6 Great Reading Challenges To Try In 2017

Have you been looking to change up your reading habits next year?

Maybe read some topics that will challenge your worldview, or investigate a genre you've not really tried before? Finally read some of the books that people have been going on about for ages? Or just have a more social reading experience?
Well, luckily for you (and me, because it's a great premise for a post) it's that time of year again - no, not Christmas. READING CHALLENGE SIGN UP TIME.

There's enough challenges floating around the Bloggersphere right now to last for a decade, let alone 2017, and that means that your perfect one has to be out there somewhere - but it can get a little confusing, especially if you're not sure exactly what you're looking for.

That's where I come in. You're welcome. *tips velvet top hat* I've tried to give each challenge a little description, but you're probably best clicking on the links to get a full picture of what it is.

The Goodreads Challenge
Picture from Goodreads
There's probably very little point me telling you about this one, to be honest. The Goodreads challenge is the holy grail of reading challenges, the one that everyone wants to beat. (Spoiler alert - this year, I didn't. Boo.) Maybe what makes it so brilliant is that it's so simple: pick how many books you want to read in a year, then ... read them.

It does get a bad rep, to be honest. People find that, because it has such a concrete goal and a nagging tendency (it's never a nice feeling to be told you're 20 books behind schedule, let's be honest), it can take the joy out of reading. I understand that, but it is incredibly useful simply for tracking what you've read - not to mention that it's a great feeling to see that little orange line creeping up, as well as knowing that every single book you've read - including that poetry collection and the textbook you read for school, as long as it's on Goodreads - counts.

Meh. It's there. And as long as you set a reasonable goal (52, a book a week, is usually a good starting point), it can be a great challenge, especially if you're not that experienced with completing them. Another great thing is that almost everyone does it, so you won't be short on community!

Retellings Reading Challenge 2017
Photo from Once Upon A Bookcase
I stumbled across this due to the fact that I have an obsession with retellings, but just don't read enough of them. And this is a shame. But what this challenge is designed to do is create a community of people who are clamouring to get their hands on as many retellings as possible - while helping each other to find the best ones, of course.


They're UK only, I'm afraid, but since I live in the UK I can get very excited about this - right? I'm also very excited about the fact that, not only are there a bunch of suggestions to get one started on the sign-up page, but everyone's going to be reviewing everything. Just think of all the amazing recommendations ... *happy sigh*

Diverse Books Challenge
Photo from Chasing Faerytales
Reasons it is important that you take part in this challenge:

  1.  Mish and Shelley have clearly worked very hard to make it happen, and we ought to support them because they are wonderful people.
  2. I CANNOT OVERSTATE not only how important reading diversely is, but also how much it will enhance your reading experience. This is an amazing way of helping yourself doing it.
  3. There is a reading list to help you choose some reads, which is absolutely priceless, especially when you're looking for a kind of diversity that isn't often easy to find (e.g. disability or world religions).
  4. I think you'll enjoy it. But you know me - I'm an overlord. I care more about the other three things than whether you actually enjoy what I tell you to do. ;-)

Read The Books You Buy Challenge
Photo from Book Date
The basic idea is that you sign up to read a specific percentage of the books that you buy - from 20% to 100% - and try to meet it. The tricky thing is that you aren't allowed (or supposed) to change your book-buying habits too much; you just have to bear in mind how you're going to attack your TBR when doing so. The aim isn't to hurt author's livelihoods by discouraging you to buy, but to give you an incentive to actually read what you've already got.

This one strikes me as the perfect challenge for those of you who, like me, are drowning in your TBRs and STILL BUYING BOOKS. If you're like me, you'll probably also absolutely hate book bans, so this is a pretty good alternative - I've always found that, because a book ban reduces the amount of books around me, it slows down my reading.


Sorry, I'm Booked
Photo from Sorry, I'm Booked
The thing I really like about this challenge is how well-crafted it is - the prompts are specific enough to inspire you and encourage you to read certain books / genres, but not so closed that you won't be able to find something you actually want to read. In fact, just looking at that list is making me itch to read stuff. Sure, there are a lot of challenges that have similar premises, but there's nothing wrong with tradition when it's done this well.

It just shows that the most important thing for a reading challenge isn't an inventive premise, but how well it's carried out.

Netflix and Books Challenge
Photo from Bookmark Lit
The basic idea of this challenge is pretty simple. There's a list of prompts that you can use to link together books and TV shows - for example, both contain a shared word or are set in the same time period - the entire list of prompts, once completed with books you want to read and TV shows you've been intending to watch, gives you a joint TBR and TBW list.

If you want to go the whole hog and become a Level Two competitor, then you can track points for books you read and shows you watch. If you're the one with the most points, then you win a PRIZE. (And everyone wants a prize, right?)

Reasons this is a fantastic, splendiferous idea:

  • Um, it gives you an excuse to watch Netflix! Netflix good. Excuse to watch Netflix even better.
  • The whole linking-together-books-and-shows premise is very useful because it encourages you to investigate specific topics through . So you can become an expert in ... 1970s pop culture. Or ... South Wales. Or ... I don't know. Murder?

I probably won't be taking part in all these challenges, simply because I am one person and I hate reading pressure. But I'd be happy to if I had six clones, if that makes sense. There is not one that I would dread having to participate in.

(If you're having similar trouble, I did write this handy little guide on how to get through a huge TBR. Just ... to let you know.

In the comments: What challenges are you guys intending to take part in next year? Which have you enjoyed in the past? What makes you want to join a challenge in the first place?
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A 5-Point Ode to Ginny Weasley

She's an enigma, really. A little sister, a loyal friend, a fighter. Sometimes a chaser, sometimes a seeker, sometimes forced into being a referee for her brothers ... and never someone you want to be on the wrong side of.

Her name is Ginny, and this is why I appreciate her.

(There are gonna be spoilers, but if you haven't read Harry Potter WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE. Go read it all now and then come back.)

#1 ~ Her Quidditch skills are legendary.

I mean, this was inevitable, right? She's a Weasley - her family are literally a Quidditch team and at least one of her brothers was good enough to play for England aged seventeen. With six teachers as highly committed as that, there's no way she could ever be anything but amazing ... surely?

Er, I hate to burst your bubble, but no.

Her brothers wouldn't let her play because - well, because they were little boys who'd learnt sexism from a society where it was institutionalised. That's a conversation for another day. But she broke into the broom shed and she spent eight years teaching herself to fly because she'd been told no and NOBODY TELLS GINNY WEASLEY NO IF THEY WANT TO LIVE.
“The thing about growing up with Fred and George is that you sort of start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.” ~ Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Ginny did whatever the heck she wanted to do, and she taught me that, at least sometimes, it was okay to do that too.

#2 ~ All she needed to get into the Slug club was one Bat-Bogey Hex.
Ah, the Slug club. Everyone's favourite symbol of the soul-crushing, dream-breaking caste system that perpetrates so deeply into Wizarding society that it allowed Voldemort to gain support and go almost unchallenged until it was too late.

Okay, again, sorry. That's a debate for another day. But as far as we know, there have only ever been two other members of the Slug Club who didn't have a family name to get them in. Hermione Granger and Lily Evans. Hermione had every teacher at Hogwarts singing her praises (not to mention Hagrid chiming in with his old "brightest witch of her age" chestnut), and Lily had two or three years at least to prove her skills at potions before she was old enough for Slughorn to consider her.

Ginny had the time it takes to pass a train compartment, a wand, and someone she was mad at.
“Yeah, size is no guarantee of power,” said George. “Look at Ginny.”
“What d’you mean?” said Harry.
“You’ve never been on the receiving end of one of her Bat-Bogey Hexes, have you?”     ~ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I'm not trying to devalue Hermione or Lily's achievements - getting into what's effectively the inner sanctum of the pureblood elite on sheer brainpower is incredible. But what Ginny did is different because she was overcoming something different: the reputation of her family as muggle-loving, and therefore weak in both courage and magical skill.

For me, it's a similar moment to Molly's duel with Bellatrix in the seventh book - a moment where a strong female character proved someone wrong so spectacularly that they had to look up and accept that she'd smashed through the ceiling they spent so long building around her. To do that, she needed a lot of courage (A.K.A. the exact trait her family 'didn't have').

So, with a little help from her Bat-Bogey hex, she also taught me that power often lies in being the exact opposite of what you're expected to be. And also that what people say means exactly nothing.

#3 ~ She was friends with Neville and Luna when nobody else was.
Maybe it's because she's had so many reputations that just didn't fit. The Weasley. The one who couldn't speak in front of Harry Potter. The girl. But Ginny didn't care about Luna being 'Loony' or Neville falling over his feet constantly. She didn't care what people said. She was just friends with a pair of wonderful, wonderful people; she defended them and encouraged them and was endlessly loyal to them.

So loyal, in fact, that when her crush of four years asked her if she wanted to go to the Yule Ball, she declined, despite that making her miserable. Because Neville had asked her first.
"And I don't know who you are."
"I'm nobody," said Neville hurriedly.
"No, you're not," said Ginny sharply. "Neville Longbottom – Luna Lovegood…"~ Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Luna and Neville taught me how great it was to be yourself. But Ginny taught me that, if other people are being themselves - and being awesome - around you, then you'd better damn well accept it if you don't want to miss out on amazing friends.

#4 ~ She got pulled into Voldemort's head and survived.
We know from Harry's scar-burning episodes in the last few books just how painful it can be to have Voldemort inside your head, and that's when you've been trained by one of the country's leading Occlumens (that's Snape, if you haven't been paying attention) in keeping his evil thoughts as far away as possible.

Ginny was eleven and completely untrained, not to mention the fact that she didn't even know it was Voldemort ensnaring her until much, much too late. That web of charming manipulation very nearly killed her, and frankly I think it would have been the end of a lot of people. The fact that she had the strength - not only to stay true to herself and her beliefs in the immediate aftermath, but also to stop the guilt that she had been naive enough to let this monster in in the first place from crushing her - is one of the first things about her character that showed me she was something special.

#5 ~ She's so much more than was ever shown in the films - and the fandom knows it.
There is no character in the whole of Harry Potter - or probably in most popular culture, in my experience - whose book and film incarnations are considered quite so separately. They're basically two different characters at this point. I think it really speaks to how colourful and brilliant her on-the-page persona is: not only have the fandom noticed (and noticed loudly) how washed-up her film adaptation is, but we refuse to accept that the strong, fiery redhead of the books and walking-crush-on-Harry-Potter of the films are even the same person. She's even evaded that stereotype.

Because Book Ginny, in one way or another, has been incredibly important to all of us.

Maybe she taught us to be accepting. Or to be brave. Or break out of the roles that are prescribed to us. But, in some way or another, she changed our lives for the better.

In the comments: What do you like (or dislike, if you want) about Ginny Weasley? Why? If she's your favourite character, how come? 
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6 Ways to Bore Your Blog's Readers

It turns out that it is surprisingly easy to be boring as a blogger.
I've done it. There are old posts that I've read and cringed at, posts that I'm not really shocked got zero comments or a handful of views, because even I can admit that they were bo-ring with a capital everything.

(By the way, don't bother trying to look for those posts. They are deeply buried in the trash bin of my Blogger account along with some typoed comment replies and that dead body I promised I wasn't going to talk about.)

Oops. *continues with post hoping nobody called the police yet*

But when I can actually force myself to read the whole thing before pounding on the delete button, I can often put down the cringeworthy boringness to one of six things that I did wrong. And, because I am an incredibly charitable overlord, I figured I'd share those things with you, so that you can make boring content too!

Or ... not make boring content. If that's what you fancy.

#1 ~ Give Yourself An Imminent Deadline
Deadlines ... can be a good thing.

They keep you focused, they mean that you blog at least semi-regularly, and it's a really nice feeling when you meet them. But when deadlines are unrealistic, they are one of the most unhelpful things for a blogger to have.
Why? Well, this is what tends to happen when I set myself a ridiculous deadline.

Firstly, I will procrastinate. Procrastination is your brain realising it doesn't know how to deal with the task you've tried to give it, and buying itself enough time to try and figure everything out - as a creative person, you likely experience it a lot. The problem is that this process will usually happen for longer when you have a more difficult problem, like a shorter time frame to complete the task in ... you see where this vicious cycle is going, right? The procrastinating monster has even been known to make pretty reasonable deadlines impossible much quicker than you'd think, so do watch out.

And then, when I finally decide what I'm doing and sit down to write, I have no option but to rush everything. I don't research, my graphics are horribly sloppy if they exist at all, and the actual post, if it makes sense, is mind-numbingly dull.

That's what we're trying to avoid here, I guess.

#2 ~ Stick Too Closely To A Blogging Schedule
I love schedules, but I never stick to them.

They represent organisation, which is one of my favourite concepts, but also structure, and structure can very easily become - all together now:

One of the great things about having a blog is that it's yours to do whatever you want with, and if you keep yourself limited by some abstract framework that might not fit as well as you want it to anymore, then you're denying yourself that freedom. That'll make you fed up, let alone everyone else.

Not only that, but if you tell yourself you have to post on certain days or a certain amount of times, there will be times when you end up having to write posts with zero ideas or inspiration just because they're due, and often (in the eyes of your readers, anyway) a yawn-worthy post is worse than none at all. Sure, have a schedule - go ahead and do your best to post three times a week - but if you're regularly not living up to that, it's time to reconsider either how much content you're trying to create, or the way you're trying to create it.

#3 ~ Isolate Yourself
If you ask a blogger what their favourite part of blogging is, I can bet with almost complete certainty that they'll tell you it's the community they're a part of. Hey, if you're desperate enough to read this, then you're probably one of us too. You'll understand how amazing it is to make friends and interact with the other people that are reckless enough to engage in this crazy little hobby.

So why (WHY? WHY?) would you keep yourself to yourself when it comes to your art? It's only by surrounding yourself with different styles, different opinions - different voices - that you are going to broaden out, to decide where you want to go with your blogging and stop yourself from staying in the same stagnant position the whole time.

(Yeah, you guessed it. That stagnant position is MEGA-boring as both a blogger and a blog appreciator.)

Feel free to go on Twitter or Bloglovin' or whatever super-secret online blogger collectives I haven't been invited to yet. Share your ideas. Those close online buddies, the ones you'd trust to see work you're not quite sure about? Email them. I'm sure they'll be okay with it. If you take the time to use the support system that's available to you (and, of course, keep your voice shining through), it will be incredibly tough to be boring.

#4 ~ Mess Up Your Timing
As a blogger, you're basically a magician, except you use words instead of rabbits and top hats. Which, of course, means that timing is everything.
If your readers are anything like me - with the amount of blogs I find myself on daily, one of them probably is me - then they get bored by seeing the same things in the same place all the time. It doesn't make any difference that you only participate in blog tags twice a year if those two posts are within a week of each other. You're going to get scapegoated as "that one that only posts tags" and no-one gives a second thought to your insightful discussions or how helpful your tutorials are. If your content always seems the same lately, then just take some time to think about what else you could be writing. Try something new.

And remember - what you're working on isn't the wrong idea or the wrong piece. It's just the wrong timing.

#5 ~ Take Yourself Too Seriously
One thing you will, always, always have to remember is that BLOGGING IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.

It's not about agonising over your niche and whether your posts properly fit into it 100% of the time, or forcing yourself to write when you really don't want to. It's about getting joy from your craft, and if at all possible, using it to give other people some too. It probably sounds cliche, but readers really can tell if you're having fun or not - and if you're bored stiff, then they're just going to follow your lead.

So ... just have fun with it. Post the even craziest ideas that come into your head. Laugh as you type. Don't you dare think about playing it safe. 

Not only will 99% of your readers be having just as good a time as you are, but the ones that don't hardly matter anyway.
Sorry. I just couldn't write a whole post about boredom and not fit this GIF in somewhere.
In the comments: Do you catch yourself doing things that make your content boring? How do you stop yourself? What tips do you have for others to avoid making the same mistakes?
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Mini Reviews: Christmas Edition

So, I don't know if anyone's noticed, but it's nearly Christmas.
And, as someone who is STILL TECHNICALLY A CHILD (I have three more Christmasses until I have to adult, you guys) it is my duty to get ridiculously overexcited. I'm trying to keep my festive posts as small in number as possible, because I know some of you out there don't celebrate and probably don't want to be bombarded with it, but ... well, there are going to be a few.

In the weeks leading up to the big Ho Ho Ho, it's incredibly important that one takes the time to get one's head in the game. Otherwise you won't enjoy it properly, which is obviously tragic because there are only so many Christmasses to be enjoyed in one person's life. I like to prepare by spending hours of my life rehearsing for Christmas concerts, singing Mariah Carey in as many people's faces as possible ...

... and, of course, reading incredibly festive books like these two.

Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens

What's it About? The latest instalment in Robin Steven's Murder Most Unladylike series, follows two 1920s English boarding-schoolgirls as they stay at Cambridge University over the Christmas Holidays. And - um - solve several murders. As you do.

Before I say anything else, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU'VE READ THE REST OF THE SERIES. There are just too many facets of Daisy and Hazel's friendship that you would miss, and I feel it is my duty as a benevolent overlord to warn you of this.

Anyway. On with the review.

If we're going to go with settings first, then ... I loved Cambridge, but I'm afraid it does pale a little in comparison to Deepdean. Where are my hockey sticks? What about the lack of boarding school slang? THERE WEREN'T EVEN ANY MIDNIGHT FEASTS!

Okay, I shall calm myself - it was delightfully Christmassy, and there is a certain magic about 1920s university life. As always, the food descriptions were on point - during a few particularly intense Christmas dinner scenes, I kept having to stop for snacks. What made me super-impressed though, was how sexism was expressed through comparing the men's and women's colleges. It wasn't subtle, but that's because it wasn't subtle in real life either. St. John's and Maudlin's had Hogwarts-esque dining halls and home-cooked meals and servants on every staircase. St. Lucy's had heating that was only on for two hours a day in the depth of winter, Christmas Eve dinner out of tins, and a horrible red-brick exterior that was basically a wart on the side of Cambridge's beautiful, historical buildings.

As for the characters, I really felt for Hazel in this one. I won't say too much, but thanks to the Junior Pinkertons being there, she was even more in Daisy's shadow than usual. And then, of course, you have your obligatory racist character, which can be problematic when you live in 1920s Britain and your surname is Wong. But, in typical Hazel fashion, she captured my heart and made me smile all over again.

As for the plot, well. Those murders did not disappoint.

I'll Be Home For Christmas by Tom Becker, Julie Mayhew, Benjamin Zephaniah, Holly Bourne, Sita Brahmachari, Kevin Brooks, Melvin Burgess, Katy Cannon, Cat Clarke, Tracy Darnton, Juno Dawson, Lisa Williamson, Non Pratt and Marcus Sedgewick

What's It About? A collection of short stories (+ a poem because Benjamin Zephaniah is divergent, clearly) based around homelessness and not feeling safe/like you belong at Christmastime. In aid of Crisis.

Firstly, I absolutely loved the concept of the collection. It's so easy to buy into the myth that Christmas is always laughter-filled and jolly, that everyone is always happy and that troubles are just ... forgotten. That isn't true for everyone, especially not those who have no home to go to for Christmas dinner. Every story interpreted the idea of being outcast in its own, unique way, and I adored that because it recognised that there's more than one way of ending up without a place of safety. It turned homelessness away from a stereotype to focus on individual people and stories, which the world needs a lot more of, quite frankly.

As for the actual stories, well. They were pretty strong all round, with maybe only one I didn't properly like. (The Associates by Keven Brooks wasn't at all terrible. I just felt like the characters were stereotypical, unlike absolutely every other story, and I wasn't that sure what the plot even was, let alone where it was going.)

Juno Dawson's Homo For Christmas was hands-down my favourite. It's got a ridiculously clever title; a funny, likeable protagonist, and an ending that put a smile on my face for hours. That said, I also absolutely adored Family You Choose by Cat Clarke, because it had crazy, diverse characters who truly cared about each other and also a Sachertorte (complete with GBBO references).

Honourable mentions go to Holly Bourne's The Afterschool Club for RIPPING MY HEART OUT, Routes and Wings by Lisa Williamson for a main character who's still with me, and Amir and George by Sita Brahmachari for an incredibly important subject matter that I would just like to applaud.

But I think the great thing about this is that when you read it (and you will read it, for I am fast becoming an expert in mind control), you'll probably pick out a whole different set of stories as your favourites. The variety of genres means that some weren't so memorable for me ... but people with different opinions and tastes would probably love them.

So you've no excuse not to give it a try, basically.
In the comments: What books do you like to read at this time of year? Have you tried either of these? What did you think?
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The Sunshine Blogger Award

Don't we all need a little bit of sunshine right now? I mean, I know some of you live in places where it's summer right now and therefore you have sunbeams coming out of your ears. But hush. For the rest of us it is dark and dreary and we aren't even getting any snow for our troubles.

It's lucky that the lovely Ely @ Tea and Titles tagged me for the Sunshine Blogger Award, really. As far as I can tell - other than the general theme of sunshine and happiness - there are no rules. Just answer your eleven questions and you have the right to ask eleven of your own to the people you tag. Any theme. Any topic. As weird as you like.

This is going to be fun.

What are the little things that make you happy?
Curling up with a book under clean sheets. Singing without worrying what I sound like. Finally having revised enough that I feel prepared. Having all my friends around me. Opening the first page of a book I've been waiting for forever. Remembering a bookmark - for once. Finding a fellow Harry Potter fan. Good disability representation. My Mum's marzipan crumble and the rush you feel after singing a solo properly.

Christmas. Family. Necklaces. Bookshops. Libraries. Sherlock. YouTube. Caramel. Puzzles. Musicals.

Oh, and sunshine!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you pick?
Oh, London, without a doubt. I guess I'm lucky that I only live a couple of hours away from it, because ... well, it has the West End. And HUGE BOOKSHOPS.

I think the best thing, though, is the energy. I've never felt anything quite like it, but - the only way I can describe it is that when I'm in London, I know I'm in London.

It sounds totally cheesy, but it's a great feeling.

What's the best book you've read this year?
Really, Ely? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME? It's a very tough decision and ... well, you're basically making me choose between my children.

Which I will happily do, of course. (No-one ever let me have kids until I've changed my mind on this, 'kay?) These were particularly brilliant:
FROM TOP LEFT TO BOTTOM RIGHT: The First Third by Will Kostakis, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, One by Sarah Crossan, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Am I Normal Yet by Holly Bourne, and Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens.

What subject do you wish you knew more about?
All kinds of things - I want to know as much as possible about everything partly because I can use that information to help the truth prevail, and partly because the fact that knowledge is power and power corrupts will greatly help me in my quest to become an evil mastermind.

If I had to pick just one, though, it would probably be Maths. GCSEs are hard, okay?

Who is your biggest blogging inspiration?
I would say that it's a what, not a who.

It's the books that I read: the characters I meet and the stories I am party to. The pages that I turn. The emotions I am taken through as they drive me to laughter, tears, and ... well, everything else. There are so many people who work so hard to put a book together and deliver it to me - from the author to the editor to the girl who puts the books on their shelves - and I feel like I owe it to them to tell them I appreciated their work through my blog.

So maybe it is a who, actually. Just hundreds of people instead of one.

Why did you start blogging?

The funny answer is to avoid homework. Because - well, technically I was. My expertise in procrastinating knows no bounds (no wonder I'm so bad at keeping to schedules) but even for me that was a bit ridiculous.

I usually just say that I thought it would be a good publicity platform if I did ever write a book. Which did cross my mind at the time. But now you know the WHOLE TRUTH.

Don't tell anyone, 'kay?

Which character do you wish was your best friend?
Book Ginny.

My case is closed.

Do you have a favourite actor/actress?
Yes. Let me introduce you guys to Ali Stroker, AKA My Favourite Person to Ever Be On Glee.

Okay ... so technically she was only in it for one episode. I don't really care. She was in a full season of The Glee Project before being (I think totally unfairly) pipped to the post in the final. And then she was in the Broadway revival of Spring Awakening, which I never got to see thanks to living thousands of miles away, but was apparently incredible.

I told you I was obsessed with all things musical theatre.

You can only eat one food for the rest of your life, what do you pick?
Hmm. Usually, my favourite food is something like ice cream or that kind of chocolate cake that's gooey in the middle, but I don't think eating just them for THE REST OF MY LIFE would be anywhere near sensible. I'd probably spend most of the time being sick and going to the dentist to fix my sugar-rotted teeth.

Can I cheat and say pancakes, or would I only be allowed one kind of topping? On pancake day, my Mum always makes a full meal where every course is a different flavour of pancake.

I'd eat that all year round, no problem.

What type of weather is your favourite?
That moment just after a summer shower when it stops raining and the sun comes out. It always cheers me up a little just because I was expecting to get drenched and then, suddenly, I wasn't - there's always this freshness in the air, and of course it's always quiet because everyone else is still sheltering inside.

Maybe it's about the metaphor of hope or something else overly imaginative (I mean, I am a writer), or maybe it's just the beauty of the sun breaking through and illuminating the droplets that have settled everywhere. All I know is that it makes me smile.

Something good that’s happened in the last week to you, or someone else.I bought Christmas presents for everyone. That's something good happening to my friends really soon.

What? I happen to be the gift master and ... trust me. What I've found is perfect.

Here are the questions for you guys to answer:
(Honestly, I had the most fun of the entire post coming up with these questions. You'd better answer them well, people.)
  • Who's your least favourite character EVER? Describe - in detail - what it is that makes you hate them so much. "They're just the worst" or something similar is not acceptable (What? I thought you guys already knew about my bossiness!)
  • Do you have any yellow/ orange books? What do you want to tell me about them?
  • What does reading smell like to you?
  • How often do you have doubts about being a blogger?
  • Where would a book have to be set for you to pick it up immediately, no questions asked?
  • What's your reading speed? Do you like it that way, or would you rather it was faster / slower?
  • Tell me about a quote you can write down almost word for word without looking it up (almost everyone's got one, I reckon). What does it mean to you? What's made you remember it so clearly?
  • At what time of year are you happiest?
  • What childhood toy do you have the fondest memories of?
  • How do you feel about school? What is/was it like for you? Love it or hate it?
  • If you could change one thing about your blog without having to do it yourself, what would it be?
(You're supposed to tag eleven people, but ... I don't have eleven online friends. These people are enough though because they are awesome)
No pressure, you guys, but if you want to do this I'd really like to hear your answers. And, if anyone else wants to jump in, go for it! Consider yourself tagged!

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4 Novels That Inspired Me As A Writer

So ... I harbour this tiny ambition to maybe write a story someday.
Judging by what I've heard around the book bloggersphere, a lot of you are the same. Most of you will probably be further along than me - I'm still to pass the actually-finishing-a-first-draft stage - but I'm sure you'll know the feeling of having zero inspiration. Maybe even half-forgetting why you write in the first place. And, often, when I'm in that place, it's reading a really good book that fills me up with excitement again.

I thought I'd share some of those books today. Life at the moment is ridiculously fast-paced and, what with trying to keep up this beautiful blog here, I haven't actually had time to sit down and get some words out in a long time. That means I have a lot of ... overspilling inspiration? And I WANT TO SHARE IT, SO READ THIS OR SUFFER.

I'm only half-joking about how serious I am.

The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morill
There are many reasons that this is an awesome book to read not just for teenage writers, but also for all writers and ... well, everyone that has eyes, really.

First of all, STEPHANIE MORRILL IS A QUEEN. She's the brilliant mind behind Go Teen Writers, which is basically the best writing advice blog I've ever come across, and you can guess that she has a pretty intimate knowledge of what it is to be a teen writer. So, be prepared for lots of uber-realism that has you endlessly repeating the phrase "yes, that is exactly me" in your head.

Secondly, Ellie Sweet, her main character, is a high-schooler turned revenge-driven novelist. She's the underdog. The one who's always left out. But she doesn't just find the strength to write through the tough times, she lets those tough times give her strength. It was Ellie who showed me that, while there are busy seasons in life when writing is pretty much a no-no, just because you're hurting doesn't mean you can't make art.

In fact, it means the exact opposite.

The Great Automatic Grammatizator and Other Stories by Roald Dahl
When I say the name Roald Dahl, I'm guessing you think of children's books. They're what he's known for, after all, and his witty, slightly gruesome style has entertained generations of kids - plus their parents - in one foul swoop.

But ... it turns out he wrote ... other stuff? 

This is a collection of Dahl's adult short stories, and - well, some of them are about as far from kids' stories as they could be without being erotica. They have this amazingly creative morbidity about them, not to mention that his character descriptions are some of the shrewdest personality observations I've ever seen. 

He turned short-storytelling into his own personal art form, basically, and reading his work opened my eyes to the fact that novels aren't the only form of writing in the universe. And, seeing as I can be spectacularly inobservant sometimes, that was a more dramatic revelation than you'd think.

The title story of the anthology also happens to be a kind of satire about how ridiculously difficult writing is. a) Hilarious, b) relateable, and c) ROALD DAHL FELT IT TOO, YOU GUYS! 

One by Sarah Crossan

O, Sarah Crossan, your writing is utterly heartwrenchingly gorgeous. But you must be an ice queen to make me cry as much as you did.

One had been on my mental TBR for a few weeks before I decided to read a few reviews and realised it was written in verse. I was skeptical, to be honest, but the reviewer in question was very enthusiastic about the format and that made me curious.

Needless to say, it was approximately brilliant.

I'd never really considered writing a book with an alternative format, but One showed me how beautiful and raw free verse can be, and ... well, I'd love to give it a try someday.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling

Ok, fine. This one was kind of predictable. But how could you read Harry Potter and not be inspired? How could you dive into the world of Hogwarts and not be absolutely spellbound (believe it or not, that pun was not intended) by the mind-numbing detail?

And don't even get me started on Pottermore.

I know I could never write anything that'll become as popular as Harry Potter. There's just no way that could happen twice in a century. But what reading it does is remind me to aim high in my detail - to know every little thing about my characters and my world and its history - so that I can create a fictional place that I'll want to escape to, if nobody else does.

In the comments: Which books have inspired you as a writer? Why do you think they do that? Where else do you go to find inspiration?

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Announcing ... Disability Diaries!

Today, peeps, I have some very exciting news. The kind that calls for confetti, klaxons, and fanfares. Preferably on a bugle.

Wait - nobody has a bugle? I guess I'll just have to tell you without musical accompaniment.

You disappoint me, internet.

ANYWAY - I'm here to announce an event I'll be co-hosting at the beginning of next year. It's called Disability Diaries, and it's basically an extravaganza of disability-related reviews, discussions, personal posts ... and basically anything else we can think of that says what we want to say about disability in the book and blogging worlds.

This whole (may I say brilliant) idea is the brainchild of Ely @ Tea and Titles, and also hosting are Angel @ Angel Reads, Cee Arr @ Diary of a Reading Addict, Dina @ Dinasoaur, and Jolien @ The Fictional Reader. We're really, really excited - and we need YOUR help.

If you want to contribute with your own posts - and knowing how many brilliant conversations I've had with you guys about disability, I'm hoping you will - then please fill in the Google Form below. There's no need to sign up if you want to enjoy what we post and write on Twitter, but if you'd like to write your own stuff, this form lets us know who you are so we can keep track of and share your contributions.
That's all I'm going to say for now, since it's taking place on the 14th - 21st of January and that's a while off yet, but make sure you're following all of our blogs and Twitter feeds - we'll be making various little announcements as time goes on.

Also, if you don't trust me (or just want to get even more excited about the whole thing), you can read Ely, Angel, Cee Arr, Dina and Jolien's launch posts. I promise it's happening!

In the comments: Come squeal with me! What are you most excited about? Is there anything you'd like us to feature specifically?

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8 Ways to Make Yourself Smile

We've all had days when it just seems impossible to smile. Maybe you're stressed, or upset, or just tired of being so busy.


But it's important that you look after yourself, and ... that thing you're down about? I'm guessing that, however bad it is, there's not much you can do about it. The good news is that the one thing you can control is the one thing that, I've found, really helps.

You have to step back and do something that'll make you smile.

(I guess it's important to note here that I'm not a doctor or a metal health professional. I'm just a human who gets sad, and these things have been known to help me be happy again.)

#1 ~ Bed. Book. Bliss

Grab that book off your TBR - you know, the one that you've been looking forward to for weeks but never quite got round to - brew some hot chocolate, or tea, or coffee, and burrow yourself inside your duvet. It doesn't even have to be evening, if you don't want it to be. Just laying back and drifting into your own little book-cocoon really does help you get perspective ... and, of course, puts a smile on your face.

(By the way, if you're reading this in summer ... sitting on your bed without the cocoon and sipping something ice-cold and fizzy is just as relaxing without the sweat factor.)

#2 ~ Enlist the help of the internet

After I've been upset about something, I'm often left feeling kind of fragile, as if I'll burst out crying at the slightest hint of something going wrong. And ... well, I'm definitely not smiling when I feel like that. 

I like to reach for my laptop and scroll through a special Pinterest board I keep called "I Need to Smile Today". It's stuffed full of ridiculous memes, bad puns and basically everything the internet has to offer that might distract me and lift my mood a little. And it might take ten minutes or so, but by the end I am always smiling.

#3 ~ Don't go it alone

When I'm sad and I don't really know why ... it often turns out that I'm more lonely than anything. And even if there is something I definitely know that I am sad about, it just makes me sadder to be sad alone.

That paragraph had the word sad in it a lot. Let's just go with it, okay?

So when you are sad, try to stop being sad by talking to someone. Hug your parents. Or your neighbour. Or your cat. If you need to talk to someone, call a friend - even if you just want to chat about something completely unrelated and get them to make you laugh for a while, they'll be there for you. Don't worry about being a burden, because if they really care they'll be happy to look after you.

#4 ~ Watch some comedy 

Sometimes just smiling isn't anywhere near enough. There are levels of sadness that cannot be beaten by anything but a full-on belly laugh, and if you're looking for full-on belly laughs you need people that are trained to make you full-on belly laugh.

That would be a comedian, if you're wondering.

Personally, I like to listen to people like Tim Minchin and Russell Howard, but they are very very rude. And some of the things they say might be a little - or a lot - controversial. So choose whoever's going to appeal to your sense of humour, type their name into Google, and be prepared to laugh so hard you can't breathe.

It helps. I promise.

#5 ~ Get on with something

After a while ... well. There are situations when you can look after yourself as well as possible and make yourself laugh as much as you can, but as soon as the last joke fades - you're back to crying again. 

It's a horrible cycle to be in, I know. I've been there - and to be honest, we probably all have. To stop it, though, you're going to have to give yourself a bit of tough love. Take a deep breath, put it to the back of your mind, and come up with something you can do instead. Something you can achieve - preferably in a pretty short time. Let it be the only thing you focus on until you're done; and trust me, the feeling once you've finished that task, achieved your goal, and ticked that item off your mental to-do-list, might just put a smile on your face.

#6 ~ Sleepy time, suckers

You know when you've got some sort of electrical device that just isn't working, you'll turn it off and on again? Well ... sleep is kind of like that. (I'm about 75% sure I got this comparison from somewhere on Tumblr, but the blog has hidden itself in the dark realms of the internet where I can't find it, so if you know where, tell me! I'll be a good girl and link up.)

So you've tried a bunch of things, and you still can't smile? You need to turn yourself off and on again, mate. Being overtired isn't exactly going to help in a situation where you feel run-down, and even when you feel pretty okay, it's important to get enough sleep so that it doesn't catch up with you. This, as I'm sure you're aware, would lead to sadness and that is bad.

Oh. You just woke up from a super-long sleep, and you're still sad? Maybe you're ... hungry?

Yeah. You're probably hungry. My point is, deal with your basic needs. They might be what's making you gripey.

#7 ~ Remember that you don't have to be perfect
Expecting the best from yourself when you've had a bad day is just kind of unrealistic. And silly. And unhelpful. I mean, I do it the whole time, but ... yeah. Isn't a good thing.

A rough day is often a sign that you need to take it easy and look after yourself. THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO ACHIEVE EVERYTHING OF EVER AT THE SAME TIME, 'KAY?

Because ... perfect is overrated and unachievable. Trying to reach something impossible that probably wouldn't even make you very happy when you got there would stress anyone out. So don't.

Just be you instead.

#8 ~ Also, THIS. This ALWAYS makes me smile.

That's right. Only on Another Teen Reader could an almost cheesily earnest pep talk be followed by a comedy ballet.

In the comments: What do you guys do to cheer yourselves up? Would you recommend it to others, or is it just your thing? Do you have any advice for people going through difficult times?
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