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. Spoilers: 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! Definitely recommend having a look at the glossary while reading if there are terms you don't understand.

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.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Memories of Reading the Harry Potter Books

I was thinking lately about how some books mean so much that you almost know everything about them. Well, I started thinking about the Harry Potter books, and how I can recall with surprising clarity, things about how I bought and read them. The level of detail I can remember is quite interesting.

I started with Goblet of Fire, you know, as you do. It was the most recent one, so I asked Mum to get me the "new Harry Potter book!" I must have been about 8? Mum bought it for me on a trip to London, in the bookshop on the station. This station happened to be King's Cross, but the significance of this wouldn't connect until years later. I bought it in for show-and-tell, and I can clearly remember the conversation I had with a boy in class. "Who'd want to read Harry the Pot?" "Lots of people, actually," was my response. Of course, he dressed as Quirrell for World Book Day a few years later.

So after being confused as anything, which I stubbornly wouldn't admit and told Mum that it told me what I needed to know. She had said I should start with the first book, otherwise I wouldn't understand it. We bought Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, and I proceeded to lie on my bed for about 10 hours straight, reading it from cover to cover.

Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban were in my school's collection, but having to wait for them would get old, so I think I read both of them over the summer? These two aren't as clear.

Somewhere around this point, Pottermania hit. The films were out, merchandise was everywhere. Everyone and their mother was suddenly reading them! Of course, it didn't take me long to realise that just because other people were reading it, it didn't mean they wanted to talk about it literally all of the time, like I did.

I ordered Order of the Phoenix from a school book ordering form, despite Mum telling me I wouldn't get it on release, and we could get it in the shops if I wanted. But it was the first time I'd seen it for sale anywhere. The moral of this is listen to your Mum. Anyway, I got it a few days later, which felt like a month, and proceeded to rush home with it, write Do Not Disturb on a piece of paper and stick it on my door to read. Oh yeah, I think I remember entering a competition for this, too, in the newspaper. We had a list of Trivia questions on various different fantasy series to answer. I got to the second round, and it was up at some school I didn't know, and I had to be picked up from Guide camp to go to it. Didn't get any further, though.

My copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is literally my baby. It's been signed by Professor Flitwick. (Warwick Davis) I won a radio competition where I had to write a poem, and I got to go into the studio and I was live on air. Also, the week before, I went to Paris with the school, and I remember being more excited about the book coming out, then I was about going to Paris. We also had a £2 deposit on a pre-order from it at Waterstones, but Mum let that slide. Also, I cried when... does this count as a spoiler? Snape kills Dumbledore.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows... I wanted to go to a midnight release for it. Unfortunately, we couldn't find one. So, early morning, Mum had to wake up and drive this 15-year-old who was as excited as a child on Christmas day, up to the nearest town. I raced up the street, grabbed the book with a smile... then had to wait for Mum to catch me up. There were a few other people there, and we all knew we were in for the same thing. Also, it must have been a nice day, because I remember reading it outside in the garden.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

A Review of Not That Kind of Girl

Not That Kind of Girl is a book by Siobhan Vivian, who also wrote The List. Natalie Sterling is an overachiever - she gets perfect grades, is involved in extracurricular activities and wants to become student council president. She's always prided herself on being a good girl, but thanks to her old babysitting charge, Spencer Biddle, she finds herself questioning what that really means. This is one of those odd books where I'm not entirely sure if I like it or not.

The books attacks the good girl/bad girl dichotomy with all the subtly of a sledgehammer, but it's one the world sorely needs. It also attacks the difference between a woman being sexy and sexualised, pointing out that there is nothing wrong with a girl being sexy if that's her choice. Another thing it deals with is girls being judged more harshly for the same things then boys, and how girls are held to a different standard.

However, the book refuses to show whether it thinks Natalie or Spencer's view is right. I don't know whether this was a cowardly cop-out by the author, or simply a way for the reader to make their own decisions. If anything, I feel somewhere in between. I hate the way girls are shamed for having sex, I think However, I do believe there is such a thing as too young to be interested in boys, and where that falls depends on each teenager and their level of maturity. By the end of the book, the message is so mixed up that it was hard to see what the author's intentions with it were.

I found I could not warm to Natalie over the course of the book - her being judgemental yet realising the error of her ways would be one thing, yet she is also hugely hypocritical about it, too.  Not that she didn't come up with some good ideas - the empowerment sleepover was a great idea in theory. However, she was unwilling to let any of the other girls speak their mind. Throughout the book, she labels girls as good or bad upon meeting them. I found I liked both Spencer and her friend Autumn more. Connor, the love interest, was a really nice young boy, too.

The writing is workable, pedestrian at best. It's not the sort of prose that will win awards, but it works. The speech I actually found realistic, especially from the high school boys. Even though I know that not all boys think like that, I know a lot of boys will join in that sort of discussion to try and fit in.

The race for student council president is almost funnier now then it was when the book was published. I mean a peculiar kind of funny, not hilarious funny. A female candidate with a better track record goes against an under-qualified male, only in it for a laugh? Yet he seems to be in with a chance, because he's popular?

I recommend this series for young adults who are starting to show interest in relationships, so long as they have someone to discuss it with.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Things I Wish I'd Been Told Before I Voted For The First Time

With the UK General Election coming up soon, many people will be making their first vote. It can feel strange, being asked to choose between options when you are presented with no information on the differences. When I turned 18, I remember feeling very uninformed on the whole system. Here are a few things I wish I knew.

1. Not voting is a legitimate option - when I first voted, I might as well have been pointing at random and picking that, for all I knew on the subject. I stopped voting for a few years, just so I could read up on the views of the different parties and make an informed decision. Once I had a better idea of politics, I voted, this time choosing someone who's ideals lined up with my own. You do not lose your right to free speech because you didn't vote, and you can still talk about what in the system you'd like to change. That's how you learn!
2. There are better ways then not voting, however - the Government does record protest votes - ballot papers turned in blank. If enough people do this, it will be discussed on the local/national news. If you are unhappy with the system, this is one way to show it.
3. The voting system isn't by popular vote - rather then being based on an exact percentage, we are divided into constituencies, and whichever party wins the most constituencies gets into power. In my area, I sometimes feel like I am throwing a drop of red into an ocean of blue.
4. Help is available - if you're not sure who to vote for, there are quizzes online that can tell you who's views you line up most closely with. If you're not sure, try this quiz to give you a rough idea.
5. The news doesn't give all the story - sometimes, the news will say one thing, and newspapers something entirely different. Always check a story in as many sources as you can. And be extra careful with things that you see on social media!
6. Voting is important - with all that said, votes still matter. There are places in the world where their citizens still don't have this right. For woman and many minority groups, people had to fight so that we can vote. However, it is equally as valid to say "I don't know" and to take time to think about it. I would like to see more of the public being informed in their voting choice.

What would I like to change about our system? I would allow people from 16-18 to vote, but provide them with a different coloured slip and not count it towards official totals. This may mean that people start to learn about politics earlier. Also, the votes they make will still be counted, and obviously if there is a strong enough trend it will likely be discussed on the news. I would ask for more lessons on politics to be brought into schools. I would provide everyone with a sheet before going into the voting booth, detailing the policies of each party. No views, just the facts. And I would make the system an actual popular vote system.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

A Review of A Thousand Nights

Look at the lovely metallic lettering on this cover!
A Thousand Nights is a book by E.K. Johnson. It is a very loose retelling of 1,001 Nights, the story of Scheherazade. Lo-Melkhiin goes around different villages, choosing a new bride at each one. Our protagonist, who remains nameless, attempts to catch his eye in order to save her sister from the same fate. The girls he kills are worshipped as smallgods, and she promises to honour her sister's memory by making the shrine that night. As things change, it becomes obvious that not all is as it seems with either Lo-Melkhiin or our protagonist.

This book reads more like a historical fantasy aimed at adults that just so happens to have a teenage protagonist then a YA novel. Johnson gives much attention to detail, in the food and clothing of the location. Most characters in the book are unnamed, an unusual and curious device. The POV is sometimes from protagonist, and sometimes from of Lo-Melkhiin. (Or at least, the demon inside him)

Women don't have a lot of power in the setting of this novel. However, the driving force behind the plot is absolutely the women. The sister starts tending to the shrine (considered woman's work) on the eve our protagonist leaves, turning her into a living smallgod. The first obvious manifestations of her powers comes when she is embroidering. But did she cause the event through what she created, or did she merely foresee it? It's left ambiguous.

With any Scheherazade retelling (I know there are other spellings of her name, but this is the one I'm used to) there comes the issue of what to do the plot of the young girl falling in love with the murderer. It is handled unusually - Lo-Melkhiin is actually being controlled by a demon and it's not until after this is sorted that she agrees to stay with him, as wife and Queen.

For the basis of the book, and the cover saying 'only her stories can save her' I expected more storytelling. The main character does tell a story, but it is based on dreams she is having of her sister's life. She doesn't retell epic tales, or weave stories from whole cloth. This aspect of it is also dropped part-way through the story. I guess that it is more accurate to say it takes inspiration from Scheherazade, rather than being a retelling.

I really dislike reviewing books by comparison, but I feel like with this one, I have to mention The Wrath & The Dawn. Really, they are no more alike than any two Cinderella retellings are. I've read them both, and I honestly think they are both as good as each other. I'm not going to tell you to read one over the other. Read them both!

I recommend this for anyone who likes fairy-tale retellings and people with an interest in Middle Eastern stories.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

A Review of The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give is the first novel by Angie Thomas. Starr Carter is sixteen, and lives almost a double life. She grew up in Garden Heights, a rougher part of town. Her parents made sure her and her brothers go to a private school in a better area. Starr flips between these two worlds, having to act like someone different at school to the person she is at home. However, she is the sole witness when her friend Khalil, who was unarmed, is shot and killed by a police officer. Her voice now has the chance to make a difference and change things for the better, or destroy everything she ever cared about.

This book is so important.

Thomas handles her subject matter with a deft touch and surprising humour, while never once losing sight of the seriousness of the situation. Part of that is because of the voice of Starr, who makes a lot of sense as the protagonist. There was a lot of what she went through that I could not relate to. However, the book starts with her feeling out of place at a party, she's a Harry Potter fan, and a fish out of water at her own school. I found I could relate to her in these aspects. I'd like to take this moment to discuss the difference between identifying/relating with a character and empathy. You are not going to be able to relate 100% to every character you read about. In fact, if you do, I would say you're not reading enough outside your comfort zone. But you should be able to at least empathise with them. If you don't, either the author has missed the mark, or you need to ask yourself why not.

I'm a white middle-class girl from the UK. My life is as far removed from Starr's for her life to be another world to me, as strange and different as Westeros. I had a hard time comprehending her speech, and even some of her situations. I have never had to hide in a room of my house because of people shooting outside. I felt out-of-place a lot of the time reading this book, like I was walking around Garden Heights with Starr, flinching at every little noise. And that is 100% a good thing. Because the one thing fiction does well is teach us about the experiences of others. This is one of the reasons I think people who read non-fiction only have missed the point. Quite apart from learning facts from fiction, you also learn about people who aren't you, going through experiences you might never have. Now, you obviously can't learn everything through reading a book, and I would never claim that I knew more about this sort of situation than a Black person from America just because I read this book. But I am more informed now of how gang culture operates, and why exactly people end up joining them. It's not as simple as "well, just don't join." I knew that, but I didn't fully understand it.

I recommend this book for everyone, all human beings. I believe that should be required reading for all students in high/secondary schools. It deals with events happening in the present day, which is just as important, if not more, as accounts of things which happened in the past.

Monday, 8 May 2017

A Review of Fangirl

Fangirl is a book by Rainbow Rowell, who also wrote a few other books, including Eleanor and Park. Cather Avery writes fanfiction based on Simon Snow (a Harry Potter expy) of which she's also a huge fan. She is about to start college, with her twin sister Wren. However, Wren has asked for them to be in seperate dorms, to help her sister get out of her comfort zone. For shy and introverted Cath, this is almost a nightmare.

I really wanted to love this book, guys. I'm a huge geek, a fangirl myself. I spent more nights then I should admit reading (and writing) Harry Potter fanfiction. And I usually love anything which presents geek culture in a positive light. But something about this one did not click with me, and I'm not even sure why.

There are frequent extracts from the fictional Simon Snow stories, and from Cath's own fanfiction. However, I found it hard to care during these parts. It would be hard for anyone to make a cohesive magical world and characters that we would care about within the small amount of pages Rowell could dedicate to them. Perhaps the sort-of companion book Carry On, which expands into the Simon Snow story, improves on this. Also, at one point, Cath turns her fanfiction in to her professor for a grade. With all the discussion around fanfiction and plagiarism, I'm not sure how she ever expected this to work. Also, I find it odd that there is two famous fictional boy wizards (Simon Snow and Harry Potter) existing at the same time in this universe. Whichever one came second would always find themselves being compared to the other.

I think I should have been able to relate to Cath more then I did, as a fellow fanfiction writing geek. In college (or University as I called it) I was the one trying to time my trips to the kitchen to make dinner when no-one else would be there. But something about her just didn't quite click with me. Reagan, her roommate, is actually one of my favourite characters. I feel the narrative treats Wren too harshly, for letting herself loose a little at college. In fact, for all the hints we got that something was wrong with her, I feel Cath should have tried sooner to find out what the matter was. And I feel like this would be a stronger story without a romance aspect. I wish it had been about a geek starting to navigate the world of college, and making new friends. Cath's own narration admits that she finds physical contact in her relationship hard, and to me it feels like she just wasn't ready for that part of a relationship.

With all that being said, however, I do recommend this book for all geeks, especially those who have wrote fanfiction at some point in their lives.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

A Review of Thorns and Roses: A Review of the ACOTAR Series

The "A Court of Thorns and Roses" series is a trilogy by Sarah J Maas, who is also known for the Throne of Glass series. The three books are A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury and A Court of Wings and Ruin. Feyre Archeron lives in the lower section of her island of Prythian, the Mortal Lands. The top part of Prythian is divided up into various 'courts' and is where Fae live. There are the Night, Day, Dawn, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter Courts, each ruled by a High Fae. The full review is under a cut for minor spoilers. It's hard to review this series without spoiling the earlier books! And also because it's a long review.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Ultimate Book Tag

Yes, this one is called "The Ultimate Book Tag" - hope you enjoy.

 Do you get sick while reading in the car?

I do, but it doesn't stop me...

Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?
Hmm. I just finished a book called Yuki-chan in Brontë Country by Mick Jackson - it was completely unlike anything I've ever read before.
Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer.
Harry Potter, of course! Do I really need to defend that?
Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?
No, I'll just slip a book into my large handbag if I want one with me.
 Do you smell your books?
If they're like, a nice old book. Nothing like that old book smell!
 Books with or without little illustrations?
With little and big illustrations! Let's make all books for adults have illustrations.
What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing? (Ex. I read Twilight before I read HP and thought the writing was amazing but read HP and now think Twilight is a little bit of a joke.)
Hmm... this is a hard one. See, quality writing is subjective. I like some books that I knew weren't well-written when I read them, and I've disliked some books that win big awards. I guess I'd have to say things like The Babysitter's Club, which I read as a child.
Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!
Mum likes to say my first words were 'read book! read book!' so does that count?
 What is the thinnest book on your shelf?
Not sure, but from what I can see from here... The Last Unicorn is pretty slim.
 What is the thickest book on your shelf?
American Gods, again from what I can see with a quick look.
 Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author?
I do write, I would love to be an author. It would just suit me perfectly, being able to work on my own and in quiet for so much of my life, and to work when I wanted to.
 When did you get into reading?
I've been asking to be read to since before I could really walk, so very young.
 What is your favourite classic book?
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. We are including children's classics, right?
In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?
Not even close. Liking books didn't translate into being good at English! I would rather have written about books I liked, rather then books we were told to write about.
 If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?
Charity shop it!
 What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?
I hate doing this thing with comparing books to other series.
What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?
Putting in every little thing I noticed while reading the book, so I have to read over and think "is this relevant?"
 What is your favourite word?
Conglomeration - it sounds like a conglomeration of other words.
 Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?
I qualify myself more as a geek, personally.
 Vampires or Fairies? Why?
Fairies. I was a fairy girl growing up (as opposed to princess girl or mermaid girl) and Twilight has almost ruined vampires for me.
 Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?
Angels. I just like goody-goodies, okay? And I really liked this series as a child called Agent Angel/Angels Unlimited.
 Spirits or Werewolves? Why?
Spirits. I'd love to read some interesting fiction about them!
 Zombies or Vampires?
Zombies. I'm a big fan of The Walking Dead!
Love Triangle or Forbidden Love
Forbidden love. I am actually sick of love triangles.
 AND FINALLY: Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?
Action, I like a mix of genres, but I do enjoy pure romance books if they're well-done.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Why I'm Atheist

When I was little, religion wasn't a huge part of my life at all. Mum and Dad didn't go to church on Sundays - I think they were too busy and were moving up and down the UK at the time. They put their religion down as Church of England on census forms and the like, but they weren't religious. When I was seven, we settled into Cambridgeshire, and one of my friends went to Sunday School. Of course, this meant that I wanted to go, because she did. I had no concept of what it actually was, though. So, since I went there, Mum started going to church, which I think she liked as it helped her fit into the new community we'd moved to. So at this point, yes, I did believe in something, at least the idea of God, heaven and an afterlife.

My secondary school was actually a church school, which I went because it was where my parents wanted me to go. Anyway, long story short, I didn't get on well there, and eventually moved to a more normal school. It was around this time I started seriously thinking that I didn't believe, at least not in the same way. However, I think these two events are less connected then they seem. Also incidentally, Mum had a falling out with some of the people at church. Still, churches are often such a huge part of small town life that we still attended events there regularly.

Sometime in my mid-teens, I realised I didn't believe in any sort of higher power or religion. However, I swung way too far the other way. I thought that religion was stupid, that it was the route cause of everything bad in the world. I blamed everything from the Holocaust to terrorism on religion. Despite the actual reason for this being bad people who would do bad things no matter what. Oh, and I thought Islam was bad because of making women wear the headscarf. Please remember I was 15. While my age doesn't give me an excuse, it does explain why I thought that way.

Now, though? Since going to University, I'm much more measured. With everything bad that goes on in the world, I don't see how there can be a benevolent God that's meant to look after everyone. However, I have seen how faith can do good things, too. It can encourage people to better themselves, or simply give someone something to hold onto in their darkest times. With all that's wrong with the would, I don't want to deny people things that bring them some form of happiness. For some people, it's sport. For me, it's reading and video games. And for some, it's faith. Also I have met Muslims who weren't bad people, who wore the headscarf because they wanted to. I realised that forcing women not to wear an item of clothing that they like is sexist, too. And it really wasn't my debate to have, considering I wasn't Muslim. My end view is that I don't mind other people being religious, so long as their beliefs don't infringe on anyone else's human rights.

With that said, though, I do really like hearing other people's views on faith. It is a fascinating topic.