Read, If You Like: Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Is it hugely shameful to have completely missed this children’s classic when I was an actual child? I don’t know how it passed me by, especially as there’s been a copy on my shelf for ages. I’d have loved this story 15 years ago… to be honest I quite loved it now. So let’s not beat about the bush:

Read Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery, 1908), if you like:

  • Chatterboxes
  • Nature
  • Really wonderful descriptions of nature, honestly, A***
  • Gently irritating characters who are well written enough that you they grow on you after a while
  • A look at early 20th century Canadian life
  • A warm feeling of cosiness
  • Slow living, which I suppose was just called ‘living’ a century ago
  • Honestly it is so cosy, it was a perfect January read.
photograph of 'Anne of Green Gables' by LM Montgomery, 1980s TV tie in Penguin Edition
I wanted to add some leaves or suchlike to the photo, but the background – a footstall my grandfather made that I use for propping up my laptop – seemed suitably rustic. Also I KNOW it’s a bit wonky ugh what are you, Instagram.

I’m probably going to give my copy of Anne away for bookshelf space reasons, but I very much hope to return to the world in future. I knew there was a series of Anne books and my instincts with series is to wonder if the author’s stretched things out for money or reputation, but I could live in Avonlea quite happily for years, and I got the impression LM Montgomery felt the same way. Maybe I’ll keep my copy after all…

The only thing part of me wanted more of is general background about Canada. We learn a lot about the world of the Avonlea and its inhabitants, but aside from Murdoch Mysteries (okay, including Murdoch Mysteries) I know almost nothing about Canadian history. The Home Children are mentioned in passing, as well as some political events, but I’m always after more. To be honest I think I’d prefer a list of good history books over a novel with more background: this really was one of those perfectly formed little gems (and it wouldn’t have made sense for Montgomery to spend paragraphs spelling out context, as her audience would have already known it). I also think it’s asking too much to expect a children’s book published in the 1900s to cover the intricacies of the Home Children, too, so I’ll shut my gob and look forward to reading the next instalment.

Other books I’ve devoured lately: Natalie Haynes’ Pandora’s Jar, The Scorpio Races, Brian Jacques’ The Taggerung (another children’s book that was on my shelf for so long that I’d stopped being a child when I read it AND NOW I learn Netflix is turning the whole series into a show. How did the entire universe of Redwall pass me by until the age of 25?). I’m partway through Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen and I think that might be my next Read, If You Like because it’s a really meaty story so far, with absolutely nothing in common with Anne of Green Gables except maybe the book name/character name element. Would you like to see any of the above as a Read, If You Like? I’m thinking of doing two or three books per post, if those books have similar themes. There are so many books to talk about and so few weeks in the year.

Did you read Anne of Green Gables as a child? Did you get the same ~ feelings ~ that I did as an adult?

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Alternatively, use the button below for one-off support of as much or as little as you’d like. If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my bookThe Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Book Review (by a confused reader and slightly nervous author)

Picture the scene.

You’re browsing the internet. You find a page of reviews for a book you loved, or perhaps fall down a book blog rabbit hole. You spend a delightful tea break reading all the posts from people who, like you, find this book FANTASTIC. You are warmed in your soul; you feel connected to these reviewers, these strangers across oceans; you’re joined by the thread of mutual appreciation.

And then.

Snuggled amongst the posts, like a wee moth in a dresser of comfy jumpers, is a two star review. Not just a two star rating. There’s prose. It’s five paragraphs long. It runs to hundreds of words. It’s an Epically Long Bad Review.

You’re devastated. Well. Displeased. Perplexed. DID THIS PERSON READ THE SAME BOOK YOU DID? Maybe they were born without good taste. That’s not their fault. But, you think, five paragraphs and hundreds of words? That’s quite some commitment when you consider edits. Why? Whyyyy?

Okay back to first person. We all knew I meant ‘me.’

I am, obviously, writing this now not because I’ve only just discovered book reviews but because I’m spending a lot of time on Goodreads and engaging with the #bookstagram tag as part of the promotion for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes (blog tour ongoing!), so reviews are very much on my mind. I’m also using Goodreads to keep track of my reading and share my thoughts on some books (my reviews are either very earnest or your drunk auntie at a party, no five paragraphers from me unless it’s a Read, If You Like). Thus, a lot of time on Goodreads. I’m also trying to focus my energy on things that either feel productive or are genuinely enjoyable, because if 2020’s legacy is anything, it’s ‘let’s try to enjoy this tyre fire of a world before the planet dies completely…’

So, yeah, I’m perplexed by the existence of the Epically Long Bad Review. Why would you put so much care into a blog post or Goodreads entry explaining why you hate a book? It feels counterproductive at best and, at worse, like you’re wallowing in bad feeling. You didn’t enjoy a novel, it wasn’t worth your attention… so why are you telling us about it? Why, when, according to the internet, you will only live for 40,000,000 minutes? It’s not the author’s time you’re wasting, you know?

In the interests of balance, because I used to want to be a journalist

I’m not against negative reviews in general. It’s good to tell potential readers, ‘don’t read this book if you don’t like memoirs written by a famous person who is not naturally an author, whose prose feels a little like walking through mud.’ Or ‘I didn’t love the arguably unnecessary violence in this novel and you might not either.’ That’s useful. I want to know if a book deals in heavy themes with all the nuance of a sledgehammer. But who are you really serving by spending paragraphs and paragraphs talking about each and every terrible aspect of the book when you could say the same thing in a couple of sentences?

Maybe I’m overthinking this. One reader’s five star review is another’s one star, after all. ‘The prose felt childlike and the plot moved too fast; this is a juvenile waste of my time,’ is another reader’s ‘the writing was direct and didn’t faff around. The pacing was so fast, I was on the edge of my seat and couldn’t put it down.’ I think I’m really just in awe of the length and detail of some of these Epically Long Bad Reviews. It’s the love that goes into them that bemuses me.

Kermit the frog typing manically from Giphy
from Giphy

Time to declare my conflict of interest

Obviously I’m biased about reviews when it comes to one particular writer over all others. I’m a newly-published author who needs good press. At time of writing, I’m organising that blog tour for The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes and crossing my fingers for good, or at least neutral, feedback. At the moment, as there are so few reviews up for the book, I’d rather none of them were less than four stars. If they are less than four stars, I’d prefer there wasn’t a five paragraph explanation of everything the reader hated about it. Not because I’m personally offended by the review or the reviewer – I know they aren’t being personal. I also know I wrote a book that stands up with, if not the best of them, than at least not the worst. I feel reasonably confident in saying that because I’ve read thousands of novels in my life and watched thousands of films and TV shows: I can tell the difference between a well executed plot and a badly executed one. I can identify good prose versus prose that just needs a bit of polishing versus prose that’s genuinely terrible. I know the next novel I write will be better, because I’ll have had more practise and read more books. So although I may spend a few precious seconds of my 40,000,000 minutes reading that Epically Long Bad Review, thinking ‘god that reader has no taste,’ I’ll survive.

Plus, in ten years’ time, if The Princess and the Dragon has hundreds of four-plus star reviews, reports solid royalties and remains a piece of work I’m proud of, I’m not going to give a shit if Briana from Nottingham found the writing immature and the sub plots boring. I might get drunk with my mates and read Briana’s review out loud when we have a get together, because I’m drinking a gin and tonic purchased with those sweet royalties (you would too, don’t pretend otherwise), but I will be fine. And I won’t nurse a grudge against Briana for her honesty.

That’s ten years’ time, though. While I’m getting this book off the ground and trying to recoup some of the publishing costs, I’m mindful that Briana and her Nottingham-based book-themed Instagram could impact my burgeoning reputation. Does that mean Briana shouldn’t post her honest opinion? Of course not. Free speech, man. I might curse you and the potential damage to my gin and tonic money, but your time’s your own to do with what you will, and freedom of expression is as important when you disagree with that the thing being expressed as when you agree with it (it might be more important when you disagree). If you think my work should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire, you’re more than welcome to tell people that. But what do you really want to achieve by it? Do you want me to see fewer sales? Do you want to dampen some of the noise around my book’s release?

I respect that if you also think that I should be thrown in the proverbial bonfire – maybe we disagreed on Twitter once, or you don’t like how I run my businesses, or I stepped through a door you were holding and didn’t say thank you. If that’s the case, I understand that telling people to avoid me and avoid lining my pockets is something you might want to spend time doing. (I especially respect that if you’ve had experiences with an author who’s been racist towards you, or you saw them being rude to fans at events, or they’ve been accused of plagiarism by a credible source, etc. There’s another conversation to be had about the line between a creator and their work, and how much one can be considered separate from the other, but if you think a person’s actions cause another person harm, you arguably have a moral duty to do your level best to talk about it.)

But if you just didn’t click with the book I wrote? I’m not sure what you’re aiming to do in five paragraphs that you couldn’t do in five sentences or less: ‘this book wasn’t for me, because of [reason]. I also didn’t like the way [something] was portrayed and I thought the prose was [something else]. If you do like those things, you might have better luck than I did.’

Alice curtsying
From Giphy I believe

Just saying. You stretch your free speech muscles, woo. I’m glad that you didn’t feel like you had to lie about how you felt while also feeling relieved you were reasonably objective. My sales and reputation can continue growing, woo.

When it comes to my own reviews or recommendations, I don’t review anything on Goodreads that I consider anything less than four stars. It doesn’t feel necessary. Not when my three stars is another person’s five. Not when I know how long it takes to write a novel, and how much soul goes into each draft and edit and late night hunched over the computer. It feels like I’m being a bad author by talking shit about another author. We all earn peanuts at the end of the day, we all do the work because we love it and we all want the publishing industry, book selling industry and reader communities to thrive. Like I said, I’ve got better things to do with my 40,000,000 minutes.

What are your thoughts on the Epically Long Bad Review? I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you’re a vivacious reviewer, a causal reader, an author or a mix of the above. Do you write long reviews? Do you write short reviews? I think that, as a reader, I’m still perplexed. As a writer, I’m definitely slightly nauseous every time I see there’s a new review for The Princess and the Dragon. I don’t think that will go away any time soon, even if I do figure out the point of the five paragraph bitchathon.

Look after yourselves!

Francesca


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee? If you’re into fairy tales and/or want a brief respite from reality, you can also buy my book, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes, from most ebook retailers.

Read, If You Like: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Welcome back to my occasional book recommendation series! I don’t like to overtly review books, because what I disliked about a novel might be what someone else liked about it, so it feels unfair to the author to write a post moaning about a novel I didn’t like. I also personally try to avoid reading too many reviews before reading a book, in case it doesn’t live up to the hype or I feel obliged to agree with reviewers when I actually don’t. Let me make up my own mind, I guess is what I’m saying. That said, I enjoy doing Read, If You Like because some of the best recommendations I’ve had have been where people have said ‘oh, you like X and Y book or film? Then you’ll probably enjoy this one!’ They are usually right.

So without further ado, the first Read, If You Like for 2021!

Read The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath, 1963), if you like:

  • Candid, realistic depictions of mental illness (note that if you are currently in the depths of depression, you might find that The Bell Jar either speaks to you and gives you hope or just pushes you a further into the depths, so please consume responsibly and also seek out some professional help)
  • Protagonists, like our lady Esther Greenwood, who are simultaneously very annoying and very real. I have met various Esther Greenwoods. I have been a bit of a Esther Greenwood. I think a lot of teenage girls and young women stray into Esther territory at some point, not necessarily in terms of her mental illness but in terms of being frustrating, frustrated and hugely overwhelmed by life’s opportunities
  • A snapshot of 1950s Americaaaa
  • With all of its lovely bigotry, I should add, just as a heads up if you’re not in the mood for casual racism
  • So much has changed
  • Deliberate, easily readable prose (Sylvia Plath was a complicated human being but this book felt accessible. I was expecting to find this A Very Tough Read, given its main topic is mental health, and although I didn’t skip through it, the prose is concise and draws you in. It’s not one of those books where every sentence feels laboured)
  • Irritating secondary characters
  • Some of them are so, so irritating
  • Reading around the subject, to an extent. Adding this in because on the back of my copy, the blurb proclaims that The Bell Jar was published a month before Plath’s suicide. I assume this nugget is on most blurbs. It was impossible, therefore, to read it without drawing parallels between Plath’s life and Esther’s. I studied Plath for a while at A Level so I remembered a bit about her experiences of depression and her death, and I kept thinking, ‘this feels autobiographical.’ To write about depression that well, you really have to have experienced it, which is probably why the book feels authentic. It is authentic. It’s also just a bit sad, you know? It’s hard not to wonder what sort of person Plath would have become had she lived past 30. So if you don’t know much about Sylvia Plath before reading The Bell Jar, except for what’s on the burb/author page of your copy, you might feel compelled to Google her afterwards. And if you did know about her, then that knowledge will colour your experience of The Bell Jar, and then your reading of The Bell Jar will influence how you feel about Plath. They’re always going to be linked in the reader’s mind.
Spine of 'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath, plus a pen and pencil, on lined paper and envelopes.
I tried to do a proper photo of the cover, but it’s so grey and rainy here today that the lighting/shadows made everything very, very ugly. Enjoy this book spine instead!

So, yeah, not the easiest of reads but definitely worth a try if you’re interested in any of the above. I am cleansing my palette, I should add, both with Pandora’s Jar and with The Scorpio Races, which I actually tried to borrow from the library in November but lockdown got in the way. It is a very November book, The Scorpio Races. Pandora’s Jar is about women of Greek myths and how history’s done them dirty, ie by calling Pandora’s jar a box and conflating Pandora with Eve. The Bible’s Eve, not, like, Killing Eve’s Eve. You probably got that. Um. Follow me on Goodreads if you want to keep up with what I’m reading. I think I’m following myself on Goodreads. How is that possible when I only have one account?!

I will see you soon-ish for another one of these, maybe for Pandora’s Jar? With the country in lockdown there’s not much to do except my college work, writing and reading, and you guys don’t need to see my notes for the Effective Business Processes assignment. I drew a diagram the other day that looks like a blueprint for a bathroom’s plumbing. It actually has something to do with ‘critical path analyses’.

Told you you wouldn’t want to know. Leave a comment if you’ve read The Bell Jar, or Plath’s poetry – what did you think of it?

Look after yourselves!


Want to support this blog and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?

New Year’s Intentions 2021 aka Aiming to Survive the Year

Happy new year lovelies!

How are we doing? Does 2021 feel any different from 2020? I’m not going to write a post about Girl Bossing© 2020, nor a detailed plan for Girl Bossing© 2021, because who can actually take that seriously? I’m writing this in December of 2020, and have not at time of writing come across any ‘2020 was MY YEAR’ social media nonsense. I’m hoping I don’t. [Update from 2021 Francesca: I didn’t! People read the room, huh.]

2020 had some highlights, but let’s not insult our collective struggles by pretending that any of us ‘won’ the year. That any of us have managed to continue with milestones like having babies and celebrating birthdays and buying houses since the start of the pandemic is testament to humanity’s determination to create nice things however we can… but shall we not brag to our grieving friends or jobless family, eh. With that in mind, I wanted to share a few new year’s intentions. My only real goal is to survive until 2022, but I’m living in tier 4 for the foreseeable future and I need to feel like I’m working toward something, so I’ve got some gentle intentions, too:

Read some books

For the first time ever, I’ve made myself a reading list for the year. It’s composed partly of books on my shelf with unenticing covers, or meaty non-fiction I haven’t had the brain power for, and partly of books I just think sound cool and haven’t gotten around too yet. I’m going to try to share some of them on here too. Expect some YA, some pretty covers and probably some mythology.

Copies of 'Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race' by Remi Eddo-Lodge, 'How to Build a Girl' by Caitlin Moran, 'House of Ashes' by Monique Roffey and 'Eileen' by Ottessa Moshfegh
I guess I’ve committed to finishing these, huh.

Write some books stories

Yeah, probably no book releases this year. But I’m not working as a freelancer anymore so I have a bit more time to split between college and my writing. I’ve made myself a timetable and everything, with writing time allocated its own colour. I tend to work obsessively on one thing for hours/days/weeks/years and then burn out, so I thought I’d try giving myself time to do specific things. I’ll be sharing stories with the No. 1 Readers’ Club on Patreon, although they won’t be as regular as they were last spring (one story a week can’t happen now I have college if I want to, you know, not melt). There might be one a month, there might be one every two months. Let’s see how the year plays out. They should be good, though… I’ve had a lot of short story practise in the last year!

And that’s it. Well. I’d also like to grow my business while maintaining (who am I kidding, while building) some sort of work life balance, but I think these two intentions encompass that. Reading improves my writing while removing me from the hell of our current reality. Win win. Sharing books I’m reading may help grow this blog; sharing short stories may help grow the No. 1 Readers’ Club, both of which will in turn pay my bills and provide more time to read. The circleee of liiffeeee…. plus I’ll have learnt some new words.

Do you have any intentions for the year? How is 2021 treating you so far?

Look after yourselves!

Want to support this page and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?

2020 Has Not Been Completely Shit and Here is Definitive Proof

You heard me. I’d normally consider doing the Indifferent Ignorance awards, but I don’t feel like dedicating time to ignorant people… they are the reason I spent Christmas Day in tier 4. I’m also mindful that it’s important to count our blessings, not our curses, so in this post I’m going to share some of my favourite entertainment and arts discoveries of the year, plus a few personal/family highlights.

Things that blessed my ears in 2020

  • Lauv’s record, which I bought a copy of back in February or so, and kind of became the sound track to early lockdown.
  • Tim Minchin’s record. It’s… not his usual stuff. Some of the songs are sharp and sarcastic, but if you’re looking for more black comedy-philosophy, this album will disappoint. It’s mostly about how much he loves his wife and children. I cried.
  • The news my friend Tatchiana applied for a Master’s degree. MY FRIENDS ARE SO CLEVER YOU GUYS. I don’t even fully understand the topic she’s researching.
  • The Umbrella Academy put a soundtrack out and:
Klaus Hargreeves dancing in a liquor store
from Giphy
  • As well as re-entering the world of academia, Tatchiana introduced me to the Magnus Archives podcast and I guess I’m a fan of horror stories now? I’m kind of late to the party because it’s been running for years and finishes in 2021, but if you like a) creepy stories with the odd god that’s gross and really clever moment, b) short stories that slowly merge into one overarching Story and c) office politics, you’re in for a good time. (Aside: I realised partway through that Martin really reminds me of Arthur from Cabin Pressure. The programmes have nothing in common except that they’re audio, but I can’t unhear it. I don’t know if there’s a Venn diagram of Magnus Archives/Cabin Pressure listeners but if there is: do you hear it too?)

Things that blessed my eyeballs in 2020

  • I finally got around to reading the Noughts and Crosses series (or most of the series? There seems to be more books than I realised), and it is Very Worth the Hype. So’s the TV show.
  • I also got round to Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. It’s very long and a horror novel – this is a theme – both of which usually put me off, but I really got into it. Brilliant last page too.
  • Bill Bailey in Strictly Come Dancing.
  • The news that my cousin and her boyfriend bought a house! A whole entire property in this economy. Epic.
  • Real Life Money by Clare Seal. It’s a memoir-advice book by the lady who runs the My Frugal Year Instagram, and it’s really interesting. If you’re at all into finance, money management and/or consumerism, I can’t recommend it highly enough. I don’t usually love memoirs, or advice-y novels, but this one is non-preachy, well researched and quite important in these uncertain times.
Real Life Money, book by Clare Seal
  • If you want to buy any of these books, by the way, I have a Bookshop account. Every purchase made through my little page earns me one fifth of a penny or suchlike. Am I being shameless? Um yeah, I don’t have a regular job as of Christmas Eve. I’m also on Goodreads if you want to see what else I’m reading and chat about books. One upside of lockdown was spending so much time reading and I am already planning my reading list for next year. So many books, so little time! Speaking of books, the prettiest thing I saw this year was:
  • My book coverrrrrrr. Also, you know, seeing the book available to purchase. I wasn’t sure it was going to be released this year – or ever – and I’m a tiny bit proud of the work that went into it. Not bad going for someone who spent their A Levels wearing a wrist brace and their early-mid twenties dealing with chronic pain, crippling anxiety and on-again-off-again depression, huh.
blue and white illustrated cover of 'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories of Unlikley Heroes' by Francesca Burke, including stars, a large dragon, a skull, moon, swords, a rabbit and a tower
Cover by Nell from Instagram. Click here for book-related joy/info

Things that blessed my ears and my eyeballs in 2020

  • The second series of The Umbrella Academy. I love it. I love it so much. It has everything I want out of TV, plus a Baby Pogo. TRULY WE ARE BLESSED.
  • Videos by A Small Wardrobe on YouTube (I talk more about Patricia’s channel and learning about minimalism here).
  • Videos by Annie, who posts as the Green Witch on YouTube. Sometimes the algorithm suggests videos that you didn’t know you needed. Annie has a witchy YouTube and a nature-y YouTube. They are both very peaceful. Taking 10 minutes to watch calm, nature-y has turned out to be quite good for my brain.
  • In the same vein, I’m thoroughly enjoying videos by The Cottage Fairy.
  • Olive and Mabel.
  • Schitt’s Creek. I know I know, I was late to that too. I cannot recommend a more soul-warming programme. Other TV I’m brilliantly late to: Derry Girls, Nighty Night, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Ghosts.

What have you enjoyed in 2020? You’re allowed to say banana bread and Netflix. You’re allowed to say ‘realising that the friend I checked in with during lockdown never checked in with me, and now I am disengaging.’ You’re allowed to say ‘not having a big, overwhelming Christmas.’ What are you planning for new year’s eve?

GIF of David from 'Schitt's Creek' saying 'I plan on popping a pill, crying a bit and falling asleep early.'

Jut kidding, mostly. I’ll probably have a bath, pour a wee drink, watch the clock to ensure this hellscape actually ends, and get my beauty sleep. I’ve got things to do in 2021! Nothing ostentatious, of course. My plans are mostly to read a lot and maybe bake some more banana bread. But I may as well do them on a full night’s sleep, especially as there is literally nowhere to go. I’ll talk more about that (my plans, not tier bloody 4) in my next post. Probably.

Look after yourselves and happy new year!

Want to support this page and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?

So ‘The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes’ is out as an ebook. Behold, my guide for getting a free copy!

Oi oi! So you remember all the posts about writing and/or pitching The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes? I try not to either. Anyway, THE EBOOK IS OUT NOW. You can purchase it from all the usual retailers and leave gushing reviews on GoodReads, etc. etc. If you’re not doing anything else – and you probably shouldn’t be doing anything else, especially if, like me, you have been shunted into Tier 4 for Christmas – I’m hosting a Facebook Live release party today (23rd Dec) at 19:30 GMT. I’ll be doing some readings, answering questions and chatting about the writing and publishing process.

Before tonight’s release party (yeah, I’m calling it a party. It’s 2020, I can call a conversation with a friend who’s standing six metres away ‘a party’), I wanted to take a moment to pop in here and say HI, I DID SOMETHING I’VE TALKED ABOUT FOR YEARS. It feels sort of important to say that, both for my own self esteem and for this blog’s narrative purposes. I also want to share a list of ways you can access this ebook for free, because I am mindful that the economy, whichever country you’re in, is… not fantastic. Although the RRP of the ebook is £7.99, and most retailers have it discounted already, I know that lots of you will have other, more practical, uses for that money. So here’s a little guide for getting hold of this novel without spending a penny:

Borrow it from libraries

At time of writing, the only library app it’s available on is ProQuest. I’m keeping a list of retailers and library services, plus links, on my fancy website. My supplier sent a list of all the vendors that will host it, but it can take up to six weeks for the book to load on all of them, so I’m checking in weekly to update my list. But if you’re a school/college/uni student, you will likely find you have a login to one or more of these library services. They’re often designed for reading academic texts, but I think we can agree that The Princess and the Dragon benefits everyone’s mental health by providing four to five hours of respite from reality, which will in the long term help with your studies.

Join my blog tour

If you’re a book blogger, YouTuber, Instagrammer, etc., I am embarking on a book tour in the new year and into spring. Anyone who joins gets access to a free copy via an Advanced Reader Copy website (I am aware that now the book is out, the copy is not in fact ‘advanced’, ha). If you’re interested in being part of the tour, hit me up at info [at] francescaburke [dot] com with links to your blog/YouTube/Instagram.

Pay It Forward

I am kicking off a pay it forward experience! Is experience the word? Here’s how it works: I have some money left over from the publishing process. I will pay for three of you to purchase The Princess and the Dragon from the retailer of your choice (send me a link to the retailer so I know how much money to send. The prices are weirdly different on each site). It’ll be via PayPal or bank transfer, your choice. In an ideal world, all three of you pay for someone else to purchase the novel, and then those three people pay for three more people… but this world is not ideal, so if you can’t afford to pay it forward (I did say this was a guide on getting the book for free), I don’t mind in the slightest. Perhaps one of my other readers might like to hop in and buy a copy for someone else?

If you’re interested in pay it forward, leave a comment with your email address, or private message me on Twitter/Insta/Facebook! Now I am going to share the cover (because I am never not going to share the cover) and get organised for this evening. I’m not one hundred per cent sure which passages I’m reading yet. SUCH FUN. Look after yourselves!

blue and white illustration with a dragon, moon, stars, skull, leaves, rabbit and tower, reading 'The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes Francesca Burke'

Want to support this page and/or enjoy exclusive access to stories and chatter from me? Join the No. 1 Reader’s Club on Patreon! Or we could just get coffee?

A Fully Scientific Review of The Lord of the Rings Films, by a Fantasy Writer Who Somehow Missed The Lord of the Rings Until Now

Yeah, I know. I do remember watching the films about 15 years ago and clearly retained nothing, because watching them recently was a completely novel experience. I knew the basic beats of the story – ring, quest, defeat evil – but never really got round to properly watching or reading them. It took me long enough to get through The Hobbit – can’t remember much of those films either – that I keep meaning to go straight to the audio book of The Fellowship of the Ring. (If you’re new here and were enticed by the title: hi, I’m Francesca and I write stories about magic. My last book included a quest, a dragon and a wizard in a tower so it’s safe to say Tolkien’s influenced my work without me noticing.)

Grab popcorn for this, guys, it’s very scholarly:

The Fellowship of the Ring

  • I don’t think I’d realised Sean Bean was in it
  • But we all knew what would happen to him
  • Excellent creepy costume and atmosphere work with the ringwraiths, 10/10 for nightmare potential had I been paying attention 15 years ago
  • I imagine there was far more of a point to Cate Blanchett’s Extra Ethereal Elf in the novels; on screen I thought that although she’s definitely a good guy, she could have become a bad guy in the right (well, wrong) circumstances. Given the running time we might as well have had 10 more minutes of exploring her character
  • Not sure why none of these men tie their hair back to go into battle. Sweaty necks are hard enough when you’re out for a walk, let alone when you’re wearing a helmet or Defending the Hobbits
  • I mean, come on, Legolas, there’s no way those plaits would have survived all that running
  • Did anyone else really worry what happened to Bill the horse?
  • Kind of felt like Gandalf and Saruman were a bit too stock character wizard-y until I remembered they are the original wizards and therefore VERY COOL
  • I always liked the idea of going to New Zealand but now it is on the list in a serious way, not a ‘one day’ way
  • I was so excited to see Liv Tyler’s elf! I mean she was just there to save Frodo but she seemed to be on such a good character arc, building her mortal life with Not a Worthy King until-

The Two Towers

  • Okay I spoke too soon, I think she’s just lying on a couch a lot?
  • Did not realise the two towers were two separate towers. Not a full on tower-y building that would need to be stormed. Took half an hour to catch up. Fortunately, I still had four years of film left to enjoy the plot!
  • Don’t you love when you have more experience with a meme than with the original work?
gif of Legolas exclaiming, 'They're taking the hobbits to Isengard!'
from Giphy
  • As I write this I’ve remembered that I do have an abiding Lord of the Rings memory! When I was little and the films were being released – Google says I would have been six to eight – I understood that hobbits and dwarfs = small; humans and wizards = tall. I also understood that dwarfism is a thing in real life, so I thought that the people they cast to play hobbits and dwarfs were actors with dwarfism. I was really disappointed to see a news segment or suchlike proving that they cast regular sized people for every role and then CGI-d it! Couldn’t figure out why they didn’t save themselves a job. May have been a very young diversity campaigner
  • Speaking of diversity, are we really meant to believe that in a world where multiple species co-exist, there are absolutely no brown people except for maybe those mercenaries on monster elephants? Dudes.
  • (I am aware that although the films were only made 20 years ago, things are done differently now.)
  • (We’re not going to mention the Bechdel test.)
  • Not sure what the point of the blonde princess was except to provide a handy love triangle for our now-swooning elf and Not a Worthy King

The Return of the King

  • You know what I love? A good battle scene. The noise! The gravitas! It probably helps that now I am old enough to know all the horses were acting
  • Blonde Princess got her (redeeming, cool) stabby battlefield moment!
  • Liv Tyler’s elf did not
  • My brother and I disagreed on whether or not she even needed to exist, but I guess 3 central female parts are the prime amount for a saga with an extended edition running length of 11.5 hours
  • Not sure what was up with the Steward of Gondor and his fiery demise, except as a reminder that yes, the king needed to return sharpish
  • Poor Sméagol 
  • My brother pointed out that although the Eye of Sauron sees all, it can only look in one direction at once. Bit of a design flaw there, your evil lordship, but I feel like it would make a good metaphor for the narrow mindedness of an existence bent on world domination
  • Bowing to the hobbits awwww
  • Speaking of hobbits, I am vagually aware of decades of readers nudging each other and saying ‘are we sure they’re all just friends?’
  • I am with you
  • Clarity, please, Tolkien estate
  • Just kidding, if there’s anything worse than a lack of a character trait in canon text, it’s the author telling us about it years after publication (you know who I’m talking about). I also love stories that are more focused on friendship than romance, so if the ghost of Mr Tolkien is reading, thank you (and fantastic work on the world building, even if I recall The Hobbit being a bit… wordy). I get where all the fan fiction is coming from, that’s all
  • I liked that after the quest ended, the story got a second ending that we can all take home to digest. ‘New chapters’ don’t have to mean no adventure, just different adventure.

I’ve done (minimal) web surfing and although I am not the first person to question the 3:746464748 female:male character ratio, it looks as though the novels are a bit more fleshed out. Maybe I need another watch (and a crack at the books) to absorb the nuances of Éowyn and Arwen’s character arcs and personalities. Sort of wish I’d done this at the start of lockdown because now we’re creeping back into life, I probably have better other things to do. But then, judging by the number of people I encountered this morning who were acting like coronavirus is a thing of the past, we might be back to full lockdown in about two weeks’ time. Is it offensive to say that some people are marginally less bright than orcs? JUST WEAR A MASK AND STAND SEVERAL FEET AWAY FROM ONE ANOTHER.

Only in 2020 could you go from musing about diversity in a decades-old story to comparing the general public to malevolent ogre-creatures for the transgression of standing around.

I’m off to finish writing my next patrons’ story (no dragons, maybe magic). If you enjoyed this Hot Take on a classic, let me know! If I’ve ruined your favourite story, don’t let me know!

Read, If You Like: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Steifvater

I wrote a review for The Raven Boys about three millennia ago, so as Call Down the Hawk has been something I’ve looked forward to since Maggie mentioned it on Twitter in 2016, it felt fitting to do my current version of a review, which is Read, If You Like. As with all of the reviews-slash-vague-recommendations I do, there are no spoilers!

Read Call Down the Hawk (Maggie Stiefvater, 2019), if you like:

  • Excellent dress sense
  • Questionable dress sense
  • Art. Traditional, historical art,  I mean. Museum art. The sort that talking about gets you quiet respect at dinner parties or makes you sound like a dick depending on how you talk about it
  • Weird shit magic. Properly odd ‘what the fuck is going on do I understand what I am reading wait yes I do this is fabulously mind-bending’ magic
  • Women with beautiful hair. I can think of at least three and probably six women in this novel whose hair is stunning
  • The Raven Cycle. Call Down the Hawk starts after the end of The Raven Cycle, and you definitely don’t have to have read it to understand or enjoy it. IT STANDS ON ITS OWN MAGICAL MERIT. Certain scenes will be more delicious and/or devastating if you have, though, and you should read The Raven Cycle anyway, for health reasons
  • The sort of anxiety that rips a literal hole in your stomach. I meant this in relation to a character, but to be honest I am now thinking a lot about the sequel BE STILL MY INSIDES
  • Over thinking about how you’re living your early-mid twenties. I am now in my mid (!) twenties and whoever said it’s easier once you’re out of your teens was a damn liar. I mean, 24 is better than 17 was, but does it look like what I thought it might look like? Nah. Call Down the Hawk gets it.

Writing this has reminded me that I almost impulse bought a BMW over the weekend. It was red and convertible. I would love to blame the fact there’s a BMW in Call Down the Hawk, but mostly it’s the car’s fault for being the only vehicle on the entire internet that wasn’t absolutely hideous. Why is buying a car so difficult? All I want is something with medium boot space and an automatic gear shift that doesn’t look as though it was designed for a semi-retired boules enthusiast (it’s time to admit that the Mini is giving me taxi driver’s hip and that my complete lack of ease behind the wheel is mostly caused by the fact I can’t reach the pedals). GIVE ME A CAR I AM COMFORTABLE TAKING ON A ROADS, PLEASE, UNIVERSE. One that doesn’t make me feel like I’m about to start a conversation about annuities and The Archers, please, universe.

What a detour from the original topic. Here is my copy of Call Down the Hawk. There is a bit of gin on it already, and some bathwater. Also butter. Those were mostly unrelated readings. I pulled a couple of tarot cards for the picture, since I don’t have any scented candles or bookstagram accessories. By pulled I mean chose the ones that felt apt, which I guess is spoilery if you know your tarot but haven’t read the book yet? FAIR WARNING LOOK AWAY NOW.

paperback of 'Call Down the Hawk' by Maggie Steifvater next to The Tower and Eight of Swords from Raven's Prophecy Tarot

I’m off to look for a car that looks like that BMW but smaller-ish and with less of a rep. Ish.


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