My Top 10 Books of 2017

N.B. some reviews contain spoilers but these are clearly marked!

I'm going to start this with a little disclaimer; not all of the books in this list are new releases for 2017, a lot will be books that are a couple of years old that I've only just read. Some of the books in this list might not even be in my top 10 highest rated on Goodreads; instead I wanted to talk about the books that, when I saw them in my list of books I read this year, I got really excited about. So with all of that said, here is my list of my top 10 books I read in 2017 (with some honorable mentions at the end):

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4 Years Old

N.B. This review is spoiler-free

As is the way with most books that weren't originally written in English, Hendrik Groen enjoyed great success in the Netherlands for a while before it was eventually translated and burst onto the scene in the English speaking world. I've wanted to read this book for a long time and honestly I was not disappointed by it as I have been by other popular books in the past.

As you can probably guess from the title, the book takes the form of a diary of 83 year Hendrik Groen, a (pretty much) single, retired man living in a care home in Amsterdam. Despairing at the seemingly morose and gloomy attitude of his ever-complaining fellow-residents, Hendrik starts what he calls the Old-But-Not-Dead Club. He and his fellow club members decide that they want to live their final years to their fullest, causing a fair amount of havoc and discontent in the care-home.

The Christmasaurus - Tom Fletcher

N.B. This review is spoiler free! 

The days are ridiculously short, I have to scrape the ice off my car to go to the gym in the morning and I've listened to Christmas music non-stop for the last three weeks. Christmas is definitely just around the corner. So, I thought it was about time I sat down and read the Christmasaurus by the king of christmas, Tom Fletcher. Now, I know what you're thinking; it's a kids book, right? True, The Christmasaurus was written for a younger audience in mind, but so was Harry Potter and that didn't stop us, did it?

The book follows the story of William Trundle, a wheelchair user that has fallen foul of the new school bully. William's dad tells him to ask Santa for whatever he wants this year, and so, feeling lonely but also a bit dinosaur-obsessed, William asks for a dinosaur for Christmas. As luck would have it, Santa has his very own resident dinosaur on which to base a special hand-crafted toy just for William (in this story the elves don't make the presents; they mine for them). But of course, it isn't all that simple.

Pantheon - Hamish Steele

N.B. This review is spoiler-free!

So I kind of found this graphic novel by accident. My friend and I were walking around in York and she wanted to go to the local comic book store to pick up some comic books. I've always felt a little intimidated by comic book stores so I usually end up hanging around by the door. What was by the door in this shop? Pantheon of course. Sadly I was a couple of days too late to get their last signed copy!

I am a sucker for ancient belief systems, but often they are so complicated I prefer to stay on the simple and humorous side. Think Horrible Histories. I guess you could say Pantheon is a bit like Horrible Histories but for adults. Very much for adults. It's essentially a brief retelling of the mythology around the ancient Egyptian deities with a heck of a lot of humour packed in.

The Wolf by Wolf Duology - Ryan Graudin

N.B. this review has no major spoilers

I first heard of Wolf by Wolf when another member of a teen book club I attended chose it as one of her book challenge books. The challenge was a series of categories for which you had to read a different book, she chose Wolf by Wolf as her 'Red Cover' book and could not explain how much she loved it to all of us. So here I am two years later, and I too loved that book so much I had to go and buy the sequel as soon as humanly possible.

Wolf by Wolf is set in an alternate history in which the Nazis won the second world war and now control an empire that spans most of the globe, the remains of which are controlled by a similar empire of Japan. Yael is a teenage death camp escapee who is now a part of the underground resistance plotting Hitler's assassination. Her mission is to win the Axis tour, an intercontinental motorcycle race, under the guise of Adele Wolfe in the hopes that her victory will get her close enough to the Fuhrer to kill.

Visits From Home

When I moved to a university three and a half hours away from my hometown, I knew visiting home would be difficult. Trains are expensive and with my busiest lecture days being Friday and Monday, that doesn't leave much time for both travelling and spending time with my family. So yeah, going home is probably going to be a thing saved for the holidays. That being said, at York we only have three straight ten week terms with no official reading weeks (some departments do have them, but they're not university wide), so it's not too long to be effectively stuck at university.

Meanwhile, my friends from back home get reading weeks that they can go home for, and many live close enough that they can go home at weekends too. It's been hard, watching all the snapchat stories of train windows captioned 'going home' knowing that I wouldn't be going home until December. Thankfully, York is a nice enough place - and far enough away that people from home haven't been here often - that friends and family want to visit.

Satellite - Nick Lake

N.B. This review is spoiler-free

Satellite was not the book I expected it to be. I was expecting a fun exploration from space to Earth, watching Leo and his 'siblings' adjust to a new life. I did not anticipate the raw emotion and insightfulness; the realistic way in which Leo faces his new experiences and emotions. Since I read The Martian by Andy Weir, I've been desperately looking for another Sci-Fi book with the same heart and feeling of realness - I prefer my Sci-Fi realistic. Satellite had that feeling, and whilst it didn't have the humour of The Martian, it certainly had a lot of emotion.

Leo is 15 and he has lived his entire life in a space station orbiting the Earth, his only constant companions the twins, Libra and Orion. Once Leo turns 16, they will all finally be deemed physically mature enough to survive the journey to Earth. Leo longs to see his Grandfather in person and live with him on his ranch, but he questions whether Earth will truly be home to him after growing up in space. On the other hand, Libra and Orion both dream of experiences that you can only get on Earth; Libra wants to be a botanist, and Orion longs to hear classical music played by real musicians in person.

What I've Learnt So Far

I have now been at university for just over half a term and it has been one big learning curve. I don't think I realised just how stressful university could be; there's new people, new places, new rules, new expectations and, of course, independence (kind of). Everyone at uni comes in at different levels of preparedness for each area of their new lives, and I think I can confidently say I was pretty ready for living independently. Everything else, however, took a long time to adjust to. So for anyone starting university in the near future, or any current students wanting tips on how to make life easier for themselves, here's what I've learnt so far!

Moving In

On Sunday 25th September, I finally moved into my accommodation at the University of York. In the build up I was caught awkwardly between looking forward to new things and being anxious about basically everything. I was very lucky in the fact that I had already had the chance to talk to four of my flatmates on Facebook before arriving, but there were still three flatmates that remained a mystery to us all. 

Freshers week has probably been the weirdest experience of my life so far; one minute you're tired and you just want to eat your dinner in bed and FaceTime your parents, and the next half your flat is in your room talking about movies. I have to say, I think it would have suited me better to just get into the swing of things straight away. I've spent a significant portion of this week worrying that all my flatmates hate me (I know they don't, but still) and that I'm going to hate my course. 

Strangely enough, the one thing encouraging me to keep going has been the fact that just before I moved in, I signed up to learn German this year. It wasn't the cheapest endeavor but I'm actually more excited about that than anything else; perhaps I'll even end up doing a year abroad in Germany in three years time! 

If I Stay - Gayle Forman

N.B. this review contains spoilers

I have wanted to read this book since I saw the adverts for the film. Over and over people have told me how amazing it was, how heart-wrenching, how they hadn't cried so hard at a book since they'd read My Sister's Keeper or The Fault in our Stars. As fate would have it, I managed to buy a copy of If I Stay second-hand and finally got to read it. I loved My Sister's Keeper and TFIOS, and I was looking forward to another emotional read, hoping maybe this book would tackle some similar issues surrounding life and death. With all the hype around this book I feel surprisingly let down.

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

N.B. this review is spoiler free

With a movie adaptation on the way, I decided it was about time I sat down and read Ready Player One. Somehow, when I picked the book up I had absolutely no idea that it was another 80's pop culture extravaganza, and believe me I was not happy when I found out. Perhaps it is because the children of the 80s are all at the age that they are finding creative success, but sometimes it feels like there's a lot of stuff about the era going around and I'm a little bit bored of it. However, despite the critics slating it, I enjoyed the movie Pixels, so I thought another story with a lot of 80's gaming references might be manageable.

My biggest concern when I first started reading was that I'd have no clue what was going on half the time because I was not around to experience the 80s and the only games I play are the Sims and Super Mario. Admittedly, I found the lead up to Wade finding the first key to be a bit slow and confusing, but as soon as things start to heat up I was totally on board. I would say that you definitely need to be a nerd of some capacity to really understand the book, but you definitely don't need to know all the references.

Release - Patrick Ness

N.B. this review has no spoilers!

I have only read two Patrick Ness novels prior to this; A Monster Calls - one of the most beautiful and powerful books I have ever read - and The Rest of Us Just Live Here - a book that, whilst a little boring, had complex and interesting characters with complex and interesting lives. When I read the blurb of Release, I wasn't convinced it was going to be something I would like, but I found a rogue signed copy in an indie store and thought 'why not?'. After all, it has one of the most beautiful covers I have seen in a long time, so even if it's not for me it will look good on a bookshelf. That was one of the best decisions I have made this year (or ever, really). My favourite genre is 'coming of age', and my goodness is this one hell of a coming of age story. This book is powerful and it is important on so many different levels.

Release follows a day in Adam's life during the summer before his senior year of high school, a day in which everything goes to hell. He's the son of a very conservative evangelical minister who believes you can quite literally pray the gay away. Of course, Adam being gay is not a comfortable topic at home. What's more, he's still trying to deal with the heartbreak inflicted by his break up with his first proper boyfriend while trying to learn to love his new one, Linus, as much as Linus loves him.

The Joy of Crop Tops

Not long ago, I was one of those people that was very disparaging of crop tops. It wasn't that I didn't like them or that I thought they were 'wrong' in some way, I just didn't get it. I think the truth of it is that I wasn't happy with how I would have looked in a crop top, so I couldn't comprehend how anyone else could be. Now I'm the daughter that our mum asks 'what's with all the crop tops all of a sudden?' (If you're wondering my answer was 'I'ts summer,')

It was only a month or two ago that I bought my first crop top. I'd never really considered buying one before but I saw it, loved it and when I tried it on I loved it even more. With my new-found love of crop tops, I have also realised something about myself; despite the fact that I haven't changed much, I am a heck of a lot more confident in my own skin.

I GOT IN - Results Day and Brussels

The night before results day I was an absolute mess of anxiety. The thing is, I pretty much knew from how the exams went what I'd be getting (I am surprisingly good at predicting my own results), and even if I didn't get my teacher's predictions I would have had to drop quite a few grades to not get into my firm, York. Although there was the added stress that I was also going to find out my accommodation and college on results day if I did get into my York. So yeah, I got about four hours of sleep and even that wasn't very peaceful.

I woke up around 7am and with an hour to go, I desperately needed to distract myself from the inevitable panicking my brain was planning on doing. I put my phone on do not disturb and left it on the other side of the room, opting to go on tumblr until 8. This was a silly decision because it turns out my school emailed me my results half an hour early and so I had half an hour of unnecessary anxiety. 

Girl Hearts Girl - Lucy Sutcliffe

Somehow when I picked this book up and read the blurb, I didn't read the last part that would have told me that a) this book is a memoir and b) it's a (kind of) YouTuber book. When I discovered this at home I was a little apprehensive; could I really enjoy a book written by a YouTuber I didn't even know? Or a memoir written by someone so young? The answer to both of those questions is a resounding yes. Despite having never heard of Lucy Sutcliffe before, I was instantly charmed by her writing and invested in her story.

Preparing For Uni

With just over two weeks until A level results day and just under two months until the start date of my firm and insurance universities (York and Surrey respectively), I thought it was about time I really kicked into gear with the uni preparations. It's safe to say I have been gradually preparing for quite some time (I asked for student cookbooks last Christmas), so I thought I'd share what I'm currently doing to prepare, and what current students and recent graduates have said helped them.

My Holiday Reads

(All reviews are spoiler-free)

So I just got back from a week long holiday in Fuerteventura, and, let's face it, a week of sitting by a pool equals a lot of reading time! I thought I'd share my thoughts on the books I decided to take away with me. Before I begin, I should point out that I'm not one to take 'holiday books' away with me - i.e. fluffy romance novels or similar - I take whatever books I am currently most excited about reading. I wrote these reviews while I was away to make sure the book was still fresh in my mind when I wrote about it, enjoy!

Surviving Study Leave

I've officially been on study leave for two weeks and I've been revising since (before?) Easter, so how exactly am I still functioning? Honestly, it took me a little while to figure out what worked for me and what was good for me. However, as increasing numbers of friends have been asking me how I'm managing to have significantly less break downs over revision than I used to and maintain a healthy amount of revision, I thought I'd share what I've learnt about revising and using study leave effectively. This is by no means a 'How to Revise' step-by-step guide, instead it's my little suggestions as to how you make the revision you are already doing more effective!

The End of an Era

On Friday 19th May 2017, I officially had my last day ever of school. Excluding exams, I will never go back to that school again. I will never sit in those classrooms, never hang out in my form room and never chase my teachers down in frees for help ever again. I didn't think I'd get particularly emotional about this, but as it turns out I did. I usually find myself quite distanced from the present, and yet on my last day of school I felt very there. As I journeyed around the school in my blue wig, yellow wellies and yellow raincoat as Coraline, I had to say my final goodbyes.

My Dog is Dying

(Cookie is the black and white one, Rolo the brown)

It's not something anyone ever wants to hear, and it certainly wasn't something I had expected to hear so soon. A few months ago our older dog, Cookie grew a strange lump on his chest. At first, no one questioned it, after all, he is riddled with fatty lumps all over his body both big and small. However, this one grew unusually fast and felt very different to the others. Then he lost control of one of his back legs.

Big Decisions

So 4th May is rapidly approaching and for many 17 and 18 year olds in the UK that means one thing; it's time to make a decision about which university we want to study at in September. For me, this process has been difficult. I am a very anxious person, so the university I chose had to be perfect me, from accommodation to module choices to nearby cities. After visiting my five universities at least once, I finally decided that I was approximately 85% sure I wanted to go to York. It wasn't my highest offer, or the highest ranking department to offer me a place, but it seemed to be more 'me'. However, I still had one last job to do; check out the city of York itself.

Despite the fact that I'd visited the university twice, I'd never had the time to go into the city - it is a four hour drive each way to get there from Bucks! Consequently, on Good Friday, my parents and I were up at the crack of dawn (quite literally) and off for a day trip to York. It turns out that I bloody love that city.

I Just Love Moana, OK?

N.B. This blog post contains spoilers

As I'm sat in my armchair writing this, I have just returned from my fourth visit to the cinema to see Disney's Moana. This might seem excessive to most people, and I'm sure if I try to argue that this visit was different because it was a sing along, that won't help. Perhaps if I do explain that I have an Odeon limitless card that might excuse me a little more, after all, it's not like I've had to pay each time. So, after seeing it four times and endlessly listening to the soundtrack, I thought I should probably try to get to the bottom of why I love it so much.

Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

N.B. This blog post is spoiler free!

For a few years now I have been a bit of a fan of Neil Gaiman and his wonderful books. In fact, whenever I'm asked what my favorite book is, after I protest vociferously that it is a ridiculous question, I will almost always answer with Neverwhere. I think that you can then understand why I got a little giddy with excitement when I was finally able to pre-order a signed copy of Norse Mythology.

We Need to Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver

(N.B. This review is spoiler-free for both the book and the movie)

A few years ago there was a strange looking movie available to watch on BBC iPlayer; We Need to Talk About Kevin. I must have been around fifteen when I watched it in stages as I got ready in the morning and then as I had a break before homework in the evening, and I was absolutely captivated. As soon as I had seen the film and felt its power, I knew I had to read the book.

For the uninitiated, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a compelling novel about a mother's struggle to truly love her child, told through her letters to her now estranged husband, Franklin. Eva never wanted children; she was happy as just her and Franklin and their own growing businesses. However, she eventually agrees to allow Franklin his dream of a happy little family and they have a son, Kevin.

From the outset, Kevin appears to be a troublesome child, screaming constantly as a baby and remaining cold and detached as a toddler. Through Eva's retelling, we hear about Kevin's life up to the ominous Thursday, and its aftermath, something I shan't reveal for those that choose to watch the movie first.

Joining the Smoothie Revolution

Towards the end of 2016, I was struggling to hold myself together. That was until I just decided that, on the last day of term, I would stop everything. Ordinarily I would have continued working and stressing throughout the Christmas period, but instead I relaxed and forced myself to forget the stresses for a little while. After all, things always seem to become much clearer when you take a step back from it for a while.

During those two weeks I began a mission of self-care and self-love, allowing myself to just do what I actually wanted to do. I read five books, started this blog and finally watched Stranger Things on Netflix (yes, I know, I am very behind). Most importantly, however, I let myself eat whatever and whenever I wanted - within reason. In the month leading up to Christmas I had been fretting over all the weight I would inevitably gain, so the new relaxed me decided to find a solution.

I decided that, once all the festivities were over and the chocolate was eaten, I would join Jesse Cale's Smoothie revolution.

A Monster Calls - The Movie

So I woke up on New Years Day at 11am to find my mum bustling around 'waiting for me to wake up'. Apparently she had agreed to see A Monster Calls with me on its opening day and I had completely forgotten. However, we were lucky enough to find out that there was a showing in just over an hour, and so the mad rush to get out the door began. In all honesty, this movie was worth the rush. (N.B. this 'review' is completely spoiler free for both the book and movie)