Thoughts

Thoughts #53: The Problem with Reading Slumps

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This post was written at the beginning of April, and doesn’t apply to me so much now – but I still wanted to share it!

As well as struggling with a blogging slump lately, I’ve been having a bit of a reading slump. I’ve decided that this comes down to my most recent reads being nothing special, and also feeling a little bit pressured to read certain books because of review requests and other commitments.

The Fantasy Book of the Month in March for my Goodreads book group, Dragons & Jetpacks, was The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I was really excited to read this one, having never read any Mitchell before. He is an author that a lot of people seem to love or hate, and I was convinced I’d be one of the former. Sadly, I was wrong. What sounded like a fantastic premise (and was accompanied by a lovely cover) turned into a big ol’ mess that, quite frankly, had me bored for at least one third of the book.

This was then followed by attempts to read various Marvel comic books that had been sat on my shelves for a while, all borrowed from the library. Needless to say I couldn’t get into any of them but one, despite having read and loved many before. The one I did manage to finish was the second Guardians of the Galaxy book, Angela, and it just didn’t live up to the first volume. I’m just a bit bored of skimpy female superheroes. And don’t even get me started on female chest armour (or lack thereof…).

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And then, most recently, The Vagrant by Peter Newman. A book that had sat on my Goodreads ‘to read’ shelf since before release, one that immediately drew me in via its cover and blurb. But oh, what a disappointment. I couldn’t concentrate on it at all, meaning I missed important plot points, and was pretty confused when I did actually tune in. I don’t think I deal well with silent protagonists…

My current read is a similar story. Sounded great, is actually boring me quite a bit. I’ve started reading another book alongside it that I’ve been waiting for since it was announced (albeit another review copy), and I’m actually now only reading the first book at work during lunch, if I get a chance.

So okay, maybe only one of these books was a ‘commitment’. But it took so long for me to read because I just wasn’t interested that I feel I could have read so many more interesting books in that time. It’s time to crack down and finally read those books that I’ve been waiting for, instead of feeling pressured into reading ones that I’m not hugely interested in!

Note: After writing this post in April, I decided to read what I WANTED, instead of what I thought I should read. This has worked really well for me so far!

Do you ever feel pressured to put off the books you really want to read just because of other reading ‘commitments’?

Thoughts

Thoughts #52: Living With Social Anxiety

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I don’t often write personal posts, but occasionally I feel the need to share something, even if it’s just to get my thoughts down for my own sake. Today I wanted to talk about living with social anxiety, which is something I’ve battled with since the age of 16-17.

Previously, I discussed how I used an online game to get through depression. My social anxiety stems from the same time; I was diagnosed with both together. And like with the depression, although circumstances have changed greatly (and for the better), this is something that is still stuck with me. Here’s the definition of social anxiety from Wikipedia:

Social anxiety is a specific form of anxiety. It is an emotion characterised by a discomfort or a fear when a person is in a social interaction that involves a concern of being judged or evaluated by others. It is typically characterised by an intense fear of what others are thinking about them (specifically fear of embarrassment or humiliation, criticism, or rejection), which results in the individual feeling insecure and not good enough for other people, and/or the assumption that peers will automatically reject them.

One of the reasons I am happy to talk about this on the blog is that I feel that as introverts, this may be something that affects many of us bookworms and book bloggers. Not to say that we are all introverts, but I know that is the story for many of us. For me, social anxiety presents itself in the following ways:

  • I pretty much always assume that members of the public are judging me for one reason or the other, so I’m never entirely comfortable in public – even with things as simple as eating something unhealthy in public or trying on clothes in a shop
  • I have an utter fear of being the centre of attention or public speaking
  • Humiliation/embarrassment are actually almost physically painful
  • I do like going out – but it has to be with people I know and enjoy spending time with, and often even if I’m really enjoying myself I’m working out when I can slip away and go home
  • I don’t really crave social contact, I spend a lot of time by myself and don’t feel lonely unless other things in life aren’t working out, e.g. when I hated my previous job – but communicate regularly with people online, however this has mostly been the case since moving to Oxford as my friends are all over the country/world now
  • When I do spend a lot of time with friends, I feel emotionally exhausted and need time to myself afterwards to ‘recover’
  • When I make new friends, for a long time I assume that they’re just ‘putting up with me’ and aren’t really interested – this stems from all the crap that happened when I was 16-17 and that caused this whole mess

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Things felt a little different in Leiden. I discovered that I actually did like going to clubs and bars in the evening, and staying out until silly o’clock in the morning. But I think that was down to two things – firstly, a fantastic group of friends and secondly, the university environment. You’re thrown into situations where you meet all these new people and bond so easily, everyone is in the same boat. It’s a completely different story when it comes to working.

It can be a tricky thing to explain to people, and to be honest I don’t really like explaining it unless I know they’ll understand, because some people have reacted really negatively in the past. I’ve made a lot of excuses for a lot of social events since I’ve been in Oxford, because basically I’ve been too anxious to go. Whilst I don’t often feel lonely, and am actually pretty happy spending time by myself, social anxiety can still be difficult to deal with. I worry far too much about the most ridiculous things, and spend far too much time feeling uncomfortable about something rather than just enjoying myself.

It’s interesting to meet other people with social anxiety. Last month, a good friend came to stay for the weekend, and she suffers from it too. Because she also needs ‘recovery time’ after socialising, she stayed Friday to Saturday night, which gave us both Sunday to recover. We had a great time together, but also managed to have time to ourselves – and it worked perfectly for the two of us. However it’s much trickier with people who don’t completely understand!

Have you ever suffered from anxiety? Do you have any tips for dealing with it?

Thoughts

Thoughts #51: It’s Not All About The Numbers

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Lately, I’ve been feeling a bit down about blogging. I’ve had plenty of ideas for posts, but when it comes to sitting down and writing them, I just get stuck. I haven’t seen a big increase in my blog stats for a little while, and that was making me think ‘Why bother?’.

Well, that’s probably the worst thing I could think.

I’m not blogging for others, I’m blogging because I enjoy it and like having blogging as part of my identity. My stats are good – they’re just not ‘top of the league’ type good. But does that matter? People still visit my blog, read my posts and leave comments. I have an active base of lovely followers who regularly comment, and the smaller following means I can actually comment back and interact more easily with my followers. I can’t really imagine running a blog where I couldn’t respond to everyone who took the time to leave their thoughts on my posts.

I have considered perhaps starting some vlogs on Youtube just to mix things up, and maybe gain some more followers that way. I’ve been inspired by some of my favourite YouTubers, and it is something I’d love to do. It
seemed like a GREAT idea – until I actually filmed myself, and nope. No. Not happening.

If you are struggling with something similar, the best solution here seems to be to consider what has been successful about your blogging. Make a list of the things you are proud of, and remember numbers do not mean success. It’s much better to have a smaller number of people who actively comment than thousands of followers who don’t actually read your blog. Focus on producing content that YOU love, rather than mass producing posts to please mass audiences.

Have you ever faced this problem whilst blogging? What did you do to change it?

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Thoughts

Thoughts #50: What Makes You Pick Up A Book?

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One thing I’ve never really discussed on the blog, and that sort of surprises me, is what makes me pick up a particular book before I’ve even looked at the blurb. I thought I’d share that with you too, and I’d love to hear your reasons as well!

  • The cover. Yep, I definitely do judge books by their covers. The images used, the art style, the font used, the colour scheme… I will judge by anything. I am a particular fan of this current trend that appears on a lot of recent science fiction releases, for a painted, ‘blurred’ style:
  • Dark Run

  • Hype from other bloggers/friends. If I’ve seen a book on lots of blogs, or recommended by various friends on Goodreads, I’m more likely to take a look.
  • The genre. Although I do try and read widely, I still often stick to my favourite genres, especially when taking a gamble on buying a book I’ve not heard that much about. So if it’s science fiction or fantasy, chances are I’ll pick it up.
  • The author. If it’s an author I’ve read and loved, I’ll take a look whether I was aware of the new release or not.
  • The publisher. Yeah, this might be a more unusual one. But there are some publishers I’ve worked with and I just feel that they print such high quality books, that often I’ll be more tempted to take a look at something just because it’s published by certain companies.

I do have to say that, overall, if I’ve never heard of or read the author before, the cover is pretty much the ultimate factor in deciding whether or not I’ll pick up the book.

What factors make you pick up a book?

Thoughts

Thoughts #49: Favourite Non-Fiction Books Written By Women

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As the title suggests, today I wanted to discuss my favourite non-fiction books written by women, as part of Women Writer’s Month. Non-fiction is a topic that’s not often included in the book blogging community when we gush over books, as I have discussed before. I’d love to hear whether you’ve read any of these or have any recommendations; let me know in the comments.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Yes Please

Yes Please is Amy Poehler‘s autobiography, or rather anecdotal memoir. Amy is one of my comedy queens and I absolutely love her, a love which began when I first watched Parks & Recreation, where Amy appears as Leslie Knope. It is one of my favourite series ever, one that I can watch again and again and again. This book is typical of her sense of humour and is pretty perfect for any fan of hers – or fan of Parks & Rec.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Bossypants

The second of my comedy queens, and often seen on screen with Amy Poehler, Tina Fey has also written a memoir: Bossypants. I read this one more recently, and I’d also recommend it if you’re a big fan of either Saturday Night Live or 30 Rock, as Tina discusses various events that went on behind the scenes of those two shows.

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew

If you enjoy travel writing, then Josie Dew‘s A Ride in the Neon Sun is definitely for you – particularly if you’re a fan of Bill Bryson, because Josie has that same wonderful wit. However, all of her books are about travelling a new country by bicycle. I’ve read a couple of her other travel memoirs and they’ve all been wonderful, but this one was definitely my favourite.

Love and Louis XIV: Women in the Life of the Sun King by Antonia Fraser

Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser is very well-known for writing historical non-fiction, and Love and Louis XIV: Women in the Life of the Sun King is one of the few that I’ve read, although I plan on reading many of her other works. I first read it when I was 18, whilst studying Louis XIV as part of my A Level History course. I’ve been trying to find more books about female historical figures that are also written by women – and if you’re looking for the same, this is a good place to start.

Pompeii by Mary Beard

Pompeii by Mary Beard

Mary Beard is one of my absolute favourite historians – she is so enthusiastic and passionate, I love it. Pompeii is my favourite of all her books so far. Instead of looking at the elite of the town, she takes a look at the life of the ordinary citizen. There is also an accompanying television show if you are interested!

What are some of your favourite non-fiction books written by women?

Thoughts

Thoughts #48: My Favourite Female Authors

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As mentioned at the end of January, I’m focusing on female authors for the entire month of February, as my book group Dragons & Jetpacks has declared it ‘Women Writers Month’. I thought I’d start off by discussing my favourite female authors, and I’d love to hear yours!

Diana Gabaldon

diana gabaldon Outlander

My current lady of the moment is Diana Gabaldon, author of the fantastic Outlander series. If you’re into historical fiction, give it a try (or give the show a watch, totally worth it just for Sam Heughan alone, not to mention the beautiful Catriona Balfe and the gorgeous Scottish landscapes). Diana: thank you SO MUCH for creating the beautiful Scotsman that is Jamie Fraser.

J.K. Rowling

JK Rowling Harry Potter

Do I really need to explain this one? J.K. Rowling is my queen and shaped my childhood, forever.

Sarah J. Maas

sarah j maasThrone of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is another female author I love, although I’ve only read one of her series – Throne of Glass. I met her in 2013 and she was the sweetest. She brought her own copy of Throne of Glass for fans to sign, and it travelled all over the world. It was pretty cool being able to sign something that my fellow bloggers had also signed!

Jaine Fenn

Jaine Fenn Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn

I’m going to make a mention of Jaine Fenn, who is truly lovely. She writes science fiction, and I first came into contact with her in 2013. She took part in my Sci-Fi Month event with an author interview, and I’ve met her twice now, both times at Bristolcon (where I was very shy because I actually don’t know how to act around authors…). She recognised my name instantly, thanked me for my review of her recent short story she’d sent me, and mentioned she had a new release coming and would I like to review it. Basically, she knows how to interact with her fanbase very well. Her sci-fi series is a mix of books to be read in order, and others that can be read as standalones within the same universe.

Marianne Curley & Katherine Roberts

Marianne Curley Katherine Roberts

Marianne Curley and Katherine Roberts cannot be forgotten! Both of these ladies write fantasy for younger audiences, and wrote some of my favourite books as a child/teen. And both of them took time out of their busy schedules to let me interview them for my blog. Like Jaine, they are lovely people and know how to treat their fans 🙂 Marianne has written the Guardians of Time series which involves time travel (yaaaas) and Katherine has written several series, my favourite being the Echorium Sequence, where words and song are power.

And because this post will be an entire novel if I write a paragraph about every awesome lady, honourable mentions go to…

Kristin Cashore, S.J. Kincaid, Suzanne Collins, Laini Taylor, V.E. Schwab and Rhonda Mason.

Which fabulous ladies of fiction are your favourites?

Thoughts

Thoughts #47: Books I’m Unsure About Reading

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Are there any books out there that you keep seeing, that your friends seem to love, but when you look at them, read the blurb, think about it, you’re all… eh? *shrug*

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Part of me wonders if I’m being particularly judgmental with some of these books. I mean, lots of people have claimed that they are AMAZING after all. So here’s what I’m unsure about, and I’ve got a poll at the end where you can help me to decide whether I should give any of these titles a chance!

Stormdancer

First on the list… Stormdancer (The Lotus War #1) by Jay Kristoff. I’m unsure about this mostly because of the author… he did most of his research about Japan via Wikipedia and anime. And to me, the book has a lot of negative ‘weeaboo’ connotations because of this. Yet I still haven’t dismissed it entirely because a lot of my blogger/Goodreads friends have loved it.

Geek Girl

Geek Girl (Geek Girl #1) by Holly Smale is a similar story – I know lots of people who absolutely loved it. I enjoy reading books about geeks or people who are particularly passionate about something, because I can relate to them. However, I’m not sure whether this book is too far onto the ‘Young’ side of Young Adult for me.

Dune

Yeah, I know, this feels kind of blasphemous as a massive fan of science fiction. However, I’ve tried to read Dune (Dune Chronicles #1) by Frank Herbert several times, and have just never gotten into it. For this reason I’m hesitant to try again – but it’s such a sci-fi classic!

Clockwork Angel

I feel like I would enjoy the fantasy and paranormal elements of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel (Infernal Devices #1), but I’m unsure after hearing mixed things about her writing and also some slightly negative stuff about the author herself.

Now for the poll!

http://www.polljunkie.com/Scripts/embedder.js?v=1

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Would you urge me to read any of these books? Are there any books you’re unsure about reading?

Thoughts

Thoughts #46: I Don’t Get ‘Book Boyfriends’

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Unpopular opinion time: a lot of book bloggers talk about ‘book boyfriends’, e.g. characters in books that they would date if they could. I don’t get it.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a ‘book boyfriend’. I have never, ever encountered a book character who makes me feel that strongly about them. I have characters of both genders that I’d love to meet, be friends with, hang out with, but never one I could consider a ‘book boyfriend’.

Interestingly, I do get ‘video game boyfriends’. My holy trinity of Alistair Theirin, Anders and Varric Tethras from the Dragon Age series are all perfect (damn you Bioware for making Varric unromanceable!). I get really attached to characters in video games when the story is very detailed, and you are given a chance to really get to know them.

Varric

In fact, I think I feel more strongly about video game characters than book characters in general. And for some reason, this feels like a betrayal! Perhaps because the characters are more ‘visible’: no matter how detailed an author’s description of a certain book character is, obviously in a video game you immediately see the character AND (most of the time) gain a sense of their personality much more quickly.

Both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series have made me cry multiple times: they both contain characters I love and hard decisions I have to make regarding those characters. I think ultimately, that’s why I often feel closer: because MY decisions impact those characters. I can’t control what happens to a character in a book, it is set in stone and has already happened. With many of the video games I play, however, I can be responsible for whether someone lives or dies, and it is that tie that draws me to them.

Do you have ‘book boyfriends/girlfriends’, or are you like me, a little bit mystified by it all? What about ‘video game boyfriends/girlfriends’?

Thoughts

Thoughts #45: Contemporary for Cynics

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I’m not typically one for contemporary fiction. I tend to like my books with adventure, time travel, dragons or wizards. But occasionally I find a contemporary novel that really works for me. Therefore I wanted to share those particular novels here for my fellow contemporary cynics!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl

I won Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell from a fellow blogger (thank you Lianne!), and I am SO glad I did, because I’m not sure if I would have picked out for myself. It would appeal to anyone who considers themself to be part of a fandom, or is particularly passionate about a book, television show etc. Cath is so relatable, definitely someone for bookworms to connect with. The romance is sweet and genuine, born from a friendship rather than any kind of insta-love. For some, this might hit home – the worries of starting university (or a new job etc) as an introvert, meeting new people, socialising. Fangirl gets what it means to be an introvert and passionate, and is definitely a recommendation for people who feel like they fit either category.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

The main reason I picked up We Were Liars was due to the hype – so when it was £0.99 on the Kindle store, I thought why not? It reminded me, at least at the start, of the summers I’d always wished for as a child – the kind where each day presents a new and magical adventure, where the summer passes in a slow, warm state of bliss. However, there is much more to We Were Liars than a bunch of rich kids enjoying their summer. It has much more depth to it than you initially realise, and the ending may leave you a little heartbroken.

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Bridget Jones

Bridget Jones’s Diary has been one of my favourite books for a long, long time. Despite it being part of a genre I tend to avoid – not just contemporary but also ‘chick lit’, I absolutely love it. Bridget is hilarious, a 30-something singleton who fears dying alone and being eaten by alsatians… Her sense of humour is perfect and she manages to get herself into so many ridiculous scenarios. The sequel is also excellent, but the third book, which came out over fifteen years after the first, is one to be avoided…

Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon and the Homo Sapien Agenda

Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda was one of those Young Adult books I’d heard a lot about, and I thought it sounded a bit John Green-esque. I spotted it in my local library and thought I’d give it a shot. I made the mistake of starting this late at night, and then had to stay up far too late to finish it in one go. I read it in 2 and a half hours because I HAD to know who Blue was. I’m so glad it turned out the way it did! It is a truly adorable tale.

Are there any contemporary titles you would recommend for people who don’t usually read the genre?

Thoughts

Thoughts #44: How Do You Review Books?

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This post is aimed at my book blogger and reviewer readers – I want to discuss how I review books, and see whether others use a similar method or something completely different.

Firstly, how do you choose which books to review?

For me, I tend to review purely those books that I have specifically for review – from Netgalley, Edelweiss or the publisher. Occasionally, I’ll read a book of my own or from the library and decide to review it – but generally only if I have particularly strong feelings, whether negative or positive. That only tends to apply if I feel I have to say something about that particular book.

Secondly, what is your reviewing process?

I have a review notebook in which I make notes as I read. Sometimes I don’t like this method as I hate having to feel like I can’t just read and write stuff down later, and I hate breaking up my reading by making notes. But otherwise I’m worried that I’ll forget what I want to say about the book, and then have nothing to put in the review. This means that often I won’t read books for review whilst travelling etc, as I don’t tend to carry the notebook around with me. There have, however, been a few books that I’ve read so quickly that I didn’t feel the need to write anything down during reading, and just noted it all down after.

I have, since originally writing this post, tried writing reviews without a notebook, and I actually managed to write a review that I’m quite possibly the happiest I’ve been with for a while. Definitely trying without more often!

Finally, how do you write up your review?

I like to fill in all the information on the blog post first, like author, title etc, apply the tags – and then once that is done, I get down to writing the review. Sometimes review writing can be a laborious process, so if I get all the other stuff out of the way first then it feels like I’m on a productive streak. It doesn’t always work though… Anyway, I try to formulate my notes into paragraphs and bulk them out with other things I can think of.

Sometimes, I find it really difficult to write a review. Sometimes a book just doesn’t really make me feel anything, and I can’t think of many particularly positive or negative things to say about it. I find that frustrating, because I want my reviews to be as detailed and as helpful as possible – but at least I’m still being honest that way. And other times, I feel like I’ll need to resort to the Ron Swanson Method, as shown below.

How do you review books? Do you ever find writing a review to be difficult?

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