Just Sayin’…

I have a new blog. It’s for Bookish Things.

It’s not pretentiously titled Little Yellow Birdie Reads.

I’m making this up as I go along. It’s for fun rather than being a highly scheduled thing. Generally if I reads it I reviews on GoodReads, so I have some things I can migrate and expand on.

I may fiddle endlessly with the layout until I find one I like. I may snark. I may over-analyse. I may drop fan art everywhere. Who knows?

Join me there for some hopefully good bookish musings!


The Opinionated Reader: Do (My) Opinions Matter?

I think we’ve established that I read a lot. The more I read, the more Opinions I form on my reading matter. Yes, Opinions with a capital O. As someone who suffers from anxiety and had an education system’s worth of criticism for not being able to express opinions (or expressing the “wrong” opinion and being called out for it very publicly), choosing to write this makes for an usual situation. I am no expert. I am not a teacher of English, nor a well-versed professor with an extended edition of the Oxford Dictionary on a little table next to me while I read in my dusty library of fine classics. I’m hardly shattering a monocle and spewing tea in outrage whenever I see an abuse of the en dash (even if that’s what I worry I come across as being like). What right do I have to say what I think? Why would anyone care what a “graphic designer” has to say about typos, character flaws, or the merits of semi-colons vs commas?

Could it maybe in some tiny way be helpful? Or am I getting above myself?

Hold that self-depreciating thought.

I’ve written before about my e-reader habit, especially when it comes to indie authors. They don’t all have teams of editors and spell-checkers, proof readers or unbiased sources of feedback. Maybe, just maybe, when put in the form of critique rather than the dreaded criticism, Opinions could be of some use. That and a second pair of eyes; automated spellcheckers can’t tell if someone “shutters” whether they’re cold and lost without the letter d or are just closing some windows. If I’ve been feeling bold enough (or just darn well adored the book in question), I’ve asked the author if it would be useful to get feedback. And you know what? The responses I’ve gotten have more often than not been kind, understanding and willing to engage. It can be scary, but I just need to remember: writers are people too. You wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of flaming or false praise. Do a Bill and Ted and just be excellent to each other.

There’s also that little part of me that as a reader knows that reviews matter. Not just positive ones, but negative too. Something I hated about a book (e.g. themes like insta-love, slow-burn plots over several long books, unexpected “steam” in the bagging area) might actually be what someone else is looking for. There are reviewers I follow because we have similar taste, and to know that they disliked this book because X but loved that one because Y helps me make better decisions about what I read. Sure there are trolls out there alongside those auto “I loved it so rated 5 stars MOAR PLZ” responses, but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. While dumping a star review with literally one or two words may help the Amazon algorithms, it won’t help real people. I write my opinion-based reviews to help authors and potential readers. Surely we all just want to enjoy books ourselves and direct others to discover wonderful new stories.

Then there’s my last thought on the matter: opinions are a part of you. Back in the days of paperback-or-nothing, my opinions only extended as far as “like” or “do not like”; maybe there would be a character that stuck in the mind or a plot I inexplicably thought back to, but I’d rarely go much beyond the binary basics. Nowadays, I’ll look at the writing itself. I’ll take into account character arcs and dialogue, foreshadowing and description, pacing and tone… It sounds like writing a school book report, but it’s not. There’s no pressure when you’re doing it for yourself. From it I’ve learned to appreciate the work that goes in to constructing an engaging story and know my own preferences better for it. Sometimes I think I understand more about writing from doing this than I got from English Lit/Language lessons because I’m interested, not being forced.

I suppose what it boils down to is this: Opinions can matter. Other people can learn from them. You can learn from them, even if it’s just a case of working out how to form your own. It’s probably worth sharing them as long as you’re not aggressively forcing them one others.

So do my specific opinions matter? On a macro level, probably not. But small-scale? I could quote from Disney’s Mulan about one small grain of rice tipping the balance, but hey, who knows?

It’s all a matter of opinion.

The LYB Indie Fiction Awards 2018

Welcome to the Little Yellow Birdie Indie Fiction Awards 2018!

According the GoodReads, this year I have read (or DNF’d – that’s Did Not Finish, because life is too short for books you don’t enjoy) over 250 books. Many will have been short stories, and the vast majority have been indie authors who I’ve found via various giveaways or recommendations. I do “honest” reviews (because let’s face it, what’s the point of a dishonest review?) whether good or bad, because good work need celebrating and just because I thought something was “bad” doesn’t mean everyone else will – but if it’s got issues that bothered me it might help other people decide if that book’s the right one for them. No one sets out to write a bad book, but there are certain styles and themes that will appeal more to people who are not me. I won’t love everything, even if it’s technically very good.

Here I want to celebrate my personal top indie author reads from this year. I can’t write an essay on everyone, but there are a special few books/authors I just really adored as well as those that are wonderful pieces of work.

The “Making Me Believe Indie Fiction Was Worth Reading” Award

Tales from Hessia by Anne Bohannon

Anne Bohannon, for her “Tales From Hessia” series

Confession: the first Hessia-related story I read left me a bit… confused. Confusion usually means I should drop a series and move on, but something made me want to know more. This story of love and betrayal amoungst fractious royals in a fantasy kingdom gave me pause and, despite being terrified, I decided to play ask the author. Ms Bohannon was kind enough to respond and humoured my ramblings about her characters. Then I started reading the serial “Tales from Hessia” and I was hooked. They detail bits and pieces of the lives of people who will become important in the political machinations of the realm. There’s a touch of ease of conflict resolution about a few of the earlier stories, but the characters and the prose really draws you in. I found myself looking forward to my daily reading session (and boy was I glad to have two stories with me when I was stuck in hospital!) Meet Arden the assassin with a heart of gold (well, gold-plated maybe), Irenia the lady of shadows, Eian the stern but fair captain, and Hisan the insufferable (yet suffer him you will). If you like themes using dashing rogues and daring deeds, forbidden love, murder and mystery in the seedier side of low-fantasy politics, you may well enjoy these snippets of Hessian history in the making as much as I did.

Amazon UK Amazon US – GoodReads

The “Zombies! Run! But First Grab the Sanitary Supplies!” Award

Winter Plague by Isla Jones

Isla Jones for her “Plague” series

There’s something off about protagonist Winter Miles. She’s an American who writes (the story is narrated loosely as her journal) British-English and muses like a literature student rather than a high school educated sort-of hairdresser. She’s also managed to survive the zombie apocalypse while toting nothing more dangerous than her precious Chihuahua and understanding that it’s not so much knowledge is power, more that knowing where the canned food, meds and tampons are is power. Yes, you read that. Winter may be odd, but she’s a down-to-Earth realistic female with all the biological worries that come with it thrown in to horrifying circumstances. She can’t kick butt like your average urban fantasy heroine; in fact she’s a self-confessed coward. All she wanted was to visit her sister, but then the end of days happened and… She kept going. Then she runs into a band of soldiers known as the Deltas. They and their civilian followers are also on a journey, heading in the same direction as Winter with their convoy of secured R.V.s. How convenient… Conspiracy, tension, simmering romance, and zombie-based action keeps this series moving apace, and it really keeps you guessing at everyone’s motives and aims.


The “Oh My Conspiracy Theories And Character Complexities” Award

The World Apart Series by Robin D. Mahle

Robin D. Mahle for their “World Apart” series

I can’t even begin to explain this one. I’m not usually a mystery person, as there’s just so much going on and my brain has limited capacity for so many different characters… But this, this has style. Dieselpunk for one thing (think if steampunk had a baby with cyberpunk but just preferred the Art Deco aesthetic), the range of characters and their emotional complexities for another. Protagonists Clark and Addie are obviously destined for each other, because they hate each other at first sight and are thrown together in strange circumstances. So far, so YA trope. Bring in the side characters, particularly Clark’s brothers, and we start to add a whole new dynamic. Life is so much more complicated than people declaring their love/hatred for each other. Family ties run deep, love doesn’t run smooth, and no one is 100% predictable even if you know them well (if you’ve ever watched the TV show Empire, you know what I mean). This cast of characters reflects reality, and it’s that emotional grounding that allows the fantasy to work. Read the prequel “The Silent Explosion” for a taster. I kept notes; that’s how involved this one is!


The “Excellence in Character Creation (And Just About Everything Else OMGILOVEIT)” Award

The Spellhounds series by Lauren Harris

Lauren Harris, for her “Spellhounds” series

Words… I haven’t got words enough to say how much I ended up loving these books. Honestly, when I started Unleash I was dubious. Action action action, not sure why I should care that violence is happening, yah yah… But then we met Jaesung and Krista. Through them we get to know the narrating protagonist, Helena, better. And boy oh boy, do you come to love these characters. They’re so real you could reach out and touch them, even if one of them is a “Spellhound” who was sort of press-ganged into being a shape-shifter by nasty Scottish sorcerers until she escaped. I didn’t so much read as devour the sequel, Unmake, in a few days. That’s despite it having those alternating POV chapters that I usually dislike, mainly because neither character tends to have a distinct voice (or else one is so dull and/or hateful they just beg to be skipped). Not so here; Jaesung couldn’t be more different from Helena, and getting a look inside Mr OTT’s head is really… Something. He’s out there alright, but you’ve met people like him. That is the power of Lauren Harris’ characters – no matter how odd they are, the feel real. Seriously, I read her other books (shout out for Siren’s Surge with all the mermaid mythology and Danish pastry goodness) and she makes characters and settings that just click. If you asked me to pick an author’s work that I read this year that I had an actual emotional OMGILOVEIT reaction, this would be the one. Like young adult that’s intelligent and doesn’t treat you like a short-attention-spanned-fool? Like magic, mythology, and characters who make you believe all this crazy stuff? Read her books. Read them.


Special Mentions:

  • Blake Arthur Peel’s “Arc of Radiance” series – for being such a perfectly plotted debut YA fantasy series.
  • Ben S. Dobson’s “The Flaw in All Magic” – because mystery, magic, half-orcs and steampunk never went so well together. I thought I was reading something published by Wizards of the Coast. Why has this not been snapped up?!
  • Alia Hess’ “Chromeheart” – Sasha. That is all. (OK – think post-Apocalypse road trip of personal discovery by a humorous but self-depreciating Russian who finds that he may yet be capable of both love and heroism… Sort of.)
  • Jon Auerbach’s “Guild of Tokens” series – for asking what if an MMO was set in a real-life as part of some huge magical conspiracy, with added geekery and pop culture references.
  • H.G. Chambers’ “Windwalker” – for making dragon-rider coming-of-age tropes fun again
  • Stephanie Burgis’ “Snowspelled” – oh my fluffy fantasy period drama female-run alternate reality!
  • Elaina J. Davidson’s “Minstrel of the Water Willow” – for being such a sweet and magical original fairy tale
  • Kory M. Schrum’s “Dying For A Living” – for services to snark, urban fantasy, LGBT representation in love triangles, and the (sort of) undead
  • R.L. Sanderson’s “Dying Flame” – for being a perfectly plotted YA fantasy with just the right balance of light and darkness
  • Helen Scheuerer’s “Heart of Mist” – for being both epic as a story and having amazingly eye-catching cover art
  • Shauna E. Black’s “Soul In Ashes” Season 1 – episodic YA fantasy storytelling done right (that season end cliffhanger though!)
  • Katherine Bennet’s “The Seers” – magic, sci-fi and YA romance all bundled up in a scarily compelling package of two warring secret societies
  • K.A. Cook – look away now anti-snowflakes and lovers of non-controversial HEAs, this is deep and meaningful LGBTQIA+ issues explored via present-tense fantasy
  • C.J. Archer’s “The Last Necromancer” – for giving me those Maria V. Snyder vibes with a shot of steampunk
  • A.R. Peters’ “The Last Throne” shorts – because creepy short interlinked fantasies are hard to pull off, but these really do set the tone
  • Hailey Griffith’s “Vale of Stars” prequels – because they set so much lush fantasy scenery that I can’t help but look forward to the main series
  • Pam Hage’s teasers – no book as yet, but oooooooh that artwork
  • Bill Alive’s newsletters – because no one writes them quite like he does (he has also written paranormal comedy/mystery books, please enjoy them)

So there we have it. I can’t list everyone or everything, but I hope I’ve done justice to some of these wonderful authors I’ve come across this year. Here’s to a most bookish 2019!

…Although I really need to get through my physical book stack…

Be seeing you.


A Kindle ereader

A Year of Reading Dangerously

So it turns out I’m not much of a blogger. I design, I make, I craft, I read… But not so much the blogging in 2018.

I thought I’d attempt a dramatically titled comeback post because this year I have been well and truly glued to the Kindle. Scoff if you like; I’m still a big affectionado of the real-life strokable hardback or humble mass-market paperback. It’s just that when waiting around in hospital for 4-5 hours (that happened in an rapid access DVT clinic no less) you need something to do. Reading is good. Finished that first book already? If only there was something else on hand to read- Oh wait, there are a whole load more ebooks right here. So while a real, tangible book is nice, portability and practicality means my little old second hand Kindle has become my friend.

It’s also meant that this year I really discovered indie fiction. Self-published books can have a bad reputation, and to be honest, it’s not always wrong. You can’t be sure if that sweet romantic fantasy novel is going to suddenly include acts of brutal violence that an editor could have pointed out didn’t fit the tone, or if the sentences are going to be typo-riddled, or have grammar issues (fellow apostrophe fans will know what I mean).

And yet when you find that gem amoungst the seaglass (you know the ones – beautifully polished covers but the content… not so much) it’s something special. I have never been more amazed by the art of writing, especially by many of the indie authors I’ve come to know and love this year. Some have even been kind enough to talk to me. As an anxious person, it’s hard to remember that these are normal people. They just write things. Good things. Amazing things. And if you want them to know that, you should tell them. So I did. They deserve to know that their work has given positive meaning to someone’s life, and to be thanked for sharing it with the world. I’ve also been a bit of a busy-body about some things: typos and grammar. Indie authors are human like the rest of us and can’t always catch every misplaced letter or damn-you-autocorrect word swap. While it’s been frightening to speak up, the vast majority of authors have been receptive. Even more amazingly, I’ve been allowed to join ARC teams (you receive an Advanced Reader Copy of a book before it goes on sale and leave a review on Amazon and/or GoodReads). Some authors like feedback in general, others might just like if you pick out a typo, but they’ve all been very nice people to support.

I’ve learned a lot from reading. It can be as simple as not judging a book by its cover to discovering the meaning of the word “finagled”. I even know what people mean when they say they’re looking for a YA RH PNR with a HEA (that’s a Young Adult Reverse Harem Paranormal Romance with a Happily Ever After to the uninitiated).

This post is a bit of a thank you to all those indie authors and GoodReads lurkers who have been such wonderful people to me this year. I’ll have to do a post celebrating my favourites ASAP. Who knows, maybe blogging about books as well as design could help me practice my own writing… Even if it is only to blog more often.

Be seeing you.

Christmas Tree Upcycle

Craft Exploits: Christmas in August? And other adventures with paint

I said I’d update on my crafting, so here goes nothing.

I missed the Christmas in July event, and it’s still a bit early for the real thing but I finally finished off my Christmas tree! This was one of those unloved charity shop finds when I was volunteering after Christmas. It was originally a sickly shade of red with brown, not to mention split at the bottom, covered in scuffs, scratches and stains, and missing hanging loops for those cute little German ornaments. So of course I made a donation to save it from the bin, took it home and got to work (then got sidetracked by various other things, hence it only just being done!)xmastree2017.jpgOK, so it’s still missing some hooks, but it’s rejigged to only have the central ones empty. And OK, some of the ornaments have seen better days. But now it’s blue the ornaments really stand out, and if the empty spaces look too bothersome I could glue in some eye pins to hang some sparkly beads.

There’s something about volunteering to stock sort at a charity shop that can make you become determined to try and make something better out of poor unloved items. One manager had to always remind me “you can’t save them all”. Sometimes it’s worth it.

Like how about this wooden doll’s bed? It was a rickety Ikea thing with watermarks and crayon making it unsalable. I gave it the sand-paint-varnish treatment and ran up a little pillow and cover. I covered the bottom panel in fabric too which stopped it rattling around.dollbed.jpg The pink paint was kindly donated by one of the customers who had found out I upcycled for the shop, and the fabric pieces are from what’s considered “rag” (aka unable to sell, goes for recycling). It was sold for by the charity within a few days. Hopefully it’ll make someone happy!

I think that’s enough paint for now (and there have been many painty projects!)

Be seeing you.

Cross stitch patterns for YellowBirdieStitches on Etsy

Back again

So… It’s been a while.

Poor health, getting caught in up hospital paperwork, and extra long waiting lists for operations don’t really make you feel like blogging regularly. Or at all it seems (2014?!)

So other than the bad bits, what have I been up to? Crafts have become a big thing, especially in light of needing something to do while waiting/recovering from hospital. I’m making cross stitch patterns based on my sister Vicky Scott’s illustration (available on her Vicky’s World Etsy shop) and more recently opened my own Etsy shop of designs: Yellow Birdie Stitches (more to come soon!). Volunteering is something as well that’s helped. It’s led to more craft opportunities such as painting chairs and a doll’s house for a local charity shop, as well as doing a few video intros for charity films based on learning and health.

Cross stitch and upcycling projects

Clockwise from top left: Vicky’s World cross stitch, Yellow Birdie Stitches cross stitch, a chair for upcycling, a Scandinavian doll’s house

Hopefully I’ll be able to do do a few posts my crafty exploits as well as a few more K-pop packaging pretties and other musings on graphics, games and curiosities (you would not believe some of the things that end up in a charity shop…).

Be seeing you (I hope!)

Another year down

So, 2014, how were you?

Videos! Gifs! Animation! Websites are getting movement, and it’s not just parallax scrolling anymore. OK, so it’s a bandwidth killer for some of us, but it adds another curious element to a page. Do we have the attention span to take note of video background, or are they a more acceptable form of the autoplaying music? Tumblr is effectively spilling out onto the rest of the internet. The good: it’s different and another layer of interest. The bad: slow internet speeds are actually a problem for the majority of users without “super-fast” broadband (or even broadband in some areas), rendering some sites as painfully slow as 2005 MySpace covered with animated Flash banners urging you to hit the mosquito.
We’re also still big on the Metro squares and flat design (colours seem to be going to the extremes of either very pale or very bold to the point of clashing) only with more elements. Full screen landing pages with big text and a button is quite a big thing, but there’s more to it than that. Hand lettering, flat illustration, “real” photography over obviously staged stock images, images creatively cut out… It’s all natural progression from what started to appear last year. There’s nothing amazingly new here, but it’s evolving.

K-pop (Oh you knew it was coming)

Not bad at all. Not the best year, but some nice packaging and decent music to go with it. I present my award for The Most K-pop Video of 2014: Red Light by f(x). Dancing in a laser-filled box-room set, check. Pretty people wearing slightly odd clothing, check. Strange potentially symbolic imagery that has no meaning, check. A strange, disjointed song that on first listen is bizarre but will grow on you even when you still think it’s not quite your thing, check. You get the picture. I never thought I would like f(x), but after listening to the rest of the album on Spotify (yes, K-pop on Spotify happened this year) I was won over. Track 3, Nabi (Butterfly) sounds essentially like a pop song based on the Jill of the Jungle soundtrack, so consider me a fan. It’s also got quite nice packaging

Packaging-wise, special mentions for TVXQ’s two releases Spellbound and Tense, Super Junior’s Mamacita (another good album, also on Spotify) and Boyfriend’s WITCH. I’m sure there are plenty of others, but these come to mind (and as I’ve said before, I’m a little bit biased towards SMEnt artists).

And me
Turns out 2014 was not wonderful. On a personal level things got pretty bad, particularly round September time (hence the lack of updates). Out of the blue I ended up in hospital. I’ve had one operation, so now I’m looking at a bit of a battle and a long waiting list for the one I really need to ensure I’m well again. I might even need hospital treatment before I get that far. It’s not a particularly stable time. But while it’s disappointing, perhaps there is some kind of opportunity here. Time to learn more, do more (albeit carefully), and just generally be prepared for when I can take control of my life again. Sometimes these things just happen and all you can do is try to make the most of a bad situation.

Happy New Year! Fingers crossed for 2015 🙂