Friday, 27 January 2017

My Skincare Routine

I don’t spend an overly long time or a lot of money on my skincare. Half of that is due to low funds, as I would like to try some of the best products on the market. But on the other hand, since I already have a cheap set-up that works for me, why should I need to mix it up? Much of skincare is trial and error, finding what works for you. My way might not work well for someone with different skincare issues, and if you have a set-up that works, that’s great!

In a word, I keep my face simple, which is funny since 90% of what I use is Simple brand. I just like that they don’t claim to do too much. They cleanse, moisturise and take my make-up off when I need it. Also, they don’t use any perfumes which can wreck the delicate skin on your face. I have their Kind to Skin Refreshing Facial Wash Gel, which I use twice a day, morning and night. I use Kind to Skin Vital Vitamin Day Cream, which has SPF15, and Night Cream. It’s important to wear SPF-based foundation every day, even when it’s cloudy, as the sun’s rays can still penetrate and damage your skin. I don’t use exfoliator on my face, instead preferring to massage gently with a wet flannel.

I also use their Kind to Skin Cleansing Facial Wipes for taking make-up off, and Kind to Skin Micellar Cleansing Water for stubborn eye make-up, but I do that in addition to my usual skincare, not as well as. I don’t use too much make-up for everyday use keeping it to a powder foundation, eyes and lips. I save the primers and such for when I really need it. I use a face mask once a week. I love the 7th Heaven Cucumber Peel-Off mask. I like feeling like its taking away dead skin with it, it leaves my skin feeling really clean and doing the peel-off bit is great fun.

Other parts of the skin – I like to keep hand creams around, for when my hands feel dry. I have a few different brands on the go right now, given as gifts, but I really like Crabtree and Evelyn Ultra Moisturising Hand Therapy. It glides right in, and smells really nice. For my whole body, I just use a moisturiser when I step out of the shower. I like body lotions in summer and thicker body butters in winter, in a variety of scents from the Body Shop. If I’m bored with one smell, I can switch it up. In the shower, it’s just a matter of exfoliate and shower gel for me usually!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

I Still Miss My Dog

Growing up, I wanted a dog. Mum and Dad said that when I was seven, I could have a dog. I woke up on my seventh birthday and said “Can I have my doggie now?” Of course, they didn’t dive into things and it took us a little while longer to get set up, but we finally got her the summer of that year, from an animal shelter. Roxy, a German Shepherd/Border Collie cross. She was with me from when I was 7 until I was 21. She was 14 years old when she died, and she was the best dog ever.

Her old owners gave her up because she was too much work. By that, I mean they kept her locked in a tiny flat all day and then got confused when she destroyed things. How can you keep a puppy crossed of those breeds in a tiny flat? When I saw her in the shelter, she greeted us like we were her owners, running around like crazy. It’s as if she knew we were there to take her home. But I managed to get her to sit, there and then, for all of two seconds. When we took her home, we found out she could shake a paw. When I was sick, she’d sit beside me by the sofa the whole time.

She didn’t bark much, except when the post lady came. She was hyperactive in her early years and still had her moments into her senior years. She had a boyfriend, a boxer, and they would lick each other before haring over the fields together in a game of chase. She wasn’t too good with other dogs she didn’t know, and I had to keep her under control once while a Jack Russell had a right snarling go at her.

She was a scaredy dog, really. She had the normal doggie fears, vets, thunderstorms, fireworks. She didn’t like the crackling fireplace and would never snuggle up with me beside it. We had a fishpond, and in summer she’d sit in the shade next to it. Sometimes, the fish inside would splash around, with big splashes, and she’d jump up and run to the opposite end of the garden. She learnt to be scared of bees, after nosing a few on the clover and getting stung, she’d run a mile when one buzzed.

She loved snow, though. I used to throw her snowballs, which she loved. If they hit the ground, they’d disintegrate, but our smell was still all over it. Sometimes, she’d catch them in mid-air, leading to her standing with snow on her face. Better than normal tennis balls, which ended up down so many rabbit holes. One time, she found a branch about twice as big as she was, and dragged it back home.

She had her moments, too. One time, we bought a tuna melt panini home for my father, in the bags with the rest of the shopping, and left it unattended for two seconds. We came back to an empty wrapper, the panini gone. One time, she had a go at Mum’s homework. There used to be fox excrement over the fields where we walked her, and she would roll in every pile she found. And every hole in the fence we didn’t notice, she’d slither out of and find some mischief to get into over the road.

She slowed down. Her legs had been getting stiffer for years, but suddenly she wasn’t eating. For a dog that would finish her dinner in two seconds, this was a first sign something was seriously wrong. Then her legs gave out almost completely, she could barely hobble. This change from a perfectly lively elderly dog to could barely move happened over a week. We took her down to the vets. The vet took one look at her, and told us she really should be put to sleep. I cried, but she died peacefully. I’m sorry that she even got to that state before we got her there, but if we’d known something was wrong beforehand, we would have done something about it. She went downhill fast.

Even though her death was a few years ago now, not a day goes by when I don’t miss her. It’s not a constant hurt like it was when she first left us, but I’ll just see something that reminds me of her and wish she was still here. Some people might find it strange to miss an animal this much, but they don’t understand. She wasn’t just an animal, or a pet, she was family. She was with me for many of my formative years, and as an only child, she was my sister.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Shortbread Biscuits Recipe!

Seeing as it's Burns Night in Scotland tomorrow, I wanted to share a recipe for a traditionally Scottish biscuit - shortbread! These are about the easiest thing to bake ever, so they're good if you need to make something quick.

  • 125g butter
  • 55g caster sugar
  • 180g plain flour
  1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
  2. Grease and line two baking trays.
  3. Mix the butter and the sugar together.
  4. Add the flour until it comes together into a smooth paste. If it seems too dry, you can add a teaspoon of milk.
  5. Roll it into the desired thickness.
  6. Cut it into shapes using a cutter.
  7. I've just done circles, but you can use
    whatever shape of cutter you like
  8. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Place on a cooling rack when done.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Why Harry Potter is my Favourite Character in Harry Potter

I often find it a shame how many people don’t appreciate Harry Potter as a character as much as some of the other characters. It might be because of this that I like him best, as I have a soft spot for characters fans neglect. My apologies for two Harry Potter posts in a row, maybe I’ll make the rest of January my unofficial Harry Potter month.

Harry goes through 11 years of his life neglected if not abused, and comes out the other side a cheerful (if a little snarky) child. Then he finds out he’s part of a magical world, where he is famous. He stays relatively modest in this situation, which can give people a large opinion of themselves quickly, for example many child stars. In fact, he just seems bemused by the whole attention he receives from it (“Let me see your scar?”) and even admits, several times, he wishes it never happened.

He’s a naturally talented Quidditch player, but he also works at it. He doesn’t get complacent because he is naturally gifted. I mean, do you ever hear about him missing out on a practice? Nope, even when Wood drags him out of bed at 6 o clock in the morning, in the pouring rain, he might grumble, but he heads down to the pitch. He practices because he knows, if he doesn’t, someone will be get better then him.

He’s a born leader, capable of inspiring confidence. He can teach school students to master spells far beyond their education level - a spell he himself mastered when he was 13! Many adult wizards struggle with Patronuses. He can lead six frightened teenagers around a maze-like place, train a sporting team to victory, and inspire a resistance movement to keep fighting even when his whereabouts are unknown.

His loyalty to his friends is absolute. If you’re in trouble, he’ll try and save you. Not only that, though, he’ll go back for people who haven’t been all that nice to him before - saving Malfoy and Goyle from the fire? Going to warn Hermione (who, at the time, they weren’t on speaking terms with) about the troll in first year? If the Dursley’s had been kidnapped by Voldemort, I bet he would’ve gone to save them. And if it comes down to sacrificing himself, or watching his friends die? He would sacrifice himself, without question.

He doesn’t fear much, either. He can walk into death without hiding or running away. He, at 14, stared down one of the most powerful wizards of all time, with all the knowledge of the likelihood the next spell used would kill him. He picks the habit of saying Voldemort’s name after the first book (“Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself” - Dumbledore to Harry, Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 17). The only thing he really fears is Dementors, which, as Lupin points out, is an extension of fear itself. And he learns to overcome his fear by mastering the spell that stops them.

Tell any eleven year old child about a stone that can give them as much life and money as they want. What would they want if they had it? “Money, and then I could by myself all the video games/chocolate/ect. that I want.” Which would have been my personal views at that age. If I’m honest, even at this age, too. Harry finds out about this and the idea of buying things never even enters his mind. The only thing he wants with the stone is to find it, but not use it, and that’s only when the safety of the magical world hinges on him finding it.

And this plays into another aspect of Harry’s character - his generosity. He is rather well-off, in terms that might seem infinite for a teenager, but he only tries to take the money that he needs. He earns an extra 1000 galleons at one point, and what does he do with it? Gives it to two people who really need it. Not in terms of a loan, but more as a donation. He buys Omnioculars for himself and his two best friends, buys nice Christmas presents for his friends and “would happily split all the money in his Gringotts vault with the Weasley’s, but he knew they would never take it.”

He is also INCREDIBLY quick thinking. This is actually my favourite trait of his. Even in situations where Hermione might’ve panicked - “But there’s no wood?!?!?!” - Harry keeps his head and can talk them out of sticky situations. Persuading Peeves they were the Baron, so he’d leave them alone? Harry. Telling McGonagall they were sneaking off to see Hermione, in such a way that she believed them? Harry. Faking putting Felix Felices in Ron’s pumpkin juice, so he’d be more confident and play better? Harry. Riding out of Gringotts on a dragon? Harry’s idea.

Also, when people say things along the lines of "Why didn't Harry tell someone about the abuse he gets from the Dursley's?" This really annoys me. You are victim-blaming Harry for the abuse he received, asking why he didn't get himself out of it. He has been taught since he can remember that no-one cares about anything he has to say. A child in too-big hand-me-downs wouldn't really raise any eyebrows. Even if Social Services did come round, Dudley's second bedroom was perfectly set up, so all they need to say is "Oh, he actually sleeps here, he just tends to like playing in that room," and that would probably settle the matter.

Who’s your favourite Harry Potter character and why?

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Why I Consider Myself a Gryffindor

When I first read the Harry Potter books, I knew I wanted to be sorted into Gryffindor. Every test I take online agreed, too. But do I have the actual trait of bravery that defines the house? It’s true I do things other people consider brave, like travelling on my own, even though I don’t think it’s anything impressive. It’s also true that I naturally try and avoid things I find scary. Did I subconsciously pick the options I knew would lead to that house? Well, maybe.

But I don’t think it would matter, because of one fact people forget: you can choose. And I think that students at Hogwarts are sorted not on the traits they have, but on the traits they value. Since most children will choose the house based on their values, that’s why it works. This explains how Peter Pettigrew ended up in Gryffindor – he asked to go there, and bravery was something he didn’t have but did want, and he looked up to the other Marauders who had it. On the other hand, Neville who asked to go into Hufflepuff was sorted into Gryffindor, because he admired his parents and wished he could be as brave as them, but didn’t think he was. Of course, we all know of Neville’s bravery at this point, but back then, eleven-year-old Neville didn’t think he had any, even though he wanted to. And Crabbe and Goyle, who never show any shred of ambition, probably asked to go into Slytherin.

And why wasn’t Hermione sorted into Ravenclaw? She says on the Hogwarts Express that she’d been asking around and wants Gryffindor. Also, every time she puts her hand up in class, knowing her classmates will laugh and call her a know-it-all, she’s being brave. Every time she goes into an exam, when failure is her biggest fear, she’s performing an act of extraordinary bravery. You have to remember that Hermione doesn’t want knowledge for knowledge’s sake, she wants to learn so she can be the best. Which does play into the negative trait of Gryffindors as always wanting glory.

Why do I not want Ravenclaw for myself, when I read so much? In school, I was often the person with my hand up. However, picking up a lot of information from daily life is not the same as purposefully learning it. Personally, I struggle with learning. I like reading non-fiction books at times, but the repetition you have to do to actually learn something tends to bore me. Now, I’m not saying that I dislike learning and never do it, just that it is a chore for me. Which is something I’m aware of and take into consideration when I have to learn. And while I always seemed to do well in class participation, the second I was given a worksheet and a book, my mind would wander. In fact, participating in class was a coping mechanism of mine to keep myself listening.

What’s your Hogwarts house? Do you feel you fit it’s traits exactly?

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Miss Peregrine's Review for Peculiar Children: A Review of the Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children series

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a trilogy by Ransom Riggs about children who have been gifted with extraordinary powers (the Peculiars.) The books are Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City and Library of Souls. There is another trilogy, a separate story altogether, in the works. As normal, the first book does a great job at setting the scene. Hollow City builds on what came before, entangling us in a complex mystery and introducing us to other aspects of the peculiar world. Library of Souls ties up the overarching story of the books, but leaves enough unexplored about the world of the peculiars for more books to be appealing.

I love books where the protagonists discover a hidden world within ours. From Harry Potter to Wonderland to Narnia to Neverwhere, this has influenced my childhood reading and beyond. The world of the peculiars exists within yet separately to ours. Many are hiding out inside loops, time pockets where a period of time is repeated over and over again. There are even peculiars that travel to various loops as time tourists. But as with most books like this, not everything is as it seems.

One of the most notable things about these books is the use of photographs. Impressively, they never manage to head into the realm of gimmicks, but serve to illustrate the story in the same way drawings do. A picture tells a thousand words, remember. I also highly recommend reading the interviews at the end, where Riggs discusses the process that goes into deciding what picture he should use at various points in the story.

As for characters, Jacob often feels like a plot device protagonist, but I don’t feel it’s through any fault of his, just that the supporting cast are so colourful and varied. Emma is lovely to the point where I often wished she was the main character, and the rest of the peculiar children have complex backstories and interesting powers. Jacob feels plainer, by contrast. The cast have a wide variety of powers, too. One of the more interesting powers that one character has a colony of bees living in his stomach. You have your regular powers, fire and super strength, for example, and some more unusual ones, such as the aforementioned bees or the ability to give life to dolls. And the bee ability even ends up helping them out on occasions. That last one is a creepy as it sounds. It’s a nice touch not to see something different then the same few standard superpowers.

For an American, Riggs writes British characters better than most. I actually stopped once to look up his nationality just to make sure. However, in the second book, there’s a part where the character’s end up at a London station. I remember thinking “Which London station? There’s so many.” It also didn’t sound like any station I’d been to, either, with the objects that are consistent across all UK station being described incorrectly. This is such a minor gripe, but it is one of those things that can bring someone out of a story.

I feel like Jacob and Emma got together too soon. I grew up with series of seven books of will-they-won’t-they, so for them to get together somewhere in the first book makes thing rather anticlimactic, romance-wise. And I found it odd how she didn’t show any misgivings about having, at one time, been in love with his Grandfather. Nonetheless, they do make a cute couple. I’m not complaining that they got together at all, just that it happened early in the series.

Not since Harry Potter have I been so annoyed at the changes from a book to movie. Especially with Emma and Olive's power switching, why did they think that was necessary? However, I liked the fact that it didn't end on a cliffhanger, since there was no guarantee of sequels, and closed the story. I definitely wouldn't recommend the movie as a good introduction or anything, but it was a fun watch, at least.

I recommend these books for anyone who likes fantasy/supernatural stories, especially those with a touch of horror. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Bucket List

Life is short. I could die in 80 years, or I could die tomorrow, without accomplishing much from this list. If I make New Year’s Resolutions, I find I never stick to them. So, how about an ongoing list of things I would love to do before I die, but isn’t a must-do list?
  1. Visit 50 different countries overall: I don’t think that’s overreaching, I’ve visited a good 20-odd in my first 25 years of life. The reason I’ve only said 50 is because I might like to go to the same place twice, or a different part of the same country. Some countries, you can go to two different places and get completely different experiences.
  2. Own at least one Lolita co-ordinate: This has been a goal of mine of a few years, but due to monetary constraints, I’ve never managed to actually own one. I don’t even mind if I can’t wear it, I would just like to look at it. If I can, I’d like to go to Lolita events and tea parties once I own it. And of course buy some more, but if I had the chance to own just one, it would be worth it.
  3. Visit every Disney theme park in the world: Yep. And buy at least one official Disney badge from each one, too. That way, I have a little thing to take back to say I’ve been to each one.
  4. Finish a novel – like I said, it doesn’t have to get published, but if I could write a vaguely novel length book, even if it’s only for myself, that would be enough for me.
  5. Attend a convention – While this is something I could do in Britain, many of the conventions I’ve most wanted to go to are in the USA, and time, money and travel problems have just prevented that for the last few years. I talked about meeting up with a friend for PAX Prime, but we can’t pull it off yet.
  6. Watch every movie on this list: I’m rather uncultured in regard to what movies I’ve watched. My Dad wasn’t a big movie watcher, daytime TV mostly, and Mum didn’t really like doing what she considered “sitting there and staring at screens” so I didn’t see many films until my late teens. 
  7. Go up in a hot air balloon: the reason for this one is as simple as I've always wanted to, and never done it.
  8. Attend an Olympic Opening Ceremony: I may dislike most sporting events, but I love the Olympics. It may be because it’s as much a celebration of culture as it is sport, or the chance to see some sports which aren’t the usual few, or the fact that it’s one of few times when women’s events get the same coverage as men’s. And I especially like the opening ceremonies. I missed my chance to see London’s, so I’m hoping I can go to one somewhere.
  9. Read all the books from this list: My bucket list books list. It’s a list of the UK’s best-loved books, so there’s a good mix of genre’s, and classic and contemporary on the list, which is why I chose it.
I could put some more specific travel wishes on this list, like stay in an ice hotel and see the northern lights, but I feel it’s mostly covered under number 1. And I discussed many of them in my five countries to visit and revisit lists! Do you have anything on your bucket list?

Monday, 9 January 2017

Let's Fix the British Education System

I feel like in Britain, we specialise way too early. Everyone does the same wide range of subjects up to age fourteen, after which we pick a few to concentrate on. Did you know what you wanted to do at fourteen? At fourteen, I still thought I was going to be discovered on the street and made famous. Maths, English and Science stay compulsory, and everyone does PE and RE was also compulsory at my school. We only have a limited number of spaces we can choose, and sometimes you have to pick one from column A, one from column B, etc. My school was a specialist technology college, which just meant I had to take a technology subject, giving me even less choice. Only one, of course, they were in the same column. Technology subjects are Food Technology, Textiles, Resistant Materials, Product Design. We have four slots. Between that, we have decide between History, Geography, Art, ICT (using a computer), Music, Drama, Religious Education, Child Development, Physical Education, my school had three languages you could choose. Sometimes, those Technology subjects would be included in this list, too. That’s a lot of choice, and if you want two from the same column? Sorry, you’re screwed.

At sixteen, we specialise even further. English, Maths and Science can get dropped completely.  I feel this is still an unreasonable age to literally decide your future. And if you didn’t pick the right subjects before, but now want to study something different? You’d better hope the right teacher likes you, and that you can catch up on two years of missed work, while studying all your new subjects.

And absolutely none of these subjects taught me skills I need. Food Technology? Didn’t teach me to cook. Anything I know about cooking, I’ve got from Mum or self-taught. I had to teach myself how to bake a potato. The wasted hours of Textile lessons before I could drop the subject? Didn’t even teach me how to sew a button.

However, I also agree with the theory that children should be allowed to take the subjects they're interested in, if they are sure about that they want. Case in point? Music, which wasn't my forte. Some people enjoy music, let’s let them choose an instrument to play. Allocate some of the education budget to rent instruments and for specialised teachers to come in and teach those who would like to learn. That way, learning to play an instrument will be more accessible to those from lower-income families, too.

So, how would I fix things? I’d scrap PE, but instead make a compulsory one afternoon a week where you have to do a sport of your choosing. Monday may be football, Tuesday tennis, Wednesday athletics, Thursday netball and Friday hockey perhaps. The variety on offer would vary by school, of course, and if you wanted to go along to more than one, you could do that, too. Unless there were no more places, and places would go to those who weren’t doing another sport. So people who were serious about one sport could go to one class and then probably practice it after school on other days. People who like sports in general could do as many as they could. And people not so good at sport could pick one with their friends and have a nice game without worrying about people laughing at them, or being picked last.  And if you could prove you’re doing enough sport outside of lessons, you don’t have to go. Dance a few days a week? You’re free!

I’d also lessen the over-reliance on exams and give more weight to teacher recommendations, too. A teacher’s recommendation wouldn’t counteract a very bad grade on your exam, but if you were a few marks off and the teacher said you were always a good pupil, it would be counted as a pass for that subject. Again, more encouragement for people to do well in class consistently. Hopefully, this makes it so there is less of the “teaching students how to pass exams” culture we have now.

I’d re-introduce Home Economics and make it compulsory for everyone. You’d learn how to cook a variety of different meals, some basic sewing skills, first aid, how to look after a child, how to budget a house and how to keep a house clean. Clothing care labels would get one whole lesson. I remember when I first used a washing machine on my own, I looked in horror at the labels, before throwing all of my washing in at once on one cycle. I still cannot believe these aren’t skills everyone is taught by default.

I’d also make sure that subjects never lose sight of the real aspect of their course. RE should talk more about all religions. I learnt a great deal about Christianity, a little bit about the “big five” (Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism and Hinduism) and nothing about anything else. I actually believed there were only six religions until my late teens. And in today’s society, it is more important than ever to give pupils a decent knowledge on many different religions. Maths would talk about trading stocks, English would allow pupils the chance to talk about a book they liked. Shakespeare and the classics would stay on the curriculum, but this should encourage people to pick up books in their own time. In theory, at least, although I know a lot of people will just watch the movie of the book.

PSHE. It might be the most important subject, but it seems to be the one most people see as a joke. This is where we did things like sex education (all we learnt was to use a condom, and we saw diagrams of sex organs) and drug use. I’d move drug use from only “don’t do drugs!” to “It’s not good to do drugs, but if you ever find you have ingested too much of one drug, here’s what you should do. Here’s what the symptoms of various drug overdoses look like, so if you take an unknown drug or your friend does, you can tell the paramedics a reasonable guess about which drug.” Also, I doubt this would encourage more drug use, since seeing the consequences so graphically may help convince people to stay away from them. There would also be more done on coping with stress, mental disorders (how to recognise them, how to help), different sexualities, how to write a CV and impress at a job interview, how politics works and what the main parties stand for. I do believe a big reason why voter turnout is lower in younger generations is because they literally do not know what they are voting on.

As for the actual system, I'd make it so you can choose subjects when you are eleven. You would be highly encouraged to take the basics in Maths and English. Most further education courses would ask for Maths level 8 and English level 8. This would be 8 terms of study. If you want to do a degree in Mathematics, you’d need Maths level 12, although some leeway would be provided for people who decided what they want to do later, if they didn’t take all their required courses and their current teachers and the University think they could handle it. If you are messing about in class, not doing homework, you can be kicked off the course for that term, and expected to sit in a quiet room and work on your other subjects. This should in theory provide people with incentive to work in lessons, and provide a quieter environment for those who would like to do so. You can take it up again at a later point, and if you fail a level, you can do it again, too. So if I like Drama when I start school, but later on have a real interest in travel and want to do Geography, I can do so. If I never take one subject but at the very end want to give it a go, I can try taking it in almost every slot in my timetable to see if I could catch up. Now, there would be advice given by teachers, “I think you should/shouldn’t continue with my class,” and “the course you want to do requires you to have Science level 10,” sort. This should make it so those who know what they want to do can specialise early, and those who don’t can do basics in all courses then specialise when they develop their interests. And there would be plenty of advice available for people who find they are struggling more with a subject at higher levels and those who want to specialise in something different. If you regret taking a subject, stick it out for the term and then change. 

Think it sounds complicated? Try explaining the education system you have now. Not easy either, is it.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Review Games: A Review of The Hunger Games Series

I might be a little late to write a review of this series, but I wanted to. The Hunger Games are a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, consisting of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. They fall into the Young Adult dystopia genre, but are much darker and more realistic then most examples of the genre.

The Hunger Games sets the scene and tone for the rest of the trilogy, and it does that rather well. The book takes a while to get going, but I also give it credit for starting on Reaping Day, and not giving us a few chapters showing Katniss’s daily life in District 12. Really, the short part of a chapter we got was plenty for us to learn about her normal going into the woods and hunting routine. We find more about daily life in the district from flashback snippets during the actual games, a much better way to handle it then leaving the reader waiting for the actual Hunger Games to get started.

I have to give Catching Fire credit for not feeling like more of the same. Yes, we see another Hunger Games, but the circumstances are so different that they manage to have a distinct feel from each other. We are also introduced to some of my favourite characters which hold over to Mockingjay – not many characters from the first one make a return for some reason – like Finnick and Johanna.

In Mockingjay, what started as a decent Young Adult dystopia becomes a psychological thriller about the effects of war on someone way too young to be going through what Katniss has. War is hell, it is hell on everyone, it is particularly hell on someone who has been thrown into being a symbol for the entire war almost involuntarily.

Katniss as a protagonist is badass, she’s awesome, she… hasn’t really got an ambition to speak of? But in this case, it works. Katniss’s major goal is surviving from day-to-day, either from hunting or in the Hunger Games. She never thinks about the possibility of her future, and the most she could probably have seen was working in the mines to earn money for her family. She is a reactionary character, throughout. She reacts to events thrown at her rather than trying to influence them herself, but since one of the main themes is how little control she has on her own life, it works.
On the topic of protagonists, Peeta gives us an interesting example of a male love interest that takes on a role more typically given to women. He needs to be helped by Katniss a good few times and he can survive because of the skills he learnt decorating. However, this also coexists with his strength, coming from his ability to haul around heavy bags of flour.

The world-building is where this series falters, or maybe that’s just me as someone who likes to find out everything they possibly can about the world a book is set in. We don’t even find out the main industry of each district from within the story. What about other countries that weren’t part of North America? Although, honestly, there is rarely a series where I don't end up wondering "but what around other parts of the world that aren't America?"

I must talk about one of the more unnecessary parts of the series – the love triangle. I feel like many events would have more impact if Katniss and Gale really had a brother-sister sort of relationship. The love triangle meant that many people ignored the more serious parts of the book and focused on that, and caused many people to glance over them as just another teen romance.

Many people have mentioned that the writing is stilted. I choose to believe that this is intentional, or at least that it works for someone with little education retelling parts of her life she doesn’t like to remember years after the fact.

It would be remiss for me not to mention the film adaptation. The movies, especially the first movie, are the best book-to-film adaptation I’ve ever seen. We trade in some extra explanations and Katniss’s internal monologue for that voyeuristic feeling that we are actually citizens of the capital. I have seen the first movie quite a few times and every time I am impressed with how they keep up the suspense in scenes where I know what happens. The two big scenes for this are Katniss dropping the tracker jacker nest and destroying the Career’s food.

I also have to mention the similarities with Battle Royale. Stories have been influencing other stories practically since storytelling was invented, so superficial similarities in a book I can overlook. I wouldn’t be bringing this up if not for the fact that both use a fire-and-birdsong method of distance communication at one point. Even then, I wouldn’t mind if Collins hadn’t mentioned she’d never read Battle Royale. To me, it’s too big of a coincidence to ignore, but not enough to spoil my overall enjoyment of the series.

I would recommend for absolutely anyone to give these books a go. The underlying themes are much more serious then they seem. I have introduced five people to this series, so it would be nice if I could get a few more to give it a go.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Why I Read

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only lives one.”

I read a lot. It should be obvious to anyone who has looked through my previous blogs, or who knows me in real life. But many people now see reading as uncool. I’m not trying to act superior because I read, but it leads me asking myself “Why?” Most people I know read somewhat regularly, but then there’s the odd person who says “I never read.”

I always loved reading. It was one of the only things I remember being told I was good at, as a child. My first words were even “read book!” At least, that’s what my parents tell me, but I’m not sure if that’s just family legend at this point. I read upstairs, long after I should have been asleep, with my light on. Since I wasn’t allowed a TV in my bedroom, it became my go-to method of keeping myself awake.

I can go on an adventure, can experience successes and failures with these characters, and stay safe and warm at home. Their happiness is my happiness, their sadness is my sadness. I can defeat evil with them, celebrate when they win. Not many of us do get the chance to go on an adventure to save the world, so reading is the next best thing.

Reading takes me away from who I am. I didn’t always have a large circle of friends, and I grew up on the outside. Reading allows me to carry people who I care about around with me. It made me feel like I had somewhere to turn during my worst moments. People whose lives I am interested in. For a while, I am someone else, included and interacting with their circle of friends. You can see the world through someone else’s shoes and experience things you don’t usually.

Reading takes me away from where I am. I love travelling, but I can’t always do it, if my finances are tight. Through books, I can experience stories taking place all over the globe. I can travel back and forward in time. I can touch the farthest reaches of space or explore a completely different world to our own.

Reading takes me away from how I am. It’s relaxing. If I’m having problems, then for a few hours I get to be someone else, and experience their problems. I’ve often found advice, comfort or even solutions from what happens in books.

And why do I read to get these experiences? Surely, I can get these from films, TV, video games? I’m not denying that, and many of the reasons I enjoy watching TV or movies are for these exact reasons. I like a good story, no matter the medium in which it’s delivered. But in reading, I end up completely sucked into a world, almost in such a way that I forget I’m in the real one. I lose myself completely in the world of the book.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Anna and the French Kiss Series Review

Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door and Isla and the Happily Ever After are a trilogy of young-adult romance novels by Stephanie Perkins. They are set in the same universe and work as a series, so it is a good idea to read them sequentially. Anna is my favourite of the trilogy, but they were all a fun, light-hearted read.

I love how we are introduced to Anna’s hobby (watching and reviewing movies) by page eight, and her dream is to be a film critic. Too often, female characters can go entire books without ever having established interests. In fact, the fact that so many of the supporting cast get their hobbies stated so quickly (Meredith with football, Étienne with history, Bridgette with drums and a tendency to use sesquipedalian words and Josh with art) helps them feel like well-rounded characters before we know much about them. I wasn’t a fan, however, of the fact that Étienne had to tell her that Paris was famous for films. Wouldn’t she likely know that already? This is a tendency that plays into Lola, where we find out about her wanting to be a designer from the blurb on the back. Her best friend likes mysteries and fancies herself a detective. It’s the little things like that that really make characters and a story live and breath.

I was actually all ready to complain about how American writers can never write English characters well, that we don’t really all talk like that. But then I realised that, as an American raised in London and now going to a school for Americans, wouldn’t Étienne naturally play up his Britishness somewhat?

I was also going to complain about Anna complaining about being sent away to Paris, when most people would love to have that chance. But the reasons for her being upset were more valid that I realised. She was more upset about her lack of choice in the matter, and quickly settles down into enjoying Paris and all it has to offer.

Lola suffers somewhat from middle-child-of-a-trilogy syndrome. By taking place away from the School of America in Paris, it loses some of the charm that Anna has. Also, since we also meet Isla during Anna’s story, and we already know her to be a shy but brave individual, I found myself enjoying her story more. Since Anna is involved in Lola, someone who reads these sequentially may find themselves more interested in Anna’s story then in Lola’s. Isla brings back the couples from the previous two books, but they never seem to overshadow Isla’s story, possibly because we knew both her and her love interest from earlier.

Lola touches on darker subjects then Anna – drug use, having an older boyfriend – but it still retains, at its heart, the sweet love story feel. I did like the descriptions of Lola’s outfits every time. Some people could take those or leave them, but I loved them, and they were perfectly fitting for a designer.

Isla is a slow build. The conflict is not in her and Josh getting together, but with something that happens later. It does mean that the story feels slow to get going. During her story, we see New York City, showing us a place many of us would love to visit. Over the course of the book, she also visits Barcelona. I like it when books evocate places like that, or Paris say. It feels like you are travelling to the place along with the characters, like they’re showing you around. Or is that just me?

I mentioned earlier that I like how both Anna and Lola have established dreams and hobbies fairly early on, which is why I was disappointed that we never find out Isla’s ambitions or interests except for reading, only about her crush on Josh. More so then the other two, her story revolves around her romance. Although I do think it’s important to remind people that not everyone has their life mapped out by eighteen.

The descriptions of what it feels like to have a crush are some of the most well-written depictions of that feeling I have ever read. Stephanie Perkins talks in great detail about how hyper-aware you become of every little thing that they do.

I found a lack of positive female friendships in Anna a disappointment, many of the ones that were there was tinged with some level of bitchiness or jealousy. Not to spoil the end, however, but some of them do work out nicely. Lola, however, improves on this, giving her two strong female relationships throughout the book – Anna and Lindsey. Isla, however, doesn’t have many friends who are girls, but she does make some progress with both her ex-best friend and her younger sister over the course of the books.

All three girls have something in common – they act like teenagers, with all that applies. Occasionally selfish or stupid, they sometimes make the wrong decisions. But this is why they are so relatable, and all three have their hearts in the right place.

I ran into a few, what I consider factual inaccuracies. Many Parisians don’t speak English well! You don’t get inside Notre Dame without buying a ticket and waiting in a queue for ages! But they weren’t common enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book.

I would recommend this series to anyone who likes a good romance, even if they wouldn’t normally choose a young adult one. Anyone who has ever experiences feelings of being in love should identify with what these characters go through. Also, can I just say I love their front covers?