To blog or not to blog …?

 

stencil.default (2)

 

I don’t do resolutions anymore – life has taught me, they are invariably broken very quickly. But having said that, I do think that the closing of one year and the approaching new one, is an appropriate time to take stock and review. When I did my  Review of the Year post it was fun to look back but it also made me think about my blog.

When I started in November 2015, it was ostensibly to bring all my disparate reviews together in one place. I never intended to be a ‘blogger’ and I was surprised, not to mention delighted when I was seen and ‘accepted’ as one by the blogging community. That relationship is one, that has gone from strength to strength. I now count many of those people as friends and have had the pleasure of  meeting a number of them in real life. That relationship is one, that extended to include authors and other readers, was one that sustained me over the previous 18 months, and indeed sustained the blog.

So here’s the rub, my blog. My annual review pulled out the best bits and I was happy to celebrate those, but it also pointed out to me the other side. Essentially, aside from Five on Friday, (which I love as a feature and have been proud to see grow) my blog largely comprises of lists of books I’ve bought that I don’t stand an earthly chance of reading. Due to my enforced lack of reading, and poor concentration, my reviewing has been sporadic. In addition, what my ‘review’ also showed me, was that my reviews are the least popular posts on the blog. People have been more engaged by what I’ve done, where I’ve been and what I have to say on whatever Twitter storm has hit my radar. That is not to say that no-one looks at the reviews, but I think we are all aware that with so many other bloggers, those books are likely to have been highlighted in other places. While our individual reviews might be unique, the book may well have been featured elsewhere and doesn’t always have the same ‘pull’ as something more original.

This got me thinking again about why I blog and what I want to do going forward. I will admit that briefly (and I do mean briefly) the thought crossed my mind that if I was thinking this way, was it a sign of something more radically wrong. I’m happy to say that I think the answer is no. Being diagnosed with cancer makes you sit back  (literally – the treatment means you don’t have the energy for anything else!) and think about life. I think this natural re-assessment of life in general and what I want to do with it was just finally being extended to include the blog.

The thing is, I love my little blog. It might not be the biggest, the blingiest, the go-to, the most mentioned etc. etc. But that doesn’t matter, because I didn’t start it for that reason, and blogging isn’t a competition. We all run our blogs in different ways, we concentrate on different things, we take part in different things and we shout out about different things. That is all as it should be, because they are our own little (or big creations) designed to do whatever we set them up to do. While I set mine up for reviews, it has moved on from that and I need to think about the way forward. Before my illness I did have some ideas of things I’d like to introduce and they fell by the wayside. I think now is the time to look again at some of those ideas and how they might work.

Consequently the answer to the question to blog or not to blog is a resounding yes.  It’s just I’ll be shaking things up a bit. I’ll still have my book hauls, and there will (as long as I can persuade authors to take part) be Five on Friday and when I actually read a book, hopefully a review. But I want to broaden the scope. I love travel and I love history (I’m the proud possessor of two history degrees, it would be nice to put some of those research skills to good use). I was also a cataloguer and librarian so I want to start introducing some features that draw on those interests and skills while still shouting out about books. One of my original ideas was to do features on properties and places with literary links – title yet to be decided but I’m sorely tempted by ‘Piles of Literature’ or ‘Literary Piles’. I’d love to write about some of my travels and favourite places to be accompanied by an appropriate reading list. I think generally I’d like the blog to be a bit more individual, and personal, but still in a bookish way. That would seem to play to the strengths of the features that appeared to be popular, while giving me more scope to expand and explore areas I’m interested in.

I’ve got some other one off features in the pipe-line too, so watch this space and wish me luck. I just hope you’re all still here at the end of the year to let me know whether it actually worked.

Advertisements

Review of the Year

Yes, it’s that time of year again, only this year I’m offering a different round-up to my usual offering.  In the past, along with many other bloggers, I’ve listed my Top 10 (or in my indecisive year – 15) books of the year. This year I’m passing on that option. Not because I haven’t read any worthy books, but rather because I’ve read so few to make a fair comparison. The reasons for this have already been well documented so I’ve no intention of regurgitating it here (for those not in the know, see here). I’ve managed a paltry (by my standards) 33 this year, although with a fair wind and a couple of hours this evening I’m hoping it might hit 34! Of those at least 12 are still waiting to be reviewed, and they include some crackers. So in the interest of balance and fairness I shall give a montage shout later to all the books that have entertained, informed, delighted, transported, shocked and generally made me happy this year.

So what are you going to do?  I hear you cry! Well I decided to offer up a general book and blog review of my year, and, looking back, despite all the difficulties it has been a pretty good one – so here goes.

 

Book events

 

Book launch for Whiskey, Tango Foxtrot by Gina Kirkham

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

In July, I toddled off to Waterstones in Liverpool to attend the launch for Gina’s second book, featuring the exploits of  PC Mavis Upton. I’d attended the launch for her first book, the hilarious (and yet also touching)  Handcuffs, Truncheon and A Polyester Thong, in May 2017.  On that occasion I finally had the chance to meet the Urbane author I’d been having my funny, offbeat and sometimes surreal late night Twitter conversations with. Since then, we’ve met up again and had many more funny and offbeat conversations (thankfully not always in the public domain) and I’m happy to now call her a friend. I was therefore delighted to see Gina taking the stage again to bring book two into the world. Having ‘sold out’ of books at the previous event, I was pleased to see that Waterstones had learnt their lesson, and Gina was kept busy signing books to the delight of the once again, supportive and impressive turn out. The books are as funny and warm as Gina, and I wholeheartedly recommend them. Sadly the review of the first and reading of the second fell victim to my annus horribilis  but that will be rectified.

SV202389

 

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival – Harrogate 

A busy month for me in July as I also attended the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.  This was my second attendance having loved it so much last year. I’ve already written up my review of this so rather than repeat, I’ll share the link and leave you with a mini montage of my memories. Needless to say, my accommodation is already booked for next year. My OH will be putting in an appearance next time and my friend Sheila will be coming along with another friend, so the more, the merrier!

 

East Riding Festival of Words

While the festival took place over several days and venues, my interest was in the Dead Good Day series of panels which took place in Beverley on 20th Oct. The day was hosted by crime author (and fellow Hullensian) Nick Quantrill, another one who didn’t move quick enough to escape the Five on Friday net! The day was a brilliant series of panels featuring some of my favourite’s namely Stephen Booth, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Stuart Neville, Chris Brookmyre & Marisa Haetzman (aka Ambrose Parry), Val McDermid, Mark Billingham and David Mark. If that wasn’t enough the day was rounded off in the evening by a concert featuring the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. A fabulous day for what has to have been the best £25 I’ve ever spent (just don’t mention the book purchases). In addition I got to meet up again with the lovely Anne Cater and her partner.

 

A Year of Firsts

My First Author/Blogger Meet Up

While I’ve clearly met other authors and bloggers at various book events, I’d never attended an officially designated author/blogger meet up. So in September, putting on my bravest face and wearing my ‘I’m not nervous at all’ attitude I caught the trains to Stoke on Trent. Here I met up with my fellow attendees at the event hosted by Kerry Ann Parsons and Steph Lawrence at the North Stafford Hotel. Needless to say it was a lovely event. I met some old friends which settled my nerves and enabled me to present a fairly normal and competent face to my new ones –  although maybe they should be the judge of that.  Happily the next one is already in my diary for the New Year. Should you fancy joining us it’s at the same venue on 16th February between 11am and 4pm if you want to drop in.

 

My First Book Cover Quote 

This year saw my first ever cover quote – I was delighted, excited and proud in equal measure. Thank you Liza Perrat for the privilege and trusting me to grace the cover of The Swooping Magpie. It’s a great read and you can read my review here.

Swooping Magpie

First ‘interview’ appearance on another blog

Many thanks to Caryl over on Mrs Bloggs’ Books who kindly invited me to a special Christmas Afternoon Tea. I’ve never featured on anyone else’s blog before (other than a blog post link) so it was really special to be asked. It made a change to reveal my thoughts on something other than books (or my health) and I really appreciated the invite.

 

Blogging Highlights

 

Nomination and Award in Annual Bloggers Bash Awards

I was surprised, not to mention, delighted to have been nominated for the award of Most Inspirational Blog in the Annual Bloggers Bash Awards. When the results were announced I was even more delighted to have been awarded second place. As my friend and fellow (far more prolific) blogger Alison Drew came first, it was an honour. Many thanks to all who voted for me.

 

Most viewed blog post

My most viewed blog post (not just this year, but ever) was a piece I posted in June called Privilege vs Entitlement. It came about as a result of various episodes of blogger bashing (not to me personally) and a week of various blogger related Twitter storms. I normally scroll by and don’t get involved, but just occasionally I feel the need to vent and this was one of them. It wasn’t planned, it was an off the cuff response typed up while I waited for my friend to arrive before we went off the theatre that night, then away on a reading retreat for the following two days. It clearly hit a nerve and the number of positive responses it invoked was heartening. Less so was the thought that perhaps I’m wasting my time planning and preparing posts lol.

 

Favourite personal achievement

This was an easy one, it has to be the growing success of my First on Friday features. When the first one went live in August 2017, it had been the result of producing a Q&A that was a little bit different. I didn’t anticipate that it would still be running well over a year later, and for the past 3 months become a weekly rather than fortnightly feature. My biggest excitement had to be asking Linwood Barclay and not being turned down. The fact that he did a ‘special’ mini version for me was just epic. Having so many great crime authors at Harrogate agree to take part and actually follow through has also helped to grow the audience for the feature. I know many people now look forward to reading the varied responses and it has introduced readers to new authors which is a result. I shall be endeavouring to maintain the feature and have a list of authors in the pipeline, so here’s to 2019!

My Reading Year

As previously mentioned this will be a pictorial shout out to the lovely books I’ve read this year. All of them worth a read.

Book Subscriptions

October saw the demise of the Bookchoice subscription service offering both e-book and audio book choices. This had been a fantastic service offering excellent choices and value for money. From the beginning I’d never really understood how the model could work as I didn’t see where the money was being made. Perhaps it needed a much bigger take up for the economics to pan out, I see that it’s still operational in other areas. It was good while it lasted and left me looking at other ways to part with my money. This year saw me take up two new (to me) book subscription services.

 

The Unbound Reading Club

This was a new initiative launched in the summer by Unbound, a crowdfunded publishing initiative. Essentially they are a  team of publishers, writers, editors, designers – you name it – helping people bring their ideas to life. They take care of the whole process, from manuscript editing to shipping the first editions. As a reader I’ve previously looked at their website and considered helping an author achieve their dream of having a book published. What has normally stopped me, is the number of available projects and sheer indecision. Then along comes the Unbound Reading Club and problem solved. This is a feature that allows procrastinators like me, to help make books happen without having to make a direct choice.

The cost is a £25 per year and for that you’ll receive a free e-book per month. The selection so far has been interesting and varied and I’m more than happy with the choices. A fuller review of the service can be found here. Meanwhile, have a look at the books I’ve received so far.

 

Reading in Heels

The Reading in Heels subscription box costs £10 per month (plus p&p of £2.40) and comprises a paperback book, the expert edit and membership of the digital book club. Rather controversially they chose to sell their service by telling subscribers to expect the best in contemporary, literary fiction – never chick lit or crime… This of course was not well received in some quarters, but it was one of the reasons I decided to subscribe. However, before you all take umbrage, it’s precisely because I do read crime and chick lit (though I hate the term) that I chose to subscribe. By avoiding these genres I felt this service was more likely to offer me something I hadn’t already bought. The expert edit is a monthly surprise of  3-4 beauty and lifestyle treats. This latter is a little extra that I really look forward to, and really adds to the value of the box.

I’ve not done formal unboxings of the offerings so far, but fellow blogger Karen, at Books and Me! has so I’ve linked to her posts for October, November and December to give you an idea of what to expect.

 

 

So that was an over view of my year. If you’re still with me so far, many thanks – I think you deserve a stiff drink now! I very much appreciate all the love and support my little blog has recieved over the year. I used to think of myself as a reader that wrote reviews and not a blogger, but as the reviews have been few and far between and people still keep coming back, maybe I can call myself a blogger after all. It puts me in some very good company and it’s a happy place to be.

All that’s left is to wish you all the very best for the coming year. I’m sure it won’t be without it’s challenges or opportunities (depending on your viewpoint)  – damn I promised not to mention Brexit, but whatever it brings I hope it includes good health, happiness and lots of reading!

clipart-happy-new-year-77915.jpg

 

 

On Being Yourself

I sat down this afternoon intending to prepare and schedule some Five on Friday posts, and if I was lucky, also aimed to catch up with some reviews. However one of the tweets I read this morning, and my response to it, got me thinking about what we post. It also picked up on a question that was posed on a Facebook page a while ago about making ‘personal’ posts on your Twitter page.

The tweet that made me think was from my friend and author Gina Kirkham who shared one of her blog posts yesterday to coincide with London Pride. It was a post about being supportive and inclusive of her own family members that are gay. However as a result she lost a lot of Twitter followers and had some offensive replies. Thankfully her response was to share it again and I was happy to Retweet in support. Whether that loses me any followers I don’t know and should I care?

The question that was posed on Facebook (which I can’t now find) related to the best of  my remembering about making non book related Twitter posts on your Twitter feed. My personal view is, it’s your Twitter feed, so it’s up to you what you post and share. For those whose blogs are entirely book related I can see that restricting your Twitter feed to bookish posts is entirely consistent, especially when it operates under a blog/author banner.

For others, like myself, who don’t restrict their blog to bookish topics, I will post whatever takes my fancy. Obviously because of my recent ‘dance’ with  cancer I have other followers with cancer and I will like, share and RT their posts. But I will also like, share and RT any other posts that take my fancy, irregardless of topic. When I first jumped into the wacky world of Twitter it was as Jill’s Book Cafe and I did for the most part restrict it to bookish posts. But a while ago I changed it to Jill @JillsBookCafe a subtle change, but I felt it was more me and allowed me to dive in to share whatever I wanted.

So back to the question, should I just because I can? For me the answer is yes. The thing is I’ve never been good at keeping shtum. If you ask friends who know me, they would probably describe me as opinionated and gobby – and I can’t argue with that, I am. So passing by on Twitter isn’t easy for me. I will pass comment, I will share posts that I agree with and others might not, and that’s the issue that causes problems. As ever, its other people.

Should I consider ‘other people’ before I Tweet or Retweet. Clearly yes, in the sense that I would never intentionally post anything that was offensive. Of course, what is offensive is a minefield, but it seems to me that too many people take offence at anything that they don’t agree with. Before I start down the road of hypocrisy, in that I can say what I like, but no-one else can, let me try to clarify. For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am not particularly religious (more agnostic than atheist, with Buddhist leanings) and I have no issues whatsoever with other people’s religious leanings. I am heterosexual, but I have no problems with anyone who is isn’t. I’m white but I don’t have issues with anyone who isn’t. I’m British/English, but don’t have issues with anyone who isn’t. I think you get the message, just because I’m one thing, doesn’t mean that’s the ‘only’ thing. Essentially I try and live a “do as you would be done by” sort of life. So essentially, I try and treat people in the same way as I would like them to treat me. So the things I take offence at are the things that I, and I hope most right-minded people would take offence at, namely racism, homophobia, animal cruelty, poverty, greed and abuse of any description, I could go on (and frequently do as my OH will tell you). So those are the things that I might rail against on Twitter and yes at times it means it gets political. But that is how I feel, and I don’t feel I should censor myself on my page. Similarly I wouldn’t expect other people to either.

If people take offence at my views, then that is their choice and should they choose to unfollow, I’m happy for them to do so. When I started this blog it was to have a place to bring my reviews together. That people actually followed me, was a happy bonus. Over time, it has also became a place for me to share my views on other bookish things, and also more personal issues. So this blog is me, and by extension so is my Twitter page. For me, there is also an arrogance in assuming that what I say matters, if that makes sense. I’m not some boy band member that has to pretend to be single to avoid alienating fans. I’m not selling anything, I’m not looking to gain a following or readership, I’m simply sharing my opinions. If you don’t agree or don’t want to read them, then just pass on by, or if you feel the need, unfollow. But life is too short to spend it worrying about what other people think. There is a lovely quote that sums up my view and this is it,

 

Those who mind don't matter.png

Privilege vs Entitlement

Oh dear, another weekend and another Facebook/Twitter storm to get our average, normal book blogger foaming at the mouth – me included this time.

Normally when things ‘kick off’ I read through, get silently annoyed and pass on by. Largely due to using a tablet, which is a pain in the proverbial to type on, due to its diabolical auto-correct which means I start something and give up in despair.

But over the past couple of weeks, several subjects have raised their heads, ARC’s being sold on Ebay (presumably by a blogger); the notion that book bloggers should be paid (from some-one disgruntled that we devalue their work for doing it for free); and today, the ‘blogger’ who signs up for Blog Tours then disregards all the rules (not to mention basic reviewing/blogging standards) presumably in return for free books.

I have problems with all of these. Selling ARC’s on Ebay is not only illegal, but is also a blatant abuse of the relationship between author/publisher and blogger that is created when we accept and agree to read and review. The fact that these are being sold unread, is an even bigger abuse as there isn’t even an upside of an attempted review. Though in the case of my last example that might be a bonus.

The notion that a blogger should be paid, is more contentious. Yes we spend time and effort reading, writing, preparing and scheduling posts but the majority of us do so by choice. We do it as a hobby, we do it to share our love of books, we do it because we can. Traditionally, book blogs have never been commercial blogs, unlike those for fashion or cosmetics for example. Book blogs have been the domain of the book lover who wants to share their passion with the world, however big or small that world may be. That is also the joy of book blogging. Most of us, I believe, didn’t start out blogs with the intention of reaching world domination. I started mine to bring all my reviews together. I originally posted on Netgalley, Goodreads and Amazon and wanted one place that was mine to ‘record’ them. It was a big step, as it meant entering into a world of, what I considered ‘real’ bloggers. To an extent, I still feel that way after two years, I often feel like I’m playing at blogging, because I do my own thing and post as and when I want, I don’t do tours and don’t get involved in other bloggy things. But that’s OK, that’s my choice and that’s the point of having your own blog – it’s your blog, your rules. The book blogging community that I’m happy and delighted to be a part of, is accepting of all. There’s no snobbery, no looking down on newcomers, no hierarchy – except, in our own heads. I know I have bloggers that I look up to as being role models, as being  top-notch and feel honoured that they treat me the same as every-one else, that’s what makes the blogging community great.

So money, yes I can see that book reviews and blogs etc promote particular titles and authors and in any other field you might be expected to be paid. But who is doing the paying and how much exactly would you charge. Would you be paid on results? and who decides? What hasn’t been mentioned yet is of course, the real issue that raises its head once money is mentioned, integrity. Right now, we read a book and write a review, that should reflect our honest opinions. I’m not being side-tracked down the blind alley of how many of us don’t give bad reviews. We are all, for the most part by now, experienced to know what we like, what we don’t and are pretty adept at choosing a ‘good’ book. Consequently, by default we like what we read and mark it accordingly. When I chose most of my reading from the library, I rarely picked a book I didn’t like and the word bias would never have applied because I wasn’t writing about it.  Once it’s monetarised and someone is paying for our opinion, then the readers of our reviews, would quite rightly start to ask questions as to who we are ‘working’ for. I write my reviews for other readers, as an ex-librarian, it’s my way of sharing the books via the internet instead of over the desk. Of course, I’m happy to help author’s whose books I like, and help to introduce readers to new authors, but I’m not being paid to do so. When someone extols the virtues of a new £50 face cream they were given by the manufacturer, and paid to feature, then I would rightly question those views, so why wouldn’t some one do the same with our reviews. The best (worst) justification I heard was that people have rent to pay and food to put on the table. My response quite frankly is get a job then. Do not try to make a career out of a role that has never traditionally been paid for.  Just leave blogging to those who want to do it – and for free

Now finally, today’s issue involves a blogger joining Blog Tours and yet refusing to comply with standard blog tour rules. The current post includes all her June Blog Tour posts as one post, thereby debasing and devaluing the premise of the tour and all the work put in by others. Further more her posts are mostly rants as to why she hasn’t got what she wanted on time and whether or not she did (or didn’t) get a proof copy. Her reviews consist of rudimentary comments which seem to be based on the blurb and for the most part don’t suggest she has actually read the book. Though she also feels she should also be mentioned on the covers. I think she may be getting mentioned soon enough, but not on the covers and for all the wrong reasons. While bloggers are quite rightly getting up in arms about how she is devaluing what they do, my concern is also with the publishers and publicists who are supplying her. Where is the quality control? Where is the checking that features are being posted as agreed? It also makes me wonder  whether this might also be how individuals are getting ARC’s to sell on E-bay. As an author, I’d be concerned about how my work was being presented and promoted.  As a blogger I’d be asking how this individual is getting ARC’s and  a place on prestigious tours that other respected bloggers are being turned down for. My gripe as a side issue is that I rarely get ARC’s as I don’t do tours. I get approached but once I mention I don’t do tours, I don’t get offered even an e-copy to review!

So, back to the title of this piece as I believe it perfectly demonstrates the problem we have here, as well no doubt in wider society – that of privilege vs entitlement.

Privilege has been defined as a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. I feel that the relationship we have with authors and publishers is a privileged one. It’s one to be respected and earned and enjoyed. We are privileged to be able to do what we do and most of us respect the perks that come with it. I get excited if an author retweets one of my reviews – forget being mentioned on a cover.

Entitlement has been defined as the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. It appears that some people new to the blogging world are too ready to assume that by calling themselves a blogger they are entitled to the privileges that many of us have either earned or are working towards. Privileges are earned – they are not a right. We are not entitled to demand ARC’s, I don’t believe we have the right to expect, let alone demand payment and I acknowledge that the privileges we might enjoy are not always commensurate with the work that we may put in. But hey that’s life – no-one is entitled.

So to my fellow bloggers I say, keep on doing what you’re doing for all the right reasons, your peers acknowledge what you do and so do the authors and publishers you help. In the end, integrity and hard work will win, or at least keep you sleeping well at night.

Goodbye 2016 Hello 2017

This year has been one of personal highs and lows for me. It’s been a year that has seen me read less than I’ve ever read only managing 75 books. I usually aim for a minimum of 100, but I lost my mojo early in the year when we lost our beloved dog and it never really came back. Health issues for family and friends further compounded my lack of motivation. I think I adopted lots of  book related diversionary tactics instead of reading and joining Twitter was one of them. This by default has been one of the highs of my year. I became much more involved with other bloggers, authors and publishers in a way that I hadn’t anticipated before. As a result of this I branched out from just reviewing and introduced a new Time and Place feature on the blog. I still feel I’m a reviewer pretending to be a blogger but I’m getting there.

What I have noticed this year is a change in what I’m reading. I’m becoming less and less attracted to the over hyped, must reads and more attracted to the quieter books with depth and  heart. That’s not to say I’m averse to reading the mainstream bestsellers, just less sucked in by marketing hype. I’m also noticing an increasing  tendency to force  books into a particular niche and genre to meet the latest trend. This year has been the year of the psychological thriller and I’ve discovered I’m not always a fan. It seems to me that to get yourself ‘seen’ in an increasingly crowded field the content has to stand out. For some this seems to  mean making the content more extreme and graphic, I’ve read things that just make me uncomfortable and are verging on the voyeuristic that’s not my idea of fun. Don’t get me wrong, I can read dark and graphic, but gratuitous torture, rape and brutality are aspects of the world I’m wanting to escape from, not turn to for pleasure. (Yes, I’m turning into my mother!)

So what books have stood out for me this year. I’m not faffing about with a limited list of 10, 12 or any other arbitrary figure. I’m just going with the one’s I loved when I read them and are still memorable now. I am prepared to stick my neck out though and go for a top  5.

With apologies for rubbish formatting as what it shows when published is not what shows on my screen 😦

Trouble with Goats and Sheep

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

England,1976.

Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

As I’ve only recently finished this book I’ve yet to write my review but it is one of the easiest 5 stars I’ve ever awarded. I loved everything about it. I was transported back to 1976 in an instant with all the cultural references; I was delighted by Grace and Tilly; and totally gripped by the story which was so expressively and beautifully told. An absolute gem of a book.

Museum Of You

The Museum of You by Carys Bray

The story of widower Darren and his 12 year old daughter Clover. No over-hyped plot lines, no dramatic twists, just brilliant characterisation and evocative writing. The author writes about the ordinary and everyday  minutiae of  love, life, friendships and relationships in such a way as to really get to the heart of what makes things tick.

You can find my review here.

Be Frank With Me

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne

Be Frank With Me, in common with several other of my “best” reads this year, is quirky, clever and funny and yet contains an underlying vein of sadness and social comment on what it’s like to be different or accepted. What it also screams out is “Read Me”, because the characters are an oddball mix of troubled, eccentric, enthusiastic and sheer delight in the case of Frank.

 You can find my full review here.

What Milo Saw

What Milo Saw by Virginia Macgregor

Milo is a 9 year old boy, with retinitis pigmentosa, a condition which means he sees life through a pin hole, but often spots the things that others don’t. He loves, his Mum, his Gran and his teacup pig Hamlet, and lives at home with them after his father left them for “The Tart”. Life isn’t easy since the split, but Milo is comfortable in his little world that revolves around those he loves the most.

You can find my full review here

Summer Before the War

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

On the face of it, the book is a tale of a small provincial town coming to terms with an impending war and a slowly changing society. It is a long time since I read a book that had me so enthralled I felt I was experiencing the action and emotions of the characters, but this book made me do that. From giggling out loud to stifled sobs, this book really had an effect that will long stay in my memory.

You can find my review here

The following selection in no particular order are the rest of my stand out books of the year

mountain-in-my-shoe

The Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech

This is a story well told, with realistic characters and a gripping plot. It explores the nature of relationships and the damage that bad ones can cause. But ultimately  it offers hope and redemption through the love and support of others, whether they be family or friends.

You can find my full review here

The One in a Million Boy

The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood

While we meet our ‘boy’ briefly early in the book, he soon disappears, but leaves a lasting impression on all those who came into contact with him, and leaves the reader wishing we could have spent a little longer with him.

You can find my full review here

If I Could Tell You

If I Could Tell You by Elizabeth Wilhide

This is a wonderful period piece that presents a portrait of a relationship in turmoil and how society viewed adultery/divorce.

You can find my full review here

A Year and a Day

A Year and a Day by Isabelle Broom

For once the blurb is on the money, this truly is a – heartwarming and heartbreaking story about love and life in one of Europe’s most romantic cities, Prague.

You can find my full review here

Exposure

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

London, November, 1960: the Cold War is at its height. Spy fever fills the newspapers, and the political establishment knows how and where to bury its secrets.

When a highly sensitive file goes missing, Simon Callington is accused of passing information to the Soviets, and arrested.

You can find my full review here

Falling

Falling by Julie Cohen

This book tells the story of 3 generations of women, Honor, a feisty 80 year old academic, who is mother in law to Jo. The relationship between Honor and Jo has never been a warm one but it deteriorated further on the death of Stephen, Jo’s husband and Honor’s son. The final cog in the wheel is Lydia, Jo’s troubled daughter. This book also features Marcus my own ‘book crush’ for this year.

You can find my full review here

Theseus Paradox

The Theseus Paradox by David Videcette

July 2005: in the midst of Operation Theseus, the largest police investigation that the UK has ever known, Detective Inspector Jake Flannagan begins to ask difficult questions that lead to the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend and his sudden suspension from the Metropolitan Police.

You can find my full review here

Secret Diary of ...

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen…

This is Hendrik’s account of life as experienced in his North Amsterdam care home – warts and all. What I thought would be an episodic ramble though the year turned out to be so much more. Despite the act is is written in diary format, it didn’t feel disjointed and clunky, there was a fluidity to the writing that made it flow.

You can find my full review here

curious-charme-of-arthur-pepper

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Arthur Pepper is a no nonsense Yorkshireman, coming to terms, very slowly with the loss of his beloved wife Miriam. This is a lovely, heartwarming story and Arthur’s charms prove to be both literal and figurative. It is a story with real soul, that gets you involved and has you yearning for a positive outcome.

You can find my full review here

Blood Lines

Blood Lines by Angela Marsons

How do you catch a killer who leaves no trace?
A victim killed with a single, precise stab to the heart appears at first glance to be a robbery gone wrong. A caring, upstanding social worker lost to a senseless act of violence. But for Detective Kim Stone, something doesn’t add up.

You can find my full review here

My Names is Leon

My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to take Jake away and give him to strangers. Because Jake is white and Leon is not.

You can find my review here

So those were my favourites and I’m looking forward to seeing what gems 2017 has to offer. 

Going forward

Like many other readers/reviewers/bloggers I’ve been appraising what I do (and don’t do) and while I’m not one for resolutions I have been thinking about how I’d like to work going forward. So what follows are not set in stone resolutions, but rather guidelines I’m aiming to follow.

  • Read more of my own books. I have a monstrous tbr full of wonderful books I want to read and they are constantly being pushed down the pile by books I’ve agreed to review. I’d like to read at least one of my own books a month. As I joined the Urbane Book Club in November I’d also like to actually read some of my titles.
  • To achieve the above, I need to curb my NetGalley addiction and learn to say No more often when I get requests to review.
  • Spend less time on social media, which just eats into reading (and work)  time. I appreciate that Twitter in particular, is a forum for meeting blogging colleagues/authors/publishers and sharing and supporting but it can become addictive. So if my blogging friends see me sharing less, please don’t take it personally. I’m just not able to keep up with what everyone is posting. The time I spend scrolling through posts, trying to keep up blog entries and trying not to  offend by missing someone is exhausting! Some days I daresay I’ll be more active than others but something has to give. I’m already juggling my own FB page, Twitter and blog, without trying to juggle everyone elses.

Wish me luck, I have an idea that sensible as my aims may sound they’ll not be as easy to achieve in practice.

So what do I have scheduled this month (in addition to actually working)? 

Well I still owe 4 reviews for books I’ve already read and they are

In addition I’ve got the following scheduled to read and review for the month

In December I joined Keith Foskett’s Book Launch Team so I’ll also be reading and reviewing his latest book due this month – Travelled Far.

travelled-far

Of course all of these are in addition to my NetGalley backlog which I’m not prepared to commit to paper (needless to say an 80% ratio is a pipe dream) and as I’ve got books scheduled through to March/April I’m really not in a position to take on any further requests.

So that’s my round up. Thanks for sticking with it if you’ve got this far and all the best with your own life and reading hopes, ambitions and plans for 2017.

happy-new-year-greetings-with-written-text

Signing Off For Christmas

christmas-graphics-and-animated-gifs-elewwq-clipart

I think it’s time I stepped away from the internet and concentrated on Christmas. This year I have decided to adopted the Swiss tradition of decorating on Christmas Eve. What that really means is I’ve had no option. Visiting relatives, work and the general mayhem at this end means I haven’t done it yet. It wouldn’t be the first year we were decoration-less but as this is hopefully the last year in this house (oddly the same thing we thought last year) I think I should make the effort.

I’ve made many new author and blogging friends this year, especially since I decided to put my head above the parapet and join Twitter. Introducing my Time and Place feature has also attracted a new audience to the blog, for which I am very thankful.

I’m now off to scatter a few baubles about before indulging in my newly adopted Icelandic Christmas Eve (I’m happy to adopt any tradition that suits my needs!).  Icelanders have a beautiful tradition of giving books to each other on Christmas Eve and then spending the night reading. This custom is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it is the reason for the Jolabokaflod, or “Christmas Book Flood,” when the majority of books in Iceland are sold between September and December in preparation for Christmas giving. For a fuller description go to (http://www.treehugger.com/culture/icelanders-give-books-christmas-eve.html)

jolabokaflod-cup

So I’d like to wish all my fellow bloggers, friends, readers and supporters a very Merry Christmas. I appreciate some of you may not believe or celebrate but trust you will still accept the warm wishes of the sentiment.

merry-christmas-and-happy-new-year

 

My First Blogiversary

A year ago today I decided to take the plunge and made my first post on this blog, a review of the wonderful The Hidden Legacy by G J Minnett. Although I have been reviewing since Feb 2014 my posts were restricted to Goodreads, Amazon and NetGalley but I decided I wanted somewhere that brought them all together under the Jill’s Book Cafe banner.

I still view myself as primarily a reviewer, rather than a blogger though recently I have ventured to post items other than just reviews so I’m getting there. My Time and Place feature with Simon Michael  was my most viewed post when it went live so thanks Simon for being a great guinea pig and giving me the confidence to take it further. I already have more authors lined up.

What I have found in my first year is that the blogging community (as I’ve experienced it) is friendly, supportive and helpful. A far cry from what I felt might be a competitive arena to venture into. I’ve discovered that most author’s are also normal, approachable and friendly, though I still get very fan girl when some reply and still have some on pedestals (no I’m not saying who!)

My reading preferences have certainly changed over the period. I’ve discovered that some genres I would have said I liked in the beginning I’m starting to think I don’t (psychological thrillers) and the quirky, fun and original form a bigger part of my preferred reading.

So at the end of my first year I made 151 posts, had 1988 visits with 5608 views and attracted 124 followers. I’d like to thank all those who drop in and read my posts; and my regular band of blogging friends who comment, re-post on Twitter and generally make it a less insular place to be. Last but not least, thanks to all the authors without who there’d be nothing to read and review and life would be far the poorer.  .