Saturday, January 28, 2017

Goodbye This Fleeting Dream, Hello Better Than Dreams

Hello! After the best part of a decade on Blogger I have decided to move my blogs to WordPress. I've also decided to make the name of my YouTube channel, Better Than Dreams, the name of the blog as well.

You can head over to Better Than Dreams right now to enter a giveaway for the graphic novel Baker Street Academy: Sherlock Holmes and the Disappearing Diamond.

I hope to see you over there!

Monday, January 02, 2017

My Favourite Reads of 2016

I'm never sure how to organise these things. Usually I just list all my favourite books read that year in a non-specific, non-committal order.

The difference is that this year I do have a most-favourite book read, and a second-most-favourite.

So I'm going to strike out and pretend I'm a one-woman book award. I'll tell you my most favourite, the runner up, and then all the other books I thought were especially good, the shortlist, if you will.

Ready? Okay.

My Absolute Most Favourite Book I Read This Year

A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about this post, and the inevitable YouTube video, and I said to myself, 'What is my favourite book read in 2016?'

And then I replied 'LOL duh of course it's Sorcerer to the Crown' and then I stopped thinking about it until just now when I went through my books read in Goodreads just to check I hadn't somehow forgotten about a better book?!?! Like a TOTAL IDIOT because OF COURSE I hadn't read a better book.

Sorcerer to the Crown is definitely my favourite book that I read this year. It was so fun and thoughtful and I desperately want Zen Cho to write and publish the sequel...months ago on May 16 2016 because that's when I read Sorcerer to the Crown!

It's about an alternate Regency England where there is magic, except it's only the rich white dudes who get to wield it 'properly'. Everyone else is just doing what the dudes think of as twee little household spells, with two major exceptions: Zacharias Wythe, the Sorcerer Royal, who was a slave adopted by the previous Sorcerer Royal, and all the single Ladies, who are cooped up in boarding schools being told that they need to control/get rid of their magic so they will be suitable wives. Unsurprisingly, all the rich white dudes are panicking because their magic supply seems to be shrinking so Zacharias goes to investigate and along the way he meets the awesome magnificence that is Prunella Gentleman, the ward of the headmistress of one of the aforementioned schools. Cue hijinks and magic and revelations about parentage and dragons. It's hilarious and charming and I didn't want it to end.

It was so great, I'm tempted to go read it again right now...

...what? I need to finish this post? Oh boo.

My Second Most Favourite Book I Read This Year

As I knew my most favourite book already, I didn't really think about the rest of this list until about two days ago, when I said to myself, 'What is my second most favourite book read in 2016?'

And then I replied 'LOL duh of course it's Love Song' and then I stopped thinking about it until just now when I went through my books read in Goodreads just to check I hadn't somehow get the idea.

Love Song. How can I explain my love of Love Song? I mean, I did not expect to love this book! I thought it would be fun, I always like a book about music and bands and all that. But knowing going in that it was about a girl going on tour with a boy band, I did not expect it to capture my heart and hold it to ransom for 384 pages like it did!

Is it because the main character is from Croydon and I am half-Croydonian myself?
Is it because there's so much emotional brilliance that I fell in love with each and every single one of the main characters?
Is it because it involves the exploration of a very big and very quirky house in the country?

It's so hard to describe why exactly I love this book, but oh, how I do. It's excellent. If you like contemporary YA please please pick it up - I'll be busy working my way through Sophia Bennett's backlist.

The Best of the Rest

When We Collided (Emery Lord) sounds like it's going to be super-twee - it's about a newcomer girl who shakes up the life of the boy who's lived in the town his whole life, but again, emotional brilliance took me by surprise to lift a simple, mundane-sounding premise into something glorious and sophisticated.

Maresi (Maria Turtschaninoff) may have suffered a little from the translation because the language is a bit flat and simple but I loved the idea of an island convent for women and the emotional journey the characters went on. I am looking forward to revisiting the world of the Red Abbey in the sequel.

The Girl with All the Gifts (M. R. Carey) really is as good as everyone says it is. It's better than the film, filling in background details about the characters that make them come more vividly alive. I really enjoyed the ending.

I actually expected to love The Song Will Save Your Life (Leila Sales) and I did. Though it was not exactly what I anticipated, it was still a lot of fun and I now have the occasional secret longing to get dressed up and visit a hidden club!

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My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend (Eleanor Wood) is an unconventional comtemporary about a blogger who gets comments from her favourite rockstar that lead into a secret relationship. I loved how realistic this book was - the protagonist makes a massive mess of her whole life! I also appreciated that it dealt with social class, a subject that doesn't come up as often as I'd like it to in UKYA.

Only Ever Yours (Louise O'Neill) is a zoomed-in Handmaid's Tale, focusing on the experience of teenage girls in a world where women are literally born and bred to be the property of men. It's bleak as hell, but it needs to be.

I went into Rebel of the Sands (Alwyn Hamilton) not really knowing anything about it and was soon caught up in this story of rebel teenagers banding together to save their lives and maybe change the status quo. I have the sequel sitting on my bookshelf and I'm sure it won't be long before I pick it up!

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I'd never read any Patrick Ness before The Rest of Us Just Live Here and now I know exactly what I've been missing out on! It could easily have ridden on its premise of being about the teenagers left in the background while the Chosen Ones save the world, but it rises above parody. It pokes fun at the 'indie kids', and focuses on the ordinary, heartrending difficulties that the others have to face, but ultimately has a lot of affection for all its characters.

And that's the end of the list! Are any of my favourites on your list, from last or previous years? Let me know!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Shorts on Sunday #1 - I'll Be Home For Christmas

Earlier this week Jim got in touch to let me know about his fab new feature, Shorts on Sunday, and as I just finished reading the I'll Be Home For Christmas short story collection I thought I would join in!

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Jim's already covered 'Homo for Christmas', Juno Dawson's short story, which I also loved, because not only is it very sweet and heartwarming, but it is also a great example of a unique narrator's voice - his accent and idiosyncrasies come across in the language and the form of the story. This is something I aim for when I'm writing so I love to find good examples of it to inspire me!

I had another two favourite stories in this collection. Firstly I'll talk about 'Family You Choose' by Cat Clarke, narrated by a girl who goes to a dinner party hosted by the mums of a boy at school. She doesn't really know him, and as she tells us about the party we learn that she's gone to get away from her own mum. I'm recommending this story because although it's very short, the author conjures up the atmosphere of the party quickly and the characterisation is so good that I felt like I knew the characters deeply after only a couple of pages in their company. Plus, I really wanted to be able to go to the party myself!

The other story in this collection that left the strongest impression on me is 'Routes and Wings', by Lisa Williamson, about a homeless girl and how she spends a night before Christmas. I recommend this story because the author interviewed Crisis members as part of her research for the story and that has given it realistic detail and depth. It also features some wonderfully vivid descriptions and the hints at Lauren's backstory are perfect - they give us all the detail we need without overwhelming the scenes in the present.

There are a few days left of this Christmas, plus there's always next year, so I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of this anthology. Not only is it is a great read but at least £1 from the sale of every copy will go directly to Crisis.

There we go! I'm going to try and join in every week but I can't promise to feature more than one story each time, I'm a way slower reader than Jim, plus I'm busy working on my own YA short story collection!

Reading Challenges 2016 Wrap Up

Last year I read 45 books. I didn't meet my overall target (60), but I was a long way from my all time low of 21 books (2011).

To be fair to myself, I was very busy. I have been writing short stories like they're going out of fashion (or maybe like they're coming into fashion - I certainly hope so!). I published an online course. Reading often fell by the wayside as I scribbled down bullet points and edited videos.

So how did I do on the individual challenges?

Classics Challenge

I planned to make a proper go at this challenge, after I only managed three books in 2015. I had all the best intentions - I was going to post a video every month on my YouTube channel about the challenge. I would still really like to do videos about each of these books, but the research involved is quite time consuming so I'm going to shelve this project for a later date. This challenge was hosted by Stacey at Pretty Books.

I did not complete this challenge, though I did do better than last year. I read:

1. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford
2. Claudine at School, by Colette
3. Fifteen, by Beverley Clearly
4. What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge

British Books Challenge

In 2015 I read 24 books for this challenge, which was double the amount required. I didn't do so well on this challenge this year, but it was still quite easy to complete and even exceed the target - you can read any kind of book, as long as it's British. It was hosted by Kirsty at The Overflowing Library.

I read:

1. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford
2. My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend, by Eleanor Wood
3. Love Song, by Sophia Bennett
4. London Belongs To Us, by Sarra Manning
5. Girl Out of Water, by Nat Luurtsema
6. Hacker, by Malorie Blackman
7. Rebel of the Sands, by Alwyn Hamilton
8. The Next Together, by Lauren James
9. All of the Above, by Juno Dawson
10. Blood Will Stream, by Nick Bryan
11. After the Last Dance, by Sarra Manning
12. The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
13. The Graces, by Laure Eve
14. Gilded Cage, by Vic James
15. The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

Retelling Challenge

This was hosted by The Daily Prophesy. Despite a lingering sense of guilt for forgetting this challenge, and despite the fact that I acquired ever more fairytale retellings in 2016, I only managed to read one book, Poison, by Sarah Pinborough. It did remind me how much I love reading (and not just collecting) fairytale retellings, but it was too late to make much difference as I read it over Christmas!

TBR Pile Reading Challenge

I was aiming for 31-40, Sweet Summer Fling, but I only managed to read 13. This is a reflection of my low overall total, though I did read more TBR pile books (those acquired before January 1st) in the first few months of the year than later on, which is probably because I was doing the TBR Triple Dog Dare as well.

1. The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman
2. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford
3. Misguided Angel, by Melissa de la Cruz
4. Cross My Heart and Hope to Spy, by Ally Carter
5. Only Ever Yours, by Louise O'Neill
6. Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover, by Ally Carter
7. This Song Will Save Your Life, by Leila Sales
8. My Secret Rockstar Boyfriend, by Eleanor Wood
9. Claudine at School, by Colette
10. Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho
11. The Next Together, by Lauren James
12. Poison, by Sarah Pinborough
13. Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One, by Bill Willingham

Bardathon Challenge

I didn't do anything for this challenge. It was in the back of my mind but to get around to all the steps involved more planning than I was ultimately willing to do for a reading challenge!

Challenge Challenge

Yes, someone made a meta challenge. I signed up for five other challenges, as above, so I was going for 'Cinco de Challenge-o'. I only completed one, so I also failed this challenge!

TBR Triple Dog Dare

I had done this every year since it first ran and this was the final dare so of course I had to take part! I only allowed myself a few exceptions and otherwise only read books on my TBR that I owned before 1 January 2016 until 1 April 2016. This challenge was hosted by James Reads Books.

In Conclusion...

I only completed the British Books Challenge and the TBR Triple Dog Dare, but honestly I don't mind. I used to worry a lot about not completing challenges, but as I've said before, if it's easy, it's not a challenge. There wouldn't be much point in signing up for challenges that I could complete without really thinking about it!

I'm looking forward to choosing a new selection of challenges for 2017 and getting going!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Bookish Brits Vlog 30: UKNA?

UKNA? What is it not? What is it? Where does it come from? Why is it so rare?

Our intrepid reporter-writer Julianne investigates.

All that's left is for you to decide - do you even want it?

(It's been a while since I reposted my Bookish Brits vlogs on here - bear with me while I catch up!)

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