Nifty Stats Doodad

I was messing about with the stats toggle on WordPress the other day, something I’ve never really thought about looking at before.  There’s a nifty doodad on there that shows you what search terms people put into Google to find your blog (and yes, I realise that using the words “nifty doodad” makes me sound eighty years old but I don’t know what it’s called, be kind to me).

Well, this was my result:

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Poor John Green, we do bully him.  Perhaps I should send a gift basket to make it up to him.  On the other hand, I clearly need to rip into bestselling authors more often.  Watch your back, Dan Brown?

As for the poor soul asking if they can make a living quicker as a mystery writer or a fantasy writer: bless your heart for believing you can make a living off either.  Also, when reality hits, you’re welcome down here in the gutter with the rest of us starving artists. :p

Bizarre Things Abandoned in the Library

Even excluding the antics of the Phantom Fish Flinger (who, I’m sorry to say, continues to mysteriously terrorise our library), we get a lot of odd things left behind in the library service.  Detritus like glasses cases and the odd iPhone charger are pretty run-of-the-mill, but many weirder things have been abandoned in the various libraries where I work.  Here’s a list of the truest oddballs.

  • An empty bottle of pinot grigio
  • A pair of black unisex corduroy trousers, 38″ waist
  • half empty bottle of rosé
  • An incredibly detailed filigree silver bookmark
  • Jelly babies, assorted and scattered through the children’s section
  • An empty bottle of whisky (you may be starting to see a pattern emerging here)
  • A butter knife
  • A Mars bar (not unusual in and of itself, but they were attempting to use it as a bookmark at the time)
  • A mostly empty bottle of straight vodka (I’m amazed we didn’t find a dead body next to it)
  • So many umbrellas
  • One left shoe

I’m pretty scatterbrained myself, and known for putting stuff down and forgetting where the heck it was.  But even I’ve never managed to lose my own trousers, or a shoe, or overwhelming evidence of severe alcoholism.

Let me know if you get anything as weird (or weirder!) than this.  Or, even better, if you’ve managed to abandon a pair of trousers in a public place.

Book to the Future

A while ago in the library, I noticed a display covered in these tiny blue booklets.  Since I move around a few libraries every week, this was the first I’d seen of the display and had no idea what it was.

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It turns out there’s a super neat event going on, where you pick up one of these passports (for free!), and are then challenged to read ten books.  Remember when your mum dragged to the library at the beginning of the summer holidays so she could sign you up for the Summer Reading Challenge?  This is like that, except now you’re an adult and you have to drag yourself!

Apparently this is a thing that happens every year, which makes me feel all the more guilty for not knowing about it.  This year’s theme is the fantastically punny Book to the Future: for the challenge, you’re asked to read a book set or written in each decade from the 1920s up to the present, and one about the future.  It’s like your local library is a Dolorean and your library card is the throttle that takes you to 88 miles per hour!

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(I never really watched Back to the Future as a child, so when I see pictures of Doc and Marty my brain mostly interprets it as real-life Rick and Morty.  “W-we gotta — burp — read ten books, Morty!  T-ten whole books!”)

I’m not sure how many libraries are taking part in Book to the Future, and I have a depressing inkling it’s only really libraries in the south of England.  But there are plenty of details on the Reading Passport website, so do check it out even if you’re not from here.  The passport is nice, but you don’t necessarily need it to take up the challenge and support your local library.  (Please guys, we get so lonely.)

Is anyone else doing this?  Am I a dummy for only finding out about this now?  Why am I asking you all these questions?  Comment and let me know!

‘A Court of Mist and Fury’ Blew Me Away

I suppose you could call this a review or a recommend, but really it’s going to be a mad, over-excitable rant, because I just finished A Court of Mist and Fury and now I’m a gibbering wreck.

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Quick warning: there will be  SPOILERS here, and some discussion of adult topics. Beware!

I liked Sarah J. Maas’s first book in this series, A Court of Thorns and Roses,but I wasn’t 100% sold. Feyre wasn’t the best protagnist, and honestly I found the love interest, Tamlin, pretty boring. The romance came across as lacklustre, especially since the pair of them kept unnecessarily hiding secrets from one another. Cue dramatic misunderstandings and eyerolls all around.

But in the sequel? Feyre straight up ditches him.

Yep. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a teen/YA book before. Their relationship becomes unhealthy, and she leaves (of course it’s all much more magical and dramatic than that, but still). Dear Sarah J. Maas: thank you for being the first writer I’ve known to admit first loves aren’t necessarily the best ones. You smashed apart the first love cliche, and I adore you for it.

On a darker note, it’s revealed in this book that Rhysand, the new hero replacing Tamlin, was raped by the previous book’s villain. I’ve read so few books that admit a man even can be raped, much less raped by a woman. And all in a fantasy book. It’s handled brilliantly, too, neither tip-toeing around the subject nor slamming it your face for shock value. I was stunned at how well this was done.

On top of the romance arc being ditched and replaced with a much slower and ultimately much more believable one, Feyre as a character grows massively over the course of this book. We see her suffer and slowly claw her way out of depression, becoming much stronger and more fleshed out. By the end of A Court of Mist and Fury, I loved (the previously lukewarm) Feyre. And more than that, I loved the host of new supporting characters. Those are tough to get right, so hats off to you, Sarah.

And finally, the plot. Holy wow, I am not exaggerating when I say the plot of A Court of Mist and Fury blows A Court of Thorns and Roses out of the water. It never feels contrived, or like it’s trying too hard to one-up its predecessor, but it rocks along at just the right pace, balancing action with character development perfectly. More than once, I looked up from this book to realise an hour had passed without my notice.

All in all, even if you just sort of liked A Court of Thorns and Roses, please read the sequel.  It’s so much better and definitely worth giving Sarah J. Maas that second chance.  It’s killing me that I have to wait seven months for the third book in the series, and we readers have to suffer together.

Books I Expected to Be Rubbish, But Were Actually Incredible

Okay, let’s have some positivity to counter that grumpy post I made before.  Time to talk about some books I expected to be awful, but which surprised me when they turned out to be flipping amazing.

Onward, to glory!


1: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Expectations: Great, a book about racism.

Reality: I was dragging my heels when it came to To Kill a Mockingbird.  The little I’d heard about it sounded preachy and miserable, and the only reason I picked it up at all was because Go Set a Watchman was expected to come out soon.  With a grumpy sigh, I rolled my eyes and started page one.  And didn’t stop.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a beautiful, multifaceted story about a young girl growing up in Southern America, and learning how to face inequalities of all kinds.  Yes, racism is a part of it, but the story doesn’t thump you over the head with its message.  It’s a sweet story about lovable characters, written so perfectly you can hear Scout’s accent in every line of the text.


2: Dracula by Bram Stoker

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Expectations: Oh my god this book is so slow.

Reality: When I first tried to read Dracula, I was bored.  I knew next to nothing about the actual story, and gave up before I even finished reading Jonathan’s journal.  Yep, the very first section of the book.  Facepalm.

But when I picked it up a few years later, I was horrified at my younger self’s lack of taste.  All right, it’s not an action-packed Buffy the Vampire Slayer kind of story (at least, not in the first half), but it’s a tense, eerie gothic story that kept me engaged all the way through.  Definitely worth finishing!


3: World War Z by Max Brooks

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Expectations: Oh goodie, another dumb zombie flick.

Reality: I know I bang on about this one a lot but seriously guys.  Guys, seriously.  Please read World War Z.  Every zombie story I encountered before this books (including the flipping movie for this books) followed a formula I found boring the first time.  But this?  This is something else.

A zombie story written like a history book, Max Brooks completely broke my brain reading this.  For the first time, zombies were scary.  The fall of humanity was portrayed in such a way as to be completely believable, with everything from military involvement to political scuffles taken into consideration.  It’s creepy, gory, and intelligent as hell.  10/10 Max Brooks, massive props to you for making me like zombies.


4: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

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Expectations: Ugh, this is going to be hard going.

Reality: I never used to read science fiction.  I found it strangely hard to visualise, considering I come from a background of reading 99% fantasy.  And when Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? showed up on my reading list for uni, I may have panicked a little.  Expecting to struggle all the way through, I decided to read it first, and get it out of the way.

And I loved it.  Philip K. Dick messes with your mind in the best possible way, using a story about near-apocalyptic Earth, extinct animals and psychopathic androids to make you question what it even means to be human.  Could you pass a voigt-kamf test?  Man, I after I finished this book, I didn’t even know anymore.


5: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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Expectations: Wuthering Heights, here we go again.

Reality: After reading Emily Brontë’s master work, I went into Jane Eyre highly sceptical.  Sure, this wasn’t the same sister, but come on.  They were bound to be as miserable and awful as each other, right?

Wrong.  Unlike Wuthering HeightsJane Eyre is a genuinely beautiful gothic love story.  Jane is a wonderful character (perhaps even a little too perfect), and you desperately want her to succeed and have a happy ending.  On top of that, the writing itself is beautiful–but very comfortable to read.


6: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

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Expectations: I never like anything popular, so it’s bound to be rubbish.

Reality: Oh my god, childhood me. You were wrong. So very, painfully wrong. In fairness, popular authors of the time included Jacquline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo, both of whom failed to enegage me. Even if Harry  Potter was fantasy, its sheer popularity made me suspicious. I never liked popular stuff.

But of course, Harry Potter was actually incredible. I love those books, and they’ve stuck with me into adulthood. They’re a comfort and an inspiration, and I utterly adore them. I suppose I’m with the popular crowd after all.

 


 

So there we go, some positivity from me!  Have you ever picked up a book you expected to be awful that surprised you with their brilliance?  Are you shocked and appalled by my terrible taste?  Let me know!

New Writing Extract

Honestly, I promise that post about Books I Thought Would Be Awful But Were Actually Great is coming soon!  But first–

I’ve changed my Writing Extract page, because I am a terrible, fickle creature.  Well, no.  Actually, the extract I originally put up there (a chapter from Erebus, a book I’ve been working on for over a decade and which has seen so many drafts it’s basically unrecognisable at this point) is not the best example of my writing.  It’s out of date, and smelly, and boring, and wanted it gone.

So, instead, I’ve put up a fairy tale I wrote in my first year at university, and took the time to polish up earlier this year: The Other Swan Queen.  It was featured in Vortex, Winchester University’s competitive student writing anthology, which I hope is a mark that it’s pretty good.  Right?  Right.  Definitely.  I’m the best.

So, if you like Swan Lake, or you like modern interventions fairy tales, or if you just want to know what my writing is like when I’m not ranting on my blog, please do click that shiny tab up there and check it out!

Good Luck, Brave NaNoWriMo Writers!

NaNoWriMo — short for National Novel Writing Month — is one hell of a challenge.  The premise is simple, and utterly insane: attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in just one month.

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I’ve completed NaNoWriMo a couple of times (and also failed once or twice), and each attempt felt like hurtling down a hill on three-wheeled skateboard, careening into subplots, characters, and plot twists, screaming all the way to the bottom.  The challenge is tough.  The pursuit of 1,667 words a day drags you away from other unnecessary things, like homework, or a social life, or a functioning sleep schedule.  But it’s all worth it when you reach that 50,000 mark on 30th November (or earlier, if you’re literally a wizard), in a caffeine-addled haze, and then you celebrate by collapsing on the sofa and sleeping until Christmas.

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I’m saddened to say that I won’t have time to do NaNoWriMo this year.  On the other hand, I feel kind of like I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo all year, as editing my steampunk book swallows up more and more of my life, to the point where I’ve developed a twitch when I hear words like ‘cogs’ and ‘goggles’.

To any brave writers venturing onto your first (or second, or fifth) NaNoWriMo this year: best of luck, and I’m rooting for you!

If you’re interested in signing up for NaNoWriMo, it’s completely free, and the website is just here.