Looking back and looking forward

My little family and I have raised our glasses to the old year and welcomed in the new. There was discussion about how worrying the world has become with extremism on the rise and compassionate leaders apparently in short supply. There was concern expressed over upcoming exams. There was also much to share and look forward to. I recognise how fortunate I am in the people I know from my small corner of rural Wiltshire and among my wider online friends, from whom I have received much encouragement and generosity in the past twelve months. I go forward into 2018 aiming to share this kindness and support.

I reviewed 187 books last year, putting myself under pressure at times to meet deadlines. To enable proper appreciation of a book, which is the least the author deserves, I believe it should be read for pleasure; despite the quality of prescribed texts I did not enjoy the books I was required to read at school. My desire to read in a positive frame of mind was one of the reasons that led me to withdraw from participation in blog tours at the end of last year, a decision that affected the number of titles I received from certain publishers. Despite this, it is not a decision I regret.

Also last year I created a review policy page for my blog although it still needs some work to achieve its aim. I find it a challenge to succinctly describe the books I wish to read, or not read – I have enjoyed so many titles that would not fit within the parameters I have attempted to set down. I may also remove my email address from this policy page as, despite what I have stated, I have been approached by self-publishing authors and feel uncomfortable declining their creations. I have no doubt that many of their books could be worth reading but without the filter of a publishing house that does not charge its authors to put out their work I am reluctant to add them to my vast TBR pile. My refusal to read ebooks (remember what I said about reading for pleasure?) results in the authors incurring a cost sending me their book and I feel guilt if I do not manage to read in a timely manner. So many books, so little time.

I have much to look forward to in the coming year. As well as reading new books to come and unread books from my pile, I will be revisiting the Republic of Consciousness Prize longlist in preparation for the judges meeting. Prior to this gathering I plan to post interviews with several of the authors and publishers whose work is being considered along with guest posts and other content. I am very excited about this prize and am delighted to be involved.

A highlight of 2017 was my participation in the Guardian newspaper’s Not the Booker Prize process which culminated in me being invited to join the judging panel. Reading for the RofC prize and the Not the Booker prize introduced me to many books that I would not otherwise have discovered and included some true gems.

Another endeavour that I have derived satisfaction from in 2017 has been contributing to Bookmunch. This site focuses on the sorts of books I particularly enjoy and I am delighted to be on the team. If you are unfamiliar with their work, do check it out.

I ended the year on my blog with a series of reviews for books to be published in the months to come. Of these I particularly recommend The Stone Tide by Gareth E. Rees, Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary, On The Bright Side by Hendrik Groen (translated by Hester Velmans) and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. There are, of course, many more new books to be read and I look forward to sharing my thoughts.

Those who follow my Instagram may have noticed a decrease in bookish posts over the festive season. I have been enjoying some down time with my family, taking walks and recharging my batteries. This will continue through to next weekend when we have some time away planned. In the coming year it is my aim to find a better balance between my book blogging and other pursuits.

For me, book blogging is about more than just reading and writing reviews. I have literary events to look forward to, guest spots on various media arranged, and hope to meet many more authors, publishers, event organisers and bloggers as the year progresses. I am grateful to have found the bookish world to be a friendly and supportive place thus far. It is my fervent wish to make a positive contribution.

A huge thank you to the publishers who provide me with many of the books I review, and to the publicists who have kept me on their lists. Thank you also to all who have read, commented and shared my words. Although I may not say so directly each time, I always appreciate your support. I hope that you have found books that inspired, gave you pleasure, and facilitated a better understanding of different cultures and points of view. I wish you all much good reading, and a Happy New Year.

New Year

Happy New Year!

There, I’ve said it. I do wish you all good health, much happiness and strength to cope with whatever life throws at you. It just takes me a little while to get to the point where I feel able to relax enough to send out the greeting. I cannot relax until I am safely out the other side of the festive season.

I coped better this year than I managed last year. Not that such a thing would be hard given the personal implosion I suffered last year. Actually that would be the year before last now wouldn’t it? You know, given that we have been through the whole turn of the year thing? Oh well.

Talking about the turn of the year, I thought it would be different this time around. Now that my children regularly stay up to beyond midnight for, well, reasons, I thought that we might see the New Year in together. It was not to be. After the champagne, the music, the party food and the film, my husband and I agreed that we were in need of bed more than anything else. Lest you fondly imagine that anything romantic may have been going down, rest assured we were asleep within seconds of heads hitting pillows. At 10.30pm on New Year’s Eve. Boring? Yes. Enjoyed New Years Day more than a lot of my hungover friends? Yes.

So, having got up bright and early with a reasonably clear head, I undecked the halls. My reluctance to acknowledge Christmas until I am forced to do so meant that my children put up and decorated our two Christmas trees. Had they not done so there was a risk that I may have avoided this task altogether. I assisted by draping tinsel around various bits of furniture and innocent house plants. I found places for the themed candles and ornaments that we put out at this time of year. The bulk of the work though was done by my kids.

Not so the undecking, that I did alone and quickly. I have been known to tidy the lot away on Boxing Day so keen am I to move on. Bah humbug as they say.

Anyway, this year the decorations lasted until New Years Day. I had the house back to looking unfestive by lunchtime, and felt much better for it. Now that we have got all that out of the way I can start looking forward.

I do not really hate Christmas. What I find so hard are the expectations and obligations that have become a part of the whole thing. My natural urge to hide makes the whole bonhomie of the season a challenge. I could happily spend the two or three days in front of the television, dressed in my pyjamas, eating pizza with my loved ones. One of these years I am so going to do that.

Husband worked through all but the three shutdown days. The kids did whatever teenagers do all day when they are sequestered in their rooms. Now that we have got through and out the other side though we can enjoy what is left of the holidays. This weekend we will be getting away for some family time.

This is perfect for me. The weather may be foul but a New Year has started with all the positive energy that fresh starts bring. For a little while there will be no demands from others to fulfil any expectations. We five can run away together and have some fun.

So now I can wish you all a Happy New Year with heartfelt sincerity. I have a lot of plans for the coming months and am feeling good about what lies ahead. I hope that your year turns out to be magnificent.

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