Tag Archives: Reading

Girls in books

This week’s pondering, readers, was prompted by a post on Facebook. It was a video of a mother and daughter looking through the girl’s bookshelf and removing all the gender-imbalanced books to discover what a tiny selection they were left with. They started by removing all the books that had no female characters, then the ones where the female characters didn’t speak, then ones where the females had no aspirations beyond being rescued/looking pretty (princesses, basically). They were left with, frankly, a feeble percentage.

This prompted a lively discussion between myself and Offspring (who is also female). I am aware of the bias in my own reading (which is predominantly YA fiction), in that I actively choose books by women and which feature stories in which the protagonist is female (or at least one of the protagonists is, if it’s a dual or multiple narrative). I do that chiefly because I’m female and I want characters I can identify with. I think that’s a pretty universal human urge, and exactly why it’s important to have diverse books, so EVERYONE can see themselves reflected in a variety of ways in fiction. I’m quite sure that my bookshelf would be entirely unchanged if I removed any books where women don’t appear and take an active role in the story.

I can see that there’s a problem if the books that appear most on prize-winner lists, or “must read” top tens only reflect male experience, or if the books that get the shelf space in bookshops don’t have non-male characters and focus (because, let’s face it, the problem is larger than just women/girls being underrated – anything outside white, straight, western experience tends to be an ignored rarity). But is it really a problem if you just have to look a bit harder for books to read?

While visibility undoubtedly is a problem, I feel as though this doesn’t need to be a problem because what we do have now is choice. I discussed with Offspring how she chooses her books: whether she deliberately picks up books with a female main character (not consciously – but they are about 90% of what’s on her bookshelf, so identification-with-self bias is almost certainly happening for her, too); whether she notices if women don’t appear (generally not unless I also read the book and head off into a feminist rant – but again, I think that’s because actually women/girls do feature in the books she reads). While she’s a voracious reader and is constantly in need of more books, neither of us perceives a problem in finding books that reflect her experience as a female.

Most of my reading is of ebooks, which makes matters even easier. You really can find ANYTHING on Amazon (don’t believe me? – I tripped over a new genre called Mpreg the other week – gay fiction in which one of the men becomes pregnant. My mind is still boggling). But as a result of exercising choice in my reading, I know I don’t experience problems with female representation on my bookshelves. There are always women, they always speak and do things, and any princesses are also assassins, magicians or rebel leaders as well. Given that more books exist in the English language than I’m ever going to manage to read in my lifetime, I can easily find female representation just by being selective over what I pick up.

The only experience I had which chimed with the video was years ago now, when Offspring was tiny and her reading matter was picture books read to her. I did perceive a bias in a lot of picture books. Unnamed characters were overwhelming described as “he”. As a mother reading to a daughter who I didn’t want to grow up thinking she only belonged on the margins of life that made me very uncomfortable. Since Offspring was a bit young at that point to appreciate a polemic rant, I found a simple solution: I changed the hes to shes as I read. Woodland creatures and friends of the main characters became abruptly, overwhelmingly female, so my baby perceived females surrounding her in her fictional worlds. A blunt approach, perhaps, but one that worked for me.

So, I don’t perceive a problem for myself, and when I found it for my child I simply did what was necessary to neutralise the bias. Problem solved. And yet, that glib response troubles me. I’m a white, straight, educated female, which probably makes me the second-best represented group in fiction after straight, white males. I don’t want to suggest there isn’t a problem just because I don’t perceive it, or I’ve wrestled it into submission in my life. I’m going to keep a watch on myself now and see how easy it is to find books that reflect females who AREN’T just like me.

How about you, reader – are you aware of bias in what you read? Do you create bias deliberately? And do you have any recommendations for YA books that aren’t about straight, white protagonists?

M is for … Mostly overlooked.

My “M” book is The Midnight Society by Rhonda Sermon. Now, this book has been wandering around at the edges of my awareness for yonks. At least a year, I swear. I remember it with another cover – it’s been that long. So in all that time, why on earth did no one take me to one side and tell me to READ THE THING?!

Cover of Rhonda Sermon's The Midnight Society
Click for the preview (bet you’ll love it)

The Midnight Society is ENORMOUS FUN. Time travel, friendship, world-saving, crosses and double-crosses, and huge amounts of delectable snark. It’s absolutely GORGEOUS.

Stop reading this and go grab a copy. You can thank me later.

Check back next week and see if I’ve managed to resolve my alphabet muddle. There was I, thinking I’d got ahead of myself because I’ve read The Midnight Society AND Only Dancing in a week … until I realised that “M” is, in fact, conventionally followed in almost all English alphabets by the letter “N” rather than the letter “O”. Oops. Good job I’m a fast reader – I’m not panicking … yet!

E is for … Elementary, my dears!

My “E” pick was the Elementals series by Michelle Madow. I was really pleased that I’d got a bit ahead of myself where my schedule’s concerned, so I had chance to read this series in one, glorious gulp (I got through them in a week; not that I’m boasting or anything. Ahem). It’s a cracking YA-take on the Olympian gods, with their teen descendants charged with saving the world.

Elementals boxset graphic

Elementals is a smashing read (click on the graphic to check it out), but I don’t want to focus on the book today as I’ll be writing a review on the Paisley Piranhas site next week (do check it out if you’re interested in reviews and recommendations for YA books).

What occurred to me about my Alphabet Challenge this week is how some letters seem to be vastly more popular than others when it comes to titles. I’m noting down potentials as I go through and getting my reading lined up in a manner that’s most unusual for me, which is bringing up patterns I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

I could have read about six “C” books; there are two I want to read for both “N” and “M”; and I could fill my “S” slot roughly eight times over (check back later in the year to find out what wins!).

Of course, it’s no surprise that X, Y and Z are proving harder to fill (oddly enough, Q is presenting no problem because “Queen” is starting to overtake “Girl” as the word you absolutely have to have in your title these days *starts plotting a “Queen” book…*) I am, though, surprised that “H”, “I” and “K” don’t seem to crop up very much as title openers in books I come across (rather than actively searching).

So, if you have any recommendations (YA preferred, but I do read outside my genre now and then), please let me know!

My Alphabet Challenge: A is for …

Among Wolves. And that turned out to be a fine start to my new reading year. It’s post-apocalyptic and with a reasonably familiar premise, but the narrator was excellent, and the finale was pulse-raisingly dramatic stuff. Please watch out for my full review of Among Wolves, which will be on the Paisley Piranha site shortly.

So that’s me nicely on schedule to reading A – Z in fiction during the first 26 weeks of 2017.

Next on my kindle is Joanne Dannon’s Bidding on Love. I saw it just as I was casting about for a ‘B’ book. A departure from my usual reading fare, it’s not YA fiction, but much more a pure romance, complete with a dashing millionaire hero. I can’t wait to see how he sweeps the heroine off her feet!


I am still filling in my A – Z list from my TBR pile and from recommendations I come across. If you’d like to pitch something you’ve read and enjoyed (or that you’ve written) just let me know in the comments below.

Bye for now!

My free reading challenge: straying outside my genre

I read a lot of YA fiction. Reading is a high priority in my life. I work, I’m a mum, I write books myself (45.5k words through Nanowrimo – whoop!) and I still squash in reading 2 – 3 books a week. I’d be lost without them. But I can get a bit jaded. Just to check if I was tiring of my free reading challenge I decided to shake things up. Instead of YA I picked a few books from other genres to read.

What a pleasure!

Small town life writ largeFirst up was Libby Kirsch’s The Big Lead. This is part-romance, part-crime and a whole lot of fun. It reminded me of the Jennifer Crusie novels I read years ago to de-stress when I was in the middle of exams. It was an absolute pleasure – small town America with some glorious, off-beat characters to brighten the place up. Plus, I never read crime. I know there were clues there, but they didn’t impinge on me. I was simply along for the ride, so when it all came together in a fabulous, heart-pounding finale I was completely taken by surprise. I’ll definitely look out for more!

Deliciously creepy
Deliciously creepy

Short and far from sweet

Next up was a collection of short stories. I love short stories (a great way to fill a few unexpected minutes queuing or similar) and I probably don’t read enough. That was certainly my opinion after reading these. I downloaded Icy Sedgwick’s Checkmate: Tales of Speculative Fiction. Woah, they were seriously good – creepy and high unsettling as well as being gorgeously imaginative!

Who dunnit?
Who dunnit?

Kept in suspense

And finally, for something completely different I picked up Tracey Pedersen’s All Adrift. I’d probably tag this as romantic suspense as it’s very definitely a romance, but with a strong crime/suspense element.

Also unusual for me, it’s the third in a series. I’m glad to say that didn’t spoil my reading pleasure at all. I was hooked into Jenna and Ryan’s romance from the start, and wanting to find out what was going on with the mysterious, unknown (or was she?) woman. I’m delighted to say all my guesses were completely wrong in a very satisfying way!

Note: putting in links to the books I apologise if they aren’t showing free for you – I think they may have been on a free offer rather than permafree when I picked them up. Having read them, I would say they’re all worth paying for, though!

My free reading challenge: temptation!

My quest to read as much as I like without spending money on a book for myself until Christmas continues…

Dear and lovely readers, this week was hard. Offspring found an unspent book token, so we headed off to Waterstones to spend it.

A will of iron

Now, that’s not the hard part. I’m – generally – pretty good at resisting temptation. While O browsed the books and read out amusing sentences to me I simply cast longing looks at the big pile of Crooked Kingdom paperbacks and stifled the occasional, wistful sigh.

Three shiny new books to read
Offspring’s new book stash

Waiting to be spent

No, what’s difficult is that when Offspring found an unspent book token so did I! And I don’t mean a card with 57p on left over from Christmas. No – £40 no less! And even worse was, at the moment of discovery I completely forgot my free reading challenge.

I seized the card-sized envelope with a massive grin and said, “Oh, and I can get – ” then deflated with, “Oh, no I can’t.”

Denial is character-forming

No books whatsoever!
My new book stash – disappointing

So, don’t think this is an idle, intellectual exercise, readers. This free reading challenge is tough. I’m starting to think I should be sponsored – Stoptober for readers, maybe: Nobookvember, anyone?

My free reading challenge: pay with a review

My challenge to keep reading without paying for a book for myself until Christmas continues…

This week I have been mostly fighting my TBR pile, which – even containing only free books – has reached teetering levels. I’ve spent this week reading, reading, reading in a vain attempt to slim down my teetering TBR pile (it’s okay, I love it really – if my TBR pile ever ceased to be dangerous I’d start to get worried about running out of things to read).

As a writer myself, I do feel a little guilty at getting free books, but as a writer I also know the value of getting an honest review from a reader, so I’ve promised myself that I’ll write a review for every book I finish – at least while this challenge is on, but I do try to review books I read under any circumstances.

Drowning in books

This week I’ve written and scheduled reviews for two books I got as free review copies, cross-posted blog reviews to Goodreads and Amazon, and I’m also working my way through (reading and making review notes) my downloaded giveaway books from a fortnight ago, with one of those reviews live this week, another scheduled, and another partway through reading. Phew.

All my reviews can be found on the Paisley Piranha blog site. The Paisley Piranhas are a group of four YA writers who review YA books (and the occasional film) on our site, as well as hosting book blitzes, cover reveals and author interviews. If you’re looking for something good to read, check it out.

I’ll be back next week with more on my free reading challenge. It’s midway through September – can I last until Christmas?

My free reading challenge: a delightful glut

Well, last week’s giveaway source of free books provided rich pickings. I’ve only started three so far, and I’ve already finished and loved two of them – the third I’m not so sure about, but we’ll see.

To be fair (and to armour myself against future disappointment), I started with the ones that attracted me most. I’m a very picky reader and I’ll be pretty surprised (and delighted) if I continue to like two thirds of all of them (there were ten authors to try in all), but even if I’ve only – ‘only’! – found two new authors to love I’m thrilled.

Drown in books

And I’m delighted to report that these freebies have perked me out of a bit of a reading slump. I’d had a bit of a slog with a couple of read-for-review books I’d selected that didn’t turn out to be as strong as I’d hoped from the previews (gotta love the preview feature; it’s saved me from many a mistake). So zipping through three books in four days has been hugely satisfying. My reading mojo is back and I have oodles more books to feast my eyes and my imagination upon. Life is good.

Right, now I’d better get off and write the reviews I said I would for the books I liked.

Back next week with another update!

3 reasons I love my library

Libraries are a hot topic in the UK at the moment, with the government and councils seeming to view them as pointless moneypits which can easily be dispensed with without any derogation to life or culture. I’m not going to add anything dramatic to the debate, but I wanted to articulate why libraries full of books are important to me.

For books I want to read

I discovered Leigh Bardugo recently. I bought Six of Crows after reading the first few pages in Waterstones, and it is utterly superb (check out my review if you want to know why I think so). I then bought Shadow and Bone, the first of the grisha trilogy (same author, same world, different story and characters) and consumed it with equal haste and delight.

Leigh Bardugo's Grisha trilogy
Just ask for books and your library will get them for you. Magic!

Finances then drew me to a bit of a stop, but I requested Seige and Storm and Ruin and Rising from the library and I’m halfway through Seige and Storm already.

Without a library, I’d be broke or bereft.

For books I might want to read

When I bought Six of Crows I also scanned the blurb and first few pages of Snow Like Ashes on the promotions table in Waterstones. It had caused quite a buzz on my twitter stream, and I liked the sound of it. But I wasn’t quite convinced in the bookshop and Six of Crows won the day.

So when I saw Snow Like Ashes in the library, I snapped it up … only to set it down again after reading a couple of chapters. Not for me, I’m afraid (too much backstory for my taste).

I’ve just picked up The Sin Eater’s Daughter for very similar reasons. I like the sound of it (and I’ll review it as it’s shortlisted for the YA Book Prize), but I’m not convinced enough to buy it and keep it forever.

Read without risk - I might like this, I might not...
Read without risk – I might like this, I might not…

For books I have no idea I want to read (but I do!)

I have found so many treasures in my local library. Browsing in the “just returned” section has brought books to my attention that I would never have read otherwise. Charlaine Harris’s “Grave” series was one of those finds. It’s completely out of my genre because I don’t read crime (ordinarily) – but I liked the cover, picked it up, enjoyed the first few pages, took it home and fell in love.

I’ve checked it out of the library about half a dozen times, so with Christmas book tokens this year I finally bought my own copy, and it’s now on my (overflowing) “keeper” shelves.

A cool premise, and never mind the crime, it's the relationships that keep me reading.
A cool premise, and never mind the crime, it’s the relationships that keep me reading.

There are so many other happy discoveries made through my library it would be worth my taxes just for that.

So that’s why I love my local library – do you love yours? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.

Words are magic, that’s why it’s called spelling

Wide-range reading

I’ve been reading out of my genre this week – Longbourn caught my eye (and who wouldn’t want a chance to escape back into the Pride and Prejudice universe?) and I’ve absolutely loved it.

As well as the story (it’s Pride and Prejudice seen from the servants’ point of view), I’ve loved the language of the book. I mostly read genre fiction in large part because I’m addicted to pace. You don’t get a cracking, breathless read from literary fiction (feel free to correct me, anyone!). But the other element I love about books is the words, the actual building blocks of our language.

Some words are simply gorgeous

There are some words I particularly love. I wrote the word ‘gumption’ in a letter recently (yes, an actual, paper letter; rarity in itself) and regretted that it doesn’t get out more. My all-time favourite is probably ‘prestidigitation’, which I adore so much I wrote a story around it (named – what else? – The Magic Word). Longbourn revisited another of my favourites, dropping the word ‘meniscus’ into its description with charming confidence – and there aren’t many occasions when that’s going to work.

I write genre fiction and, like the books I enjoy most, my focus is mainly on creating a stonking, fast-paced read, but my love of words shines through with the occasional guest appearance of ‘supercilious’ or ‘insatiable’ glinting brightly amongst all the mundane ‘justs’ and ‘thats’ which creep in despite my best efforts.

Words are a gentle sort of magic

Words build together to create another, more power enchantment: stories. Stories cast spells across cultures and ages and galaxies, drawing us together, letting us experience lives very different from our own. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

Words are magic, that's why they call it spelling

I’ve shown you some of my favourites – what glorious words do you think should get out more often? Tell me in the comments below.