Misc.

Bookish Challenges

I’ve always loved a good reading challenge. I’ve participated in many, and even created some myself. My own have included SFF Award Winners, tackling the Classics and a definitive list of science fiction. Reading challenges are a really great way to read outside of the box, get to that pile of books you’ve been meaning to conquer for ages, or use reading as a way to socialise with others – a lot of conversation comes out of the reading challenges on my Goodreads book group, Dragons & Jetpacks.

Here I’ve compiled a list of possible challenge ideas or themes, make of it what you will…

GEOGRAPHICAL
  • Country – books based in certain countries or groups of countries
  • City – books based in certain cities
  • U.S. States – books based in the different states of the USA
  • Author from country/city – authors only from a certain country or city
  • Country Alphabet – read a book based in a country beginning with A, then B, then C, etc… or any order, just cover the alphabet!
  • Road Map – create a map showing the settings of the books you’ve read recently/over the past year/as far back as you can remember

AUTHOR
  • Books only by male authors
  • Books only by female authors
  • Books only by LGBTQ authors
  • Author alphabet – read a book with an author surname beginning with A, then B, then C, etc… or any order, just cover the alphabet!
  • Similar to… – read authors based on recommendations for fans of one specific author

GENRE
  • Read books of only one genre
  • Sub-genres – choose a genre and explore the sub-genres e.g. science fiction = cyberpunk, space opera, dystopia, military SF etc
  • One of each genre – choose a selection of genres and make sure you read at least one book fitting each of those genres over a certain timeframe
  • Genres you wouldn’t normally read – think outside the box! If you love romance, try some sci-fi, if you love fantasy, give crime a go
  • Non-Fiction – this could be split into different areas e.g. travel, history, biography, etc
  • Historical Fiction/Non-Fiction – read about different periods of history, create a ‘timeline’ and travel along it by reading different books set in or about certain time periods
  • ‘Definitive’ reads of a genre – the ‘classic’ books of a genre, e.g. the SF Masterworks from Gollancz for science fiction

OTHER
  • DC vs. Marvel type challenge – this is an excellent challenge created by Mpauli, a mod of Dragons & Jetpacks, and you can read about it here. However, please don’t take this challenge for yourself, as Mpauli works really hard every year to create this – I’ve just linked to it for inspiration
  • Award Winners – Hugo, Nebula, Orange Prize for Fiction, Pulitzer, etc
  • LGBTQ Characters
  • Recommendations – ask friends and other bloggers for book recommendations, and then try them out!
  • Classics – finally tick some of the classics off of your ‘to read’ list
  • Cover Colour – read books with only blue covers etc, or create a rainbow of covers!
  • Main Character – gender, nationality, good/evil, any other traits you can think of
  • Film/TV/Video Game Spinoffs – read books that are part of a franchise
  • Releases from a certain year/decade
  • Translated Fiction – stick to a certain country or create a map
  • Books inspired by music
  • Books inspired by art
  • Review Copies – tackle any review copies that you haven’t managed to read just yet
  • TBR List – books that have been sat on your shelves for ages

Can you think of any other challenge ideas?

Advertisements
Misc.

A Guide to 2017 Releases

When it comes to listing my most anticipated books for the year, I find it pretty difficult. How am I supposed to restrict my choice to just five or ten books, when thousands are published every year? Instead, I’ve decided to create a comprehensive little guide to the ones I’m most excited about, sorted by genre – with the main focus on science fiction and fantasy, but what else would you expect? 😉 As this post was written in mid-December, by the time it goes live I’ll probably have another 50 or so books I want to add…

Science Fiction

The Massacre of Mankind (War of the Worlds #2) by Stephen Baxter, Empire Games (Empire Games #1) by Charles Stross,
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty,
The Moon and the Other by John Kessel, The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Pitch Dark by Courtney Alameda, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente and Annie Wu, The Wanderers by Meg Howey, All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai, Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Blight by Alexandra Duncan, Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth, A Perfect Machine by Brett Savory, Proof of Concept by Gwyneth Jones, Ball Lightning by Liu Cixin, Change Agent by Daniel Suarez, New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Fantasy

The Winds of Winter (A Song of Ice and Fire #6) by George R.R. Martin, A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab, The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1) by Rin Chupeco, Crossroads of Canopy (Titan’s Forest #1) by Thoriya Dyer, The People’s Police by Norman Spinrad, Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity #2) by V.E. Schwab, Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1) by Laini Taylor, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Royal Bastards by Andrew Shvarts, Tyrant’s Throne (Greatcoats #4) by Sebastien de Castell, The Heart Of What Was Lost (The Last King of Osten Ard #0.5) by Tad Williams, Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor #1) by Mark Lawrence.

Horror/Thriller

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel, Dreamfall (Dreamfall #1) by Amy Plum.

Historical Fiction

The Dark Days Pact (Lady Helen #2) by Alison Goodman, The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, Now I Rise (The Conqueror’s Saga #2) by Kiersten White.

Contemporary

American Street by Ibi Zoboi, The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz, City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson.

Which 2017 releases are you most looking forward to? 🙂

Misc.

Burns Night – Books Set in Scotland

In honour of Burns Night, a Scottish holiday that celebrates the life of Scots poet Robert Burns, I thought I’d share a selection of books set in the beautiful country that is Scotland. So prepare your haggis wi tatties an neeps, pour out a wee dram, and settle down by the roaring fire with one of these reads…

Outlander & A History of Scotland

  • If you’ve been following the blog since 2015, you’ve probably heard me mention the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon more than once… I’m just a little bit obsessed! It follows Claire Randall, a combat nurse from 1945, who is in the Scottish Highlands on her honeymoon. Whilst out exploring the countryside, she somehow steps back through time, via a stone circle, and ends up in 1743. She gets caught up with the clans, the Jacobite Rebellion, one dastardly ancestor of her husband, and one very, very sexy be-kilted James Fraser. I’m slowly working my way through the whole series, but so far the first book has been my favourite, because we get to watch Claire and Jamie’s relationship grow.
  • If you fancy a bit of non-fiction instead, then A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver might do the trick. I bought this last year and haven’t yet read it, but I have read his A History of Ancient Britain, which was excellent and very accessible, whether you know your history or not.

Harry Potter & Macbeth

  • It might be forgotten at times, but the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling is set in Scotland! Students take the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross all the way up north into Scotland. Hogwarts is supposedly located somewhere near Dufftown, in the Highlands, which interestingly is near the Glenfiddich Whiskey Distillery… Although I’m pretty sure Hogwarts students are more interested in Butterbeer and Firewhiskey!
  • Of course, William Shakespeare’s classic Macbeth is set in Scotland. The ‘Scottish play’ tells of Macbeth, a Scottish general who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will become King of Scotland. Not wanting to delay his ascension to the throne, and also spurred on by Lady Macbeth, he murders King Duncan and takes the throne. His actions make him paranoid and guilt-ridden, and his reign is one of tyranny.

Trainspotting & The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

  • The infamous tale of heroin addicts, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh is a 20th century classic. It is made up of short stories, all set in Leith, Edinburgh, and written in a mix of Scots, Scottish English and British English. Maybe not the thing to read if you’re looking for a nice, cosy read about Scotland… but a classic all the same.
  • The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark is one of the author’s best known works, and is set in 1930s Edinburgh. Miss Brodie teaches a group of six girls, in subjects such as classical studies and art history. The book frequently flashes forward through time to show glimpses of the future, and reveals that one of Miss Brodie’s students will eventually betray her.

Kidnapped & Knots and Crosses

  • Kidnapped by Robert Louise Stevenson is a classic adventure story, about the orphaned David Balfour. After a trip to find his last living relative, Uncle Ebenezer, goes horribly wrong, David finds himself kidnapped and imprisoned on a ship. However, it is soon wrecked off the coast of Scotland, and David must make his way back across the Highlands. Kidnapped is set in the period after the Jacobite Rebellion, a very tumultuous period of Scotland’s history.
  • Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin is the first of Rankin’s famous Inspector Rebus series, which follows Detective Sergeant John Rebus as he investigates grizzly crimes throughout Edinburgh. Like Trainspotting, this might not be the one to read just before going off on a weekend away to Edinburgh! 😉

Have you read any of these books? Can you suggest any other great reads set in Scotland?

Misc.

Books Inspired By Works of Art

Art inspires and moves, art invokes and demands response. Centuries ago, even those that could not read were able to look at and understand, or interpret, works of art. Therefore it is only natural that works of art have inspired works of fiction in turn. It provides the perfect backdrop for a historical novel, an already established setting, leaving the author free to flesh out the characters. Or it can bring the past and the present together. Either way, there are so many novels that have been inspired by works of art, and definitely not enough time or space to discuss them all. So here are five examples of books, and the artworks and artists that inspired them.

Goldfinch goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt & Het puttertje by Carel Fabritius

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is set in New York, and revolves around a man called Theo Decker. The story begins with Theo as a child – his mother is killed in an accident and his father abandons him, so he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. The one thing that always reminds Theo of his mother is a painting: The Goldfinch by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. This leads him to a career in art and antiques as an adult – but soon his past begins to catch up with him.

The Goldfinch, or ‘Het puttertje’ as it is called in Dutch, was painted in 1654 by Carel Fabritius. There are not many other known surviving works of Fabritius. It is part of the permanent collection of the Mauritishuis in Den Haag (The Hague), Netherlands, although it was recently displayed at the Scottish National Gallery at the end of 2016.

girl_with_a_pearl_earring Girl with a Pearl Earring

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier & Meisje met de parel by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier tells the imagined story of how the famous painting came to be about, as told by the ‘model’, Griet. At sixteen, Griet is sent to work as a maid in the household of Johannes Vermeer in Delft, after an accident results in her father’s blindness. Despite his initial aloofness, Griet soon becomes something like Vermeer’s assistant, due to her eye for art and colour. This causes tension within the household and within Griet’s different personal relationships – and then one day, Vermeer asks Griet to sit for one of his paintings.

Girl With a Pearl Earring, or to give it the original Dutch title ‘Meisje met de parel’, was painted in the 17th century by Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer lived in Delft, in the Netherlands, where the novel is set, and the painting remains in the Netherlands – like The Goldfinch, it can also be found in the Mauritshuis in Den Haag. I managed to see Girl With a Pearl Earring when I visited the Mauritshuis in September 2014, and it really is a gorgeous painting – but actually very small!

venus velasquez I Am Venus by Barbara Mujica

I Am Venus by Bárbara Mujica & the Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez

In 1619, painter Diego Velázquez began to gain prominence within the court of King Philip IV. Yet his paintings were dangerous, risque in a time where people were very conscious of sin, and the consequences of being a sinner. Despite this, he produced his riskiest painting, all the while chancing being caught by the Inquisition. As with Girl with a Pearl Earring, I Am Venus by Bárbara Mujica is narrated not by the artist, but by the model.

This particular work of Diego Velázquez‘s is called the ‘Rokeby Venus’, or the ‘Toilet of Venus’, and was completed between 1647 and 1651. It shows Venus, lying on a bed, gazing into a mirror held up by her son Cupid. This is the only surviving nude by Velázquez, not a surprise when the Inquisition would actively hunt down any such artwork. When it was first brought to England from Spain, it was displayed at Rokeby Park in Yorkshire, which is where the name comes from. In 1906 it was moved to the National Gallery in London, where it has been ever since. It was actually attacked by a suffragette, Mary Robinson, in 1914, after the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst, but has since been restored.

madame x Strapless

Strapless by Deborah Davis & Portrait of Madame X by John Singer Sargent

Strapless by Deborah Davis tells the story of the real ‘Madame X’ – 23 year old Virginie Gautreau, a New Orleans Creole who moved to Paris and became an ‘it girl’. She was pursued by artists, but it was John Singer Sargent who was lucky enough to actually paint her. However, the painting did not have the desired effect, and caused nothing but scandal and controversy. Strapless looks at how it affected Virginie herself.

This painting is entitled ‘Portrait of Madame X’, and was painted by British artist John Singer Sargent in 1884. The title was meant to keep the model’s identity anonymous, but obviously this did not work, and people were shocked and scandalised. The main issue was that one of the straps on Madame X’s dress was hanging loose, a sign of ‘loose morals’ and wanton behaviour, so Sergant had in effect painted her as a prostitute when she was in fact a lady of high society. Sargent later repainted the strap onto the shoulder, but the damage had already been done, and he was never able to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France. ‘Portrait of Madame X’ now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

mona lisa i mona lisa

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis & The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

I, Mona Lisa by Jeanne Kalogridis is an imagined account of the real Mona Lisa, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy wool merchant. Set in 15th century Florence, it is a romance and a mystery all in one, inspired by the history and art of Renaissance Italy.

The Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci, is possibly one of the most infamous paintings in the world. Painted at the beginning of the 16th century, it is believed to be of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of a merchant turned local official. For such a famous painting, there is a lot of mystery around it – Lisa’s expression, the setting, and until very recently, the identity of Lisa herself. It has been the subject of much popular culture, for example Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and there have been plenty of copies made around the world. The Mona Lisa is now on display at the Louvre, in Paris, and has been attacked and stolen several times – apparently, the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1914 was what drew attention to it, and before that it was not widely known outside the art world.

Have you read any of these books? Can you recommend any others inspired by works of art?

Misc.

My Bookish New Year’s Resolutions 2017

resolutions16

First of all, a big Happy New Year to my readers! Thank you to everyone for sticking around, whether you’ve been reading my blog since it started, or have just joined us. As has become a bit of a tradition in the New Year, I like to start by sharing my bookish New Year’s Resolutions on the blog – so here they are for 2017.

  • 2017 will be the year that I finally conquer Netgalley! In 2016, I vowed that I’d get my rating to 80%. It’s currently at 81%. I need to read 36 more books – or at least be honest whether or not I am going to read them – to reach 100%. After that, I will feel happy using Netgalley again, but right now I don’t feel I can request anything from there, and haven’t in about a year.
  • Make more use of my local library system. As I started doing towards the end of 2016. Even if my local library doesn’t have much, I can order books in from around the county and pick them up from down the road, which is really handy.
  • But also read from my own shelves. At my last count, I owned 190 unread books, many of which I was desperate to read at time of purchase, yet still haven’t touched. Oops.
  • Write more reviews. I think part of my problem with reviews is that I’ve only been reviewing review copies – so I have this association with deadlines, time pressure etc. I have occasionally reviewed books when I’ve really wanted to express how they’ve made me feel, but not that often. So from now on, I’m trying to review books that make me feel strongly – whether positive or negative – no matter where they’ve come from.
  • Continue to be decisive about which books I accept for review. Maybe a contrast to the above point – but I don’t want to read and review everything. I simply don’t have time, especially when there’s so much out there that appeals to me. Over the past year I’ve become more and more confident about turning down books for review that just don’t appeal to me, or if I’m just not feeling in the mood, or if I’m feeling a little pressured. My blog, my time, my decision.
  • Bring Fantasy Friday back! I miss that feature.
  • Become more active within the blogosphere again. I think I probably say this every year, but I used to be so good at commenting on other people’s blogs. Now, not so much. I’d like to be able to do that again.

Do you have any resolutions for 2017, whether bookish or non-bookish? 🙂

Misc.

The Book Blogger Toolkit

bookbloggertoolkit

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time: a comprehensive look into the tools that are super useful for any book blogger. All of these have been invaluable in running my blog and creating new posts, and I want to share them with others. I would also love to hear if you have any recommendations too! 🙂

Websites

  • Tweetdeck – I wish the desktop version still existed but I find this a lot more awkward to use in my browser, but it is still 100 times better than doing everything via the Twitter website. Much much easier for scheduling Tweets, following hashtags and controlling several accounts at once.
  • Goodreads – Well, duh. I’m pretty sure every book blogger uses this website for all their book information, as well as hunting down new releases and meeting fellow-minded people.
  • Pixabay – A really great stock image site that’s completely free to use. Perhaps not the biggest variety of images out there, but again, it’s free and the images can be edited.
  • Creative Market – I love this website so much. It’s a marketplace for designers to sell images, vectors, fonts etc – but if you sign up to their newsletter, you get six free goodies every Monday. Totally worth it.
  • Trello – A ‘to do list’ type website that lets you create ‘boards’. I have different boards for each of my features, and ideas pinned underneath, plus one for general blog admin. A great place to list ideas for future posts.
  • DaFont – I have been using this website for years and years, goodness knows how many different fonts I’ve downloaded from here.

Divider

Software & Applications

  • Ultimate Book Blogger Plug-in – AN ABSOLUTE GODSEND. This was created by my wonderful host, Ashley, and makes the organisation of book blogs so much easier. Once you set up your system, so much is automatic. I don’t know how I managed without it before, and it is absolutely worth your money.
  • Google Keep – Handy for noting down blog ideas on my phone whilst I’m on the go. I’ve tried a couple of ‘to do list’ apps, and this has been my favourite so far.
  • Google Drive – I love Google Drive a lot for being so easy to share documents with others. I’ve used it to write several collaborative posts in the past, and it makes organisation for Sci-Fi Month so much easier.
  • Evernote – I am actually using Evernote to write this post right now… I don’t particularly like writing in the HTML editor in WordPress, it’s rather uninspiring. But the Text Editor is worse. So I like to write things in Evernote, then copy them over and add in the HTML where needed. It’s also handy for when I want to write posts in bed – I’m a bit odd in that I don’t particularly like using my laptop for things like writing posts, because I really need a bigger screen. So I’ll write them in Evernote on my laptop, which then syncs to my desktop, and I can format them from there later.
  • Image editing software – I use an old version of Paint Shop Pro (8), which I’ve had for years, but you could use anything. Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, Picmonkey… got to make those pretty graphics and headers somehow! 🙂

Divider

Offline

  • Several notebooks – One for review notes, one for general planning purposes. I like to keep them separate so it’s easier to find certain things.
  • A paper planner – I blogged about my paper planner before, but I really prefer to use a paper planner over a digital one for planning out my posts. It’s always there when I need it and somehow much easier to read, at least for me.

Divider

What tools would you recommend to help other bloggers? Do you use many of these yourself? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

Misc.

Goodbye Oxford!

Oxford

Today I am moving away from Oxford. I’ve been here for just over a year, and a few months ago I decided that it wasn’t the place for me – at least, not at the moment. It’s an expensive city to live in, I’ve found it hard to make friends, and even harder to meet up with the friends I did make after we all went our separate ways from the Ashmolean. So, for now, I’m moving back to my parents’ so that I can work out where my life is going! I’m looking forward to it – I can spend more time with my family, my niece, see my other relatives a bit more as I’ll be closer. I miss living in a small town where everyone knows each other, and I miss the countryside. I’ll have my cats too! I’m planning on doing some volunteering and learning to drive – I’ve got some temporary work lined up where I worked before, but after that, who knows?

I’m excited for this new part of my life, even if it is a bit of a step back in some ways. This does of course mean I’ll never get to do my Literary Oxford, which I planned and failed at – oops! However, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time for blogging. 🙂