Thoughtful Thursday – How lockdown cured my book burnout

It’s strange to think that it has nearly been a year since the UK, and most of the world, went into lockdown in some shape or form. I think we can all collectively agree that the past year has been incredibly tough, with many people’s mental health suffering as a result of it. 

At the beginning of lockdown I, like quite a few other people, was trying to be optimistic about using time being at home wisely to learn new skills or to be productive in some way that I always claimed I didn’t have time for. However, it very quickly became clear that working from home because of lockdown isn’t the same as just working from home normally. Whilst I’m usually a homebody and happy to be inside, I was finding that I wanted to spend more time out in the garden but I was at a loss of what to do out there – sunbathing isn’t my thing!

I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but after I finished my English Literature degree, I suffered from major book burnout after three years of reading around four texts a week. At the beginning of 2020 I had started a book on my commute but didn’t really keep up with it. So, in order to spend some time away from the internet and social media, I decided to pick that book back up and start reading outside. 

Before I knew it I had finished that book, and another, and another… and another. It was the closest I have ever come to reading all the books on my TBR! It was just so nice having an escape by sitting in the sun and being transported to another world for a few hours, especially as I would have otherwise been anxiously refreshing the news. To ensure that this would continue after lockdown (back in the days where we thought that it would be over in a few months), I started looking over the books that were sitting on my TBR and was ruthless in deciding what should stay on there and what should go. This included books I had already bought on my kindle. 

By taking time out from reading and pursuing other hobbies, as well as having to stay at home giving me plenty of time to overthink, I realised that my reading habits and preferences had changed and instead of forcing myself to read something because I bought it years ago wouldn’t be beneficial for me. There was something really freeing about reorganising my shelves, physical and digital, and ensuring that I was just left with books I was genuinely interested in. 

Although this is something that I had thought of doing before lockdown, I just kept putting it off and didn’t feel any reason to do it. However, with lockdown I found that not only could I not put it off for any longer but I didn’t want to either. So, whilst I didn’t become fluent in a language, or strictly stick to a workout routine or learn how to play an instrument; I did rediscover my love for reading and be cured of my book burnout. 

Monthly Wrap Up – February 2021

By popular demand on Twitter, I started reading The Priory of the Orange Tree, which means I didn’t get round to reading much else when it came to my physical TBR! However, I did continue on my goal to get through my entire NetGalley shelf (which would be going a lot better, if I stopped requesting books even before I finish the one I’m reading!).

Books read this month

This month I read a total of 7 books (3 physical and 4 ebooks)

  1. My Brother by Karin Smirnoff (ARC)
  2. The Swimmers by Marian Womack (ARC)
  3. Little Gods by Meng Jin (ARC)
  4. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon 
  5. Tender is the Flesh by Augustina Bazterrica 
  6. Dear Child by Romy Hausmann (ARC)
  7. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

Favourite books read this month

Little Gods by Meng Jin
This February release is a wonderful novel about identity and motherhood which I adored. Jin has a wonderful way of being able to craft realistic characters with a real depth, not just through the character’s perspective but through using the perspectives of other characters too. A perfect way to illustrate the layers of a single person and how easy it is to have many faces.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
This 800 page beast of a novel is an absolute delight to read and the perfect fantasy escape from the world. Shannon has created a new classic of the genre with a whole cast of very different characters and a world that has so much history and lore that it felt very, very real. Also this novel has dragons, need I say more?

Tender is the Flesh by Augstina Bazterrica
Bazterrica offers a whole new way of looking at dystopian fiction with this short, but brutal, novel. This deliciously dark and addictive read is definitely not one for the faint of heart, but if you have the stomach for a special kind of slaughterhouse then this is definitely not a novel that you want to sleep on!

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
Kawakami presents a very interesting perspective on what it is like to be a woman in modern Japan. From the extremes that some women go to in order to meet their impossibly high expectations of beauty (I had no idea bleaching nipples was a thing until I read this book) to the perception of women without a family (a husband or child). It was such a refreshing, and eye-opening, read.

How did your February shape up? Did you make a good dent in your TBR or would you rather forget February happened?

www.blackwells.co.uk

Top 5 Friday – Books Which Have Impacted Me

As World Book Day was this week, I thought for this month’s Friday feature I would look at the top five books that have impacted me in some way. A couple of these novels aren’t what I would consider to be favourites of mine, but they are all ones that have stuck with me in some way, or have been an introduction into something I love to see in books now.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

HERE IS A SMALL FACT:
YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with her foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME MORE IMPORTANT INFORMATION:
THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH.

I remember first seeing this novel in a WH Smiths Bookshop at an airport, the cover and the description both really caught my attention. At the time I didn’t have enough pocket money to buy it so I, unfortunately, had to leave it there. After coming back from my holiday I found that I couldn’t stop thinking about the novel so I was determined to find it! I’m so pleased I did as it was such a beautiful novel and unlike anything I had ever read before. As a child I did read quite a lot of fiction around WWII but this one just stood out to me. I loved all of the characters, especially Liesel and the friendship she had with Max who her family was hiding in their basement. I don’t imagine there’s anyone who hasn’t read this novel now, but if you haven’t it is well worth picking up!


Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers

Claire and her mother are running out of time, but they don’t know it. Not yet. Claire is wrapped up with the difficulties of her bourgeoning adulthood—boys, school, friends, identity; Claire’s mother, a single mom, is rushed off her feet both at work and at home. They rarely find themselves in the same room at the same time, and it often seems that the only thing they can count on are notes to each other on the refrigerator door. When home is threatened by a crisis, their relationship experiences a momentous change. Forced to reevaluate the delicate balance between their personal lives and their bond as mother and daughter, Claire and her mother find new love and devotion for one another deeper than anything they had ever imagined.

This is either the first book, or one of the first books, that I ever read which made me realise that novels didn’t have to be written in continuous prose in order to be a good book or tell a great story. Whilst it’s been years since I read this novel, I remember enjoying the way the story was told – through a series of notes that a mother and her teenage daughter would leave each other as they rarely saw each other. Whether the novel still stands up now the same as it did when I first read it, I’m not entirely sure, but the fact that I did read this novel so long ago and I can still remember how it was written and how it ended shows that it did make a lasting impression on me. Even now, I seek out novels that subvert the norm in terms of structure.


Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the remarkable story of a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. Here Haruki Murakami—one of the most revered voices in literature today—gives us a story of love, friend­ship, and heartbreak for the ages.

This novel was my first exposure to Japanese fiction, I had no idea when I picked this novel up that it would spark an interest in the genre which has now become one of my favourites. Even before I understood the nuances of translated fiction and how different Japanese novels are from Western ones, I could tell there was something unique about the way it was written. That this storytelling and characters was very different to what I was used to. This is also a fabulous novel if you have never read a Murakami before!


1984 by George Orwell

Winston Smith works for the Ministry of truth in London, chief city of Airstrip One. Big Brother stares out from every poster, the Thought Police uncover every act of betrayal. When Winston finds love with Julia, he discovers that life does not have to be dull and deadening, and awakens to new possibilities. Despite the police helicopters that hover and circle overhead, Winston and Julia begin to question the Party; they are drawn towards conspiracy. Yet Big Brother will not tolerate dissent – even in the mind. For those with original thoughts they invented Room 101 . . .

When I was in Sixth Form I was really into dystopian fiction, however I had never read 1984 even though it was said to be one of the greats of the genre. So, I knew that I needed to pick it up and see what all the fuss was about. I adored this novel and quickly understood why so many people still talk about it today and why there are so many references to the novel in everyday life. The future that Orwell imagined was a chilling one, that coupled with the complicated and, not always likeable, characters, really packed a punch. So much so that it was this novel that inspired my dissertation looking into dystopian fiction and how I branched out of YA dystopian novels to classic ones and ‘adult’ ones.


Pet Sematary by Stephen King

When the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son—and now an idyllic home. As a family, they’ve got it all…right down to the friendly cat.

But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth—more terrifying than death itself…and hideously more powerful.

A few years ago I went through a phase of reading a lot of Stephen King novels, however out of the ones I read there was only one that managed to actually scare me and that was Pet Semetary. I’m not sure what exactly it was about this novel that I found so creepy compared to his others that I had read too. There was just something about the way King described the characters after they had been buried in the Pet Semetary, that was incredibly unsettling. What probably didn’t help was the fact that I was reading this on holiday and where we was staying was close to a cemetery. But the point still stands!

What books have you read that have impacted or influenced you in some way? Let me know in the comments!

www.blackwells.co.uk

Thoughtful Thursday – The Importance of LGBTQI+ Own Voices novels

When I was compiling my top five for this month I noticed that those of the books on my list weren’t actually written by LGBTQI+ authors. This is especially strange to me as barely any of my texts set on my gender and sexuality module at university were either. This got me thinking, although I enjoyed the novels I listed, how accurate are they in depicting LGBTQI+ characters? Yes some on that list are fantasy but the point still stands.

Before we dive into this, I just want to shout out Charlotte over at Sapphistication who was a wonderful help checking this over and added brilliant insight! I’m so grateful for you taking the time to help me with this! 

As someone who will not experience the same societal hardships of this community, I think it’s important to listen to the stories of those who do experience this. By reading these stories, those outside this community are able to see firsthand the difficulties that are faced both on an individual level (eg. someone struggling to figure their identity out) and on a wider scale (eg. how they are restricted in society). Not only does reading these accounts allow you to understand issues that you have not had to consider before (unless you’re part of another group or community that is ostracised due to your identity) but, in doing so this also highlights what your own privilege has been able to shield you from. Additionally, if all queer narratives are from non-queer people, the view we have of these issues is incorrect and the more this is the case the more that becomes entrenched in our views as a society.

However, it’s important to remember that it’s not all about the negatives. Reading LGBTQI+ own voices really cement the fact that these characters (well, this community as a whole) still have the same lives and loves that we have seen depicted for centuries in heterosexual fiction (and, of course, in the word as a whole). This community isn’t just a community but individuals who deserve to be recognised as such. Not one person has the exact same experiences in life as someone else, and the same is true for the LGBTQI+ community and their identities. Similarly, this is also really important for those struggling to figure out their identity and even for the people who have. By seeing LGBTQI+ characters in the same roles that have always been taken by straight characters, not only is this reassuring that happy endings are genuinely still possible for them, despite what has been depicted in the past, and it is also empowering. Whilst some people do, in fact, sit and consider the meaning of life and identity in a brooding fashion, it doesn’t happen all the time or for very long. So why should so much of LGBTQI+ literature be depicted as such? Instead of only focusing on the trauma of discovering your identity, it’s important that readers see a celebration of it too, which is much more genuine and authentic from an own voices novel. 

Whilst these points are extremely valid and important, they don’t quite cover another major important aspect of reading these novels. The more LGBTQI+ novels we read by LGBTQI+ authors, this sends a message to the publishing industry that we want more of these stories in the future. Yes, the publishing industry has come a long way since I first started blogging in 2010 but it does still have a way to go when it comes to ‘own voices’ novels. Therefore not only is it important to read these novels to support the authors, and reassure them that their stories are needed, but it will encourage others to write and share their own experiences (whether it be in a Young Adult novel or Fantasy etc). The more these novels are published the more balanced the currently oversaturated industry will become, which will not only make the ‘veterans’ of the LGBTQI+ community proud but, it will also shape younger readers into more aware and compassionate people. Something that many people, unfortunately, don’t learn early enough.

It’s impossible to detail all the ways the LGBTQI+ novels are important, especially for someone outside this community. However, there is one last important point I’d like to make: to all my LGBTQI+ followers, please remember that you’re not alone; that you’re loved and that you are enough.

Top 5 Friday – Most Anticipated Reads of 2021 (Part One)

There are so many amazing books coming out in 2021, so I thought that I would start with five of my anticipated reads of the year that will be coming out in the Spring, I’m going to split this list into parts and post them throughout the year. These parts are grouped by release date so you know what is coming soon and won’t have to wait too long!

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Release Date: 2 March 2021

“Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.”

When I discovered earlier last year that Kazuo Ishiguro was releasing a new novel I was thrilled – I was less thrilled to see March 2021 as its release date but the wait is finally nearly over! I adored Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so much to that it was one of the texts I analysed in my dissertation. The fact that the novel is set around AI (Artificial Intelligence), which fascinates me, has me even more eager to get my hands on it!


Common Ground by Naomi Ishiguro

Publisher: Tinder Press
Release Date: 25 March 2021

It’s a lonely life for Stan, at a new school that feels more ordeal than fresh start, and at home where he and his mother struggle to break the silence after his father’s death. When he encounters fearless, clever Charlie on the local common, all of that begins to change. Charlie’s curiosity is infectious, and it is Charlie who teaches Stan, for the first time, to stand on his own two feet. But will their unit of two be strong enough to endure in a world that offers these boys such different prospects?

Naomi Ishiguro actually has two books out this year that I will be picking up, both of which I am looking forward to (Escape Routes came out in hardback early 2020 but the paperback is released on 21 January 2021 which is what I’ve been waiting for!). I decided to highlight this one in particular as, not only is it being published for the first time this year but, I am a huge sucker for stories that focus on friendships, especially the hardships over the years. I’ve been lucky enough to receive a copy of this novel from NetGalley and I can’t wait to get stuck into it.


First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Release Date: 6 April 2021

The eight masterly stories in this new collection are all told in the first person by a classic Murakami narrator. From nostalgic memories of youth, meditations on music, and an ardent love of baseball to dreamlike scenarios and invented jazz albums, together these stories challenge the boundaries between our minds and the exterior world. Occasionally, a narrator who may or may not be Murakami himself is present. Is it memoir or fiction? The reader decides.

One of my favourite authors is Haruki Murakami and I’m slowly working my way through his works. When I was checking out which books I had left to read I discovered that he has a new short story collection coming out this year. So, naturally, this has to make it onto this list. I especially love mysterious form so when it is unclear whether some of the narrators of these stories are Murakami himself – it just makes it even more exciting!


Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura

Publisher: Transworld Publishers
Release Date: 22 April 2021

Seven students are avoiding going to school, hiding in their darkened bedrooms, unable to face their family and friends, until the moment they discover a portal into another world that offers temporary escape from their stressful lives. Passing through a glowing mirror, they gather in a magnificent castle which becomes their playground and refuge during school hours. The students are tasked with locating a key, hidden somewhere in the castle, that will allow whoever finds it to be granted one wish. At this moment, the castle will vanish, along with all memories they may have of their adventure. If they fail to leave the castle by 5 pm every afternoon, they will be eaten by the keeper of the castle, an easily provoked and shrill creature named the Wolf Queen.

This novel sounds like the perfect combination of fairytale and mystery all set (sort of) in my favourite city, Tokyo. I’m drawn in just by the description alone, it feels like it will be a magical read but not just because of its fantasy setting. I can’t wait to meet these characters and hear their stories.


Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Publisher: Wildfire
Release Date: 29 April 2021

As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.

As many of you may have noticed, last year I was on a huge Greek mythology book kick – especially when it came to the women in Greek mythology. I was already somewhat familiar with the character of Ariadne due to Madeline Miller’s Circe, but I wanted to learn more about her – so when I found out about this novel on Twitter I immediately added it to my Waterstones’ wish list. Since then I have been lucky enough to be approved a copy of the novel on NetGalley – although the cover alone is worth getting a physical copy of this book too!

These are just a handful of titles I’m excited about to start the year off with! What releases are you excited about this year? Which books out of my five are you most interested in checking out?

www.blackwells.co.uk

Thoughtful Thursday – Reflecting on 2020

I can’t believe that it is the end of 2020, if I was reviewing this year the way I would a novel it would simply state that it did not live up to expectations and the pacing was way off at times – the beginning dragged and the end was rushed. That being said, I feel that I have been able to make the best of a, globally, terrible year.

In fact, if it wasn’t for lockdown then I may still be suffering from severe book burnout – instead I have read the most books that I have ever read in a single year. With this renewed enthusiasm for books, and reading, I found myself wanting to talk about them and start blogging again. As I had been away from the book community for as long as I was – I fully expected to spend the first six months to a year just shouting into the internet void. Instead, I was welcomed into the community in a way that I never was before and felt a part of it straight away instead of as an outsider looking in. So, thank you for that and for all the support you have given me.

It feels odd to be doing a year wrap up when I’ve barely been blogging five months or so. However, I think I have achieved a lot in those five months! 

  • I have a total following across all my platforms that exceeds (by a whole lot) the total that I had amassed after five years of blogging previously. 
  • I’ve also taken part in blog tours for the first time and love it!
  • I have created my own blog branding and even bought a domain.
  • So far I have been able to stick to a consistent blog schedule.
  • I have begun to form relationships with publishers and be sent arcs unexpectedly.
  • I am an affiliate of Blackwell’s and Bookshop.org UK. 
  • Most importantly, I have made so many friends in the community and I look forward to making many more in the future.

Outside of blogging the biggest, and most unexpected, aspect of this year was getting a fluffy addition to the family! It still feels very surreal to finally have a cat after wanting one for nearly two decades – even though I’ve only had Yuki for a couple of months I genuinely can’t imagine life without him – or what it feels to sleep through the night… or what it feels like to take photos of something other than him…

This is a fairly short wrap up as, like I said, I have not been back blogging for very long and I’m still very much still finding my feet. I hope to create more new content next year and have a fully fleshed out end of year review for 2021! I’ve already put together some goals for 2021 which I’m excited to share with you all in the New Year!

If you missed my top 5 books of the year, go and check it out – you may even find a new favourite yourself! 

Regardless of what 2020 brought for you this year, I hope that 2021 is everything you need and want it to be.