Saturday, February 06, 2016

Local Library Love: Beckenham Library

Today is National Libraries Day and in celebration I am beginning a new occasional feature:

This feature will celebrate my favourite local libraries, and if there is a library close to your heart that you'd like to write about, let me know - I'd love to have some guest blogs on this topic.

Today I am going to be sharing my favourite library of all with you, the very first library I ever visited, Beckenham Library.

That's how the entrance looks now that they have self-issue/return machines, but when I was a kid there used to be two desks behind that wooden window-frame, one for returns, and one for taking out books. I didn't mind queuing up to take out books - after all, I had plenty to read while I was waiting! I also remember that time there was a Hot Guy working at the library, and I stood in the queue anxiously wondering if he'd judge me on my book choices...

The first space you enter is the generously-sized children's section. I loved rummaging through the boxes of picture books, finding books for my homework (and for fun) on the non-fiction shelves, and, later, picking up Enid Blyton and Jacqueline Wilson novels I didn't have at home. If it wasn't for this library, I would not have been able to read every single Goosebumps book! I was also obsessed with one particular book about jewellery from all around the world - I was always really interested in different cultures. I got it out over and over again for what must have been at least three years. A few years ago I found it in the library sale and bought it for the sentimental value!

The children's section was full of kids, which is great for the library and for the children of Beckenham, but it meant I couldn't take any photos.

However, if you turn left as you go in, you'll find a corner that is my little slice of heaven, the teen section. I may be getting perilously close to 30 but this is still, in my opinion, the best part of the library. Nobody was browsing here so I took plenty of photos.

Here is a photo which shows off the wall displays:

I discovered so many of my favourite YA books here. When I was doing my MA and trying to read as much teen fiction as humanly possible, I came in one day and found Simmone Howell's Notes from the Teenage Underground by chance. I'd never heard of it before. I was able to read and fall in love with her second novel, Everything Beautiful, as well, thanks to the library. I also found Notes from the Teenage Underground in the library sale, a few years later, and bought it, though I was so disappointed it would no longer be on the library shelves!

I've also borrowed books by Malorie BlackmanSarra Manning, Robin McKinley, Kate CannGabrielle ZevinCecil CastellucciCarolyn MacklerJulia BellSusie DayTanuja Desai HidierSophie McKenzieMitali PerkinsE. LockhartKirsten MillerT. S. Easton, and Marcus Sedgwick, as well as quite a few Buffy tie-in novels.

I remember how excited I was when I got a teenage library card and my borrowing limit went from six to eight. I used to go to the library on a Saturday morning, and borrow eight books. As teen books back then were often really short, I'd have read six of them by Sunday evening, and would then have to make the other two books last for the rest of the three weeks before I'd go back to the library! I used to reread the best bits over and over.

Graphic novels and revision guides! I wasn't a big graphic novel reader when I was a teenager - I was averse to illustrations in books, preferring to imagine everything in my own head - but there was usually another person going through this box on a Saturday morning!

That chair used to be where the graphic novels and revision guides are and they used to be on the end of where the quick reads are now. I didn't spend much time sitting in it though - the seats in the adult section are more comfortable...

though not much better, at least there's some padding! There are proper tables and chairs in the centre of the main library and also some desks in the reference section, but obviously they were being used, so I couldn't take any photos.

Thanks to the general fiction section I got to read books by Angela Carter, Ali Smith, Stella Gibbons, and many more whose names don't spring to mind right now. I used to be able to see a list of every book I'd ever borrowed by logging into the library catalogue but they changed the software and the history has gone, and I've misplaced the handwritten lists I kept before joining Goodreads.

Another section I love - the craft books! I am guilty of renewing some of these books for years!

I always like to check out the displays in the library. Bromley Libraries have their own list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, a selection from this list can be seen above. I also find it nearly impossible to resist checking out the new books displays! I have given into temptation looking at these shelves so many times - and so has someone else, recently, judging from the gap on the bottom row below!

There are so many other parts of the library that I love - the sci-fi and fantasy section, which helped me, as a teenager, work my way through most of Anne McCaffrey's back catalogue, the horror section, where I tried various different vampire series, the music section, where I found sheet music to borrow, and most recently, the cookbooks.

By the reference section is Literature, where I found writing how-to books aged 14 and realised that writing could be an actual career. Until then, I just kind of assumed I'd write a book someday as a matter of course but would have to do something else as my real job. I haven't published any novels yet and I do have a day job, but I still have that aspiration I first discovered at Beckenham Library, and two first drafts!

I can't overstate how much this library means to me. I would never have read as widely as I have if it wasn't for this place and its wooden shelves filled with worlds and possibilities. My mum signed me up for a library card when I was two, and I had taught myself to read by the time I was four. I don't come from a wealthy background and could never have bought all the books I wanted to read, so the library was an essential part of my life. It makes me really sad to think that communities across the country are losing their libraries.

Is there a library with a special place in your heart? Let me know in the comments.

Many thanks to the London Borough of Bromley for granting me permission to take these photographs, and to the lovely library staff that have helped me over the years.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Reading Challenges 2015 Wrap Up

I decided not to do any reading challenges in 2014. For the full story, see this post.

However, in 2014, a lot changed in my life and I started reading more frequently, so I decided to sign up for some reading challenges yet again! I decided to stick to more relaxed challenges only. I went through the Novel Challenges list and discounted any challenges with rules that were too strict. I skipped challenges that required me to stick to one goal as I wanted to be able to challenge myself more if I was doing well.

I hoped to stick to the spirit of 2014 - reading for fun - and to try to resist the temptation to create a spreadsheet! "Let's see how long THAT lasts..." I said, and I did resist for the entire year! It's okay, I made a lot of spreadsheets for work. I still love spreadsheets.

So, how did I do?

British Books Challenge

DONE - I beat the goal of reading 12 books by British authors in 2015!

I last attempted the British Books Challenge in 2011 and I managed 7 books out of the 12 I originally planned to read. As I found it so hard I avoided it in subsequent years, but for 2015 it was being run by the wonderful Michelle at Fluttering Butterflies who is a) lovely and b) persistent, so I found it impossible to resist!

I also vlogged the British Books Challenge, which I think helped a lot as it encouraged me to read enough books to talk about in each vlog!

British Books I Read In 2015:

1. Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit
2. Trouble, by Non Pratt
3. The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell
4. Beware The Dwarfs, by Terri Paddock
5. Gypsy Girl, by Kathryn James
6. Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey
7. Remix, by Non Pratt
8. The Sin Eater's Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury
9. Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett
10. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
11. The Lost and the Found, by Cat Clarke
12. The Year of the Rat, by Clare Furniss
13. Crow Mountain, by Lucy Inglis
14. Have a Little Faith, by Candy Harper
15. Keep the Faith, by Candy Harper
16. Lorali, by Laura Dockrill
17. Counting Stars, by Keris Stainton
18. Killing the Dead, by Marcus Sedgwick
19. Return to the Secret Garden, by Holly Webb
20. The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell
21. Witch Wars, by Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
22. Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge
23. The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas
24. Lobsters, by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Dive into Diversity Reading Challenge

Dive Into Diversity Reading Challenge

As this has no specific goal I'm not sure how I did..! However, although I read a few novels with LGBT themes, I didn't read many by non-white authors. I think I need to make a serious effort with this next year.

Fairytale Retelling Reading Challenge

The Daily Prophecy
I don't think I managed to read a single Fairytale Retelling. Eep.

2015 Classics Challenge

I got talked into this one on Twitter, and I'd already read one book that qualified at the time and had another lined up! But then I kind of stopped...

1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank L. Baum
2. Five Children and It, by E Nesbit
3. Forever, by Judy Blume


DONE - though I only read two of the previously-unread Artemis Fowl books in February, it took me until July to finish the series!

The TBR Double Dog Dare

DONE - I  only read books I already owned until April 1st with the following exceptions:
  • books for my book club
  • books I get sent for review that I REALLY want
  • books for #FinishItFeb
How did you do with your reading challenges last year?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Ten Books Read in 2015

What a year! I read 61 books this year, which is the most I've read in one year since 2009. I can hardly believe I managed to read so many books, what with taking on extra work and moving into my flat, but somehow I did and I am really pleased with myself.

I didn't do terribly well with most of my reading challenges but I finally, after years of trying, completed the British Books Challenge! I'll be posting again in the next few days about all the challenges I want to have a go at in 2016.

In the list below, books marked with an * were sent by the publisher for my consideration, this did not alter my opinion of any of these books.

Now, without any further ado...

My Top Ten Books Read in 2015 (in the order I read them)

1. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception, by Eoin Colfer

This year I finally finished the Artemis Fowl series and, first book aside (and not qualifying, as it was a reread), this one is my favourite. Opal Koboi is a wonderful villain and this book is a rollercoaster of magical and technological delight. You can see me talk about all the Artemis Fowl books in the video above.

2. Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

View on Instagram
I'm going to describe how good this book is via a quote from my sister, who almost never reads novels: "I think it's one of the best fictional books I've read. Made me teary at the end".

3. Remix, by Non Pratt*

View on Instagram
Friendship ups and downs at a music festival. I'm really pleased with how my review of this one came out, so rather than repeat myself, I'll tell you to go read it here.

4. I'll Give You The Sun, by Jandy Nelson*

View on Instagram
I also read (and loved) The Sky is Everywhere this year but I think I'll Give You The Sun had more impact on me - I keep mulling over parts of it in my head. It's about twins who were once very close and how devastating events changed their relationship and the way they see the world.

5. Have a Little Faith, by Candy Harper (and the sequel, Keep the Faith)

This is so good! Funny, easy to read, addictive - as soon as I'd finished the first I had to grab the second, and I can't wait to read the third book, Leap of Faith, which actually comes out today! You can watch me talk about why I think Faith is the perfect comedy heroine in the video above.

6. Wolf by Wolf, by Ryan Graudin

I read this book for my book club and also received a copy in my first Illumicrate box (watch the unboxing video above). It's a gripping blend of alternate history, fantasy and sci-fi, featuring a shapeshifting girl on a mission to kill Hitler.

7. Lair of Dreams, by Libba Bray*

View on Instagram
This is the sequel to The Diviners, which featured on last year's list. I loved returning to the glittering yet horrific world of this series, and the focus on different characters in this book - it made it more interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing what other intriguing - and gifted - individuals we get to meet in the next book.

8. Counting Stars, by Keris Stainton*

This is what I would categorise as New Adult - a story about a group of young people living in their first houseshare - and it's fabulous. Definitely my favourite of Keris' books. I spoke about Counting Stars and Lair of Dreams in my September Wrap-Up/British Books Challenge Vlog, above. Also, it's got most of my name in it.

9. Cookoo Song, by Frances Hardinge*

View on Instagram
This was just gorgeous. It's a beautifully-written, emotionally-involving, glorious, frightening, and marvellous adventure. I am definitely in love with changeling stories now and must find more. When I'm not devouring Frances Hardinge's other books, that is. Seriously, believe the hype, Frances Hardinge is as good as everyone says she is.

10. Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson

View on Instagram
I have a full-length review coming (I've written most of it), but to summarise, Suite Scarlett was a delight. Funny and charming, it follows the trouble Scarlett gets into when the newest guest in her parents' struggling hotel takes it upon herself to meddle in her life. I am really looking forward to reading the sequel!

That was HARD to write! I'm not sure it really is my definitive top ten - but it's as close as I can manage, having read so many great books this year. I hope you enjoyed reading it! Are any of these books on your list? Let me know!

Monday, December 07, 2015

Book Review: The Sin-Eater's Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury

I found this copy of The Sin-Eater's Daughter in one of the Little Free Libraries
of Walthamstow. I left it there, as I already had a copy, but I wanted to use this
photo as it's a lovely cover and my proof doesn't have the big central image.
Twylla used to be the Sin-Eater's daughter, trained by her mother to take over the role when she died, until she was chosen by the gods for a different path, and left that life behind. Now she is Daunen Embodied, the daughter of the gods, betrothed to the prince, living amongst the splendour of the royal court - and executing their enemies. For Twylla's skin is poisonous, and none who are not anointed by the gods may touch her without suffering a horrible death.

The Sin-Eater's Daughter was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and I really enjoyed it, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. The problem with trying your best to ignore the hype and avoid spoilers is that sometimes this leaves you without a clear idea of what a book is meant to be about! I was expecting an exciting new fantasy world to explore, but The Sin-Eater's Daughter is actually quite light on the fantasy. Other readers (now I'm free to read reviews without the threat of spoilers), have said that it's more of a fictional-setting medieval romance, and I agree. I haven't read the blurb, as I read a proof copy, but if I were writing one I would definitely place emphasis on the romantic elements.

I would also mention rituals. The Sin-Eater's Daughter is all about rituals. Twylla, in her struggle to understand her position, learns how rituals can give us strength, but also how they can keep us locked in to dangerous patterns. I loved all the details about the religious roles and ceremonies - they seem both strange and familar, despite belonging to a fictional society. This is what really hooked me when I was reading the book - I found it almost impossible to put down when I had to go to work or sleep, because I was absolutely fascinated by the setting and by Twylla's descriptions of the society she lives in and her duties as Daunen Embodied.

I also really enjoyed the politics and I'm looking forward to seeing more of that in the second in the series. In fact, I liked the political intrigue so much that it made me impatient for the romantic scenes to be over so that the drama could continue! Maybe I'm getting old?! There's a bit of a love triangle, and it's all tangled up with the politics, which made the romantic interests a bit less likeable than they might otherwise have been, but people are complicated. Twylla's whole life is complicated. And there's the epilogue. I can only say that I really liked the epilogue, because spoilers!

I would recommend The Sin-Eater's Daughter to people who like dramatic, life-and-death romances, and perhaps as a gateway drug for those who would like to dip their toes into the fantasy genre. If you feel intimidated by complex magical systems, weird and wonderful creatures, and imaginary cultures, The Sin-Eater's Daughter could help ease you in.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me

Top Ten Wishes I'd Ask The Book Genie To Grant Me

Presumably I'd summon him via a spell in an old book...

1. Firstly I'd wish for a signed first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Obviously because I love Harry Potter and not because I could sell it at auction for tens of thousands of pounds...*innocent face*

2. Next I would wish for Libba Bray to be given the ability to write her brilliant books really quickly so that I don't have to wait long for the next two sequels to The Diviners.

3. See also Candy Harper so that I can have the third Faith book now!

Play this video to hear me talk about how amazing the Faith books are.

4. I would also wish for Robin McKinley to be given the overwhelming desire and inspiration to write a direct sequel to Sunshine in which EVERYTHING IS EXPLAINED.

5. I would wish to meet Angela Carter.

6. And Virginia Woolf.

7. And Shakespeare.

8. Actually I'd also like the Book Genie to transport me back in time so I could see one of Shakespeare's plays being performed for the very first time.

9. And tangentially, I'd like a TARDIS in my flat to serve as my library.

10. I'd also like the ability to finish writing my own books really quickly, and for me to get an agent, and a publisher, and for my books to be wonderful and successful, and the same for my boyfriend...

...oh wait, I'm out of wishes, and this isn't real, it's just a Top Ten Tuesday


Thanks to The Broke and the Bookish, as always. Let me know in the comments if you did this week's Top Ten, and if we have any of the same wishes! That way, if we are visited by the Book Genie, we can save wishes by wishing that both of us get to do x...


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