Thursday, January 4, 2018

Faves of 2017

What an awesome reading year 2017 was!  I mostly read whatever book I felt like according to my whim, as well as making an effort to read from my long term TBR list. I also read some YA that my teenage kids (aged 13, 15 and 16) were loving so we could have bookish chats and share faves.

I've read some books that received a lot of high praise and awards, but my personal faves still tend to be the cruisey, charming books that make me smile, swoon and relax. It's these books that continue to be my fave reading experiences, the ones that are feel good reads, where I just chill out and escape.

I have pie charts and stats regarding everything I read in 2017: genres and audience, format and star ratings, author nationalities, years published and series verse standalone in this blog post. 

In summary I read 135 books
Adult Fiction: 58
Young Adult: 63
Middle Grade: 7
New Adult: 4

This included
40 Audiobooks
15 rereads

I rated over 60 of my books 4 stars or higher (which means I either really liked, or loved, 60 books this year!) This has made it hard to pick my stand-out reads, and many I picked are maybe not the best, most brilliantly written books I read, but are my personal favourites just because they matched my mood and brought me light, happiness and unputdownable goodness. 

Fave Contemporary YA

A List of Cages by Robin Roe
A List of Cages was heartcrushingly good. If I were to make a word cloud of this book, included would be: hopeful, tense, devastating, brotherhood, secrets, cute, tears, powerful, smiley. 

Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

This was a heart-in-mouth, unputdownable read. It also features one of my personal kryptonite fave tropes: letter writing with secret identity.

Stargazing for Beginners by Jenny McLachlan

So funny and sweet with a slow burn, feel good crush. I loved the humour and so many hilarious scenes. It's a little bit quirky/over the top in some places (with some of the characters, climax and resolution) but I liked it in this book - I like off-beat humour with a lot of heart. 

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

A mesmerising blend of gorgeous writing and mysterious happenings, this contemporary/fantasy/magical realism/genre-blending novel completely stole my heart. I was hooked after a few chapters but I did not anticipate how much the characters would endear themselves to me. Laura Ruby is a born storyteller and some parts had me feeling like I was inside a fairy tale. This book not only had achey, brilliant, shining characters to fall in love with, but it was also unpredictable and daring and wholly original while remaining full of heart.

By Your Side by Kasie West

They hit that sweet YA spot (something light, swoony and unputdownable ~ with just the right amount of character development to add some ache and depth)

This started out slow and then I was suddenly hooked. I loved the history in this and the bittersweet discoveries which gave me actual tears right near the end. This was compulsively readable and a story I know will stay with me. 

Fave Middle Grade

Absolutely hilarious, cute and swoony. I grinned my way through this and often reread scenes just to let the smiley moments linger. I loved everything about this <3 True to the title, there were many hilariously awkward moments, so this should be your next read when you're in the mood for some LOLs (haha). I seriously loved this ~ it's a perfect blend of some of my fave things in fiction: light-hearted fun with the perfect amount of angst, awkward shenanigans, characters who are my people, and a plot which builds in anticipation to a sweet. sweet climax and charming and cool resolution.

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

Ahh, perfectly charming, whimsical, funny and wholly original with some wicked and wild unexpected twists. This book was such a delight to spend time with and so creatively realised. The characters endeared themselves to me and I loved every minute spent with them. It was a whole lot of adventure and fun, but also with some tender and heart-wrenching tear-jerker moments. 

Fave Fantasy

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Ooh, this was an unexpected fave. It's deliciously original, with such an intriguing premise (children tumbling into other worlds, and then being returned and rejected), a boarding school setting and some  startling sinister activity. Once I got into this, I couldn't out it down and only wished it went for longer. 

The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon

This fantasy novel just hit the sweet spot, it was perfectly timed to my reading mood and I loved the magic and world building. It also had a sloooow burn romance featuring a forced marriage (I love when that premise is done well). I devoured The Bird and The Sword in less than a day ~ another reading memory highlight of 2017.

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Such a strange and epic fantasy unlike any I have read. The world in Strange the Dreamer came to life for me and was not unlike being inside a vivid dream. It had a slowish start but I knew it would pay off and it definitely did. What a gorgeous and vibrant and harsh and beautiful and devastating experience reading this book was! The imagination of Laini Taylor astounds me.

White Cat by Holly Black

Creative and clever and funny with a tightly plotted mystery and some great twists and reveals. I had seen this series around for a while but thought it didn't look like my thing - so glad I gave it a go as I binge read all three books and found them so satisfying and fun. New Holly Black fangirl!

Fave Adult Fiction

My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella

My Not So Perfect life is predictable chick lit. But it was also so happy-making! I loved the charm of this book, and spent a smiley afternoon delighting in this book. It's books like this which bring some added sunshine to my reading life - and I am always on the lookout for that. Can't wait for the next Sophie Kinsella. 

Notable mentions

I read 135 books - rating over 60 of them 4 stars or higher. So it's hard for me to just mention the ones above. I've tried to just stick to ones that made a lasting impression and I really loved reading, so I'm giving a shout-out to the ones below as I 100% recommend all of them!

Five contemporary YA's (and one fantasy/fairytale retelling)

Four series I very much enjoyed

Three New Adult Books I loved

Two historicals that stayed with me

Six Adult Fiction titles I loved

Have you read and loved any of my 2017 faves?
I would love to hear a few of your faves so leave me a comment and I'll add them to my 2018 TBR :)

Curious about my faves in previous years? Here's links to my other posts (I'm thinking of doing a very delayed faves of 2016 post which I missed last year):

2014 Part One  Part Two  Top Ten2013 Top Ten2012 Top Ten2011 Part One (the books) Part Two (characters) Part Three (scenes) Part Four (faves)
2010 Faves  and Aussie YA faves

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Reading Stats

Although my blog (and social media efforts) have been very sleepy at times during 2017, my reading year has been fantastic ~ one of my most prolific reading years in a long time. I have a reading diary that I love filling out and flicking back through (I also record all movies, TV shows, and cinema visits, as well as games played ~ board/card games). I'm addicted to lists and notebooks so I love record keeping with ink and paper.

Before I share my fave reads in the next day or two, I've collated some reading data from 2017 :)

I read a total of 135 fiction books this year, smashing my goodreads goal of 100. 15 of those were rereads, leaving 120 new books devoured.

In 2016 I moved away from YA and read over 80% adult fiction. This year saw me swing back to nearly 50% YA. I love mixing up adult fiction, YA and MG, as it really helps avoid burnout and book hangovers - as does varying the genres.

Ahh, I am such a contemporary girl. I am always on the lookout for great fantasy and historical fiction, but both are genres I tend to have a lot of DNF's in - especially if the world building is complicated or the plot has a slower start. I am really keen to read more fantasy in 2018 and still have a lot on my TBR, plus some of the 2018 releases look really promising. I'll be checking everyone's end of year best-of lists to see which fantasy I need to prioritise.

I am so pleased with the amount of books I enjoyed this year. I am really great at DNFing ~ if I am not enjoying the book, why keep spending time with it? I tend to read to 25-30% and if I'm still not engaged I happily move on to something else (I don't record DNFs in my reading totals). 

5 stars means a new favourite book that I loved reading and was exactly perfect for me at the time - they represent my fave reading memories of the year and my fave new characters and literary worlds. 4 stars is also really really good, and all those 3 star reads are all books I liked and enjoyed. 

* I marked 15 books as 5 stars, and 46 books as 4 stars ~ so over 60 really great reads tailored to my reading tastes = very happy :D

I am so surprised that a third of my reading titles were published this year. I honestly did not think I kept up with new releases so much. And one quarter from 2016 ~ a lot of these I added to my TBR after seeing other readers 2016 end of year fave lists. I read a lot of books from my library, and most of them eBooks ~ so there is always new releases being added to my library apps. In 2018 I want to keep making time for backlist titles (how far back is backlist??? - 20% of my 2017 reading was more than 5 years old) especially the ones on my TBR shelf.

I read 27 books by Australian authors this year, 20 from UK (and Irish) and only 3 from Europe and 3 from New Zealand. There were so many Aussie books I just did not get to, so my TBR for 2018 is already looking full of Aussie 2017 releases...

I am truly surprised to see nearly 20% of my reading are books from a series. I don't really feel like I follow too many series but here it is. I read 17 #1 books in a series (3 of them were re-reads as I lose my memory between #1 and #2 release dates). I plan to continue with 6 of the series I started this year.

And here is the big difference boosting my reading stats this year ~ audiobooks. In the past I've not listened to more than 10 audiobooks a year, some years barely that. This year I listened to 40 audiobooks - nearly one a week. This is thanks to my awesome library who have such a great range. I also sampled a lot more and abandoned, which is a great way to tear through my TBR, haha. I usually get an hour of listening in a day while walking my dog, plus extra if I'm driving around or doing housework. In October and November I was really sick in bed for weeks and got through 15 audiobooks, lying in the dark. I also listen to them at either 1.25 or 1.5 speed, depending on the narrator.

I also much prefer reading on my kindle but read physical copies for purchases and when my library doesn't have e-format.

My local library is my most valuable reading resource <3

I also read from my shelves (rereads, and TBR books that I've purchased, mostly secondhand, from previous years). And I ask for books as gifts and buy a small handful every year. 'Bought after' are books I read from my library and then bought my own copy for my favourites shelf. This year I added 23 books to my main shelves (bought new, second hand and gifts) ~ I've read all of these. I also have a mini TBR shelf (in my bedroom) with secondhand books I hope to get to in 2018.

How did you guys go reading this year? 
I hope you found many more fave books to add to your shelves and store away in your reading memories.

I'll be back soon listing my fave reads of 2017 <3

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermore #1) by Jessica Townsend ~ Book Review

Morrigan Crow is cursed. Born on an unlucky day, she is blamed for all local misfortunes, from hailstorms to heart attacks - and, worst of all, the curse means that Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide.
But as Morrigan awaits her fate, a strange and remarkable man named Jupiter North appears. Chased by black-smoke hounds and shadowy hunters on horseback, he whisks her away into the safety of a secret, magical city called Nevermoor.
It's there that Morrigan discovers Jupiter has chosen her to contend for a place in the city's most prestigious organisation: the Wundrous Society. In order to join, she must compete in four difficult and dangerous trials against hundreds of other children, each boasting an extraordinary talent that sets them apart. Except for Morrigan, who doesn't seem to have any special talent at all.
To stay in the safety of Nevermoor for good, Morrigan will need to find a way to pass the tests - or she'll have to leave the city to confront her deadly fate.
Ahh, how fun was this book!!! I had that 'this is going to be a good book feeling' right from the first chapter which caught me off guard with it's charming and whimsical vibe. But it wasn't just amusing or funny, it was creative and magical and felt wholly original. I was absolutely enchanted the whole way through, and the twists and surprises delighted me and kept me up in the night.
As for the characters? Some loyal, some mysterious, others have you guessing: who can you trust? What is their real agenda? So many of them were unique and fun to meet and a small contingent have already burrowed their way into my heart as new fave fictional characters <3.
I loved all the little sneaky fun aspects of Nevermoor. From the food they ate, to the houses, transport, the history and the lands, the annual celebrations, the way they do Christmas, the mythical creatures, all the little magical touches were just so fun to discover and explore.
The trials (I love a book with trials)! So fun, thrilling and unexpected. I loved the final trial the most, where the creativity and talent of the contestants was amazing. Jessica Townsend seems to have an unlimited pool of imagination on which to draw from ~ oh my gosh I loved it so! 
It was also delightfully creepy ~ enough to give some small thrills and scares with certain scenes. There was an escalating sense of danger where I wanted to scream into the book and tell Morrigan to take care! Look out! 
This is the kind of book that is both an immense pleasure to read and also the rare kind of book that can cause the readers imagination to take flight and daydream. Not only do you visit an incredible world, but afterwards, there's the possibility of the reader themselves opening up their imagination to creating their own wondrous world, where anything could take place. 
The Trials of Morrigan Crow was a fave read of the year for me and I am certain it will be a new favourite book for so many (I've passed it straight on to my 13 year old daughter). I absolutely recommend this for readers of all ages (it is a middle grade book but with the transcendent charm of Harry Potter/Narnia for older readers as well). If you have nieces and nephews/children to buy books for for Christmas this is sure to be a hit :) I can't wait for Nevermore #2 ~ there is a delightful promise of so much more to come.
The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermore #1) is available everywhere now!
Thanks to Hachette Australia for my review copy :) 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail ~ Review

Gracie has never felt like this before. One day, she suddenly can't breathe, can't walk, can't anything and the reason is standing right there in front of her, all tall and weirdly good-looking: A.J. 

It turns out A.J. likes not Gracie but Gracie's beautiful best friend, Sienna. Obviously Gracie is happy for Sienna. Super happy! She helps Sienna compose the best texts, responding to A.J. s surprisingly funny and appealing texts, just as if she were Sienna. Because Gracie is fine. Always! She's had lots of practice being the sidekick, second-best. 

It s all good. Well, almost all. She's trying.

Well, That Was Awesome!

Hello, new favourite book :)

Well, That Was Awkward is one brilliantly funny, very clever, unputdownable, grin-worthy absolute blast of a book. Oh my gosh, I loved it so. 

Well, That Was Awkward is a charming loose retelling of Cyrano de Bergerac ~ always a fun premise to remake for teens of today ~ who are texting and emoji-ing all over the place. It's a real feel-good story with delicious puns, quick witted humour, a tortoise (and a rabbit), a suddenly cute boy, best friends, epic inside jokes (Never. Gonna. Happen.), and the perfect amount of depth to flesh out all the characters. The characters are in grade 8 and they are perfectly awesome.  Oh, and the parents were also complete classics! I love when parents are just as funny and original as the teen characters (shout out to all you awesome parents out there! Haha). 

True to the title, there were many hilariously awkward moments, so this should be your next read when you're in the mood for some LOLs (haha). I seriously loved this ~ it's a perfect blend of some of my fave things in fiction: light-hearted fun with the perfect amount of angst, awkward shenanigans, characters who are my people, and a plot which builds in anticipation to a sweet. sweet climax and charming and cool resolution. 

Note: this is a perfect one for all the MG readers out there, as well as YA readers - and adults who love to smile and reminisce about those awkward early teen years, haha. 

Well, That Was Awkward @ goodreads

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Interview with author Pip Harry #LoveOzYA

I am so happy to introduce Pip Harry to inkcrush. Pip is a #LoveOzYA author who writes contemporary novels for young adults. Her award winning novels are not just faves of mine, but of readers everywhere around the globe. She shares with us a bit about her inspriation for her lastest novel Because of You, her writing process, advice for writers, recent favourite reads and more...
Author Pip Harry

Hello and welcome to inkcrush, Pip Harry :) It's so good to chat with you on here right after the release of your 3rd YA novel Because of You. (I feel honoured for you to be stopping by!)
Hello and thank you lovely Naomi for having me!
You've mentioned before that your best writing comes when you can personally relate on some level to the story. Can you share some of your own life experience that sparked Tiny and Nola's story?
I definitely need to emotionally click into the story on some level, so that’s always a big part of choosing what to write about. It takes me a couple of years to complete a novel, so I have to care deeply about the characters and story to stay interested and engaged!  In my own life I met many tenacious, funny and intelligent homeless people while working as a volunteer once a week in a shelter, helping to facilitate a creative writing program.  My experience with that program and those incredible writers sparked the story of Because of You. We even took our group to the Sydney Writers’ Festival to perform, which echoes a later scene in Because of You!
[N: I think the way you care for your characters reflects in the way readers also come to deeply care for them! And I am so thrilled that the later scene in Because of You was sparked by real events ~ incredible!]
I love both Tiny and Nola, who have not only different backgrounds and circumstances, but have unique voices and ways of looking at the world. Did the voices of Tiny and Nola come to you strongly formed or did it take a while to get to know them before you were able to flesh out their story?
Tiny and Nola couldn’t be more different, so their friendship initially presented me with challenges. How would they first talk? What would they talk about? In the end, I realised they are still teenage girls, so initially they talk about boys and eat baked goods!
Tiny came to me pretty much fully formed and ready for action – but Nola was a problem child. In early drafts, she was coming off as very self-centred and whiny and my beta readers said they couldn’t relate to her as much as Tiny. They were right! I kept a little of Nola’s spoilt side in the final version, but explored her home life and relationships more deeply to give her more edge and depth.
[N: Haha! Yes to boys and baked goods! ;) ]
One of my favourite things about your writing is meeting and falling in love with -- and being inspired by -- your characters. You write characters who are flawed, make mistakes, and struggle with all kinds of conflicting emotions and insecurities. At the same time, these characters are courageous, brave, true, and have moments of startling empathy, wisdom and honesty. How do you approach crafting your characters? (Plus any tips for budding writers?)
Oooh, that’s such nice feedback, thank you! I’m a very flawed person myself and I make all kinds of mistakes and I’m incredibly insecure at times … so all that goes into my characters! You will never find me creating a perfect human in my books, because they just don’t exist. I’m especially careful to write parents who have their own problems and inconsistencies, as I think that’s true to life. Tips for budding writers: don’t be afraid to be honest and get your character’s flaws down on the page, but also allow them to have moments of true courage and emotion. Allow them to be vulnerable and true.
[N: That is so true about parents ~ being one myself ;). It's your vulnerable and courageous characters that make your stories resound long after reading the last page]
I know you're more of a pantser than a plotter. Can you tell us a little bit about how that works for you? Do you get a lot of surprises along the way? (Any awesome surprises while writing Because of You?) Do you fly through your first draft and then face massive structural edits once you have found the story, or do you feel out the story over lots of versions and then plan once you know where you're headed?
Oh yes, always a pantser. I enjoy the surprises along the way, some of the things my characters do are SO unexpected. That keeps it interesting for me. In Because of You, I had no idea Mari (Tiny’s friend) was going to show up in the city. She just popped up! And the poetry was a bit surprising, I’d never really written poetry before.
I do not fly through any stage of writing books. 😉 More accurately I plod along, sometimes speeding up, sometimes dragging my heels, until I can type ‘The End’. I always print out the first draft and force myself to read it in raw form (and it’s usually pretty terrible) then I radically edit and polish before sending it to a few trusted readers. I do feel out the story as I go, and Because of You was changing right up to the final days before printing.
[N: Oh! The poetry was definitely one of the fave elements of Because of You for me. I reread some of those passages a few times over. You definitely have a poets way of capturing moments and sharing secrets and emotions through verse]
What is it you love most about writing? Was there a writing highlight while working on Because of You?
I love being in another world with my characters and taking them on a journey, and then I love sharing that journey with readers. My highlight while working on Because of You was taking the manuscript to the Djerassi Artists Retreat outside San Francisco. There, I did a YA workshop with 11 other writers and facilitator Nova Ren Suma. It was magical, and set the book on the right path and made me believe in it again.
What is something you struggle with as a writer? 
Starting the first draft is difficult for me, and I always put it off until the characters are screaming at me.  
What is one of your favourite things about writing for teenagers?
Teens are so open to new ideas, so engaged with the writing and super smart. I feel really privileged to write for and about them. I really, really love school visits.
[N: As a teacher-librarian I know how much students love author visits! At a recent author visit for Book Week, one student told me (after talking to the author in a writing workshop) it 'was the best day of his life' :) ~ and students always leave so inspired and affirmed.]
What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 
Do not ever give up or listen to the voice that says you’re no good. That voice is wrong. Keep at it, keep learning and keep writing.
Can you share some of your favourite books? (Everyone loves a good book rec!)
Ooh, yes please! This year I have been blown away by the wonderful romances and relationships in Gabrielle Tozer’s Remind Me How This Ends, Steph Bowe’s Night Swimming and Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue.

[N: Three gorgeous #LoveOzYA novels! Speaking of author visits, my daughter met both Cath Crowley and Steph Bowe in July (a couple of weeks ago!) at a readers/writers festival and came home very inspired and full of excitement. Of course, I made her nearly repeat their sessions verbatim ~ hoping to catch just a sprinkle of their magic!]
What did you do to celebrate the book birthday of Because of You?
The weekend before my book came out I flew to Bali and stayed in a villa with four girlfriends. We raised many a cocktail glass in celebration!
Thank you so much for sharing with us! 
Thank you Nomes! I’ve had so much fun.
[N: Me too! All the best with your writing projects, school visits and continuing to celebrate!]

Pip Harry is the author of YA novels I'll Tell You Mine, Head of the River and Because of You (Aug, 2017). A freelance writer and editor Pip has worked on a stack of women's magazines like Woman's Day, TV Week, New Idea and NW as well as for non-profit organisations. She currently lives in Singapore with her family and eats way too many noodles. When not at a keyboard her favourite things to do are swim laps (really), try variations of eggs and toast in hipster cafes, unravel on a yoga mat and read fiction. Her favourite hashtag is #LoveOzYA. (source: goodreads)

Q & A at #LoveOzYA

Because of you @ UQP (incl. Teacher's Notes)

My reviews for Pip Harry's novels:

Have you read Pip Harry yet? ;)