Budget bookish gift guide

It’s always fun finding great presents for people, but it can be difficult at Christmas when you’re on a budget and buying lots of presents at once. Here are a few bookish present ideas which cost less than a paperback.

Photo 25-11-2015, 20 26 15‘Reading Night In’ Box

Every reader likes a cosy night in to read, especially when the weather is wuthering outside. The great thing about a night-in box is you can spend as much or as little as you like and totally personalise it for the recipient. You just need a box (a shoe box is a good size), and fill it with things for an evening staying in to read. You can include things like nice hot chocolate, snacks, comfy socks, a bookmark, a mini bottle of wine, whatever your budget allows. If you can afford it, include a book, but if not, don’t worry – just label it as a ‘reading night-in box’ and the person will get the idea. (I’ve done night-in boxes as wedding, birthday and Christmas presents, and just adapt the box to the person & occasion. It’s my go-to gift).

Photo 24-11-2015, 14 17 08Tea with Dumbledore

The gifts in the Harry Potter studio tour shop are lovely but too expensive for a lot of people. I did this ‘tea with Dumbledore’ for a friend’s secret santa and it cost about £6 (plus the brown paper & string which I already had):

  • House Elves Christmas Tea – loose leaf Christmas tea that smells amazing from The Great Tea Blender  (25g for £2)
  • The Silver Snitch tea strainer – small silver spherical tea strainer also from The Great Tea Blender (usually £3.99 but bought in a gift set with the tea for £5 total)
  • Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans – Sainsbury’s own brand jelly beans
  • Muggle chocolate frogs – a couple of Freddos!

rainy day activity bookRainy Day Activity Book for adults

There are some absolutely beautiful colouring books for adults by Johanna Basford, which would make a lovely gift alongside some colouring pens/pencils. However, if that’s too expensive check out these rainy day activity books by Pizza Eaters. They cost £2.50 each (plus postage), and come in different themes from eighties movies to Buffy to Game of Thrones, and contain things like colouring-in pages, dot-to-dots, and word searches.

monster bookmarks

Homemade bookmarks

I have little to no crafting skill, but if you do there are lots of ideas for beautiful and quirky bookmarks on Pinterest. Sometimes craft supplies can mean it ends up costing more that buying new, but you can make cool monster corner ones like these using an envelope.


The Literary Gift Company has a range of different book plates (£2.99 for 25 plus postage) for the book nerd in your life that likes to organise and lay claim to their books before lending them out.

toteTote bags

Books and tote bags belong together (you can spot someone who works in publishing by the sheer number of tote bags they own) and now that carrier bags cost 5p they can double as bookish shopping bags. Out of Print Clothing do some gorgeous ones, but for about £13. You can find some author quote ones at The Literary Gift Company for £6 (and they also sell the more expensive Out of Print ones), and Waterstones also do some like the one on the right for £7-£10.

A dramatic reading

And if you get really stuck, you can always video a dramatic reading from one of their favourite books – it worked for Joey!

Posted in Bookish things | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

our endless numbered daysIn 1976, eight-year-old Peggy is taken by her father to a remote cabin, ‘die Hutte’, told her mother has been killed in an accident and the rest of the world has been wiped out, and they must find a way to survive. In 1985, aged 17, she has returned home, her mother alive. Told in chapters alternating between past and present, Our Endless Numbered Days is about what happened in between.

This is a gripping book, the kind you binge read over very few sessions. It’s also perfect for this time of year – even though there are long sections that happen in the summer, it’s absolutely suited to being curled up indoors while the weather rages outside.

However, the twist is extremely obvious and, as the book ends on the ‘reveal’, I’m not sure that it’s intended to be, which always annoys me a bit. There’s also a lot of beautiful writing and description but for some reason it didn’t register with me at all as I was reading it, though I did like the way it showed the dad’s (and Peggy’s) gradual mental unraveling, through his increasingly unstable moods and slipping into calling Peggy by her mother’s name.

Apart from the obviousness of the twist, there was nothing I particularly didn’t like about the book, and I was gripped by it, but I didn’t love it and it hasn’t stayed with me afterwards. It’s an enjoyable enough book, especially for a wintery night, but ultimately not a satisfying one.

I received a free copy from Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Novels | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

October reads – Writers of Colour month

Although I ended up being too busy with other things to blog (or read) as much as I would have liked this month, I did read some really great books. I had been planning to have some guest posts from other bloggers for Writers of Colour month, but I think asking people just the month before wasn’t enough time so it didn’t happen. Next time I do something like this I’ll plan and get organised a couple of months before. Anyway, books!

meatspaceMeatspace by Nikesh Shukla (novel)

This really wasn’t for me. I just don’t enjoy books/films/tv that makes me cringe (I should like Alan Partridge but I don’t, I hate cringing), and there’s a lot of cringing for the main character Kitab in this. I could see that ‘Kitab 2’ was partly a real-life version of the stories he would tell about his brother, but I found the character ridiculous and annoying (and cringe). I also really didn’t like the ‘twist’ at the end. So, yeah, not for me at all.

signs preceding the end of the worldSigns Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (novel – Spanish in translation)

Translated by Lisa Dillman. I loved this short novella. It’s ambiguous and beautifully written, and about language, borders, family and immigration. I need some more people to read it so I can discuss the ending! Full review here.

citizenCitizen by Claudia Rankine (poetry & non-fiction)

This is an incredible collection of poetry and non-fiction essay interspersed with artwork and photography. It’s raw, powerful, angry, and, at times, tinged with a kind of resigned sadness. Even if you aren’t much of a poetry reader, I urge you to pick this up. My pick of the month. Full review here.

giovanni's roomGiovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (novel)

Just devastatingly beautiful. It’s only 150 pages long, but packed full of beautiful prose and aching emotion. Even though I was frustrated with the narrator and his actions most of the way through, I could understand why he was acting the way he was – that intense brilliant/horrible feeling of loving someone made even more intense by the fact it was a forbidden love and one that he consequently felt ashamed of. Oh Giovanni.

liliths broodDawn by Octavia Butler (novel)

I really enjoyed this. Despite the fact it was slightly longer than most other books I read this month (still only 250 pages!), I finished it the quickest. It’s a proper page-turner, but with a lot to think about too. Having read The Book of Strange New Things so recently, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Even though I know they are supposed to be different genres (TBoSNT is literary fiction with sci-fi elements, while Dawn is sci-fi), I felt Dawn did everything I wanted TBoSNT to do and didn’t. I bought it as the whole trilogy (Lilith’s Brood) in one volume, and the end definitely felt like the end of a chapter rather than the end of a book, so I’m going to get stuck into the rest of it very soon.

the silence and the roarThe Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees (novel – Arabic in translation)

Translated by Max Weiss. This novella takes place over one 24-hour period of the life of Fathi, a writer in Syria who is considered a traitor for his views on the regime and so is no longer allowed to write. It’s about how a dictator must be adored, and how the hysterical crowds and the dictatorship feed into each other. It’s about what it’s like, and how, to be standing on the outside of that, and if it’s possible to stay on the outside. You can really feel the oppressive heat, mirroring the inescapable oppression of the unnamed dictator. I wanted a little something more from it, perhaps a little more subtlety, but it’s definitely worth a read.

Also on the blog in October:

A list of my favourite comic book creators of colour (though to be honest they are just general favourites anyway)

Some more Booktube recommendations #3

Currently reading: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (non-fiction)

Posted in In translation, Non-fiction, Novels, Poetry, Wrap-ups | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Booktube recommendations #3

Recommends #3 is finally here – another five booktube channels that predominantly discuss genres other than YA. I love all of these channels, so definitely check them out. As always, I’ve added their most recent video so you can get an idea of their style.

Star Crossed Smile Reads (SCS Reads)

Nnenna reads mostly adult fiction and posts reviews, tag videos, and the occasional vlog. She’s just so thoughtful and relaxed and I really enjoy watching her videos.

Rincey Reads

Rincey reads a range of books from middle-grade fiction to contemporary literary fiction and comics. She posts reviews and great book-related discussion videos on topics like what it means to be well read and reading diversely. I always end up adding at least one book/comic to my tbr. She also makes videos for the Book Riot channel, which is also worth a watch.

The Skeptical Reader

Yamini reads adult and classic fiction, some fantasy, and non-fiction. She’s a literature student, so you’d expect her to read a lot, but she reads really a lot every month. I have no idea how she does it. What I like about her videos is that she’s very honest about what she thinks, and is also quite analytical when she’s thinking about books, their characters, and plot.

Brown Girl Reading

Didi mainly reads literary fiction but also bits and pieces of everything else. She lives in France, so also reads in French! She’s extremely knowledgeable and passionate and always has interesting things to say about what’s she’s read. She often takes part in read alongs and is usually leading the way for (American) Black History Month with the hashtag #ReadSoulLit.

The Young, The Broke, & The Bookish

Adira hasn’t posted a video in about a month, but it’s still worth subscribing to her channel for when she’s back. She mainly reads adult fiction, YA, and non-fiction, and also runs the Writers of Colour book club on Goodreads. She manages to be thorough and informative and yet somehow concise at the same time. Hopefully she’ll be back making videos soon.

October is Writers of Colour Month on this blog.

Posted in Bookish things | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Citizen by Claudia Rankine

citizenThis is part non-fiction and part prose poetry, interspersed with artwork and photography. There are also a number of different styles in the book, from essay to free-form poetry to collaborative poetry. It’s incredibly raw, powerful, angry, and, in places, tinged with a kind of resigned sadness.

Roughly three of the chapters are full of fragments of experiences of everyday racism, one per page. Most of the perpetrators of the often casual, thoughtless, racism don’t seem to realise what they are saying, or think they are being discreet. There are many who would hear of one, individual, instance and think ‘that’s not great, but you can brush it off’. But when the fragments are together like this you are shown their relentlessness – the exhaustion and anger of their accumulation every day. It’s never just one instance. And it’s more and it’s broader than just thoughtlessness.

And that relentlessness is juxtaposed against not only a lack of understanding, but the idea of the ‘angry black woman/man’ and how that anger is seen as unjustified or even ‘insane’. There’s an incredible essay focusing on Serena Williams and how she has had to “split herself off from herself and create different personae” in order to deal with overt racism from the media and officials and become successful. Or, as one commentator said, to ‘grow up’, “as if responding to the injustice of racism is childish and her previous demonstration of emotion was free-floating and detached from any external actions by others”.

It’s hard not to highlight pretty much every chapter / poem, but I was also particularly struck by the chapter of collaborative poems including the response (or lack thereof) to Hurricane Katrina comprised of quotes collected from CNN; a poem on Zidane and the 2006 World Cup final made of extracts from other writers, from Zidane’s interview afterwards, the reports from lip readers, and stills from the tv coverage; and poems for and about young black men killed by police, all in different styles from non-fiction essay to prose poetry to free-form poetry.

And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.

Most of the book is written in the second person. This is not something I always like as it’s hard to do well, but it is absolutely fitting for this collection. It cleverly puts the reader in the position of the ‘I’ of the poems (regardless of the reader’s own race), and, at the same time, puts the reader in the ‘they’ when they know they are not actually the ‘I’ if they are white. It feels like another way of trying to get people to see those that are invisible – just like how the hoodie on the cover is empty and  how Rankine quotes Zora Neale Hurston: “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.” You are seen, and yet are ‘unseen’ as an equal human being.

I urge you to pick this up, even if you aren’t much of a poetry reader.

Posted in Non-fiction, Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Favourite comic book creators of colour

The comic book industry, as with all areas of publishing, has a diversity issue, both in terms of having diverse characters and hiring diverse creatives. Looking through my comics shelves, my reading is even more dominated by white writers and artists than my regular shelves, which is definitely something I need to take note of and rectify. But here are four of my favourites, and two bonus comics I’m looking forward to in the future. If you have any favourite creators (artists or writers) of colour to recommend let me know in the comments.

bitch planetValentine de Landro (artist)

There is no way I couldn’t include de Landro on this list as he is the artist for Bitch Planet, my favourite comic book. He manages to use the art style of an exploitation genre in a way that is not exploitative in itself, which is incredibly difficult to do. I also like the details he adds to the backgrounds of panels which gives the book an extra richness (like Penny fighting in the background in the panels on the left).

the-arrival-5Shaun Tan (writer/artist)

Shaun Tan writes picture books. ‘Picture books’ makes it sound like they’re just for children but they really are enjoyable at any age. The Arrival was one of my favourite books of last year. His artwork is absolutely stunning and he is able to evoke incredible depth without using any words. Check out my full review of The Arrival here to see more pictures of the artwork.

persepolisMarjane Satrapi (writer/artist)

Satrapi is best known for Persepolis, a graphic novel about her early life in Iran and Europe. It’s a book full of humour, politics, horror, and a lack of sentimentality, and is fascinating and enjoyable to read. The art style is very simple, and I like the way she changes how she draws herself as she ages. It’s also a really good place to start if you’re new to graphic novels. I can’t believe I haven’t read her later two novels yet.

emi townEmi Lenox (writer/artist)

Emi Lenox has visual diary called EmiTown (which has also been released in printed volumes) and has a new comic with Jeff Lemire called Plutona which started coming out in September this year. I really like visual diaries and I love her art style. I haven’t checked out Plutona yet (I prefer to wait for trades), but I’ve been hearing great things about it so I’m looking forward to the first volume.

Picks for the future:

niobeAmandla Stenberg (writer)

You probably know Amandla Stenberg as the actress that played Rue in the first Hunger Games film. She is also extremely smart and articulate and frequently speaks out on issues affecting women and people of colour. I love her, and she’s now co-written a comic called Niobe that is out at the beginning of November. This is going to be great.


black pantherTa-Nehisi Coates (writer)

Next year, Ta-Nehisi Coates will be writing a Black Panther series for Marvel. Aside from the fact that he’s an incredible writer and journalist, it’s always interesting to see what a writer does with something they have been a huge fan of since childhood. I don’t read much Marvel, but I will definitely be picking this up.

October is Writers of Colour month on this blog.

Posted in Graphic novels / comics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

signs preceding the end of the worldTranslated from Spanish by Lisa Dillman

This is a very short book (about 100 pages) that contains so much. At a basic level, it’s about a young woman, Makina, who crosses the border from Mexico to America to find her brother and bring him home. It’s about language, communication, immigration, borders, and family.

It’s also about the cost of things. Makina, who often seems adept enough to navigate the world without too high a price, still pays nonetheless. Her brother pays a price for help and papers. Their mother ultimately pays a price to try and get him home. Everything they do comes with risks, whether it’s making deals with criminals, avoiding gunshots on the border, or simply the temptation of the new in the north. Often these risks are not immediately apparent, as Makina is extremely independent and doesn’t dwell on them. But also because of her own ethics. She is a messenger, and remains neutral about the messages she carries:

You don’t lift other people’s petticoats. You don’t stop to wonder about other people’s business. You don’t decide which messages to deliver and which to let rot.

You are the door, not the one who walks through it.

And so, for example, it’s easy to forget for a moment just how dangerous it for Makina to smuggle something for a criminal over the border, when she doesn’t question whether she should, or what might come of it, combined with how relatively assured she is talking to them.

Language and how you use language is extremely important in Signs. Makina is good at her job on the switchboard not just because she speaks all three languages needed, but because she’s good at communicating. She knows how to go and get people for a call without panicking them when it’s bad news, how to interpret what are couple are really saying to each other, and, importantly for her survival in the world, how to hold her own with every person she meets.

It’s also about how language evolves, particularly at borders and particularly for people who have straddled those borders:

Their gestures and tastes reveal both ancient memory and and the wonderment of a new people. And then they speak. They speak an intermediary tongue that Makina instantly warms to because it’s like her: malleable, erasable, permeable; a hinge pivoting between two like but distant souls, and then two more, and then two more, never exactly the same ones; something that serves as a link

I love the writing style; it’s lyrical and full of metaphor but not in an over-written way. It has a beautiful combination of the familiar and the new and disorientating, which is absolutely fitting for this story. As a translation, this is partly Herrera, partly Dillman’s interpretation. She writes a really interesting translator’s note at the end about the process of translation and how and why she chose certain words which is well worth a read. I wish I knew Spanish so I could read it again in its original form, just to see if it feels the same.

It ends ambiguously but, at the same time, I don’t think it’s that ambiguous at all. The novel opens with Makina narrowly avoiding falling into a sinkhole, and ends in a basement with a sense of unease. That closed circle, combined with the title, makes me think things won’t end well for Makina. But then, maybe I’m just pessimistic. The basement is airy, it doesn’t smell as she expects, so maybe the unease and her feeling that “I’ve been skinned” is merely her unease at a decision to stay on the north side of the border (if that’s the decision she made!), and consequently having to change her name, her history, for papers. Either way, it’s ‘the end of the world’ in one sense or another. I guess it depends on what you interpret the ‘falling in the hole’ to be. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the ending if you’ve read it.

I’m really looking forward to Herrera’s other books coming out with And Other Stories soon.

Posted in In translation, Novels | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment