way through. Fantastic storytelling.

30. Book That Made You the Most Mad?

Probably Finding Home: Real Stories of Migrant Britain by Emily Dugan. I was so mad at all the governments throughout this book for just being so badly managed, and so so mad at so many other people for being so dickish. Hey everyone, let's just not be a dick, OK?

Books I Want to Have Mentioned in this Survey but Didnt (OK I added this)

Every Day by David Levithan, Saga Volume 1 & 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, When it Happens to You by Molly Ringwald, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting by Jennifer Senior.


1. New favourite book blog you discovered in 2015?

It's a tie. I was vaguely aware of Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity but I've only really started reading regularly this year. If you've not visited yet you definitely should - Trish is brilliant and shares a lot of my interests! I love that her posts are bookish, crafty and sometimes just about life. My other favourite of this year is Outlandish Lit. Julianne loves quirky books and I always discover stuff I've never heard of before on her blog.  

2. Favourite review you wrote this year? 

I don't really write reviews as such very often anymore, but I did enjoy my recent one of We Were Liars. That book is incredible. 

4. Best event that you participated in? 

This has to be meeting Scarlet Thomas earlier in the year. It was amazing, it took weeks to get over it!

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life this year?

Has to be all the time I've spent with blogging friends. I'm sad that meeting up with Hanna, Ellie and Charlotte again didn't work out for this year, but I met Katie for the first time in February and have hung out with her twice since, and spent lots of time with Laura, both book shopping and not. We've reached a point where I think we're just friends now, rather than blogging friends, and I like it :-) 

9. Best bookish discover?

I am absolutely addicted to Book Riot's All the Books podcast. So many books on my wishlist are there because of this show and it's perfectly timed so I can listen to it on the bus on the way to work. If you've not checked it out yet, please do!

I also love and adore Wordery as an Amazon alternative. They are a UK based independent online bookshop and they offer free worldwide shipping and the opportunity to include gift notes. Yes please. 

That's pretty much it from me for 2015, although I suspect I may finish another book or two before year's end. I'm currently reading Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot and loving it, and also Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford in preparation for my One Little Word for next year, for more about which watch this space!

What have you loved this year? 

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

I Though I Could Safely Fill in My End of Year Survey, and Then This Happened...

I only put We Were Liars by E. Lockhart on my wishlist after every single person I follow on twitter was going on (and on and on) about how great it was for about six months. Then I saw it somewhere - I think Tesco - and actually looked at the  blurb and was intrigued enough to put it on said wishlist, and then Tracy gifted it to me for Ninja Swap and here we are. 

I'll just go ahead and say that this book maaaay be my favourite book of the year because holy fuck it's amazing. If you are very easily spoilered you may not want to read this post. I'm not going to post specifics but I know that some people would rather not know anything so if that's you, look away now and just go buy the book. Then come back and we can talk about the awesome.

From Goodreads:

A beautiful and distinguished family.A private island.A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.A revolution. An accident. A secret.Lies upon lies.True love.The truth. We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it.And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE

So here's the bit that could be considered spoilery.... 

There is a fucking massive plot twist at the end of the book, and it is the best plot twist that I think I have ever read. I finished it and literally couldn't stop thinking about it for about three days. It is so so clever and incredibly well done. E. Lockhart is a masterful writer. I went through the whole book thinking I was reading a novel about a rich, dysfunctional family working out their problems during their annual summer together on their private island after one of the girls had a mysterious accident that leaves her with amnesia about what actually happened to her. That was so not the book I was reading, that's all I'm saying. 

We Were Liars is full of characters I fell in love with. The Liars are all awesome - people teenage me would have wanted to be friends with. Cadence is the main character. She's a bit quirky and sort of semi political but honestly the majority of the story deals with the pain she is suffering as a result of the mysterious accident and I felt for her, I really did. She is in love with Gat who is awesome. He's really sharp, very political, has opinions about everything and I adored him. I also really liked Merrin and Johnny, Cadence's cousins. I thought they balanced the other two out really well while actually being fully developed characters in their own right - Johnny a little less than Merrin maybe, but still. 

Although I didn't particularly love the adult characters (and wasn't supposed to I don't think) I felt a lot of empathy for them at times. The grandad has a power complex and Cadence's mum and aunts annoyed me with the whining about who got what when their dad died, but overall I was nicely immersed in this family setting where everybody spends the summer in each others houses, trying to pretend they get along even if that's not always the case. Without the twist it would have been a good book, but with the twist it was phenomenal. 

I don't think I can talk about it anymore without giving stuff away, but I will just say that it was the first book this year to make me cry. It absolutely broke my heart but it was so fantastic. Please read it.  

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Top Ten (Fifteen) Books of 2015

Because it's the end of the year the blog is going to be full of summaries and surveys and hopefully lots of brilliant recommendations for you all, kicking off with this week's topic for Top Ten Tuesday.

In case you're unaware, Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week has a different theme and we make bookish lists. This week is the Top Ten Best Books of 2015.

I've been doing Jamie's End of Year Survey bit by bit in my drafts folder, so I already had an idea what half of this list would be before I even looked at my spreadsheet, but this year has been so good for me reading wise that there's just a lot of choice! 

Because I couldn't break it down, I have three top fives: fiction, nonfiction and YA. In the order in which they were read:

Nonfiction Faves

The Winter of Our Disconnect by Susan Maushart
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

YA Faves

Every Day by David Levithan
Lola and the Boy Next Doorby Stephanie Perkins
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Fiction Faves

Drown by Junot Diaz
Saga Volumes 12 by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

I realise that the only one I actually talked about on the blog was It's What I Do (although straight after I post this I'm going to write about We Were Liars), which just confirms what I've been discovering as I've been making a manual archive of the last almost five years of this blog - while I talk a lot about books in general; what I want to read, what I bought, what I've been reading etc, I don't actually talk about books that much after I've read them... Hopefully that will change a little in the coming year, although I'm sure I won't go back to doing standard reviews of everything so I guess we'll have to see what that turns out to be!

Have you read any or all of these? What did you love? 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christmas Gift Guide: Brilliant Picture Books

I don't usually partake in the Christmas Gift Guide making, but as I was reading to my kids the other night it struck me that we are fairly adventurous explorers of picture books and have a lot of beautiful and brilliant ones we could recommend. Because they're picture books, I'm sticking to the less well-known titles that we love, or less well-known titles by well-known authors, and I hope that you pick up some of these for your kids/nieces and nephews/cousins/friends kids/yourselves. If you do, let me know what you/they think of them! Links go to Wordery and are not affiliate, but I hope you'll consider using them as they are an independent online bookseller. They offer free worldwide shipping and are generally great. Nobody's paying me to say this, it's just my honest opinion. I use them for pretty much everything I don't buy off eBay or publishers websites.

The Snatchabook Christmas Gift Guide Picture BooksThe Snatchabook by Helen and Thomas Dochery

The inhabitants of Burrow Down are having their bedtime stories stolen by a little snatchabook, but his motives aren't what they seem. This is a really sweet book about the importance of bedtime stories and the artwork, as you can see, is absolutely beautiful as well. We first discovered it through the library and just kept borrowing it until eventually we caved and bought our own copy. We read it at least once a week and it makes everybody smile, every time. Perfect for ages 0-5 (but good for everyone).

The Highway Rat Christmas Gift guide Picture Books
The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Probably everyone's heard of The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child and some of the other well known books by this duo, but I know that The Highway Rat has passed a lot of people by, myself included! If it wasn't for Hanna including it in the wonderful box she sent when Ben was born I wouldn't have heard of it, but it's amazing. It's The Highwayman but retold with the central villain as a rat who steals the creatures food as they travel down the road. You may find yourself randomly reciting bits of it while at work, you have been warned. Perfect for 0-5 and anyone who is familiar with The Highwayman as you will find it amazing and hilarious.

No Matter What Christmas Gift Guide Picture BooksNo Matter What by Debi Gliori

A lot of people love Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, and that's a favourite of ours too. Less well known though along similar lines is this beautiful book. Debbi Gliori's artwork is beautiful and the sentiment behind this story ("I'll always love you, no matter what") is lovely. It's a favourite bedtime story in our house. Perfect for 0-5 and kids any age who need to be reminded that they are loved.

Someone Bigger Christmas Gift Guide Picture Books

Someone Bigger by Jonathan Emmett and Adrian Reynolds

This is a wonderful book about Sam and his dad who make a kite and go out to fly it (I'm physically having to restrain myself from reciting the first few lines at this point, I know it so well). Sam wants to hold it, but his dad is adamant that 'this kite needs someone bigger', even as he (and half the town) are pulled up into the sky by the wind. Eventually Sam gets hold of the kite and proves that he was right all along. The boys love it, and even more so now that we also have a Sam - he thinks the character was named after him, it's very cute. Perfect for 0-5. Another one you'll wake up reciting, in the best way.
The Sandman Christmas Gift Guide Picture Books

The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie by William Joyce

If you've seen the movie Rise of the Guardians you'll be familiar with the character of The Sandman, but this is part of the series of books that the movie was based on. Both the story - about how The Sandman became The Sandman and began to be in charge of protecting children's dreams - and the artwork are stunningly beautiful, and it even helped Ben to sleep better because he knows that the Sandman is keeping the bad dreams away now. There are two other picture books in Joyce's Guardians of Childhood series: The Man in the Moon and Jack Frost which I'm sure are also great. We've not read them yet, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them based on this one. Perfect for anyone who enjoys a beautiful story.

Sylvester and the New Year Christmas Gift Guide Picture Books
Sylvester and the New Year by Emmeline Pidgen

I mentioned this recently in my feature on Far Far Away Books. This is a beautiful picture book retelling of a fairytale. Sylvester is kind of like Santa except that he is charged with bringing the New Year to Earth each year and taking away the old one. In this tale, the new year is a baby and the old year an old man who is then brought back to where Sylvester lives and put into the river of life, where he will become young ago and be the new year for the next year. We loved the simple, beautiful story. Perfect for 0-5 and anyone who's interested in fairytales.

The Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-cat Christmas Gift Guide Picture BooksThe Further Adventures of the Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Julia Donaldson and Charlotte Voake

A sequel to Edward Lear's great The Owl and the Pussy Cat poem, this details what happened to the owl and the pussy cat after they got married, and is particularly fun if you know (as we do) the song because you can sing the book to that tune. Julia Donaldson has of course written a song for the book but I grew up with this one. It's really fun. Perfect for 0-7

Alfie Weather Christmas Gift Guide Picture Books

Alfie Weather by Shirley Hughes

I'm sure everyone has heard of Alfie, but he is my absolute favourite and I couldn't not put him on this list. Alfie Weather is a lovely little seasonal collection. Although none of the stories are Christmas based, a few of them are wintery and beautiful and make you feel snuggly with talk of biscuit baking and expeditions to the North Pole. If you know Alfie you'll know that he's all about the simple pleasures and every time we read this collection it reminds me about what's really important in life. Also the artwork is gorgeous, of course. Perfect for 0-7, and nostalgic parents.

I Want My Hat Back Christmas Gift Guide picture books
I Want My Hat Back & This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

These may be the most hilarious two children's books I've ever read, and definitely the funniest picture books. The first is about a bear who has lost his hat and goes around asking people about it, and then eventually regains it by dubious means. The second is about a little fish who steals a hat from a big fish while he's sleeping and then tries to hide from the big fish. They will tax your ability to do voices and suspicion while reading but they are so so funny and definitely worth the effort. Everyone was giggling hysterically by the end. Perfect for everyone who loves hilarious things.

Blueberry Girl Christmas Gift Guide Picture Books
Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess

If you're looking for something beautiful and inspiring for a little girl (or little boy, but it is about a girl, as the title suggests) you really can't do better than this. It's like a little guide for life and full of hopes and dreams and wonderfulness, as is everything Neil Gaiman writes. The illustration is beautiful and I really, really highly recommend it. Perfect for anyone in need of inspiration or encouragement!

If you have favourite, beloved, beautiful picture books which aren't on this list please let me know in the comments or on twitter! I'm always on the lookout for gorgeous stories to add to our collection, and I hope that I've introduced you to some new titles with this list!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

#AMonthofFaves: Favourite New to Me Authors

A Month of Favorites

I'm sort of jumping in and out of #amonthoffaves, hosted by Tanya, Andi and Tamara. I love the idea and am really enjoying writing the odd post but for some of the topics I don't have enough to say to try to squeeze in the time to write a post about it! I am enjoying everyone else's though!

Today's prompt was too good to pass up though. Unlike seemingly everyone else I 'know' in the blogosphere, 2015 has been a pretty brilliant year for me, reading wise. Although the prompt is for five I know already that I have waaaay more than five! Also this year was my year of great YA, so lots are in that genre. Here goes!

(in no particular order)

Sarah J. Maas

I am so late to the Sarah J. Maas party, and I am judging her entirely on the Throne of Glass series (I have A Court of Thorns and Roses thanks to my wonderful OTSPSecretSister, Iris, but haven't read it yet) but oh my god. If you haven't read this series yet, what are you waiting for?? Stop whatever you're doing and just go read it. It'll take you a few days and then you can come back and thank me. I love everything about it, and it just keeps getting better. Also she makes me think I won't like something and then she makes it happen and I'm OK with it, so there's that. Thanks to Ninja Swap for making me buy these books (for someone I thought needed replacements who ended up not needing them) and to Hanna for encouraging me to read them (it makes up for Moby Dick).

Michael Christie 

So I know I won't shut up about If I Fall, If I Die but that's because I was expecting absolutely zero from it and it was so good. For some reason I have yet to put his short story collection on my wishlist, but his style is great as are his characters and point of view. Just awesome. I will read everything he writes.

Libba Bray 

Everyone else has been talking about Libba Bray for years and various of her books (Beauty Queens springs to mind)  have been on and off my wishlist for ages, but this year I finally picked up The Diviners from the library and my mind was blown. I honestly don't read creepy books ever, but I couldn't stop reading it. I did return the sequel, Lair of Dreams to the library unfinished but only because I had a lot going on at that point and the whole only being able to read it before midday so I had enough time to read less creepy stuff so I didn't have nightmares thing was getting in the way. But so good. I want to read all her other books right now.

Patrick Ness

Again, judging this on the one book. During my A Way into YA series I asked twitter which of a stack of books I should read and Sarah (among others) told me to read The Knife of Never Letting Go, which I'd owned for literally years. I sort of wasn't expecting to like it but then I absolutely adored it and I haven't read the second one yet for I don't know what reason because they have it in the library (not my library, but a library not too far away. My ex library in fact). Also he did this and now I'm fully on board with reading everything he writes. There's been so much author bad behaviour this year that it's just lovely to see someone doing something like this. 

Kirsty Logan

If anyone's reading this and wants to buy me books, please buy me Kirsty Logan's books that aren't The Gracekeepers. It was magical, mysterious and steeped in the kind of water - based fantasy that I love. I loved and adored it so much and her writing is just so incredibly beautiful that I absolutely must read all of her other books. The closest I've got to loving something as much as The Night Circus since The Night Circus. 

Eleanor Catton

I wanted to read The Luminaries back when it was first out and there was all the hype but I was put off by the hype, so I put The Rehearsal, her much shorter novel, on my wishlist and somebody got it for me (I'm sorry I don't remember who. A Ninja Swap I think?). I picked it up earlier this year expecting not a lot, but it really surprised me. Stylistically I loved it. It was a little confusing at first but a really original way to tell a story and told in such a way that I wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't throughout. It made me want to brave the doorstopper that is The Luminaries. A very clever writer.

David Levithan 

This is kind of a cheat, because I'd read Dash and Lily's Book of Dares and Will Grayson, Will Grayson prior to this year, but this year was the first time I'd read anything he'd written on his own (Every Day) and I loved it so much. His Will Grayson was my favourite and I find his writing really absorbing while also having a kind of calming quality? His characters are really reassuringly quirky if that makes sense? Like, quirkily relatable. Brilliant.

So that's me. My reading remains as random and unquantifiable as ever, but if there are any new to you authors on this list I really recommend picking up something by them!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Thoughts on The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic - Stanley

A while ago I did a feature on Cinnamon Press as part of my Make Mine an Indie series, and mentioned that one of the titles that looked intriguing to me was The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic - Stanley. A few days later I received an email from the author asking if I'd like to review the book, to which I of course said yes. Because it's the end of the year and I have no reading commitments at the moment I was able to pick it up as soon as it arrived and I think it took me about two days to read - I basically didn't put it down. I was almost late for work on Monday because I didn't want to stop reading!


In brief, The Disobedient Wife tells the intertwined stories of Harriet Simenon, expatriate wife of the rich and distant Henri Simenon and Nargis, her local nanny and maid. It is set in Tajikistan and although the lives of the two women seem initially very different, as the story unfolds you see how many similarities there are.

I was initially drawn to The Disobedient Wife primarily because I've never found a novel set in Tajikistan before and it was a country that I knew nothing about. While I was reading I was struck with a similar feeling to one I'd had while reading Emily Dugan's Finding Home: Real Stories of Migrant Britain recently; how is it possible that there are people in the world who live in situations where their entire family sleeps in one room, where their water routinely stops working and they just have none, where they have to worry about their children starving, while people like Harriet (and to a lesser degree, myself) swan about with the lights on in every room, wasting things left right and centre and being entirely oblivious? This is something that the novel addresses very well, as throughout the story Harriet comes to understand more about Nargis and her situation.

In the beginning I didn't think that I'd like Harriet; initially she seemed like a bit of a stuck up bitch, but as the story went on I started to see things in her that I liked. Ultimately my favourite thing about her was that she wanted to understand. She didn't just sit with her friends, saying mean things about the locals. She actively tried to think about how things might be for them, rather than just dismissing them all with stereotypes, and for me it was her desire to be empathetic, even if she didn't always manage it, that made me really latch on to the book. I also really identified with her struggle to get people to see her as more than just a mother and a wife. She has really lost her sense of identity after moving to Tajikistan with Henri and having two kids who he doesn't seem to be the least bit interested in. He refuses to see her as anything other than a wife and mother but she wants to go back to work and do something  useful. There's a really affecting bit where she talks about how she doesn't feel like she's a very good mother and I've absolutely been there with having those feelings. By the end of the book I felt like she and I had a lot in common, which I never would have predicted happening at the start.

I also loved Nargis as a character. I thought she was amazing - a really strong, independent, resilient woman in a culture which seems to be very much into women knowing their place and serving their men. Some fairly terrifying stuff happens to her in the book (and before the story starts) and yet she just gets up and gets on with it, and supports her three kids and figures out how to get stuff done. She was my favourite, and her story was surprising in so many ways. There was no part of the book where I knew what was going to happen next with her.

The last paragraph of the book really struck home with me and contains the message of what the story is really about I think. I don't think it's too spoilery (I've replaced the bits that might be with ellipsis), but just in case consider yourselves warned:

Whenever I feel frightened of the future...I think of her. What would Nargis not be able to do in Britain? What could she not achieve without tradition and poverty holding her back? Her trials were so much worse than anything I have had to face, yet she prevails. She inspires me forward...and gives me the determination to succeed. And so I will
It reminded me that no matter how much we may complain about this country, we are the lucky ones for so many reasons, and I'm thankful for the reminder.

If you are a person who likes books then you should read this, but particularly books about womens' stories and struggles and the things people from other cultures and countries have to deal with on a daily basis. I'm glad I hadn't posted my End of Year Survey yet, because this will be going in as one of my 2015 favourites.

You can (and should) buy The Disobedient Wife by Annika Milisic - Stanley via the publisher's website here.

Thanks again to Annika and Cinnamon Press for allowing me to review this book!

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Make Mine an Indie: Far Far Away Books

Make Mine an Indie has been on an unexpected hiatus for several weeks, but I'm back this week with a post that's a little out of the ordinary.

A while ago we read a book from the library, Sylvester and the New Year and I was so enchanted by it - the story, the illustration, the production of the book, everything - that I had to contact the publishers and thank them for it, and they were kind enough to send me some books to read with my kids and review here on the blog! So instead of my usual post, this week I will talk a little about the publisher and then review four of the seven books that they sent me. The others will be coming soon, I just wanted to be in keeping with the number of books that I usually talk about!


There isn't a huge amount online about Far Far Away Books, but I have discovered that they were founded in 2011 and are a publisher of a large number of beautiful picture books for children of various ages. They also publish a beautiful range of fairy tales, one of which will be featured in this post, and for all of which they plant a tree for every book sold. You can see the book trailer for The Three Little Pigs here.

The books are also all beautiful, colourful and printed on high quality paper (and would make brilliant Christmas presents this time of year!).

01I'll start with our favourite of the lovely books we were sent. Rumplestiltskin by Noel Grammont and Peter Bailey is a retelling of the popular fairy tale, of which I've always been a fan. In a lot of ways this retelling is very faithful to the original which I really liked as I don't like it when fairy tales are totally changed in order to cater to kids, but the ending is a little nicer and more resolved than the original tale as I remember it, which I thought worked very well. We took it on a train journey with us the day it arrived and read it about five times that day alone I believe - high praise from my three year old! My favourite thing about it though is how eye catching it is. Inside the text is often in different sizes and colours for emphasis and it makes it really fun to read. I also thought the illustration was absolutely beautiful; not at all overdone and pretty much perfect to compliment the story. I forsee it being loved for a long time to come!

The Ocean Book cover imageAlso by Noel Grammont with Nina Filipek and Emmeline Pidgen is The Ocean Counting Book, a simple and sweet little story about a giraffe who is tired of looking at trees and builds a boat to discover new things in the ocean. Again it's really colourful and charming and we had to spend a while on any page with fish on as Sam is currently obsessed with the word ('fis!' 'fis!'). It's a lovely, beautifully produced counting book with a very sweet little story.

The last two I want to talk about today are both by Chloe Elliot and Dean Russell and were also both big hits with the kids. So Frog is a great, simple little story about a frog who hops away from his mummy and all the things that he does during his busy day. As you can probably see from the cover illustrations, it's also full of colour (a recurring theme with these gorgeous books) and the rhymes are lovely. It's a much simpler story than Rumplestiltskin and suits a younger age group perfectly. Sam brings it to me a couple of times a week at the moment which is impressive considering he often won't sit through a story unless it's bedtime.

Finally Mouse and the Moon Made of Cheese tells the tale of a mouse who believes the moon is made of cheese and wants to eat it up. He goes around asking people who he thinks will be able to help him get to the moon, and despite them all telling him he's wrong and the moon is not made of cheese, he never gives up. A funny little story about not giving up on your dreams, and again gorgeously illustrated.

There are a lot of interesting looking titles coming in 2016 from Far Far Away Books and I'm so thankful to them for sending us these beautiful books to read and love! Reviews of the other three will be coming very soon, but in the meantime you can find out about them on their website.

Catch up with the rest of the Make Mine an Indie series here

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

#AMonthofFaves - My Reading Year

I'd sort of seen that #amonthoffaves was happening but hadn't really thought about joining in until I realised the blog's been silent for a fair bit and I'd like it not to be. Also I love December for looking back over the year and since this is the first year since about 2011 that I've actually tracked my reading (mostly) properly, I actually have stats to share!

The event is hosted by Andi, Tanya and Tamara and of course it was Andi's post today which made me think about my own reading year.

As you will probably know, I've been on a charity motivated book buying ban since early April of 2015, and aside from a planned (and penalty pre-paid by Rhys) book shopping trip with Katie and Laura a few weeks back and spending a couple of pounds on top of a gift card, I haven't bought any books for myself since then. Obviously I'm incredibly proud of myself, as I am of the £200 or so I've raised for children's literacy charity Beanstalk. I have really enjoyed reading from my own shelves this year, and have organised my TBR by colour recently so it's a beautiful rainbow in my room which I find extremely inspiring.

Stats - wise, here's how this year looked:

I started 119 books but only finished 87

Of what I finished, 64% of the authors were women, 36% were men. I always knew I read on the high side for women authors but I thought I was closer to a 50/50 split so that's interesting to know.

Diversity wise I entirely failed to meet my goal of 1/3 of all my reading being by non UK/US authors. I only managed 13 books totaling 15% which considering I was actively aware of this as a goal in my reading, I'm not that impressed with. I shall do better next year!

My other goal was for a quarter of my reading to be nonfiction and this target I did hit with 24 nonfiction in total, coming in at 28%.

And finally, because this is interesting to me because of my book buying ban, 54 of the books I read were from my own shelves (62% ), a further 25 were from the library (29%) and the remaining 9%  were loans from my sisters.

Favourite book of the year is a three way tie between It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario, If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, with several close runners up including Finding Home by Emily Dugan, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb and Blankets by Craig Thompson.

Big Bookish Event Scarlett Thomas, who is one of my absolute favourite authors, had a new book out and since she lives locally I got to meet her (!!) and it was amazing and incredible and I'm still not over it.

All in all it's been a very good year for reading. I actually feel good about the amount I've DNF'd or just returned to the library unfinished because I wasn't really feeling it at that exact moment. It means I've made more space for the truly fantastic stuff that I really want to read and because I didn't invest money in so many titles but got them from the library, I didn't feel bad about returning them unfinished.

Having now bored Rhys completely with stats about my reading that he absolutely doesn't care about (in the same way that I don't care about the football we've been listening to while I've been telling him), I'm now off to read other people's posts! Happy December, everyone!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Nonfiction November Mini Reviews

This month I have read so much more than I expected to. So far I've finished six books and am in the middle of five more, at least one of which I am likely to finish before the month is up! I wanted to talk about four of them here (This New Noise I've already reviewed and I'll be posting about I Am Malala tomorrow).

Image result for very good livesI wanted to briefly mention J. K Rowling's Very Good Lives, which is the book version of a talk she gave at Harvard. It's pretty much just inspiring words; she talks about not being afraid to fail and how much you can learn from things which seem unrelated to the thing that you actually want to do. I picked it up because of a recommendation from Brona of Brona's Books and I'm glad I did. It was a very quick, really pretty little book. It wasn't the most inspiring 'book of a talk' that I've read, but it's hard to beat We Should All be Feminists, and it was inspiring, easy reading.

How to Be a Heroine (Or What I've learned from reading too much) by Samantha Ellis had been on my TBR for years, so when I stumbled across it in the library I couldn't resist. I think I should preface this section by saying that I am going to relate Little Women to my own life waaaay too much and get upset and shouty so feel free to skip to the next book where I'll be nice and calm again! Theoretically, I enjoyed this book. Each chapter is about a different heroine as Ellis re-reads her favourite books from throughout her life, and she loved a lot of the heroines that I loved and she made a lot of valid points, but overall I left the book feeling a little disappointed. This was for two major reasons. The first is that I felt that every chapter was very similar. Each would start with all the things she had loved about a heroine, but as it progressed she would start to talk about how revisiting them had made her hate them or doubt them and honestly by the end of it her disillusionment with everything literary that I love kind of made me hate her the book.

Image result for how to be a heroine
The second reason I didn't love it like I thought I would is purely due to a different of opinion. Ellis is firmly in the 'Jo should have married Laurie' camp, to which I say no, no, no!! I have never and will never agree with this, they would have been the worst couple ever. Just so bad. I do agree with some of her other points, although I seriously think people in general should calm down about Jo going off to look after kids and temporarily stopping writing. It happens, it's life, it was (mostly) her choice so I never saw it as being anti feminist or a betrayal of herself and honestly it pisses me off when people go on about it. When you're 16 you plan to do a lot of things and if you fall in love, have kids and don't do what you've planned that shouldn't mean you've ruined your life (or the story). I feel strongly about this because I have done this so when people bitch about her I feel like it's a personal attack. I fully understand this to be crazy, but it's probably something you should know, dear blog readers, if we're going to remain friends.

And rant over. Aside from that, there were large parts I did enjoy and some that made me chuckle and I really did like learning a little about Iraqi Jewish culture and families, so if you don't have my insane issues surrounding Little Women you'll probably really enjoy it.

Image result for finding home emily duganAnother book I read this month which made me have all the feelings (in a totally different way to How to be a Heroine) was Finding Home by Emily Dugan, which I mentioned in my recent post about Icon Books. In it Dugan interviews various migrants living in Britain who have come from all around the world for many different reasons. Some are asylum seekers, some Easter Europeans who came here to work, Some are here because their religion or sexuality means they would be killed in their own countries, some came to study, and some came for economic reasons, but all came for a better life. Besides what the media tells us I had very little personal understanding of the migrant situation before I read this and I would really strongly recommend reading it to anyone at all who wants to understand even a little about what could prompt you to leave often very highly skiilled jobs to come and be a cleaner here. What would it mean to have your life at risk in a country you love? what could prompt you to leave your baby son behind in another country while you came to look for work? How would it feel to be forced into a sham marriage, to be in constant fear of attack and then to escape to another country and have them disbelieve your story?

There is so much diversity in this book. It is told through the individual stories of vastly different people in different situations and it is one of the most powerful, affecting, motivating books that I've read this year. Every time I think about how the government is ruining our country I will think about the people who are so much worse off than me. It makes me want to do something to help, and books that motivate are the best kind.

Image result for displacement: a travelogueThe final book I want to mention is much lighter. Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley is her second graphic travelogue, but I haven't read the first yet. This one is lovely though. It's about how she got roped into accompanying her grandparents on a cruise. Her grandmother has alzheimers and her grandfather incontinence problems. She is in her 20s and hasn't been in a situation like this before. It's a really sweet look at the relationship between Knisley and her grandparents and between youth and age, but also the way her whole family interacts with each other, and it made me think a lot about making the most of the time we have with the people we love, and also how much of the older generation's incredible history and family stories are lost if we don't take the time to listen to them and pass them on.

Apologies for the ranting going on on the blog lately, I don't know what's come over me. Probably the awfulness of Moby Dick leaking out and contaminating everything it touched!