Wordy Wednesday: But how do you read so much?

I’m often asked how I read so much – or people say ‘oh I wish I had time to read’ (often in that passive aggressive way that implies that they’re just doing much more important things, actually – but that’s a different issue).

Firstly: I don’t read that much. I average about 50-60 books a year – for a book blogger, that’s seriously small fry. I’ve seen some whose Goodreads counts are 250+ per year!

Secondly, I’m not reading War and Peace on a weekly basis. Mostly, I’m reading YA novels, some children’s (Middle Grade/9-12), with an occasional adult title thrown in.  It’s rare for me to pick up a massive tome, but it can happen.

Most importantly, though: I want to read, so I read. To that ‘oh I wish…’ person – you clearly don’t, actually. And, incidentally, it’s the same with writing. If you want to do it, you make/find the time for it. For me, that means reading on the bus, sometimes while cooking dinner, as a five-minute break between heavy-thinking tasks to clear my mind (nothing spirits me away like a good book!), as well as the standard reading in bed.

Starting this beauty on my bus journey today. I’d read a lot less if I could drive! #diverseYA

— Beth Kemp (@BethKemp) August 20, 2018

A final point: having discovered podcasts, bus time started to get a little crowded, so I now try to limit podcasts to walking to and between buses – commuter life is complex! What uses for otherwise ‘dead’ time like travelling have you come up with? When/how do you fit reading in?

Adult review: In Bloom by C J Skuse

Genre: is serial killer black comedy a genre? If so: this is it!

Age range: definitely 18+ – graphic language, violence and sexual content are key features of this series.

I loved Sweet Pea and was very excited to read this sequel, which picks up the minute Sweet Pea leaves off. Consequently, it is very difficult to talk about without making spoilers for the first book. I will therefore assume you know the basics: Rhiannon is a serial killer, the novel is narrated in her highly engaging voice, including notes from her diary (I particularly love her lists of people she wants to get rid of). The tone is darkly comic and like the best comedians, Rhiannon often pulls you along noting things that you can easily agree with but, as she is a psychopath, she will then take a turn into grotesquesly violent territory where you or I would not have gone – which is a nice reassurance of our normality, perhaps.

If you haven’t read Sweet Pea, you should toddle off and do that now, and I’ll move on to In Bloom-specific points…

For much of this instalment, Rhiannon has the complication of being pregnant, living with her in-laws and being the girlfriend of a convicted killer to deal with, all of which make killing difficult in different ways. But don’t worry, her irreverent voice and her drives are still very much in evidence. If, like me, you found Sweet Pea hilarious and were weirdly rooting for Rhiannon, you will definitely enjoy In Bloom. (and PS, I saw C J Skuse say on Twitter that there is a third book to comes, as well as a TV series!!) So much Sweet Pea goodness to look forward to!

I very much enjoyed seeing Rhiannon negotiate and wriggle around the further limitations imposed by her chatty fetus, her nosey and well-meaning in-laws and the pressures of being recognised as the girlfriend of killer Craig. The idea of her trying to fit into a pre-natal group is, by turns, hilarious and heartbreaking (serial killers have feelings too – and the ‘cliquiness’ of those groups was perfectly captured).

Overall, I obviously very much recommend this. The combination of genres is highly original and I think the use of humour will appeal to a lot of readers.  The pacing of the plot and control of tension in this second novel is well-judged and had me turning pages, but the novel’s real strength is in its characterisation and voice.

Thank you to HQ and to C J Skuse for providing a copy of In Bloom via NetGalley for review. Note that accepting a review copy never influences my expressed views and I only opt to review books I enjoy.

Reading Recommendations Slide 27: Revision Season Escapism 3 – Historical

This half term, all my recommendations will focus on reading for pleasure, relaxation and escapism during revision season. This week I’m offering four historical titles allowing students to get lost in rich evocations of the past.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 4 – Revision Season Escapism – Historical

The last theme posted was escape into fantasy for revision season. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendations Slide 26: Revision Season Escapism 2 – Fantasy

This half term, all my recommendations will focus on reading for pleasure, relaxation and escapism during revision season. This week I’m offering three titles featuring fantasy worlds, all of which have at least one sequel to get stuck into (and the one that is ‘only’ a duology are classic fantasy big fat books, so plenty of reading there!

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 3 – Revision Season Escapism – Fantasy

The last theme posted was contemps not set in school for revision season. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendations Slide 25: Revision Escapism 1 – Contemporaries

This half term, all my recommendations will focus on reading for pleasure, relaxation and escapism during revision season. This week I’m offering three contemporaries which, somewhat unusually, do not focus on school as a setting. (I wouldn’t want to read about high school politics when trying to escape from exam prep and thoughts of school!)

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 2 – Revision Season Escapism – Contemps

The last theme posted was witches. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendations Slide 24: Witches

A nice set of different novels with witches: two contemporaries (one including mystery, supernatural and historical elements), one historical and one dystopian eco-thriller – something for everyone!

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 5 – Witches

The last theme posted was for fans of the Big Bang Theory. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendations Slide 23: For Fans of The Big Bang Theory

I haven’t done a media-linked theme for a while, so I thought I’d offer these books for this week, which I think will all appeal to fans of The Big Bang Theory. Each has that geek chic vibe and humour (the top two are more laugh-out-loud than the lower two, but all have some), and has something to say about different types of people getting along.

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 4 – For Fans of The Big Bang Theory

The last theme posted was International Women’s Day. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendations Slide 22: International Women’s Day

These books all offer something relevant for International Women’s Day this week (March 8th). Buffalo Soldier and Things a Bright Girl Can Do both provide historical perspective on the position of women, while Asking For It and What’s A Girl Gotta Do? are both focused on the contemporary situation. Asking For It is suitable for older students as its discussion of rape is fairly brutal at times (although as Emma doesn’t remember the incident, there isn’t a description of the event as such. I wouldn’t personally give this one to yr10 and below though as the ideas are mature).

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 3 – International Women’s Day

The last theme posted was fairy tales. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links.

Reading Recommendations Slide 21: Fairy Tales

These books all borrow from fairy tales, folklore or existing classic stories as their source material. This is a genre of its own with plenty to choose from. (I’m particularly looking forward to Louise O’Neill’s take on The Little Mermaid, The Surface Breaks, due out in May – bound to be an interesting feminist re-interpretation of that problematic story…)

I pop these recommendation slides up while I take KS4 and 5 registers (if I had yr9 classes, I’d use them there too) and allow students to read the info and decide whether they want to find any of these books. It’s a key one of my attempts to widen their reading and help them find books they might enjoy as there are certainly plenty of those out there, and the curriculum doesn’t always make it easy for us to present students with a pleasurable reading experience.

Download the slide here: 2 – Fairy Tales

The last theme posted was friendship. I make some links thematic, some topical, some more English-y. Please do let me know if you have ideas/suggestions/requests for future possible links. (Next week I’ve got a nice set ready for International Women’s Day)

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton: February’s Book of the Month in-depth – review and a writing activity adaptable for KS3-5

Age range: YA (12+)

Themes: identity, diversity/ethnicity/race, protest & politics

Genre: fantasy + western 

Narrative style: first-person past tense with plenty of pace and an engaging voice with plenty of ‘sass’ and wit. It’s really easy to root for Amani as she tries desperately to escape her situation by dressing as a boy and entering a shooting competition.

It’s great that she is a skilled shooter and can be admired for that, but she does have weaknesses to engage our sympathy too and her world is all too ready to dismiss her as ‘just’ a girl. With the imaginative combination of the Western setting and the magical 1001 Nights tales as a folkloric backdrop, there is plenty here to get involved in.


Using the opening page, which is available to read on the Guardian website, here is a writing-focused task which can be adapted for years from KS3 to 5:

Paste the opening page into the centre of an A3 page.

Ask students to examine the opening for the different jobs that it is fulfilling. They could highlight sentences in different colours to show this. For example, looking at information that helps:

  • establish setting
  • establish character

This can be further complicated by labelling the techniques used.

A more interesting/complex exercise for older/more advanced students might explore how Amani’s voice is created using a combination of words and phrases (lexis/register) and sentence structure (syntax), further considering how the information chosen to be provided to the reader through Amani helps characterise her by showing her attitudes to those topics. Again, different colour highlighters could be used for lexical vs syntactical techniques with the labels and subject-based comments written on around the text.

This analytical work can then feed into writing of the students’ own, where they introduce a character/setting/situation with attention to the same issues. A scenario could be provided for them, or they could be invited to come up with their own. Some possibilities include:

  • An already-known character from a fairytale/folktale but not the central character (e.g. telling Red Riding Hood from the Huntsman’s perspective)
  • An ‘outsider’ character in a dangerous situation
  • A young person readying themselves to do something difficult (a test, delivering some difficult news, telling a friend a tough secret)