Wednesday, 9 August 2017

A Review of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sorry for the movie cover.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a Young Adult novel by Stephen Chbosky. Set in the early 90's, Charlie, a freshman at High School, attempts to come into his own teenage life. Charlie makes friends with a guy called Patrick, and through him meets Sam, Patrick's stepsister. Over the course of the book, Charlie has to come to terms with some traumatic events that happened before the story starts.

I have never liked letter-based books. I'm not sure why, especially considering I like diary-based books, which are structured very similarly. This book kind of straddles the line between both, all letters being written from Charlie's perspective. I just find this kind of framing disjointed, but just because it doesn't work for me, doesn't me it will be the same for you. The letters are addressed directly to "you," the reader, so it is a good way of engaging people immediately with the story.

We are told a lot about Charlie's personality. He's also described as "intelligent beyond his years" on my blurb, but his letters read as if they were written by someone much younger. I'm choosing to believe this is a stylistic choice, representing how Charlie is sorting out his problems. He also seems very naive for a high-school freshman, but maybe that's more realistic for teens in the early 90's then it would be now, in the era before internet was widespread. He seems to mature a great deal over the course of the book, understanding sex and drug references better towards the end then he did at the beginning. Maybe this is the influence of hanging out with a group of older teenagers.

And there are a lot of issues dealt with, or should I say touched upon, over the course of the book. Some are handled with all the subtly of a sledgehammer, and others are given more nuance. I'm not sure if I would have preferred the book to focus on fewer in more depth, or if the approach it takes works. I do like how it shows the importance of getting help with mental health problems from professionals, and how talking with friends or family can do the world of good.

It also happens to be very quotable. "We accept the love we think we deserve" and "In that moment, I swear, we were infinite" are well-known, but I found my favourite quote a little later on. "You shouldn't tell her she looks pretty. You should tell her how nice her outfit is, because her outfit is her choice whereas her face is not." I have never been able to articulate why I hate generic "you're pretty" compliments, but love it if someone says they like my clothes.

I know most people have probably heard of the movie, which I remember mostly for the presence of Emma Watson. As an adaptation, it's very good, but as a movie on it's own, I find it forgettable. I have only seen it once, back when it first came out, so that may be a factor. In fact, losing the letter format means you lose a lot of Charlie's personality that comes through in the book.

I think this is one of those books I'd have to recommend on an individual basis to people I know well.

Friday, 4 August 2017

A Review of Lydia

Lydia: The Wild Girl of Pride and Prejudice (also published as The Secret Diary of Lydia Bennet) is a novel by Natasha Farrant. It is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Lydia Bennet's point of view. Lydia is the youngest of the five Bennet sisters, bored with living in the country, and dreaming of adventure and romance. While her older sisters are courted by the charming Mr. Bingley and the handsome Mr. Darcy, can Lydia discover her own happy ending?

I have long had a soft spot for Lydia Bennet.

She's fifteen during the events of Pride and Prejudice. Who can say they didn't do silly things at fifteen? Let alone the thought that your family's future rests upon your behaviour at that age! For one mistake, did she deserve to be forever married to someone like Wickham? Their relationship was developed over the course of the book, as was Lydia's personality. She customises her clothes - a respectable and no doubt practical skill for a lower-middle class woman of the period, but she also seems to enjoy it and do it well, to the point where I thought she could make a living from it. She talks a lot about marriage, but in as much as she sees it as her only way out. If she could go on adventures by herself, without marriage, I have no doubt she would. She also goes through some character development over the course of the book. She starts out liking the idea of marrying a rich man for money, but as events come to light, she starts despising the whole system.

I personally don't think she is stupid, she just never got the chance to become educated, and wasn't so into the whole learning from books method that worked for her sisters. She prefers to be outside, and picks up things like horse riding and swimming quickly enough. Some of her points of ignorance will cause a titter from modern viewers - Silly Lydia, not knowing where India is - but I can't decide if it's realistic for a sheltered country girl in her time not to know. India was under the British Raj, and surely she would have heard it discussed? I did raise an eyebrow that she can recognise Indian fabric or a South Indian palace but not place the country on a map.

While Lydia's flightiness and self-centred parts of her personality comes through on these pages, through her eyes her three older sisters can seem sanctimonious at times. It's actually an interesting point, applicable to real life, that someone's attitude can seem totally different, depending on whom is telling the story. I like how the story kept the personality points of the sisters intact from the original novel, while still seeing them from a new point of view.

The language used is more readable for today than in the original novel, and the characters talk like everyday teenagers, too. I am not saying this is a bad thing. It makes the book accessible to a wider group of people. However, the historical fiction aspect of the book is somewhat lost when you can see Lydia pulling out a phone and uploading her Outfit of the Day to Instagram! The whole book is done in a diary format, too. I've always liked diary-style books, but I know some don't like that setup.

I would recommend some familiarity with the story of Pride and Prejudice before reading this book. If you have previously struggled with the novel, try the 2005 film for a quick review. It's a nice way of introducing teenagers to Jane Austen, and I would recommend it for people aged 12 and over.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

I'm Actually (Almost) Glad Firefly Ended When it Did

Some shows, they overstay their welcome. They are kept on air long past the point where they stop being enjoyable, and wind up only enjoyed by a couple of hard-core fans who didn't give it up in earlier seasons. The type of thing where people will look in surprise and say "Oh, is that still on?" Sometimes, things will experience a very sharp drop in quality between the first and second seasons, a la Heroes, or a gradual decline over several seasons. Something that gets shunted around from time-slot to time-slot, and when it does finally die, leaves most people with more of a memory of the disappointing last few seasons than the awesome start the show had.

And then, there was Firefly. In a scant 14 episodes and a movie, it caught the imagination of people everywhere. It was a brief, bright spark that went out suddenly, and way to quickly. Some people are probably ready to come at me with pitchforks, so let me point out - I meant "almost" for a reason. I would have loved to see what Joss Whedon could do with 8 seasons or more. How the world would build, new characters be introduced, and sub-plots tie up.

Why do I say this? Well, for one, it never got the decline that other series do. Because there are so few episodes, all are both intensely quotable and memorable. There's no "bad" Firefly episode, exactly - I like them all.

Between the series, the movie and a selection of graphic novels, people have really been able to let their imaginations run wild. Since there are less established characters and plots, writers of fanfiction have been able to let themselves loose on this world practically since it's inception. Up there, I said that I'd like to have seen what Joss Whedon could do with the world. Well, we've been doing that. Whether we keep it inside our heads, or share it with other fans, everyone has a different idea about where the story would go.

In fact, because of the story surrounding it and it's cancellation, I'd bet it has a larger and more dedicated fanbase than it might have had otherwise. There's never a point where half of the fanbase lost interest. Instead, the fanbase has only grown over the years, with more and more people being introduced to it.

Also, it's easy to get people to watch it. 14 episodes and a movie isn't as hard a sell as, say, some anime series. Once it's finished, you'll always have something to talk about. If you meet a fellow fan at a convention, too, you already have something in common.

Finally, it gave Joss much less of a chance to kill off our beloved characters. Were any of those deaths in Serenity actually FUCKING necessary?

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Gilmore Girls and Some Thoughts on the Revival

Gilmore Girls was my jam in my mid-teens. For one summer, the series was shown on repeat in the UK, on E4. I'd wake up, and put the channel on while eating my breakfast. I loved the interaction between sweet, intelligent Rory and quirky, business-minded Lorelei. I loved Rory's bookworm tendencies, which I identified with myself. I loved the backstory on Lorelei building up a life for herself and Rory out of nothing. I loved the Gilmore's, who for all their faults really did love Lorelei and Rory. And I loved their best friends, the town of Stars Hollow and the people who lived there. And the love interests! Jess was best for Rory, no?

Spoilers for both the Revival and the original series under the cut:

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A Review of The Book of Tomorrow

Also awesome cut-out cover!
The Book of Tomorrow is a novel by Cecelia Ahern, who has written many books for adults and the Young Adult book Flawed. Tamara Goodwin lives in luxury with very rich parents. However, her father dies, leaving behind only debts and bad investments. Tamara's charmed life in Dublin is no more, and she and her mother move in with her Uncle in the countryside. When a travelling library comes to town, Tamara finds an unwritten notebook that writes out what is going to happen to her tomorrow.

I may overuse the term "fairy tale" in my reviews, but this book feels like a modern day fairy tale, a medieval riches-to-rags that just happens to be set in our modern age. I love books with that sort of feel, and I really liked this one.

Magical realism is an odd genre to me. Sometimes, I'll read a magical realism book and think 'this is just fantasy.' It seems like the term people give fantasy books when they want them to sound more serious, which plays into the weird stigma of fantasy fiction and the people who read it. But this is one that absolutely falls into the 'slight magical elements, but still very much a normal world' part of the genre. The other odd genre related fact about this book is that I've seen it in the adult section of stores, so often. The main character is a teenager, and there's nothing that disqualifies it from being enjoyed by young adults. Was it just to keep all of Ahern's books on the same shelf. Not that everything with a teenager in it has to be YA, or that adults can't enjoy reading books about teenagers...

As a diarist myself, I love that the book centres around a journal. I like the idea of a journal that tells you what you will do in the future. I liked Tamara's character development. If you don't warm to her immediately at first, keep reading. I've also got to point out how this book becomes almost a mystery story over it's course. Some of the twists are easy to see coming, but there are quite a few, so at least one will take you by surprise.

I didn't like the running joke Tamara made about her name - "good win, like hot sun" - she believes it's a statement of the obvious, that all wins are inherently good. I could understand her not knowing Pyrrhic victories, but she's from Ireland, she must have experienced at least one day when it's freezing cold but the sun is out.

There is sexual content, but no explicit sex. I've read worse in YA than how the sex was described in this book.

I recommend this book for teens and adults who are after a good magical realism book, with hints of a good mystery.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

A Review of Hold Back The Stars

Hold Back The Stars is the debut novel by Katie Khan. It is a romance/sci-fi/space survival book about the struggle of two people to survive in space. Carys and Max met back on earth, and they look back over the chain of events which have bought them to this point. They come from Europia, a country born out of the old European Union, between the remains of the shattered USA and Middle East.

Wow, what a fascinating setting! Most of the story here comes from the worldbuilding, so let try and explain as much of it as I can, without giving anything away. Many people call it a utopia, but for some people it seems more like the other thing. There is much discussion on the actual meaning of the world utopia, and those who call it that most vehemently are the ones with a more vested interest in seeing it survive. You know how if you have to tell your citizens they live in a utopia, they probably don't.

Citizens live in Voivodes, numbered parts of the world, and every three years they move on to a new Voivode, in a process known as Rotation. This is so that people don't develop ties to any one place - people are meant to act not in the name of religion, country or rulers. There is, however, somewhat of a cult of personality around the man who first set up the Voivodeship. These terms aren't explained, but presented to you as if you are a citizen of Europia and would know what they mean. It's easy enough to work them out from the context, however. I actually thought this was an interesting idea, and I would love the chance to live in a different part of the world every few years.

The next big point is people settling down much later. Because of advances in medical technology, people can have children later, leading to the creation of the Couples Rule, whereby people aren't supposed to settle down until they're in their late 30's. I would personally love the idea of not settling down until I am much older. However, what I would like shouldn't control what everyone else can do, and if they want to settle down at 20 with their childhood sweetheart, they should be allowed to

There is a strong emphasis on the individual, with people acting for themselves, rather than doing things because of family name, country ties or religion. There is one unified faith, and though old languages have survived, there is mention of a universal European language. To me, this would make the world worse, not better. When people say the world would be better if we all had one language or religion, they usually mean that the world would be better if everyone was just like them.

 The one thing I didn't like was the idea of an asteroid field surrounding earth, which is given no explanation. Also no word on how the former UK is doing being united under a system which takes much, such as the flag and the motto, from the former EU?

It's possibly a shame that I didn't care for the characters as much as I did the world. Carys and Max are in such peril from the start of the story that we really should be able to care about them instantly. I clicked with Carys, but Max took me longer to warm up to. Carys is supposed to be an astronaut and an scientist, yet she never displayed much personality that I would associate with these careers. She didn't remain calm under pressure, nor did she seem particularly logical. It was often Max coming up with ways to help them out of the situations they were in. Max is a chef, but we never see him cook - I think Carys cooked more than he did.

So, is this story a sci-fi with some romance elements? A romance with sci-fi thrown in? A bit of both, with too much of the other genre to appeal to fans of either? I really like cross-genre stories like this, so if you like that sort of thing, give this book a go. It does fall on the softer end of hard sci-fi - no The Martian style science-ing the shit out of everything. Still, I think there is enough romance and sci-fi here to appeal to fans of both.

Also, no spoilers, but a warning - the ending does start to drag.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

A Review of Wilde Like Me

Wilde Like Me is the first book by Louise Pentland, a UK based YouTuber. Robin Wilde is a mother to Lyla and a make-up artist. She has great friends, a good job and an amazing daughter. However, she struggles with being a single mother, and feels she doesn't fit in with the other Mums at Lyla's school. With nothing to do for long periods of her day, she spends much of her time with a feeling she describes as "The Emptiness." In an effort to get back in the dating scene, she tries online dating, leading to a series of hilarious mishaps!

YouTubers writing books has become the new thing. Sometimes, such as in the case of John Green, it works well. Other times, such as with Zoe Sugg, they received more mixed reviews, although I liked her Girl Online series, personally. I knew Louise had experience with book publishing, that she was doing much of the work herself and that she was writing about subjects she cared about, so I have to say I was cautiously optimistic. After reading, I must say I am very pleasantly surprised! This book is hilarious, heartwarming, relatable and real. It's been a long time since I've felt "The Emptiness" like this after finishing a book, with tears in my eyes. I just wanted to read more and more about Robin Wilde. This may sound silly, but all I wanted to do was hug the book.

Like with most books of this sort, it's characters are it's heart. Every interaction between Robin and Lyla is gold dust and I'm sure will bring a smile on the face of everyone who's ever been around a child. I would have taken a book just with moments between them! Lyla acts wonderfully like her age - not too old or too young -  and speaks exactly like someone of her age would. Robin feels like everyone else around her has the perfect life, with everything together, but to her credit, never resents anyone around her for this. Robin's insecurities should make her relatable to a large group of people, not just mothers. There were other characters I loved, such as Robin's boss Natalie - an awesome make-up artist and businesswoman, who built a company out of nothing. And Robin's friend Lacey gave the feminism speech I've been waiting to read in a book "being a feminist means you want everybody to be equal; to have the same chances, opportunities and treatment as everybody else." It becomes clear as the book goes on that no-one has the perfect life they seem to.

Robin does want a man in her life, and many people around her seem to think her problems will be fixed if she has one. I will actually point out the difference here between wanting something and needing something. Robin may want someone to share her life with, but she's also getting on fine on her own. She also doesn't want any man, she wants someone who is right for her. Also, the overall theme of the book seems to be that gal-pals will be there for you, even if men aren't. Loneliness... isn't something I experience much. I'm the sort of person who much prefers being on my own. But I know that isn't the way for everyone. At one point, Robin does mention she had post-natal depression. Robin didn't seem just lonely to me. In my non-expert opinion, much of what she felt sounded like depression. It's not always possible to just shake off depression, and isn't 'fixed' just because someone starts dating. I know there has been talks of a second book, and I would like to see this sort of thing touched on in the sequel.

Spoilers: I am also so, so glad that things weren't wrapped up in a nice, neat bow. The twist here is basically what I've been hoping to read in chick-lit since I read Bridget Jones in my teens. Robin realises that, actually, she's doing very well in her life without a man, and I loved that.

Also, since I grew up in Cambridgeshire, I loved the fact that it was set there! I smiled whenever I recognised a place, and was nodding along with some of the cultural references to things I experienced, or heard from Mum. She struggled to fit in with the other mother's at school to start with, since we moved just when I started Primary school.

I would recommend the book to any parent or parent-to-be, to remind them that they aren't the only ones who are struggling, or who have worried about raising their child right.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Problem I Have With Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson is one of those authors who I read at lot when I was young, but who I find hard to get back into as an adult. I will say that since it has been so long since I read one of her new books, she might have changed somewhat. I stopped reading when it started to feel like she wrote the same book a lot. She uses a lot of plot points over and over again.

Let me explain. There's a main character, often with messy/untidy hair, or in some way not classically beautiful. She (almost always a she) often had a troubled home life - council estates or being in a care home were common. She's often either a brat, or she's nice, but shy and meek. She wants to become an artist, writer or an actress. If a young boy is described as weedy, she will become friends with him, and if a character is blonde and beautiful, she will be mean. There's a surprising amount of girl hate in her books, although it is tempered by a large amount of supportive female friendships, too. Also, most of her protagonists, at least every one I've come across, were of white British descent. I'm not saying that her books that fit this pattern are bad books, just that they do get samey after a while.

However, her books have been loved by generations of children. How do you rate a children's book? Is it by how well it's enjoyed by it's intended audience, or how readable it is for adults? Honestly, I think this is one of her biggest issues, and one that bothered me, even then. She writes for children, and in doing so, it feels patronising. Her characters always seem to act much younger than they actually are. And she tells rather than shows a lot of the time.

On the other hand, I do still like how her books deal with issues not often touched upon in children's literature. She doesn't patronise her reader's ability to grasp these serious subjects. In a way, it feels like she believes her readers are more intelligent than her characters are. And very few of her books aimed at children have any sort of romance in them at all. Romance is a part of life and not something I believe children should be hidden from completely, but it is a refreshing change of pace.

Her age also starts to show whenever a character has to use technology, and she uses a grading system that it nothing like what actual UK schools use. (For example, in Diamond Girls, the main character's sister, Rochelle, says she got an A on a project in primary school. We don't use a letter based grading system in primary school!) Her language can also be problematic at times. In the Girls in Love series for instance, a character uses the T-word slur to describe characters who are either men dressed in drag or transgender women. I apologise, but the narrative isn't clear enough either way for me to know.

So, are there any of her books I would recommend? Yes, anything which deviates from the above plot. Midnight is one of my favourites of hers, mainly because it does go against many of her stereotypical plot points. Also, you absolutely should give a few of her books to young boys as well as young girls. If they don't seem interested, let it drop - I believe no good can ever come out of forcing a child to read. But the only way our world is going to change is if we begin to understand one another more, and one of the ways we can do that is by reading about people who are not like us.

Also, parents might want to check if they feel the material in the books are suitable for their child's age. Because she's written all over the spectrum from early chapter books to books aimed at older teenagers, and a wildly inconsistent categorisation of her books in most libraries and bookshops, they can easily end up with a book not meant for them. I know, and I disagree with limiting books available to young adults, but younger children are a different matter. For example, in one of the books in the Girls in Love series, they are out at a concert that gets cancelled. One of the girls decides to hop in a van with some older guys, and the other two decide to go along since they assume it'll be safer. There are also references to drinking and drugs while they are with them.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

A Review of The Book Thief

The Book Thief is a book by Markus Zusak. Liesel is nine years old when this book starts, being sent to live with foster parents on Himmelstrasse (as the book will remind you enough times, this means Heaven Street.) She can't read, but becomes fascinated by a small book she finds on the ground. Over the course of the next few years, she learns to read, steals more books, fits into the family life becomes good friends with a neighbour, and ends up hiding the kind of secret that in Nazi Germany could get everyone she knows killed. Also, the book is narrated by Death.

I will state that I've long had an interest in German history, particularly that surround the Berlin Wall, but of course knowledge of the Holocaust is important to lead up to it. My German language is conversational - I could 'talk' my way around as a tourist, but I couldn't debate a serious topic in the language. With that being said, however, I am no expert and I don't feel I could comment on any historical accuracies of the book. However, I like that it reminds people that life wasn't all sunshine and rainbows for many ordinary Germans living at that time.

The Book Thief is another of those books that defy categorisation. I've seen it tagged with the young adult label, and in the young adult section of bookstores. However, I see literally no reason why an adult with an interest in German history wouldn't enjoy this book. I know I've definitely seen adults reading it. So I would ask why it happens to be placed in that section? And not that it's not also a great book for teenagers learning about WW2, or that there can't ever be good writing in YA. It is just that with books placed there, many of those who would enjoy it won't see it.

There really isn't a (main) character in this book who I dislike. It's, rather unusually, narrated by death, a rather cheerful chap who has a pretty unpleasant job, but he knows it is an important one. I loved Liesel and her desire to read, her attempts to get her hands on as many books as she can. Rudy is possibly one of the best childhood-friend-slash-love-interest I've read in fiction. Rosa can seem rather harsh at times, but her love for Liesel and care for Max comes through. Hans is just lovely throughout the book. It's a wonderful way to show that people can find happiness as a family other than the one they're born into.

The film is one of those that really catches the spirit of the book. It's what I'd consider a companion film - you wouldn't miss anything if you've read the book but didn't watch the film, but it's still a sweet film on it's own merits. However, if you watched the movie but haven't read the book, than yes, you absolutely should read it.

I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in German history.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Chin hair, Chin hair, go away, and don't come back another day

Not the most flattering of pictures, but I think
you need to see how bad it was
When I was in my late teens, I noticed a long, dark hair on my chin in the mirror after a shower. Thinking it had just came from my scalp and affixed itself there with water, I reached out to brush it away. Soon I realised it was growing from there. A few frantic seconds with a pair of tweezers later, it was gone, and I thought that would be the end of it. A few months later, there was another one. Then another, then two then three. It got to the point where I could no longer manage it solely from plucking, and I started booking myself in waxing appointments pretty frequently. They weren't only on my chin, either. Some of them would stray up to near my ears, or be almost on my cheek. I had nightmares that one day, I would wake up to a full-on beard. I think my saving grace was that it happened in my late teens. Secondary school teenagers would have been vicious about something like this!

One of the things I did was get tested for PCOS, which can cause this, but my results came back negative. And it just felt like the more I waxed, the worse it got. It came back sooner, and more of it. I was always jumpy afterwards, waiting for the point where it would become noticeable again. And it was noticeable. I spend a lot of my day with young children, and they commented on it. But once they've asked about it, they're over it, and still want you to join in their games. I actually prefer this to the adults "pretend not to notice, then laugh behind your back" method. Or maybe I just felt like that was what they were doing, because I was paranoid. I started wearing my hair down, pulling it forward, so it blended in a bit better. If I was a minor character in a book, I felt like my description would be "the woman with hair on her chin."

So, I looked into other hair removal options, and I decided to try laser hair removal at sk:n clinics. This isn't a review of laser hair removal or sk:n clinics in general, but a general comment of how I found it, so that other people will know what to expect. Also, bear in mind I am not saying that you have to or even should do this when it comes to removing body hair! It is just what I felt comfortable doing. You do you.

I booked in for my consultation online, and they phoned me up to ask a few questions. I didn't wax for a few months coming up to my appointment, so they could see exactly how bad it was. They were professional, friendly, and I was able to build up a rapport with them, since I saw the same lady when I went it. I had a large form to fill in, then they took me for a consultation. The one thing they do stress is that it's not a permanent removal, but a reduction. They then did a patch test with the lazer machine, which was fine for me.

Before my first treatment, I had to shave it, something that felt different to me, since I had been going out of my way not to shave the hairs on my chin. There's also a long list of aftercare procedures I must follow. Also, my word was it ever painful. I know people have different pain tolerances for different things, so don't let this put you off. I thought since I could handle waxing, I'd be fine. One thing I did do that I absolutely would advise is took a stress ball into the appointment with me, so I could squeeze it when it got painful. Certain patches were much worse than others.

The area that has been treated may feel sensitive or sore for a few days afterwards. I was given an aloe vera cooling gel to treat the skin. I also recommend something cold wrapped in cloth, and holding that on your skin.

I have a course of eight treatments booked, roughly a month between them. So far, I have had one, and it will be interesting for me to compare my results at the end, and to see how much regrowth, if any, I get a few years down the line.

But why do I feel the need to pay so much money to fit into society's acceptable standards? Or go through the pain associated with waxing, so that I felt more confident in my appearance? I wish I could hold my head up high, and be all "I have chin hair, what of it?" but I can't. Would I have wanted these treatments at all if society didn't make chin hair on women seem not normal? If I had no reason to feel self-conscious in my appearance, would I still have wanted it?

I don't know, and I can't answer these questions for the many other women who have hairs on their chin. Wear them proudly, or remove them, the only important thing is that you do what you want. But the one think I do know it this: you are not alone. When I was a teenager, I thought I was the only one with it. There is help and advice out there, and even if you just discuss it with someone close to you who you trust, there is someone who will listen.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

A Review of Strange the Dreamer

I have a weakness for
metallics on darker
coloured covers!
Strange the Dreamer is a book by Laini Taylor, the author of the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy. Lazlo Strange is fascinated by stories, especially myths, legends and fairy tales. Nicknamed Strange the dreamer, he especially loves ones about the mythical lost city of Weep. When he receives the chance to see the lost city for himself, he jumps on it. Meanwhile, high above them, five blue-skinned teenagers live. One of them, Sarai, has the ability to go into people's dreams and alter them to her whim.

I know it's the first book in a duology, and I'm breaking my personal rule yet again, but I just had to talk about this one, since I'm thinking it might be one of my favourites of the year. I will say that if you don't like long, flowing descriptive sentences that sometimes fall into purple prose, this one may not be for you.

This book is so good that I was starting to wonder why I saw it trapped away in the Young Adult section. It's a giant middle finger to people who believe there can't ever bee good writing in YA, and as good a fantasy story as I've ever read, including ones aimed at adults. Than I realised that felt like I'm implying that Young Adult books can never have good writing. It's just a shame than many people who might enjoy it won't try it, as long as it's in that section of the bookstore. The writing is exquisite, and there were seriously no points where I was wondering if a sentence should have been phrased differently. How about we stop categorising books altogether?

The world is truly intriguing. Taylor has done something amazing, by creating a world that is both magical, but also not a place I would like to live. She really has created something strange and wonderful, and beautiful and full of monsters. The entire world has a dreamlike quality to it - fitting - that only goes up when we're inside someone's dream. It reads a bit like a fairy tale, playing into Lazlo's interest in them.

It's also been a long time since I've read a book with this many characters, with so many of them fleshed out into three-dimensions. Characters have a reasonable motive for their every action, even the more morally-grey ones. Yes, morally grey, because there really is no-one who's straight up evil in this book, except for the original Mesathim. Minya wants to kill humans, but when she was six, she saw them kill almost everyone she'd ever known. Eril-Fane slaughtered babies in their cot, but their parents subjugated his entire city for years, and left him with memories of love and hate. He genuinely thought the only way to be safe was to kill them all, shows remorse and regret at his actions, and is willing to listen if he thinks there might be another way. Thyon Nero steals Lazlo's research, but he's being beaten up because he can't produce the results his father requires. Taylor employs a switching POV narrative - we don't just stay with Lazlo and Sarai - and a third-person omniscient writing style to great effect.

I recommend this book to any fan of fantasy.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Personality Traits for an Only Child

Quick, write a list of all the character traits you'd associate with an only child!

Did you write spoiled, selfish, self-centred or bratty, or any synonyms thereof? Screw your list up and throw it in the bin. If you wrote lonely, set it on fire, first.

Let me first go through the issues with these first two ideas. Also, since we are not a monolithic group, these are based on my own experiences, and not hard and fast rules. Since I was used to amusing myself at an early age, I found I tended to get less lonely and bored than other children. I could happily play by myself, reading or playing video games, or playing pretend in the garden for hours. The other main one is that my parents did not spoil me. We were a middle-class family, but they certainly did not cater to my every whim and buy me everything I wanted. Mum said than when I had friends round and she put out snacks, because I wasn't used to fighting for things, they would be gone by the time I got to the table. And it was nice to share, since I never had anyone to share things with! And without siblings, I could never gang up on my parents to convince them that a trip to Lego Land/a trampoline was absolutely essential for our well-being!

1. Independence - this is an obvious one, when you think about it. Being more used to doing things alone means that we tended to be more independent. I was allowed to go on train journeys by myself earlier than my other friends, and now I find I much prefer holidaying by myself.
2. Maturity - since we become much more used to talking to adults at an early age, we can sometimes come across as more mature. I can distinctly recall family events where I was the only one present who was under 30!
3. Perfectionism - In some families, the desire to make your parents proud can be spread over a few people. One to be the perfect-grades-and-good-career one, and one to have grandchildren. In only children, all this is concentrated on one child, so the pressure can be increased. I've had bits of it since I'm my parents only chance at grandchildren, but I don't want to get married yet!
4. Can't get away with anything - bird knocks picture frame off our mantlepiece? My fault. Friends scribble on the walls? My fault. Things missing? My fault. Never being able to shift the blame to brothers or sisters meant I always got the blame, even for things I didn't do.
5. Liking solo activities - I remember how hard it was for me to get people to play board games with me! Since we have to amuse ourselves, you might find a more lasting interest in doing things we can do by ourselves, such as reading. And video games, even now, I prefer single-player games to multi-player. Also, you don't have to give a girl a brother to explain why she has a "boy" interest. Not that any interest should be categorised as for girls or boys, anyway.
6. Liking younger children - they were a novelty, so I was never as annoyed by my friends brothers and sisters as they were. And this has carried through into adulthood! Not having to listen to screaming young babies in my formative years means I seem to prefer them still, even now.
7. Introversion - okay, I won't say this is always an only child trait, but it's one I definitely picked up. Only children can genuinely prefer to spend time alone and require more peace and space than other children.
8. Close to parents - I wouldn't necessarily say I'm closer to them than children with siblings, but as I used to do a lot of things with Mum, like nipping to the shops, having a coffee or going to garden centres, we get on quite well know.

What about negative traits? I won't deny that there are some, and I also won't refute that some only children can be spoilt. However, some children with siblings can be spoilt, too. It's not a unique thing, and definitely isn't caused solely by being an only child!
1. Overly sensitive - never having built up a thick skin to siblings teasing means we can struggle more with bullies and their comments.
2. Trouble relating to peers - tying into maturity above, we may find it harder to socialise with people our own age.

Assorted oddities:
I never liked the front seat of the car. The back seat was comfier, and I could spread my legs out over it. I never had to fight with people for it, so I didn't want it because I couldn't have it. Since Mum liked me in the front seat so she could converse with me better, it just made me want the back seat more.
We never had much that I might need a second person to use - it took ages to convince my parents to get me a games console, since "you need a second person to play it with!"
I think I did more after-school activities than my friends, perhaps for the sheer fact that my parents wanted to provide me with something to do. Of course, this plays into the whole increased pressure thing listed above!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A Review of Seven Days of You

Seven Days of You is a book by Cecilia Vinesse. Sophia has lived in a few different countries, but Tokyo is the one place that feels most like home. In seven days, she has to leave it behind and move back to the States. The return of a boy who she exchanged some mean words with last time she saw him is putting her on edge. Her two best friends, one of whom she's had a crush on for a while, are determined to drag her out to have fun.

I honestly didn't like this one all that much at all, and since it's set in Tokyo, I thought I would love it.

The story is set in a generic city. If the story hadn't told me it's set in Tokyo, with a few recognisable landmarks, I wouldn't have known. I wanted to feel like I was standing in the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, which I have only seen through images. I wanted to taste sushi in my mouth. I wanted to see cherry blossoms in my mind's eye. In short, I wanted to experience Tokyo. If you've read my previous reviews, you'll know I usually love stories like this. I love being shown a new city while I'm reading, travelling around the world. And it's Japan, one of my dream places to visit! the key word here is shown, which this book doesn't do. And I mean... it's Tokyo! How did Vinesse make Tokyo seem so dull? There's no rich description of walking around, say, Harajuku, with the colourful archway, the famous clock and teenagers everywhere in Japanese street fashions. The few times we do go to a famous location, I never felt like I was actually there. And there was nothing on the day-to-day minutiae of being in a different country. What line on the subway do you take and where do you change, what do the everyday streets look like, how are the security checks before going into a tourist location? Also, Vinesse tells us, say, this history of Hachiko. I don't know if it's just how much I've researched about Japan, but I feel the majority of readers wouldn't need to be told this. Facts like these need to be inserted naturally into the story, so they don't break up the flow of it. She also told us what takoyaki and gyoza are - I felt like this book wasn't written for someone who is already enamoured with Japanese culture.

Here's how I would write these descriptions, so they don't interrupt the story but still inform someone who doesn't know too much about Japan what they are.
"I broke through the deep-fried takoyaki coating with my teeth, and enjoyed the way the salty flavour of octopus broke over my tongue. I always thought it tasted a little of the sea"
"I remember my dad used to tell me the story of how Hachi would wait for his owner at the station, even after he died. Even though it's a sad story, I always liked it."

The characters... I really don't want to talk about them. Sophia is white, and her two love interests are white. Sophia's friends call her Sofa, which is probably one of the stupidest nicknames I've ever heard. We know she's into anime, which is about as useful as saying someone is into films. What sort of anime? Tell me her favourite series and why she likes them. Studio Ghibli, but which movie in particular? We should be able to tell a lot about a character from their favourite media choices. She's also described as a maths and science geek, and because of this we're always told that she is smart, but she shows no evidence of this throughout the story. She wants to be an astrophysicist, but we never see her interest it it. She should be looking up at the night sky every night, and her room should be decorated with star posters and hanging planets. Sophia spends much of the early part of the book worrying because she's going to see a guy who she said a few mean things to three years ago. How old is she meant to be, again? Oh, and she has lived in Japan more than half her life, but her Japanese is pretty much non-existant. Plus, she engages in a lot of girl-on-girl hate. She hates Caroline, who is literally one of the consistently nicest people in the book, because she's dating the boy Sophia likes. David was an absolute asshole, and I couldn't see how he had as many girls after him as he did. And Jamie, we're told how nice and sweet he is, but I just couldn't see it, especially after how he taunted Sophia about her crush.

I don't do this often, so let's try a little rewrite, shall we? As I am white myself and doing this off the cuff, with no research whatsoever, I can't promise it will be perfect, but I'll try.

Kikuko, who's friends call her Kiko, was born in Japan to Japanese parents. She speaks both Japanese and English fluently. Since they travelled for business, she grew up mainly in the west, but they've been back in Tokyo for a few years. They enrolled her in an international school, so she has friends from many different countries. She loves anime, especially anything by Studio Ghibli, magical girl and josei genres. Her favourite series is Princess Jellyfish, as she feels she can relate to Tsukimi. She's a maths and science geek, with an interest in space, and she wants to study astrophysics. Her parents used to point out all the patterns of stars in the night sky, and she loved how the stars were always there, no matter where in the world she was. She also likes food, since they travelled so much she was exposed to many different cuisines growing up, but Japanese food is her favourite, since it reminds her of home. She hates wearing a kimono, however, and isn't into fashion at all. While in Tokyo, she starts crushing on a boy who was raised with an emphasis on Japanese traditions. He's lived in Japan all his life, with his mother, father, grandmother and sister and takes his responsibility and respect towards his family very seriously. However, the son of a friend of her father's, who she knew while she was in the USA, is coming over to visit during what happens to be her last week in Tokyo. They had a little turbulent romantic history, but nothing serious, so she decides to show him some of her favourite sites of the city, and some of the touristy things she hadn't got around to. Things like Tokyo Sky Tree, Tokyo Tower, Tokyo DisneyLand, the Studio Ghibli museum, Tsukiji fish market, Shibuya and Harajuku, where she didn't go much and Shinjuku and Akibahara, where she did visit often. They make a pact to eat at a different cute café each day and ramen or sushi every night. Obviously, there's a spark between them, but her other love interest is starting to show more interest in her, too. If there has to be a love triangle, make it worthwhile. Oh, and the book is set in April, because cherry blossoms.

I really don't feel I can recommend this book. If you want a book set in Japan, try Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto and if you want a good travel story, try One Italian Summer.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A Review of Dumplin'

Dumplin' is a book by Julie Murphy, who also wrote Ramona Blue and Side Effects May Vary. Willowdean Dickson, a self-proclaimed fat girl, lives in South Texas with her former beauty queen mum. She works at a local fast food/diner restaurant. She has a huge crush on one of her co-workers, Bo and a best friend with a pet snake. At that year's Miss Teen Blue Bonnet beauty pageant, arranged by her mother, Willowdean ends up signing up with a group of other equally unlikely entrants.

Willowdean is not perfect. She can be judgemental, herself, and sometimes comments on other people's body size, for example. However, sometimes either she or the narrative will call her out. For instance, she assumes Bo is rich because he went to private school, without truly understanding the circumstances around it. She also treats Mitch pretty awfully, despite the fact that he has been nothing but kind to her. She's also insecure, as much as she wants to own her size, she finds it hard, at times. I also loved her relationship with Bo. It seemed much deeper than a lot of YA romances, I thought. They had an established interest in each other before the book started, and since the book takes place over a number of months, we're able to see how their relationship develops.

I was never fat, although my mother often did tell me to "lose weight, eat healthier and do more exercise" in my more sedentary teenage years. If I do put on a couple of pounds, it tends to jump right to my hips and thighs, leading to occasional days where my jeans feel too tight. However, I do struggle with some parts of my body I don't like. I wish I could hold my head high and act like I don't care, but I can't. I saw my own struggles reflected in a lot of Willowdean's issues with her self-confidence. I hope that some of her's and especially, Jessica's attitudes will rub off on me.

This is one of a few books where I liked the supporting cast as much as the main characters. Everyone is shown to have hidden depths. Millie, the innocent girl who wants to do as well in a pageant as she can. Amanda, the girl with a disability who surprises the other characters (and me, too, I'll have to admit) by doing some awesome football tricks. Snarky Jessica, who warms up to the odd group she's with over time. Even Callie is shown to know sign language, which made me wonder if she may have a family member who is deaf or hard of hearing. And Willowdean's mother works in the local nursing home, a far cry from her beauty queen past.

I loved the story being set in Texas, because unlike most States, I've been to Texas! I was nodding along at the descriptions of the heat, and the unique culture of Texas is used well in the story, too.

I recommend this book for anyone who had ever felt uncomfortable in their own skin. I also recommend you read it with a playlist of Dolly Parton songs nearby!

Friday, 16 June 2017

A Review of One Italian Summer

One Italian Summer is a book by Keris Stainton. Almost a year ago, Milly's father died, and now she and her sisters Elyse and Leonie are going out to Italy, with their Mum for her sisters wedding. It's their first vacation without Dad, with whom they would go to Rome every year. With memories of her father around every corner, can the sisters learn to manage their grief and understand each other better? And can Milly get over the stupid thing she did with her cousin's best friend Luke after the funeral?

From the cover, I thought this would be a lighthearted summer read. I didn't expect I would be actually crying. I feel lied too.

I loved the three sisters and their relationship. I totally bought them as best friends and sisters. Milly is a worrier, something that has only got worse since the death of her Dad. Elyse is into fashion, and while the book doesn't go into it much, she's never presented as shallow for being interested in fashion. Leonie was my favourite of the three. I loved her attitude. I'm not the person to comment on whether her romance was handled well (she's been dating Gia, the Italian waitress, since last year) but I enjoyed it. Leonie's relationship actually seems more real than Milly's. Their relationship is based very much on physical attraction, but that's okay. As the book points out, you don't need to look for a deep and meaningful connection when you're 18. I would have liked this book to be three times as long, with switching POV from all the sisters, actually.

I didn't actually realise it was UK-based when I first picked it up, so that was a nice treat. And I could identify with things so much! My Dad uses "The Folder" when we go on holiday abroad! He's also a worrier, like Milly. He can't just switch off when he gets to the airport. And my Mum would totally do that thing where she can't figure out smartphone-based boarding passes!

This book is a huge reason why your opening sentence needs to be good. As opening sentences go, "Do you want to dip your finger in Dad?" is sort of off-putting. And I will say that the way characters use technology and text felt a little weird. They must have a very good international data plan!

I recommend it for people who like a little sadness in their summer reads, and for anyone who happens to be going to Rome!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A Review of Love and Gelato

Love and Gelato is a book by Jenna Evans Welch. Set in Florence and a surrounding village in the Italian countryside, over the course of a summer. Carolina "Lina" Emerson's mother has died of breast cancer, and she sends her daughter to Italy, to stay with her father. While there, Lina finds her mother's journal, that was sent to Italy via post. Using the clues in the journal, Lina traces her mother's footsteps through Italy, and discovers that what happened their wasn't as simple as it seemed.

I was willing to cut Lina a lot of slack for her actions, considering that her mother had just died. She seems ungrateful to Howard, who has been nothing but kind to her, but her mother just died. She doesn't seem interested in exploring her surroundings, especially for someone who apparently had an interest in travelling the world, but then again her mother just died. We also find out that she's competitive and loves running, which is better characterisation than a lot of protagonists receive. However, she doesn't know what gelato is, and read about the Pont Vecchio but didn't know what it was? I could understand not knowing about, say, the Duomo, but gelato? Come on!

Of course, there's also a love triangle, between a very American Italian and a boy with a British accent. Is anyone else rolling their eyes now? What on earth is the big deal with British accents, anyway? The resolution becomes obvious from about the half-way mark. The friends she makes in Italy, who have been desperate to meet her since they found out she would be joining their school (Okay, I never remember the new kid getting as much attention as they do in fiction) all live in quirky-cool houses. A gingerbread cottage! A Medici palace! Yet we never see how normal people in Italy in normal houses live. Lina describes Howard's house as "any normal house in a normal neighbourhood." I'm sure any house in Italy would warrant a description of how it differs from a house in the USA. Sorry, but with travel books, I like to know about all of the differences in culture!

Other quibbles: a character's skin is described as "coffee-coloured" at one point. There's a very young girl who speaks nothing like how old she's meant to be. A child who is still the age at which she's proud of pooping the the right place will not sound like every other character. Also, the one of the love interests has a girlfriend, who proceeds to be bitchy to our heroine and blames her for getting harassed at a club. Also, how can Lina look both so much like her mother that people who knew her are taken aback, and so Italian that the locals think she speaks it?

This might seem like I dislike this book, which I did not. For it's sort of book - a sweet holiday read - it accomplishes it's role to take you away to a different place remarkably well. It's a light, easy beach read, that also does have a more serious side. Howard, the man she is staying with, isn't her true father, but the way he treats her even after this shows just why our birth parents aren't always the best for us. In fact, the parts of the book dealing with Lina and Howard's relationship are some of the best parts.

I recommend this book for anyone looking for a cute contemporary book to read this summer.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A Review of When Dimple Met Rishi

If this cover doesn't put you in a better
mood, I don't know what will!
When Dimple Met Rishi is a novel by Sandhya Menon. Dimple Shah is a computer nerd who likes coding and programming. She has been accepted into Stanford for college next year. This is her way of doing what she loves and escaping her traditional parents and their plans for her. Rishi Patel is a traditionalist, and is going to MIT. However, he's more a creative type, who enjoys drawing and used to make his own comic strips. Their parents have arranged a match between them, and are hoping the two of them will hit it off during a summer course before college.

At it's heart, this book is about ways in which old-fashioned traditions can be adapted for our modern day. The arranged marriage in this book is more similar to the way in which my parents might introduce me to a family friend at a party. It would be nice if we hit it off, but it's no big deal if we don't.

I loved how Dimple was the one really interested in coding, taking it seriously and really not looking for a relationship, and Rishi was the one who was more romantic and artistic. He claims to be a practical person but... ha. I do feel like their relationship switched from friends to love incredibly quickly, however. Maybe it was just a necessity because of how quick this book goes and their six week timescale? Also, they do have the cutest meet-cute ever. The two cutest meet-cutes ever.

However, Dimple can also be judgemental. She judges Rishi for being more into tradition, and her mother's Indian friends for the same reason. She judges the rich teenagers before she knows them. And I like it! It's good that characters can have flaws.

Hindi is used in this book, often where it would make sense, and the reader is often able to work out from context clues what the sentence above meant. It's a clever way of slipping in parts of the language to make these characters feel real.

I do wish we'd seen more of the coding side of things. After a brief few chapters, the technology aspect isn't really focused on at all. Instead, the course holds a talent show around the midway point, and most of the pages are dedicated to the characters practising for that and their burgeoning relationship. You don't really get a sense on how the development on their app is going, and since it was for something important to Dimple, I wanted to know more about it.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a lightly funny, romantic summer read!

Monday, 5 June 2017

A Review of Sisterhood Everlasting

Sisterhood Everlasting is a book by Ann Brashares, as a sequel to The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series. Set ten years on from the events of Forever in Blue, we catch up with the girls and find they've scattered all over the map. Tibby is in Australia with Brian. Lena is in Providence, finding work as an artist. Bridget is in California with Eric, and Carmen is in New York, finding work as an actress. Under a cut, because I can't review this book without talking about that spoiler. This was a hard review to do, because while I don't absolutely love this book, I also don't dislike it as much as a lot of people do.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Review of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants is a series of four by Ann Brashares. The four books are The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, The Second Summer of the Sisterhood, Girls in Pants and Forever in Blue. There is also a sequel book, Sisterhood Everlasting, which I will review in it's own post. The four girls, Lena Kaligaris, Bridget Vreeland, Tabitha "Tibby" Tomko Rollins and Carmen Lowell, have been best friends since before they were born. One summer, the girls are all going off to different places, but they find a pair of pants that fit all of them, despite having different body types. So, they decide to send the pants around to each other, as a way of keeping in touch.

The four girls are really quite different. Lena is artistic, quiet and shy. She is beautiful, and she knows it, but she actually wishes she was less so. I've always thought she was an interesting take on the "girl doesn't know she's beautiful" trope. Bridget likes sports, and is implusive, flighty and reckless. She acts rashly, without thinking about the consequences. Tibby is into film and often tends to act unfeeling to people. However, she does care deeply underneath the surface. Carmen has a temper and a propensity for drama. She's described as a math-geek in the first book, but I don't think that's mentioned again. I had been hoping she would find a career that allows her to use her maths skills to full effect, but at the end of the books she wants to be an actress. She does play into one of my least favourite tropes - the selfish, spoilt only child. I don't mind her having those traits, but the narrative tends to assume she's that way because she grew up without siblings. However, she is my favourite character. Distilling the girls down to a few personality traits downplays the many nuances and the development they go through over the books.

I think a lot of people agree that the first book was the best, and in the later books, I like individual story-lines more then the whole book. However, they are all worth checking out. In the second book, I liked Tibby's story the best, since she finally gets a chance to shine away from home. Lena and Carmen both get their best moments in the third book. And all the girls grow and develop in the fourth book, after being away at college for a year. One of the big problems with these sequels is that the girls tend to forget the lessons they learnt in previous books. However, it is implied that the girls (especially Carmen) are aware of where their behaviour can lead, they just struggle to keep their emotions in check. This is one thing - the girls are never perfect, and they behave like realistic human beings a lot of the time.

I can't write a review on these books without mentioning the movies. Both of them really captured the spirit of the books, treating the friendship between the girls with the importance it deserves. There are some changes in the movie that I didn't like. For example, Lena's complex relationship with Kostos was changed into a more standard Romeo and Juliet style tale. Overall, though, they are very well done film adaptations. And I love that the actresses have remained friends!

I recommend these to anyone who has ever had a group of close friends, and who might be looking for a summer read.

Sidenote - it's extremely weird for me to have written "pants" so many times in this review, considering pants in Britain mean... something completely different.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Movie Review: Wonder Woman

That. Was. Awesome.

Based on the DC comics, Wonder Woman stars Gal Gadot as the titular character, along with Chris Pine, Connie Nielson and Robin Wright and was directed by Patty Jenkins. Diana, Princess of Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta (Nielson) lives on her island populated entirely by a race of woman known as Amazons. She trains under General Antiope (Wright) until a soldier from WWI is shot down from the sky. The soldier, Steve Trevor (Pine) takes Diana with him to London in her wish to stop the war. According to her legends, Ares, God of War is the reason why Mankind started to fight, so she is determined to find him and put a stop to it.

I love the character of Wonder Woman. I like how she's allowed to be strong, yet still show her emotions and a more feminine side. She is upset when her mentor dies and cooes over a baby on the street. I also like how the men don't question her skills, once she's proved herself. The few times she's asked to stay behind, it's more because her skill set isn't right for this particular job, then any judgement on her fighting capability. And I feel like there has never been an actor who has enjoyed playing a role as much as Gadot enjoyed her role here.

One thing I didn't like as much was the villains. German villains are almost too-easy, and it felt like they were following the standard formula for WWII, despite WWI being different. Ares, for all his buildup, is pretty usual for a villain in a comic book movie. I was actually hoping that the German chemist Isabel Maru would get more attention!

This movie absolutely does show that darker comic book movies can work. It does not gloss over the reality of war. I also like that it focused on WWI, since many movies have focused on WWII before. However, it never fails to show it's lighter side, either. The dialogue is in places comedic in nature, and the characters are fun when they're not showing their more serious side.

I feel like this movie must have been a costume designers dream. From the fighting outfits of the Amazons to London in WWI to a fancy German party, the costumes are a treat. The island of Themyscira is also beautiful. Using a brighter colour pallet than previous DC movies works so well for this one.

I recommend this movie to any fan of superhero movies, even if they haven't enjoyed other DC comics movies. In places this movie did feel more like a Marvel movie to me, but that will probably not be everyone's opinion.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Pros and Cons of Summer

This is the last of my seasons series, where I discuss what I like or dislike about each season. Summer isn't my favourite, but it isn't my least favourite, either. Do you count summer as officially starting on the solstice, or on the 1st of June?

1. Summer holiday! (Or vacation as some people might call it) I was never one of those who enjoyed school. Sitting behind a desk for so many hours straight having to try and learn what a teacher was talking about was never fun, and I'm awful at keeping my work up together, and I didn't have many friends. So, summer was six weeks where I didn't have to do anything but chill out and watch TV. And yes, it is six weeks in Britain. Which means we don't have the summer camp culture that the USA does, but possibly means there was less time to get bored.
2. Going on holiday! (Or vacation) Since I'm a travel-lover, even as a child I loved going on holiday. Some of my more vivid memories are of things that happened abroad. I am a firm believer that nothing is quite as stimulating to a child as a holiday, and the enrichment they get is worth any amount of time spent in class.
3. Good weather! Nice, not-too-hot sunny weather with a little cloud and a light breeze. Outside reading in the garden with an ice cream soda. That's the best life.
4. Barbeques! Amazing food, cooked perfectly. I think barbequing is the best way to cook most things. What's not to like?
5. The clothes! I much prefer a summer dress to being wrapped up in ever-so-many layers. It's much comfier, and I feel prettier, too. I'm more likely to buy clothes in summer than winter, just because they look nicer in the shop.
6. Easier to wake up. Waking up when it's light outside, warm and the birds are singing is bliss. Waking up in the cold and dark? No thank you.

1. Sometimes, it's just too hot. In England, air conditioning is rare in houses, which means there's no way of cooling your house down. 30C without air-con is harder to deal with than 40C with it.
2. And then, it's sometimes cold. I think there might be some science here, as to why 15C in the summer feels colder than 0C in the winter. But you wake up, and it's cloudy, but you put a summer dress in the hope it will warm up later, but it doesn't and you're cold all day. If you're unlucky, it might even rain. I think this might be a British phenomenon more than anything.
3. Hay fever/summer cold. I suffer from allergies and pick up summer colds easy, and I can never tell when one ends and another begins. Late summer into autumn is my worst time for allergies.

Do you agree or disagree with any of my points? Do you have your own reasons for liking summer?

Monday, 29 May 2017

A Review of The Wrath & The Dawn and The Rose & The Dagger

The Wrath & The Dawn and The Rose & The Dagger are a duology by Renée Ahdieh, who also wrote Flame in the Mist. They are loosely based on 1,001 Nights. Shahrzad "Shazi" Al-Khayzuran has volunteered to be the wife of Khalid Ibn Al-Rashid, the Caliph of Khorasan, who is known to kill his brides come morning. She is taken away from everything she ever knew, including her childhood friend and crush, Tariq Imran Al-Zayid. One of his brides, Shiva bin-Lateif, was Shahrzad's best friend, and Shahrzad is determined to find out why she had to die, and to bring revenge on the Caliph for all the girls he killed.

Of course, it plays out slightly differently in practice. Shazi and Khalid fall quickly in love. And by quickly, I mean within about three days, while Shazi still thinks he's responsible for killing his other brides. I don't always complain about instalove - I feel it's quite realistic to how people can develop feelings in real life and even if it's often not love, just a very strong attraction, it can feel like love. However, I was having a real hard time swallowing it here. Her feelings literally switched from strong hatred to love within three days! I did love some of the things they said when they were being romantic - and when they were verbally sparring. And by the way, there is no love triangle, despite Shazi having two guys interested in her.

I did enjoy the story, and it's characters. Shazi is a snarky, sarcastic and good with a bow. I had a hard time buying her as a woman from a Middle-East inspired culture, but then I thought if I can accept the medieval European tomboy Princesses, why can't I see it here? Khalid is of course the love interest with a tragic backstory, and what I felt was too much of a temper at times. I adored Despina. I liked Tariq and appreciated the lengths he was willing to go to rescue Shazi from the danger her thought she was in. Yasmine is a character that is extraordinarily rare in fiction - she likes the protagonist's love interest, but isn't treated at evil or mean over this. I appreciated that.

In the first book, as per the original tale, Shazi spends a lot of time telling stories, something that is very hard to represent via text. The true joy of listening to a good storyteller is in the cadence of their voice, changing their tone for different characters and in doing actions. They may add their own twist to the tale, and they have the entire thing memorised. In the text, all we have are pages of Shazi talking.

I find that there are two sorts of sequels - those where after the first has done the set-up and exposition, the sequel is much better and those where the sudden change in characters and location leaves the reader feeling vaguely homesick. The Rose & The Dagger falls into both categories. I missed some of the characters who got less focus in the book, and the Palace of Rey. However, Khalid and Shazi's relationship bothered me less now it was already set up and the plot now starts shaping up for all-out war. However, the actual war is over very conveniently. I find that it's rare to have an actual war in YA fiction. The ending can feel a little rushed or like a cop-out.

I recommend this series to people who like books set in faraway places. These books contain some of my favourite things in literature - maps and a glossary!

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Movie Review: Moana

Moana, known as Vaiana in many European regions, is the 56th Disney animated feature film. It stars Auli'i Cravalho as Moana and Dwayne Johnson as Maui. It was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, with a screenplay by Jared Bush and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa'i. Moana, who has lived on her island of Motunui all her life, has always dreamed of going out on the ocean. Long ago, the demigod Maui stole the heart (a small green stone) from Te Fiti, a life-giving goddess, but was stopped by Te Kah, a lava monster. After plant-life on Motunui stop growing because of the missing heart, Moana must sail across the sea, find Maui and take him to give back the heart of Te Fiti.

I wanted to get this review done while it was still in the cinema, but I found this to be one of those movies I needed to see a few times to get my thoughts together about it. And I don't have the money to see a movie several times while it's in the cinema.

All Disney movies have a theme, that ties in to the story and the moral. The one here was about finding who you really are. I loved that at the end, Moana didn't have to choose between her heart and the approval of her family - and she'd also got the approval of Maui, who was a father figure to her at this point. Of course, Maui had to find himself, too, and understand that nothing could stop him from being Maui. And Te Kah is actually Te Fiti, after she lost her heart. Obviously, she's not really an angry lava monster!

Since it's Disney, I shouldn't have to mention that the animation is excellent, should I? Some shots of the sky and sea look like a photograph, and Moana's hair might be the most realistic-looking hair Disney has done. There are also Maui's tattoo's, which have already been discussed. There's also everything in Lalotai, the 2D parts of some of the songs... basically, the whole movie is beautiful. The songs are also amazing, but frankly, Disney does not get points for that anymore.

One of the things I loved was how Moana wasn't naturally talented at sailing and wayfinding - she had to learn it. And there was a large portion of time when she was alone on the boat, if you don't count Hei Hei. I would've liked to have seen Pua alongside, too! In fact, my only complaint about the whole movie would be more Pua. But back to my original point, I loved how much she could do independently. And I also like how Moana overcomes every obstacle - the Ocean, Maui, and  even Te Kah, basically by being nice to them.

I recommend this movie to anyone who likes a fun adventure story.

Also, if you've never seen Auli'i's video of when she first found out she got the role of Moana, you should watch it. Now.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

How to Find Your Personal Style

With the weather getting nicer, I feel happier and more myself then I ever do in the winter. I love to wear colourful, patterned dresses or skirts. With a little jewellry, a pretty hairband and flat sandals, I feel nicer, and even comfier. The looseness of that sort of clothing feels nicer to me than stiff jeans, boots and all those layers on my arms. But that's just what I personally like! I'm a firm believer that your style should reflect your individual personality, and shouldn't be based on societies expectations.

1. Make a list of things you like to wear (or would like to wear). This will give you a starting point! Fandom shirts? Lolita dresses? Jeans and a shirt? Comfy clothes? Maybe you can find comfy pieces in prints you like - I've seen some fantastic leggings! For instance, if you are a man who has always liked how woman's clothes look - write that down.
2. Get inspired. Beauty and style blogs. Instagram. Local events where people dress nice. YouTube. Magazines. There's literally hundreds of places where you might find ideas! Find items of clothing you think look nice, and make a note to look for something similar.
3. Look for it. Don't write-off anywhere until you've checked it. I've picked up some nice clothes from supermarkets. Maybe you don't have the money for a full Lolita outfit, but you can find pieces with lace details in the shops. Check online, too - also, check up stores that aren't available in your country - many will deliver. And remember, you can check in a section that is a different gender from what you present as. Try on as much as you can in the shop - this will give you an idea of what you like, and what looks good. The more you try on, the more you establish what suits you. If you're crafty, you could make your own, or add details to old pieces to make it look
4. Accessorise. Accessories can seriously make or break an outfit. I've dragged friends in America to Hot Topic just so I could get a look at their geeky jewellery (and picked some up, too.) I like to co-ordinate my jewellery with my outfit. For instance, if I'm wearing a Pokémon shirt, I like my Pikachu necklace and Pokéball earrings. If I'm wearing my turquoise blue skater dress with flowers on, most of my accessories will be blue with flowers on. You can find accessories to match any style, and from most places where clothes are sold. I'm somewhat of an accessory horder - if you lose me in a clothes shop, there's a 95% chance I am looking at jewellery. I often get asked how I've put together an outfit - it's usually a cheap dress that I've jazzed up with some (also quite cheap) accessories.
5. Wear it! Admittedly, this may take some getting used to, especially if the clothing is far outside your usual range. If you live in a city, different clothing shouldn't raise too many eyebrows, but in the middle of nowhere it can be a different matter. You could start small, with maybe just a small accessory at first, or wear your clothes somewhere that doesn't treat unusual clothing as unusual. Or just jump in and wear it all!

At the end of the day, fashion is about having fun. It's easy for me to preach my "where what you want" mantra when what I like to wear fits the narrow definition of what's acceptable, but I do think the world should be less judgemental of something as inconsequential as our clothing choices. I hope you take away an idea of what to look for on your next outing. Me, I'm always on the lookout for pretty jumpers and cardigans, even though it's the wrong time of year for it right now!

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A Review of Finding Audrey

I've also seen blue covers of this book,
but I like the pink!
Finding Audrey is a YA novel by Sophie Kinsella, who has also wrote several novels for adults. Audrey Turner has some serious mental health problems after going through some bullying in school and online. She doesn't leave her house, except for her therapy sessions. Her brother, Frank, is a gamer, who particularly likes one called Land of Conquerors. Their Mum, after feeling like he spends too much time gaming, starts taking steps to prevent him going on the computer so much. Frank's friend, Linus, starts coming round to practice Land of Conquerors together, and there he meets Audrey and starts encouraging her to come out of her shell somewhat.

Kinsella's books for adults have been a long favourite of mine, for a light, fluffy read, so I picked up her YA novel on a whim, to see how she deals with a more serious subject. The best thing I can say is that she definitely did her research, even while she treats it with her trademark light touch and humour. Audrey's mental illnesses are well-defined and developed. The book calls them out by name - Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder and Depressive Episodes. It also shows the benefits of therapy and medication, and how bad things could get if she wasn't getting help. Some events during the book make her relapse. "No-one said getting better would be a straightforward journey," Dr. Sarah, her therapist, tells her. The book takes care to point out that, even by the end, Audrey's not cured, and that mental health is a long-term, ongoing issue. Also, she doesn't get magically better because she gets a boyfriend at the end of the book.

The characters veer almost into caricature territory, which I personally think worked here. They're so ridiculous that it is hard to take them seriously. I liked Audrey, and Frank. However, I felt like Audrey fell into a common trap when writing a character with mental health issues - she is defined almost solely by her mental illness. By the end of the book, I didn't know if she had a dream or aspiration and I don't know about any hobbies she might have done before the incident. Didn't like their parents. Hated Linus, the love interest. He is completely clueless about mental health and shows no desire to learn, even when he and Audrey start hanging out more. He is basically a personification of the "it's all in your head!" phrase that people struggling with their mental health hear all too often. At one point, he says "Just tell yourself to snap out of it. You know, mind over matter." Audrey takes one step forward, leaving the house one time, and he says "You're cured!" "Do you still need therapy? I mean, you look fine." This would all be fine if he was just an ignorant friend of Frank's, but he's the love interest. At the end of the book, Audrey has to apologise to Linus, but never does he say "I'm sorry for my misconceptions about mental health, I've been researching and I now know it's not that easy." He's almost a guide on what not to do if you're trying to help someone with mental health issues. Despite feeling like the book would be better without him, and the relationship taking up much of the book, I still did like it overall. Honestly, why does every book have to have romance in it?

I have to credit this book with something else - one of the best fictional gamers I've ever read. Frank is realistic to most gamers I know. He loves playing them, even staying up late into the night, but it's not his whole life. He stays fit and does well in school, even being on the cross-country team. His game, which I pictured as a League of Legends sort of thing in my head, allows him to socialise with others. One of my favourite things about gaming is the ability to socialise with people all over the world. On that note, did anyone else flinch when Frank's Mum threw his computer out the window?.

I would have to recommend this book on an individual basis. Some people may be okay with a humorous book based around mental health, and some may not. I personally never felt like this book like this book treated mental health as a joke or made fun with people with anxiety, but that was only my interpretation.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

A Review of Flame in the Mist

Bonus points for such an awesome,
beautiful cover!
Flame in the Mist is a book by Renée Ahdieh, who also wrote the The Wrath and the Dawn series. Hattori Mariko is a daughter of a Samurai and engaged to be married to a son of the emperor. Along the way, she gets attacked by a group of bandits. Disguising herself as a boy, she infiltrated the gang to try and find answers as to who wants her dead. Over the course of the book, secrets, lies and betrayals are revealed, loyalties are questioned and Mariko has to decide between her family and the people she has come to know as friends.

Most times, I like to read a series completely before I review it. Sometimes, I encounter a book that I just have to talk about as soon as I read it. That's been the case here. Like a lot of people, I grew up enamoured with Japanese culture. I watched anime when I came home from school, and I played video games from Japan. I read manga. I loved Japanese street fashion, and have always wanted to visit the country. I read Memoirs of a Geisha and loved it, read about the issues around it, and then proceeded to read other literature on the topic. To say the idea of a young adult book with a historical Japanese/fantasy setting intrigued me is putting it mildly.

I guess the only thing I can say is that something didn't quite feel right? Something felt off. As a fantasy, there wasn't enough fantasy to feel like a fantasy. As historical fiction... well. As I am neither Japanese or a history scholar, I don't feel qualified to speak on how accurate the culture and history of this book is. However, it feels like a mash-up of ideas from different periods of Japanese history. Some of the names felt weird to me.

However, that is not to say I didn't like the book. I did, I really loved it. The prose is perfect for the style of book. I found myself starting to love some of the characters. Books that take me away to somewhere different are by far my favourite type of books. The plot twists are well-forshadowed, but not easily guessable - the type you'll think back on afterwards, and realise they make sense. I particularly loved Mariko, our main protagonist. However, we are often told that Mariko is smart, logically so, and curious. Her curiosity I could see - she asked a lot of questions. However, she often seemed to act rashly, on impulse, with her emotions being her driving force. Mariko is obviously smart and inventive. I just feel like I didn't need to be told this to realise it?

One of the things I loved was the commentary on gender, and gender roles. Mariko feels constrained by her gender. Within the confines of her setting, she often finds ways to subvert the expectations placed on her as a woman and defy the stereotype. However, she starts with a "not like other girls" mentality - "Hattori Mariko was not like other girls. She was more," "Perhaps a girl who prized such things [pretty dresses] would be pleased." However, when she meets Yumiko, a maiko, they have a discussion on the various types of strength woman can display. "Mariko supposed it was possible all woman and men were forced to wear their own types of masks."

One of my favourite things about both of Ahdieh's series so far is the glossary. I like to read it to learn new words - even ones I'd heard of before may have a slightly different meaning in context. I also love how she managed to evoke a different time and place. She does manage to make her worlds highly believable, from descriptions of clothes and foods to language. I know a lot of people dislike the slipping of foreign words into books, especially speech that is meant to be translated. I have appreciated it in some books, since I like to expand my vocabulary.

I have to mention how this book has been called a Mulan retelling, despite being set in a culture inspired by Japan. If you ask me, it's different enough to stand on it's own. I understand that Mulan as a legend is intricately tied to Chinese culture, and the history between China and Japan has been fraught, to say the least. Since Asian cultures are not interchangeable, I find it odd. This article explains the problems with it better then I ever could.

I would recommend this to people who like books that take them away to another time and place.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

A Review of Passenger and Wayfarer

I love the font used on the titles on the covers!
Passenger and Wayfarer are a duology by Alexandra Bracken. Henrietta "Etta" Spencer is a gifted violinist, about to play her debut solo performance in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, the concert is cut short when Etta is drawn to another part of the museum. There, she finds herself pushed through a portal in time, coming out on a ship in a different century. There, she meets Captain Nicholas Carter, a young Black sailor who was born into slavery. Etta finds out she is one of a few families, who have the ability to travel through time. Unfortunately, a family called the Ironwoods are trying to manipulate other travellers so that they have complete control over the passages of time.

You know how I love travel books? Well this is basically that, but with time. AKA the best type of books. And you might even learn something about various time periods as you read!

I found the pacing in the first book slightly off. The story takes a while to get going, and once Etta gets pushed through the portal, I thought it was going to pick up. However, we first get a question and answer style exposition about the time travel mechanic in this book. Which I do understand was necessary, but it does go on a while. Since Etta was just sent so far away from home, readers may feel like they want to get into the action. It feels almost like the author can't find a better place to work it in. I kind of wish we'd learnt this information slowly, over the course of the books. We also spend much longer in some time periods then others, and some of them were places I really wanted to explore.

Luckily, since all the set-up and explanations took place in Passenger, Wayfarer manages to get us straight into the action, with plot twists coming from the first few chapters. Etta and Nicholas have wound up separated by time, and are attempting to find their way back to each other. Nicholas has had to enlist the help of Sophia Ironwood to navigate through time. Etta has ended up working for a family she thought to be the enemy. I liked how we went into more distant time periods rather than just about ~500 from now. However, I felt like they didn't all feel as distinct as they did in Passenger.

I love Etta, I loved that she had something she was so passionate about. The violin wasn't just a hobby to her, it was her dream. And I also found Nicolas fascinating. Their relationship gives us one of very few mixed-race relationships in historical YA, and the "time-culture" clash between their different eras and values was fascinating. A character in the second book who I shall not name turns out to be one of the funniest characters in the series. And I think that the most interesting character, with the best development over the series, is Sophia.

I am going to have the discuss the ending of Passenger here: Etta is badly wounded, and sent through a portal to who-knows-where-and-when (we know from the second book it's Texas, 1905, but we didn't know that then). It would likely take a miracle to save her. Even if she didn't die instantly, thus collapsing the passage, she would likely bleed out before long? But her mother says she's alive because she thinks so? And Nicholas is convinced by that? As we find out in Wayfarer, she was in the middle of nowhere of Texas, and dehydration would have got her even if the bleeding didn't. It's not clear how long she was there when she's found, but it seems to have been a while. While I liked much of the book, I just feel like the ending required a little to large of a grain of salt to swallow for my tastes.

I recommend this series to people who like time travel stories, and anyone with an interest in music.