On 3… Crescent City, House of Earth and Blood.

Can you believe I’m going into this review as a Sarah J. Maas virgin? I know. Crazy. There are a few of us still out there. But we’re like unicorns, or leprechauns, or any other ‘orn’. Tricky to find, and possibly just a horse in disguise.

Anyway…

Sarah J. Maas burst onto the writing scene in 2012 with her Throne of Glass series. It was a good year for YA Romantic Fantasies; Cassandra Clare’s 5th book of her Mortal Instruments series came out the same year, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, plus a whole slew of other sequels. Looking at the list, I’m surprised how few I’ve read, but at least I know I’ve got a back catalogue to while away the hours.

Of course, the most notable works SJM is known for is her Court of Thorns and Roses series, a beauty and the beast retelling with fae, intrigue and a lot of steamy scenes. So I’m told. As I’ve said, I’ve not read it.

No! Don’t leave! I’ve got nice things to say!

Crescent City is written for the adults that grew up with those previously mentioned books. Who loves the intrigue and fascination with fantasy – but won’t settle for ‘just kissing’ anymore.

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It’s also written by someone who has won awards, claimed the best seller, as not just one but three series under her belt, as well as side novels, manga projects… Which means it’s long. It’s thickly packed. And it’s fun!

I always find urban fantasies fascinating because you’re not throwing people into a world they’ll willingly accept, because it borders the real and the tangible. So the opening chapters are thick with description, whilst the action is relatively mundane. We’re introduced to key characters, and given a LOT of information about them to develop them as a character, and the world they live in.

Bryce, our main character, is half-fae. She has pointed ears, long red hair, and a not-so-secret-crush on one of the wolves in her flatmate, Danika,’s pack. The opening three chapters see Bryce navigate the world she lives in, from her job, to her home, to her social life. The f-bomb is dropped a lot! (Not dissimilar to when JK Rowling wrote for adults after 100 years of writing for kids, and she dropped the F-bomb like she’d been hoarding them the whole time for just this occasion).

As for plot, there are a lot of potential avenues, so if the romance element doesn’t hold your interest, the bomb-threatening mystery might. The political intrigue is there as back up, and the banter between characters will certainly see you through if you’re not that fussed.

This is a book written by someone who is wholly comfortable with her craft, her style, and her audience. Books, films, even Youtube videos are getting longer, and as someone who likes to binge on their content – I’m here for it. Crescent City is no different. At just over 800 pages, she’s a doozie and I’m not surprised. How does an editor tell a Goodreads Choice Awards Best Young Adult Fantasy winner, winner of the Publisher Weekly’s Starred Review, Dragon Novel twice nominated winner, that she needs to cut out anything?

*Side note* – I’ve just read some of the reviews on her House of Earth and Blood Goodreads, from people who haven’t even read the book yet. (Which is crazy to me in of itself). And people seem to be expecting smut (I’m sure!) bad writing (which is harsh. Some sentences run on a little long, but she’s trying to build a layered world here people!) and “cliche stereotypical depictions of feminism and strength”.

Feminism is a lens guys, there is no ‘black and white’ way of being a feminist. Although could you imagine how easy life would be if there were?! There are some stereotypes of femininity and femme fatals in the opening chapter, but I’m interested to see how these characters continue to explore the world they’re in, especially as they’re put under pressure and have to make tough decisions. No, I’m not expecting this to be a ‘Booker Style’ literary fest. But to be honest, that’s not my thing anyway.

So as a summary:

Interesting opening chapters, packed full of maybe a little too much information and not enough action for me. But too soon to tell much more. I guess I’ll have to read it to find out!

Why I haven’t finished the ‘To All the Boys’ series.

To All The Boys I Loved Before is a young adult romance series, written with care by Jenny Han, and turned into a Rom-Com for Netflix. I’d highly recommend it! As someone who prefers to watch romance (and it needs to have that comedy element to it, I’m not really a ‘Notebook’ style gal) to reading it, TATBILB was a head-turner for me, and really had me questioning whether I’d sold the whole genre short.

I’d seen the film, and wanted to know if the book held up. It did! There were enough changes that I could enjoy both in their own right. Characters were developed differently, because the book had more time to weave the story, but pacing in both was good. The main characters were flawed, but not to the point where I couldn’t relate/empathise. It was a generally wholesome experience, and I wanted to read the next two books in the series.

book blog

You may remember, back in November, I did a tour of the independent bookshops in Kent. I was surprised there were so few, and even more surprised that half of them weren’t open at the time of recording (but I assumed that was due to me and my lack of forward planning. (I didn’t check their opening times…)) I’m happy to say that the shitty service I’m about to talk about has NOTHING to do with any of those independent bookshops.

Anyway…

Having decided I wanted to finish the rest of this series, I took a trip in my car to a bookstore near me which specialises in kids books and toys. I’ve seen YA in their windows before, so I thought, ‘why give my money to Amazon, when I can support an independent?’ I’ve got a Waterstones which is closer to me, so, worst case scenario – I’d pop in there on my way back from this independent.

The lady behind the counter was lovely. Yes, she could order the books in for me, it would take two-three working days. It was a Saturday, so I could expect the book by the end of the week. Not a problem.

‘Do you want me to pay now or when the books arrive?’ 

‘No, it’s fine, pay when you come back. We’ve been having trouble getting books in for people. We’ll call you when it gets here.’

In hindsight… maybe this should have been my first red flag? They took my name, my number and I was on my way. I had the rest of my Top Trumps TBR to get through, and (much to Kate Macdonald‘s chagrin) I don’t have a problem waiting between books in a series.

Sidebar: the reason I don’t have a problem is a little bit down to Cassandra Clare, and her Shadowhunter series. I really enjoyed the first four books. But then I missed a couple, and binged four more and it was too much. Unlike a tv series where my impatience gets the better of me, because I like to take my time with a book, I don’t mind waiting for the next one so I can ruminate over the last. (Sure I just googled to double-check I knew what ruminate meant… I was right though).

A week passed. Then a second. No word from the bookshop. Weird. But she’d told me they’d had a problem getting it in so maybe it wasn’t available at the moment. Netflix had released a promotional trailer for PS I Still Love You, the second book to be turned into a film from the series. It was coming out on my birthday. It could be that all the copies have already been scooped, I thought to myself. And as I’ve asked for both, they’ve not called until both are ready. I can’t read the 3rd book before the 2nd anyway…

No harm in asking. So the following Tuesday, I went down to the bookshop. I still had a month. Plenty of time to read book 2 before the film came out. I even dragged my brother and the dog along for the walk.

But when we got there, all the windows were dark. And a little note in the window said, ‘closed due to sickness.’ Fair enough. I can’t be mad about sickness. Cold and Flues were going around, and I’m not a heartless bitch. (For the most part).

I gave it another week, and tried again. During storm Dennis. Because we’re on the coast, we get a lot of wind generally anyway. But the rain was something else. I layered up, convinced the dog and my brother for a second time for a walk, and we made our way to the bookshop. It was open – THANKFULLY – and whilst my brother took the dog on a little stroll, I went inside.

‘Hi,’ I said, ‘I’ve come to find out if my books are in. PS I Still Love You and Lara Jean Forever After?’ 

‘Oh yes! We’ve been trying to call you!’ the lady said. 

This filled me with hope. Hope that was shortlived.

‘We tried to call you on the shop phone, but it kept getting to the middle number and cutting out.’ 

Guys. My dudes. Friends. Countrymen. It’s 20-fucking-20. Everyone and their dog has a mobile phone. Many have mobiles INSTEAD of landlines. I don’t have a house phone. But my mobile is currently sitting in front of me. (On silent, I’m trying to concentrate). A bad handset is ZERO reason not to call someone. Especially if calling them is going to bring money into an industry which is hard graft at the best of times.

I said nothing.

She switched on the computer (which should have been my, what, third red flag at this point?) and waited for the thing to load. I tried to make small talk.

‘It must be great working here.’ 

‘It is. I’m only here a couple of days a week but it’s great.’ 

‘I saw there was a sign saying someone was sick last week?’

‘The lady who owns this shop, her little girl had the chickenpox. Couldn’t very well bring her in!’ she laughed. 

‘Well, you’ve got my number – in case you ever need a shift covering!’ I joked. 

She didn’t laugh. 

The computer connected and she wrang up my books. I tapped my card against the machine

‘Oh. It’s declined.’

Panic. I hate it. There’s money in the account, I know there is, but suddenly I’m thinking ‘shit, shit, shit, shit…’

‘I’ll try inserting it,’ (hehe) I say, trying to stay calm. 

‘No, it’s saying it’s not connecting,’ she says after a moment. 

Relief. It’s not my fault. Not my problem. Wait. Yes, it is my problem.

‘I don’t have any cash I say,’ looking at the two beautiful books in front of me.

‘I’ll try a different wifi connection. I’m so sorry about this.’ 

I’m trying not to be unreasonable. She’s doing her best. She’s being polite. But Waterstones and Amazon wouldn’t have had these issues… I grumble to myself.

‘It won’t connect. I’m so sorry about this.’ 

I used to work for my mum in a Wedding Dress Shop. Clients don’t get more unreasonable than a bride, her mother, and their entourage. If you don’t learn good sales tactics, a nice manner, you get a bad reputation and your business goes down the toilet. So, from that experience, here’s what I was expecting:

An apology. Directions to the nearest cashpoint. And a bookmark/token gift with a marginal mark-up so that the customer walks away feeling pleased with me and happy to come back. So they think that, even though I’ve messed up, it was worth coming all this way. (No matter the ACTUAL distance, if you know what I mean.)

Heres what I got:

A shrug.

The lady kind of looked at me like I was helpless. Put the books back in their bag and told me she’d keep them for when I came in again. I put my purse away and walked back out into the rain. I walked past the two cashpoints I knew where in the high street to find my brother under a canopy with a very soggy dog. And we went home.

I ranted to anyone who would listen. ‘How stupid is that?! No wonder independent bookshops keep dying!’ My dad told me he’d have ordered from Amazon the moment the shop was closed the first time. But I was still adamant I’d buy local. My next nearest independent bookshop was over an hour’s drive away (The Margate Bookshop). And I knew the books were there! They were tucked safely behind the counter. I didn’t want it to be a complete waste of time.

My birthday came and went. I had no books. The film was out. It was getting weird reviews, a real mixed bag of people wanting John Ambrose to be more book-like, and also happy Peter K (these are the two love interests if that wasn’t clear) was less book-like. But I didn’t know what the book versions of these boys were first! So I still haven’t seen the film.

My brother took the dog for a walk, knowing it would be a sensitive subject (I know, so sheltered that this is my biggest gripe over the last two months – but come the hell on!) but the bookshop was closed for lunch.

And I started feeling like a mug because, I’m constantly going on about independent bookshops. The Margate Bookshop has been shortlisted for the 2020’s Independent Bookshop of the Year Regional Shortlist. And yet this whole experience has been a complete waste of time. And as Rita Mae Brown once said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.’

I went back yesterday. The shop was closed again. A little sign saying, ‘cash only’ in the window, but nothing to say when they’d be back.

And my books are in there. Waiting to be read. That’s why I haven’t finished the series. (Crying emoji.)

🖤 If you need to find me🖤

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Why do you do what you do?

I guess, as I’m technically asking myself this question, it would be a bit of a cop-out to say ‘because I love it’. Though I do, and I always have enjoyed; writing, editing, conversing, blogging, reading, and everything that connects those dots together.

It’s just become more obvious to me the more I’ve been layered and layered with jobs and writing-related stress.

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Today I did a workshop with the Metis – Ashford and Folkestone Network for women in business. I was, unsurprisingly, really nervous about it. How can I explain to people – in only half an hour – how to get the most out of their blog? How do I dare when this is my current shop front? I’ve had blogs in the past that have done really well (and others that haven’t). What if I’m not as good as I think I am? What if I’m a fraud?

Turns out – everyone has those fears. Everyone is trying to do their best. This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did highlight the amount of pressure I feel to be the ‘voice of authority’ when it comes to blogging. Which is stupid – for the simple reason I AM an authority when it comes to blogging because of years of experience, my client track record, my statistics and my research.

Of course, you never know you know something until someone reminds you.

UntitledI went to AccessxHelenAnderz last week at Hoxton Hall. I’ve been to a few workshops on Youtube and blogging, and this was – in my ever so humble opinion – one of the best. Helen Anderson introduced herself in a humble/hustling hard kind of way which was fresh and authentic. She didn’t teach anyone in the room to ‘suck eggs’ or ever assume that people were too stupid to understand her. She was friendly, fun and informed.

Now I ghost write for other people, I wanted to make sure I was evoking that same kind of reaction.

I started with a little game, asking people in pairs to tell an anecdote. Telling them they had three minutes to explain the anecdote. I then gave them 45 seconds and cut in.

“Not everyone is going to have time to read everything. And you’re fighting against the noise around you. You’ve got to make sure your blog stands out.” – And away I went. We talked about types of blog, types of content, types of audience. And I ran over my half an hour easily – even though I’d skipped two slides so I could leave time for questions! I hope Helen Anderz doesn’t mind that I quoted her directly – “If you’ve got a voice or a message, you’ll find an audience.” I just felt, for these brilliant businesswomen, it was the perfect take away.

I was asked at the end, “what is your favourite quote?” (and maybe that’s what this blog post should have been called.

My response:- Shia LaBeouf, “Just do it.” I wanted to make people laugh. When you’re laughing, you’re relaxed and open to new things. And that’s what I wanted to share with them.

I really enjoyed sharing my knowledge and experience with women with their own keen business understanding. Plus it helped that I was told at the end how “amiable, and well presented” I was. How professional. How enthusiastic. I couldn’t stop grinning the whole way home.

So why do I do what I do? Because I love it, for all the reasons above and more.

How long does it take for you to get ready?

Blogger's Daily Routine Timeline InfographicIf you’re one of those magical people who can wake up and just ‘be awake’ I’d ask which demon you sold your soul to and how can I get in touch?

Waking up for me is an ORDEAL! Firstly, why do all alarms ring through your head? Why can’t they lull you awake, gently? And with enough time to become sentient, after that weird fever dream you were just experiencing? I’ve tried using different songs, phone ringtones, the radio. All of it hurts. So once I’m awake I like to lie awake and stare at the ceiling for ten minutes whilst I contemplate pretending to be dead or calling in sick. Eventually, the need the use the bathroom becomes overwhelming and I get up.

When it comes to breakfast, well, this is the laziest part of my morning. I’ll either have cereal or toast if I’m doing it myself. I’ve recently moved back in with my parents (because my MA in Creative Writing has rinsed my account), and my mum likes to have bacon and eggs on toast for breakfast. If she’s cooking, then I wake up to the smells of bacon and it’s a lot easier to be enthused.

Once I’ve eaten, it’s time to shower and brush my teeth. I don’t spend longer than ten minutes in the shower. My hair is quite long, but I find a simple wash once and condition every three days keeps it in good condition. I don’t douse it in hairspray or straighten it very often, so it keeps my hairdresser happy when I see her.

On a dry day, it takes me exactly eleven minutes to get dressed, make my bed, brush my hair and brush my teeth. It’s the only part of my morning where I feel even remotely efficient. Rarely does my underwear match. Rarely can I find two socks with the same pattern, so I tend to stick with at least the same colour. I’ve tried to only buy black socks to that I can pretend I have my life together. But I love a novelty sock. I will not apologise.

On a wet day, it takes slightly longer to get dressed because of the drying process. First, I have to enjoy a cup of tea, a bit of my book or a youtube video. It’s a must, without this part of my day everything else crumbles. Then I lightly blow dry my hair at the root, and towel dry the ends. If I’m sat at my desk/vanity table whilst this is happening, it’s about this time that my cat comes running into my room, screaming, and sits on my lap slowing the rest of my morning down. Whilst I’ve been working from home this hasn’t been a problem – but when I get back to a nine-to-five in September? Well, we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Finally, Makeup.

I timed this bit, because it’s the longest part of my ‘getting ready’ process – which is why it only happens if I’m:

  • Sick – and need to hide how awful I look to the general public.
  • I’m on a date – and need to hide how awful I look to the poor schmuk sat across from me.
  • I’m on a night out with my friends – and I need to hide the fact I’m the Lena Dunham to their Taylor Swift(s).
    • This is a reference to Katherine Ryan’s stand up comedy AKA The hilarious retelling of truths too relevant to my life. If you’ve not seen her Netflix Specials – fix your life immediately. 
  • I’m bored and I’ve got time.

Seventeen minutes to do my makeup. I’m saying that up front so you know in advance that I have no idea what I’m doing. That’s not the expedient ‘I do my make up every day, bit of foundation, bit of mascara and away I go!’ nor is it the ‘Everything I learned from my professional MUA course I’ve put into bite-size chunks for Instagram and Youtube – you’re welcome’. It’s in the chubby middle section of ‘I learned from everything I know youtube and cannot get the cat-eye flick on even the sixth try’.

It happens like this: Wash face, prime face, foundation, concealer, blusher, eyes, face powder (I know this is wrong, but I make no apologies. I’m just doing my best!) eyebrows, mascara, lipstick, check for boogers, maybe take a selfie. Depends how good the light is and how much spare time I have. Filter it. Save for later. I don’t like posting too many selfies at once, I don’t want people to think I’m at that level of self-confidence because I’m not, and they might expect me to do confident things like show up to parties.

I only have one bag that I use on a regular basis, so it has phone, keys and purse already in it. If I need anything else then I’ve usually packed it the night before because, again, I like to pretend I’ve got my life together.

Things that will never be part of my morning routine:

  1. Painting my nails – it never dries in time. I always get it everywhere. If I’m going to make a mess it’s going to be in the cool afternoon time so that I don’t have to worry about spending too much time on.
  2. Exercise – my dad goes to the gym before work three times a week, swimming at the weekends. And this blows my mind. I don’t want to be damp and gross from sweating and then showering in an unfamiliar place. I don’t want to hurt and ache when I walk around the office. Who am I kidding? I don’t want to exercise if I can help it…
  3. Food Prep – there’s something exciting about wondering whether you’re going to eat lunch at a normal time or scrabble at the local supermarket to throw something together in the short break you have. Unless… does leftover Chinese count as food prep?

So what do you think? Could you improve my routine? Or does it sound all too familiar? Leave a comment below, share with your friends and I’ll see you next week!