Why I still like using ratings (even if they’re imperfect)

Obviously, not everyone is a fan of ratings. And that’s a-okay! I’m not writing this post to give anyone the idea that they *have to* use ratings. You don’t have to like them or even find them useful- but I personally find them a great tool for a reviewer.

Of course, a rating is not going to give you any level of detail. Of course, they are entirely subjective. BUT a rating can still be helpful as a snapshot of what someone thinks. While there is *a lot* of leeway between even a single star (or in my case banana) you can still gauge a reasonable amount from a quick glance at a rating.

Plus, for me, they can help with statistics (because as you all know I’m a stats nerd 😉). Looking at Goodreads, for example, I can quickly find out if a book is making waves or if it’s sinking. Which can satisfy a morbid curiosity (or create excellent fodder for discussion pieces 😉).

I’m not going to say that ratings are the be-all and end-all of a review. And I definitely don’t think they should be taken too seriously. However, they can provide an overall impression. Which is really no substitute for reading the review… so I guess you should do that too 😉

What do you think? Do you use ratings in your reviews? Do you love them or loathe them? Let me know in the comments! And take a banana or two for the road 😉

The NeBUloUs Topic of ARCs

I am obviously *not* the expert on ARCs. I only request one or two a year, despite being a virtual blogging veteran at this point 😉 So perhaps I should keep my trap shut and let other more experienced bloggers take the lead on this topic… but then when have I ever managed to do that? I guess it’s about time that I address the NeBUloUs topic of ARCs (and why there’s no need to get in a tizzy over them).

What “inspired” me to talk about this was the latest twitter drama: an author having what can only be described as an unhinged rant about how people with small followings aren’t entitled to arcs. Which, naturally, made me want to rant I DAMN WELL AM ENTITLED TO ALL YOUR ARCS 😉 JK I just thought “wow this is a good way to put people off buying your books darling”. And more importantly, most people don’t care about your ARCs, chill out.

Really, there are a lot of perks not being too invested in ARCs. For starters, as The Literary Phoenix pointed out in her brilliant piece “Five Reasons I Kind of Hate ARCs”, they allow publishers to continue to undervalue bloggers. While they’re seen as compensation for blogging/vlogging/whatever, they’re actually more of a free marketing tool for the publisher. Ironically, the reward for all our hard (unpaid) work is… more work?! I dunno about you, but that seems a little off balance.

Admittedly, there has been a lot of (good-natured) discussion about Tiktokers getting paid and getting all the ARCs. Which seems part of the course at this point- when it comes to blogging, there’s always someone else on some other platform getting all the perks and opportunities. Luckily for us, as Krysta @Pages Unbound wrote in her fantastic piece “I’ve Accepted That Publishers Aren’t That Interested In Book Bloggers” there are definitely upsides to this. Not being valued as commercial commodities actually gives us the freedom to write what we want and say what we actually think!! I wouldn’t trade that for all the ARCs in the world… and yes, I do realise I’m saying that as someone who’s not a part of the ARC-machine 😉

Clearly, we don’t blog for the accolades and money and prestige. And that’s why I can safely say that ARCs don’t really matter to me as a reader. I personally have no desire to read every ARC. Especially given I’m perfectly content to read from the backlist, to get to the popular books after the hype dies down and to not be tied to deadlines. Reading is supposed to be fun after all!

This is not to disparage anyone who enjoys getting ARCs. And honestly, more power to you- I know what kind of graft you have to put in to get them nowadays. That said, it’s never going to be the end of the world if you can’t get hold of the latest ARC. After all, if you’re just looking for free books, you can always head to the library 😉

So, what do you think? Are ARCs important? If so, how important? Really wanna hear your thoughts on this one!

Tiktok made me read some pretty average books…

I’m clearly an old fogey. Tiktok is not a thing I like or understand- so do bear that in mind before reading this post. I can’t say that I’m the target audience because a) I’m a millennial and b) I don’t like the snappy, bizarre-inexplicable-squeeing format for book recs. Still, I have the sneaking suspicion that there doesn’t seem to be anything special about the books recommended on there.

Aside from the books that were already popular wayyyy before Tiktok became a thing (ie Song of Achilles, We Were Liars, The Hating Game etc) I’ve only found one decent read through the endless waves of eeking and squeaking over *THE NEXT BIG THING*!

Don’t get me wrong, hyped books often have their pitfalls. However, there’s usually at least one or two gems in the latest trend of popular titles (see above for some suggestions). This time round though… I’ve got nothing. Let’s have a more in depth look, shall we?

Iron Widow– this was a big NAH for me. To put it simply, I found this book E-X-A-U-S-T-I-N-G. Maybe I’m getting old (haha definitely true) but other than the ANGST I didn’t get much emotional range from this book. I also didn’t see much growth from the main character- which I guess could make it a static hero story… except with an anti-hero, so instead of the main character staying the same and everyone learning from their positive example, everyone learns to be unpleasant from the protagonist… YEESH. Not the book for me.

Ace of Spades– I feel like this was popular everywhere, but I’m counting it, as it’s on every TikTok list and it’s a very Gen Z book (and as we’ve already established, I’m too old to be cool at this point). I’m- quite simply- not woke enough to like this book. Plus, it didn’t work as a thriller for me, since once I cracked the messaging, I knew exactly where it was going. 

Well Met– I kept reading to try and figure out who the love interest is supposed to be and why I should care… which is when I realised I should stop reading and find something less bland.

Ex Hex– great title, nice nineties nostalgia fuel, yet ultimately more forgettable than a toadstool.

You’ll be the Death of Me– okay, I should’ve known this one would do nothing for me, since I wasn’t all that into One of Us is Lying. After struggling for a third of the book to give a monkeys about the characters and the mystery, I DNF’d it and I have no regrets. 

Atlas Six– guys I don’t get the hype?! It’s a messy book with messy characters and I just… don’t care?

Love Hypothesis– annnd the one book I actually enjoyed turns out to be Rey-Lo fanfic (what are the chances?!) But seriously, it explains why I thought so much of it was flawed and couldn’t get behind the love interest. Turns out he’s based on a sociopathic dad-killer. At least she got his unlikability down to a T, even if the sex scenes made me squirm (and not in a good way).

As you can see, this is not an extensive list (if you want better research into Tiktok and its issues, definitely recommend checking out Krysta @Pages Unbound’s post on the topic). And some of this is clearly a sign that I am outgrowing YA (which I’m sure will be a whole other discussion). Either way, I’m clearly not going to be converted to Tiktok any time soon. Though admittedly, I did have the same attitude to Youtube, Twitter and Instagram… so I’m sure I’ll get into it as soon as the trend dies 😉. Until then, I’m gonna die on this hill: TikTok don’t impress me much 😉

Alright, am I missing something? What is so great about TikTok other than dog videos? Have you made any awesome bookish discoveries over there? And am I totally wrong about all these books? Let me have it!

Being a “Bad Art Friend” – An Unpleasant New Writing Trend or a Tale as Old as Time?

Recently, I went to a writing group, where a fellow writer told me how she got her inspiration. She was writing the story of a friend of a friend losing her virginity at 28. “When my friend told me the story, I just found it so funny, I had to write it into a novel,” she told me. And I cringed. The idea of such a personal story being relayed to the world is a lot of people’s worst nightmare. And the fact that the person poaching the plot was a complete stranger (thereby obviously not having permission to tell it) didn’t make me feel better about it.  

But it did get me thinking… how bad is it to pinch parts of someone else’s life story? Is it ever okay?

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the “Bad Art Friend”- a complicated tale of a personal story being plagiarised (and consequent law suits). A lot of people cannot decide who exactly the “Bad Art Friend” was in that situation (since this certainly seems to be a case of writers behaving badly). Nonetheless- whichever side I am on- there’s something deeply uncomfortable about taking someone else’s story in order to mock them. I cannot help but be reminded of Music and Lyrics, where Drew Barrimore’s character has been traumatised by such an event. Naturally, as the audience it is impossible not to empathise- for who would want to be the laughing stock of the world?

Which makes this seem like a cut and dry case- except it’s clearly not. Because isn’t this just something writers and artists do? Drawing from real life is quite possibly the oldest tradition in writing. We all have poets and singers we admire who openly write about real life people. And while artists like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran may have been criticised in recent years for this practice… it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon. People scour Shakespeare’s sonnets for evidence of the real people they were about. Thomas Hardy knowingly took details from real life cases he read about in newspapers to add realism to his stories. And what of historical fiction, cannibalising the lives of real figures in history and reproducing them for our entertainment. Indeed, even I am engaging in this practice by sharing my anecdote at the start of this piece!

Sadly, I don’t think there is an easy answer here. If you argue that you should obscure the references, keeping identities secret like Carly Simons did with “You’re So Vain”, you underestimate the innumerable fan sites dedicated to decoding songwriter’s every word. And if you suggest only writing nice things your victims subjects, then you ignore the likes of Christopher Robin, the star of Winnie the Pooh, who famously complained about being foisted into the spotlight against his will. And retribution for those whose stories are stolen seems out of the question- lawsuits don’t help you win allies and plotting murder like in the (hopefully entirely fictional) Plot seems a bit extreme 😉

It seems to me that there is no way around absorbing parts of our lives into our stories and art. There is no obvious dividing line where truth becomes fiction after all. But perhaps we can still endeavour to treat people with basic dignity and respect. Perhaps there are some stories that we ought to leave well enough alone. Perhaps the only conclusive advice I can offer is this: don’t be a dick. Which is sound advice in general 😉

For more on this discussion (and somewhat different takes) check out these videos:

All of this leaves me in quite the conundrum- so I’d like to hear what you think! Is it ever okay to fictionalise someone else’s story? Can you entirely avoid drawing from real life? Let me know in the comments!

It’s okay to collect books

She says as she unhauls a few more books…

Of course, the main reason I’m clearing out these books is to make space for even more books 😉 As many of you will doubtless agree, there’s an immense pleasure to be had from perusing and purchasing *pretty new books*. I love going into a bookshop and being hit by that beautiful new book smell, looking at all the glossy new covers and growing my tbr with books I never intended on reading before. And of course, this is not an endorsement of mass consumerism and I will always be a BIG FAN of libraries- yet I have come to see that of all the vices to have in this world, collecting books is not that bad.

To start with, books are beautiful. Inside and out. Judging by the way the market has gone, booksellers agree that making a cover as gorgeous as possible is the best way to get that book onto our shelves. And they’re not wrong! I am easily swayed by a lovely cover. Not just for books I plan to read either- I’m a big fan of collectibles, especially for my favourite books. Most recently, I was gifted this gorgeous edition of the Hobbit:

Rereads are made all that more special with a nice new edition or an old nostalgic version! As much as the words are the same, I rather enjoy a physical copy that carries some memories or creates new ones. I may never experience the same story for the first time- but I can experience it fresh eyes and a different copy 😉 And these books become so precious to me (gollum style… except no one’s throwing them into Mount Doom on my watch! 😉 )

And personally, I love exploring what books other people have on display. If people can get over how nosy I am about what they’re reading, then it’s a great conversation starter 😉 And as someone who doesn’t always like to venture outside my own habitat, seeing bookshelves usually makes me feel at ease (unless of course the only book they own is mein kampf 😉). People’s bookshelves are often a wonderful insight into their personality.

Obviously, this goes beyond mere decoration (I’m not some celebrity ordering books by the yard 😉). And as much as I do feel rather special picking up a swish edition, it’s not all that necessary (especially considering most of my books are tatty and old). Collections of books are valuable in a way that goes far beyond monetary value. Here’s a shocking revelation: it’s the words inside that matter (and the words I’ve then written above those words cos I’m all for writing in books 😉) What you’re really collecting is the stories themselves. Inside is the accumulated wisdom of the author, their weird idiosyncrasies and their most preciously held thoughts. And I just love being able to support those authors as much as humanely possible.

So, what do you think? Do you enjoy collecting books? Am I preaching to the choir here or do you have a different view? Let me know in the comments!

Books Set in the Pandemic- yay or nay?! Discussion inspired by Pages Unbound

Last month, I read a brilliant discussion by Krysta @Pages Unbound about why she won’t be reading books set in the pandemic and it got me thinking… do I feel the same?

When things first kicked off in 2020, I definitely did. Pandemic books seemed like poor taste cashgrabs and I felt awkward about reading them. I favoured books with heavy doses of escapism and distraction. And while I was drawn to older books set during pandemics- I didn’t actually end up enjoying them. I realised quite quickly that it was the wrong time for that sort of thing.

AND YET- I still hesitate to say I don’t want to read books set in the pandemic. Because as time has dragged on, I’m being to feel like a lot of books have this gaping hole where COVID should be. As much as I don’t want to be reminded of the crap that’s going on right now… I also can’t deny that it’s happening. I feel like it’s beginning to feel a little weird to have this MASSIVE global event not mentioned at all. And, to my mind, contemporaries and thrillers set in 2019 is only going to work up to a point (especially when we as the readers are suffering from the dramatic irony that none of the events of the story will matter a few months after its set…)

Realistically, it may be impossible for authors *not to* mention it. After all, writers love to dissect the world through literature- and it would be absurd if this was the one time in history that didn’t happen. If people could write about world wars and oppression and other unspeakable horrors while they were happening- why not this? It not only serves as form of catharsis, but also a historical marker to have fiction written about events as they unfold.

Perhaps there is a comfortable in-between- I’ve already started to see some recent releases that quietly mention the pandemic and then move on. It doesn’t have to be a big part of the story or detrimental to the plot or even that big cathartic moment I’ve been talking about. Only, it is there. And that may be what I’m looking for. Because while I think I will need books on the pandemic soon… it’s probably fair to say that it’s “not this day”.

That’s all for now! I HIGHLY recommend checking out Pages Unbound’s take and their blog for more fantastic content and deep discussions!

And I’m super curious to hear what you think? Do you want to read books set during the pandemic?

The Restorative Power of Reading

In the past bizarre (and frequently terrible) year, reading has kept a lot of us going. Whether it’s through escapism or giving me much needed life advice, books have proven their power to keep us going. I know for myself books have been a great escape.

For me, opening a new book or even starting a fresh chapter has been like pressing the reset button. It doesn’t matter which head I’ve stepped into for the time being- it’s a relief to see the world through a different lens. Because books don’t just lower stress levels- they frequently act as a handy Guide Out of Hell. They may not be able to slay a dragon (try throwing one at its head and see how far it gets you) but they can offer some good tips 😉

Books are educational in a million different ways, teaching us everything from empathy to philosophy to practical skills… and beyond! It’s the one leveller we have left when it comes to education, because it’s still an affordable hobby (make use of your libraries people!!) A simple pen to paper can restore balance to a human mind. It can give our thoughts a moment of harmony.   

Reading is a refreshing pastime. It doesn’t simply take you away- it gives you plenty of souvenirs. Trinkets you carry around for years, maybe without even knowing it, until at last you look in your pocketses and there’s the one ring… Okay maybe not that last bit! Yet reading does remind me every time that when you discover a new story, there’s no knowing where you might end up.

And yes, this is an indulgent post to write about 😉 I’m sure it will not take much to have bookworms agreeing that reading is a wonderful hobby- but every so often we just need to celebrate reading for all that it is.

Do you agree? Has reading helped you in the last year? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The Importance of Knowing Your Own Taste: Ways to Avoid the HYPE and HATE Train

There are lots and lots of reasons to be clear about what you want in life and reading. For starters, there’s considerably less pain and more to gain. It’s a great way to find more joy, meaning and happiness. And it’s a strong way to avoid following the crowd off a cliff and into a great big steaming pile of cow dung (which you could’ve smelt from the top of that cliff if you’d only listened to your nose).

Cos yeah, we’ve all been there (figuratively speaking). We’ve all picked up that book we damn well knew we didn’t want to read; we’ve all taken someone else’s word to avoid something we later enjoyed. Then we’ve kicked ourselves for time wasted. We’ve all thought why did I listen/not listen to the hype just then. And of course, no one is fully immune to the nebulous methods of marketing gurus, but being clear on what you do actually want is a good way not to get swayed in either direction. It’s a good way to know whether to hop on that bandwagon… and it’s also a good way to steer clear of the cancellation fanatics too. Knowing your own taste is about being comfortable in your own skin (so that hopefully you don’t go all Buffalo Bill on your enemies).

The great thing about knowing your own taste is you don’t have to avoid different points of view… not that it would work anyway. Amazingly, you can’t socially distance yourself from every single differing opinion (much as some people would like to try) which is why it’s probably healthier to just take it in small doses 😉 And luckily, there’s this tried and tested method of just listening to people with different views/perspectives/tastes. I often read and watch reviews from people who don’t have the same opinions to me- and you know what? Doesn’t hurt a bit! Sometimes I learn something, sometimes I find something new to read… and sometimes nothing happens at all and I go on my merry way.

Because part of being a sentient human/primate is knowing not to take every word other people say as gospel. It’s only if we know ourselves that we can understand another point of view. That’s why if you know your own taste, you won’t have any trouble identifying where opinions overlap and where they diverge. It really is that simple.  

Plus, there’s the added bonus that it might just make you a better reviewer. I know we all like to pretend that our word is final, but taste is subjective! And that means knowing where other people might not agree with us. I, for one, have always been pretty clear that I like prose on the more flowery side (or as I like to put it, I’m firmly on the Fitzgerald side of the Hemmingway-Fitzgerald Divide). I also care less about world building than some other fantasy fans. Etcetera etcetera. Point is: it’s good to know when not to trust reviewers.

So, don’t just listen to me! Go with your gut. Pick up that book no one but you seems interested in. Read whatever *you* want to read (and then put it down again if it turns out it wasn’t for you 😉).  

Oh and just by chance, as I was finishing writing this post, this helpful video popped up in my subs:

Just some food for thought! What do you think? Do you think knowing your own taste helps you avoid the hype/hate train? Let me know in the comments!

Lessons learned from looking back on 5 years of top tens… because hindsight is 2020!

Yeahhh I knew I’d make that joke before the end of the year 😉 (don’t be surprised if I make it several more times before we’re done, cos something good had to come out of this year 😉). I don’t know about you, but I love to look back on my top ten posts every so often. It gives me such warm fuzzy feelings to revisit and remember every great book I read. And I get especially nostalgic as I start working on my new favourites lists! Which is why, after five years of doing Top Tens, I thought I’d share some thoughts about what happens when I look back on these posts!

Very occasionally, there are books I look at and think “why did I put that on here?”. A good example of this is Throne of Glass, back in 2015, because I only fell in love with it at book 3 (it’s possibly also tainted for me by later books). That said, this rarely happens, because competition is usually so fierce and (luckily) I read a lot of unbelievably amazing books!!

Sometimes, though, I would like to reshuffle the list a little. Such as in 2016 War and Peace should’ve ended up at #2 and Peculiar Children at #10. Also, in retrospect, I read so many *incredible* books in 2018, that I don’t know if I would keep the same order (Circe certainly seems like it should be higher… but then it had some really stiff competition!)

That said, so far my feelings about the number one pick haven’t changed! And on that note, I love that each year I’ve chosen a book from a different genre: non fic in 2015 (admittedly by accident cos I didn’t order that post on purpose), historical thriller in 2016 (or whatever genre Shadow of the Wind is being classed as today 😉), fantasy in 2017, classic in 2018, contemporary in 2019 (which was also an audiobook for a change!)… it’s a great mix!

(BTW my least favourites never change position- but the big difference is I don’t tend to go back to them, cos I like to forget those books existed!)

So there you go- that’s what I think when I go back and look at old top tens! Do you have this habit too? Do your opinions on the books you’ve included change or stay the same? Do you ever rethink the order? Let me know in the comments!

Writerly Benefits From Reading Widely

As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of genre snobbery. It’s limiting, makes reading less fun and means missing out on whole worlds of experiences. But what about for writers? Surely, if you’re an aspiring writer, you need to focus on reading obsessively in your own genre? Wouldn’t it be better to not get distracted by all those shiny titles outside the category you’re writing in? Well, while reading books in your own genre is *a must*, I’d argue reading widely is also vital for a writer’s development. Each genre has something special to offer and lots of unique lessons to learn. And even if successfully pulling off a technique is not guaranteed by simply knowing it exists, being exposed to a greater variety certainly helps! Let’s break it down by genre, shall we?

lily and jamesRomance– I mean the clue is in the title… romances teach you how to develop a romance. Whether it’s hate to love, friends to lovers or anything in between, all the tropes have been tried and tested in this very broad category. And it’s such a long-standing genre, so there are *countless* classics to choose from (not just harlequin novels with topless men on the covers 😉). If you want more banter and happily ever afters, then you need to be checking this out! What’s more, it doesn’t stop with the romantic relationships. Friendships and family relationships are a strong element of this genre- even if they’re dysfunctional (because, yes, you can learn how to write toxic relationships from this too- even if it’s just an accident of bad writing 😉). Basically anything related to relationships are going to be explored in this genre- so unless you’re writing a book about a hermit, you may want to at least try a romance sometime.

dragon gifFantasy– ahh my genre of choice. I could rave forever about why this genre is *out of this world*. Perhaps just one of the reasons I find it so rewarding is that, in some ways, it’s the purest form of storytelling. With more mythologically based narratives and archetypal characters, it can give an idealised version of reality (if not a real one). Plus, all that magic world building is great inspiration, because even if you’re setting it in the real world, you need to have a sense of place. It also has a great tradition of the pure evil villain or the fascist archetypal dictator- even if it’s not as good at the more human villains (although GRRM is a good example of someone breaking that mould). That said, it’s solid in the anti-hero department these days. If you need flawed, but lovable characters, then this is a great genre for it. 

spaceSci fi– this offers a lot of the same things as fantasy in terms of getting a sense of place… though it’s more rooted in reality (which is ironically very useful for fantasy writers!) I’m not a big sci fi reader, but even I can say it’s amazing for philosophical and existential discussions (not just cos this genre includes dystopias… though that’s a big pull!!). Plus, many space operas in particular know how to pack in *action*.

enchanted castle victorian homeHistorical– for me, this is another genre where the strong suit is the setting. Yet what I also like about historical fiction is how it brings facts to life. I also personally love how lots of historical fiction works so well as genre-crossers, blending lots of different categories into one. I’ve read so many that manage to be historical and a thriller and a romance. While every book should manage to do this, I’d say that I particularly love how historical fiction balances its themes and subplots.  

dr-evilThrillers– for me, thrillers are hands down the best for villains. A lot of the time you’ll have the opportunity to get in the head of some sick mothereffers. Thrillers also allow for sparser writing and occasionally atmospheric reads. It’s also good if you’re looking for some more of that realism (eek if a thriller spins into fantastical territory!). Plus, if you need a clue how to get plotting, pacing and twists right, then boy is this the genre for you!  

read-fastNon-fiction– well, for starters there’s nothing stranger than real life. Given that non fiction is factual (or at least it should be) you can get *actual knowledge* from them to use in your own books. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot about characterisation, people and the nature of evil from both memoirs and psychology books. But obviously, there’s so much more you can discover!

Of course, this was not an exhaustive list, but I hope it was inspiring! Do you believe there are writerly benefits from reading widely? What do you think they are? And what else do you get out of different genres? Let me know in the comments!