Thursday, 19 October 2017

One Year of Blogging!

October marks the end of my first year of blogging. What a weird twelve months this has turned out to be. With some real high points, and some unbelievably shit ones. Let's look back on what I learnt about blogging and writing reviews over the year!
  1. I learnt to be personal - when I first started, I thought that including personal thoughts while reviewing would be unnecessary. I kept those to their own post, and tried to keep the focus of reviews solely on the book. But there's no better measurement for how good a book is as how it effects, personally. No two people will ever have the same reaction from a book, but the mark of a good book is being able to cause strong emotions in a person.
  2. I stopped doing silly titles - when I first started, I gave each of my reviews a silly title that played with their name and the word review. Trouble is, I was shoehorning the word review into them, in a lot of cases. I think it looks a lot better organised now I've stopped doing that.
  3. I've learnt to market - I've been using my twitter to participate in bookish chats and blogging hashtags. I've used my Instagram to tell people about my recent posts. And of course, people are more interested in your work if you display an interest in theirs. I've started commenting on other people's blogs if I enjoyed reading it.
  4. I learnt how to organise - when I first started, I would just throw all my thoughts together into one review. Now, though, I try to organise it into an introduction, my brief opinion, setting if necessary, characters, random thoughts and a conclusion.
  5. I learnt to be myself - well, not so much learnt as got more confident in being myself. The reason I liked blogging from the start was because it gave me a place on the internet where I could just be myself. However, I find it easier now to state my opinion and outright say if I disliked a popular book.
  6. I learnt to reply to comments - when I first got comments I was a little overwhelmed and didn't know what to say back. Now, I've decided to say a quick thank you when someone comments! I don't get many comments, and if people with 100+ comments per blog can reply to them all, why can't I?
What are the biggest things you've learnt since you started blogging?

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A Review of Turtles All The Way Down

Turtles All The Way Down is a book by John Green. Unless you've lived under a rock for the last few years, you know what else he's written. Aza Holmes is a student at White River High School, Indiana. When local billionaire Russell Pickett goes on the run to escape corruption charges, Aza would really prefer to stay out of it. However, her friend Daisy, tempted by the reward offered, wants to investigate, and ends up dragging Aza along with her.

So, I enjoyed it. It varies slightly from the John Green standard - average male teen falls in love with quirky teenage girl, and he has a bunch of quirky friends - but still with the same Green charm.

As we all know, characters are Green's bread and butter, but these are different from the usual Green fare. Aza has a mental illness. And it's not a pretty, neat one she can treat easily. It invades her thoughts, constantly turning the narrative towards it. It effects her ability to live a normal life and do things that teenagers should. It's not easy to read about, and it's probably not easy to have, either. She is getting therapy and treatment, but they don't seem to make it better for her. That's one of the points that it can take a lot of effort to get to a stage where mental health is manageable, let along better. Just because one way doesn't work, doesn't mean you should stop trying. Daisy writes a lot of Star Wars fanfiction. That's the most stereotypical Green quirk of the lot. She discusses it using terms that go over my head, and I'm a Star Wars fan myself. Her love interest, Davis Pickett, is rich, and by that I mean extremely, but he's the good sort of rich. He has the common thing where he recites trivia, but the narrative never tells us he likes trivia. Normally, when that pops up a character will tell someone else "hey, I tend to recite trivia." Let's compare that to two other Green books - I think the first thing we learn about Colin from An Abundance of Katherines is that he can do anagrams. Similarly, the thing I remember most about Pudge from Looking for Alaska is his quoting of famous dead peoples' last words. But Davis is notable in that the narrative never tells us, only shows us.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I love how John Green writes teenagers. I was one of those teens with a good vocabulary and I can distinctly remember having philosophical discussions with my friends at lunchtime in school. But they still make mistakes, they misinterpret things, they fight with their friends because they don't understand their point of view. They have problems we can all relate to and problems that are more unique to them.

At a few points, Aza wonders if she's fictional. She feels like she is the sidekick to Daisy, but Aza... your last name is Holmes and you're in a mystery novel. I've never been a fan of this trope, actually. As soon as a character starts wondering if they're fictional, it takes me right out of the narrative, the immersion. It doesn't happen often enough here to really annoy me, thankfully.

You never really realise how many dead parents there are in fiction until it happens to you. Some of the ways Green describes it are spot on. The point where Aza says she still expected to see her father everywhere, months after his death? That's the point I'm still in, now.

Was the line explaining what Applebee's is in all editions of the books? As someone who has eaten at Applebee's, it was weird, and I don't think Americans would need a line explaining it.

The mystery part of the book isn't as big a part of it as the cover might make you think. If Green wants to make this a series with Aza and Daisy as teen detectives, I would be okay with that. I'd recommend this to John Green fans and also, since it is different from his usual fare, to John Green not-fans.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Why We Should End The Stigma Around Periods

In a list of problems to care about, the stigma around periods sounds like it would be one of the less important things. And perhaps it isn't as vital as ending hunger, but there are some good reasons why it is an issue. And it's not like people can't care about multiple issues at once.

Under a cut because I know some people are uncomfortable with period-based discussion, but that's their personal choice.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A Review of Alex and Eliza

Alex and Eliza is a historical fiction novel by Melissa de la Cruz. It focuses the relationship between Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler. They Schuyler's are a rich family from New York, however some of their fortune has been lost recently. The three eldest children are the sisters Angelica, Eliza and Peggy, whose mother is attempting to set them up with suitable husbands. At a ball, Eliza Schuyler meets the dashing young Colonel Alexander Hamilton... while he's there to serve a court-martial to her father, so they don't exactly hit it off.

Historical fiction has a lot of requirements. It has to inform people not familiar with a subject about
the basic events, without boring people who know a lot about it. It has to educate. It has to stay within the confines of actual real life events. It has to add enough detail to make the reader feel like they were actually there, while not bogging the text down with description. Historical fiction can make a person feel like they have travelled in time. And it has to be interesting. One of the things that historical fiction can do well is keep the personal aspect of history in the forefront of peoples minds, which can get lost in a dry history lecture or textbook. Good historical fiction can encourage people to seek out more information about the subject at hand.

This book does a good job in invoking it's time and place. It's rather well-written in that respect, using language which feels historical, but is still a light read. It made me feel like I was there, which given that it describes a place foreign to me, is a plus. It uses descriptions of things like the particular smell of pomade lard to bring the reader into the story. Things like the feeling of cold (something a lot of people have experienced) can really help to bring people into a characters shoes. However, I feel I know little more about the American Revolution than I did before I read.

I know very little about the American history, for reasons I hope are obvious. And if someone asks
me about the civil war*, I'll assume they mean the one between Cromwell and Charles I. I've listened to a few Hamilton songs, but I haven't managed to see the musical live yet. And I haven't listened to it all the way through, because I haven't wanted to spoil the musical for me.

*pause while people who obviously know every historical event ever laugh at the idea of being spoiled by history*

Obviously, historical fiction may not always be perfectly accurate. No-one can know what was said between Alex and Eliza when they were in private. And many details of their relationship have been lost to history. This is something that everyone needs to bare in mind while reading this book, or indeed any work of historical fiction. I knew how their relationship develops after the time period covered in the book, and that made reading it a bittersweet experience to me.

Another issue with writing historical fiction based on real people is that many of them were truly awful. When I talk about the people in this section, I am referring to them as characters in this book, since obviously I don't know what they were like in real life. Eliza is very much the standard historical heroine model, and described as Not Like Other Girls a lot. She's prettier than her sisters, but she doesn't know it and tends to dress plainer, which only enhances her beauty. She's got no desire to dress in these overly-elaborate clothes her mother sets out for her. Besides, they offend her principles. While other women are happy to swan around balls, looking for a husband, Eliza is trying to support the Revolution's cause every way she can. However, the book doesn't decry that sort of behaviour, recognising it as a necessary way women conducted themselves in society. Angelica and Peggy are both characters in the novel, and both recognise the importance of finding a husband, especially for a family in hard times. Alex is nice, he shows respect to Eliza which stands him apart from her other suitors, he treats her like an intelligent and opinionated person. There is also a certain romantic charm in historical gentlemen that I feel goes somewhat missing in contemporaries. He treats everyone with diplomacy, until such point as they show they don't deserve it. He is also ambitious, however, as raising himself from nothing to become General Washington's right-hand man would imply.

Trigger Warning: One scene of sexual assault, quite late into the book.

I would recommend this book for people with little knowledge about the American Revolution to give them a brief overview of the events.

*I know the American Revolution and the American Civil War are different events.

If you've never listened to a Hamilton song (or even if you have) do yourself a favour and watch this video!

Monday, 9 October 2017

Stardew Valley and Jealousy

Stardew Valley is a game that came out for Steam in 2016, with later ports to Playstation 4 and Xbox One, and most recently to the Nintendo Switch. It's a farming simulator - think Farmville - based on games like Harvest Moon. However, there's less of a social aspect then with Farmville, and you restore your energy by eating or sleeping than by waiting or using your real life money to increase it. Multiplayer options are known to be coming in a later update. One of the other features of this game is the ability to romance NPCs (Non Player Characters) and marry them.

Now, first I'll note: this game is highly recommended. Don't think that it isn't! It's a very relaxing game, good to play for a short while to chill yourself out. And then look around, realise you've been playing for several hours, and wonder your evening went.

However, I would like to talk about one of the weirder mechanics of this game, one I don't particularly like - jealousy.

So, on my first playthrough, I met all the NPCs, while focusing on other aspects of the game, such as farming and exploring the mines. I got to know them all, and their unique and individual personalities. One of the best features I've found about this game is while it doesn't have a huge story, all the characters are well developed over the course of heart events when you build up enough friendship with them.

Anyway, I decided to marry Elliott. He was a writer, and came with a bookshelf for my farmhouse. Seemed like the perfect match for my bookish self, and my in-game avatar. I gave him gifts, talked to him often, and danced with him at the Flower Dance. Eventually, I gave him the Mermaid Pendant, and we were married and he moved in. Happily ever after, right?

Wrong! I can't remember when, but I must have given one of the other romanceable characters a gift for some reason, probably their birthday. I mean, I still wanted to be friends with them. And having a good friendship with villagers is needed for 100% completion.

At first, Elliott just suddenly turned cold to me. I didn't know what I'd done wrong. I still talked to him every day. I gave him gifts often. It felt like when a real-life friend suddenly goes cold to you for no apparent reason. A few days later, he said “So, I heard you secretly gave (An NPC) a gift today. Do I have to be suspicious of you?” And I clicked that this game must have a jealousy mechanic, which I then started looking into.

I read the other romanceable NPC's dialogue, to confirm if they all did it. They do, but there is one in particular that stood out. Abigail will say that she won't talk to any guys/girls at certain festivals. Any marriage where you feel like that is a requirement isn't a healthy marriage at all. And I do understand that giving gifts to NPC's that aren't romanceable doesn't cause jealousy, but it's the romanceable ones that tend to have better backstories and more developed events.

I must admit, I was surprised, then confused. I felt like telling him "What, don't you trust me?" But he's only a few pixels who can't talk back, so there was no chance of a healthy conversation about this "relationship." Because that's what jealousy is - an unhealthy emotion that shouldn't be present in a functional relationship, not to any great amounts. You should be able to talk over any feelings with your partner, and discuss a rational way to deal with them. Obviously, this isn't going to be possible with a video game character. But instantly jumping to a suspicious mindset isn't a good place to be. Whether it's suspicions because your partner is late back from work, or because of rumours, if you don't feel you can discuss it with your partner, or if you don't feel like you can trust them, there is likely something worse in your relationship than simple jealousy. At it's most extreme, jealousy can cause some abusive traits. Constantly checking in on someone and not letting them see other people are not signs of love, they're signs of control.

Also, so that we're clear: I know it was a video game, and not real life. But games don't exist in a vacuum - things like this can lead to people expecting this sort of behaviour in real life, or even thinking it's an appropriate way to act themselves. Every piece of media ever made reflects society.

So, what would I have done? I may have seen this idea somewhere else, so I apologise. But I would have made a friendship bracelet item to give to NPCs to signal that you just want to be friends with them. This would unlock a different ten heart event to the romantic one, and would mean your spouse doesn't get jealous.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

A Review of The Names They Gave Us

The Names They Gave Us is a Young Adult novel by Emery Lord. Lucy Hansson, pastor's kid, is looking forward to a good summer at the church camp run by her parents. However, her Mom's cancer returns. Instead of helping there, her Mom suggests she takes the summer to help at another camp for disadvantaged children. While there, Lucy discovers more about the campers, other counsellors, and herself than she ever thought possible.

This novel has a strong start. Two girls in the bathroom are convincing another that the guy she came with is not worth her tears, and touching up her make-up for her. I really do like scenes showing the positive side of female relationships. In fact, to this book's huge credit, not one of the girls she meets is bitchy towards her. She makes friends with a good group at the camp, and I loved reading every scene of them hanging out. They felt like people I could hang out with, and reminded me a lot of my Texas group of friends.

Lucy has three hobbies, which are treated with equal levels of respect from the text. She loves make-up, and runs a fairly popular YouTube channel. She played piano when she was young and very well, but has fallen slightly out of doing it. She's also on the swim team and will be captain next year, which she likes because her Mom used to do it. Three hobbies, and some books fail to give female characters one single interest. Add to that her religious background and her flaws, and she feels like a real person. She hasn't quite got the charity part of the bible down - she acts like helping at a camp for disadvantaged children will be the worst thing ever - but as time goes on there, she grows as a person. She's not so good at the love thy neighbour part, either - she judges Tara when she first meets her. However, over the course of the book, she develops as both a character and a person. And she has her heart in the right place, at least, when she helps Anna out, even if she's not always sure of what to do.

Lukas isn't awful, except he is. He doesn't exactly tell Lucy she shouldn't wear her dress and make-up, but he does show he's not entirely happy with it, either. In Lukas's mind, Lucy completes him. She's the perfect high-school romance pastor's daughter complement to his aspiring doctor. But he doesn't see her as her own person, with her own thoughts, feelings, problems and dreams. As soon as she starts showing a side he considers less than perfect, he tells her he wants to take a break. Compared to Lukas, Jones seems overly perfect, but it is obvious throughout the book that he is dealing with his own demons.

The Names They Gave Us is a very interesting title. Obviously, most people are given their name by their parents, so Lucy is Lucy Esther Hansson. However, we are all given different names by different people. Many people at the camp have probably been called all sorts of awful names, based on their race or parentage or perceived sexual conduct. However, we also often get nice names, nicknames from friends and names we make for ourselves. Anna doesn't like people using her last name, since it's hard to pronounce, but that was given to her, too. However, as she says, she likes being called Anna. The last name is just an excuse. She has probably been called by the incorrect name she was given at birth many times before. To illustrate my point, I will quote my favourite lines from the book. "I'm not Pastor Dave's daughter right now, and I'm certainly not Lukas's girlfriend. Not Bird or Swim Team Captain or even LucyEsMakeup. But I don't have a name for who I am. Lucy, obviously, but a Lucy that I'm only starting to figure out. Maybe I'm a little in love with her, too."

I love how Lucy had such a strong relationship with her family. It's nice to see, especially in YA fiction, a good model for how families are supposed to be. And her Mom shows that someone without a stable home life can still grow up to be a successful adult. I recognised so much of my own family in hers. Saturday nights were our movie nights. Girly evenings with just us when Dad was away for work were our thing. With recent events in my family, this book was a hard read. I don't know what it's like to have a mother with cancer. I don't even know what it's like for everyone going through the death of a parent. I can only say what it was like for me to go through, when my Mum died. So much of what was in my head, I recognised in Lucy's narration. I also related to the way she was around her friends. That feeling of finding the one place you fit in. Finding the place where you can be yourself, just yourself, and that's enough, and these people would like you no matter what.

Lucy deals many with a group of 8-year-old campers. I felt that their age ranges were never consistent. One point, they felt more like 5-year-olds, the next they're talking like teens. At one point, one of them can't recognise a fox, calling it an "orange dog." Although maybe that would be realistic, for children who've gone through as much as they have? One thing I wish is that we got more backstory on each of them, to find out why they are here at a camp for disadvantaged children. It's obvious something horrible has happened in the past to them, but the book sort-of glosses over this aspect.

I loved the story of Posy and the Wishing Tree, and if I had the ability, I would get it made up as an illustrated book. For children, adults or teenagers who need it. It might seem a dark subject to represent with a picture book, but I think it could work. I'd put a content warning on the cover, of course, but I do believe people underestimate the ability of children to deal with dark things. And you never know what little child may need a story like that as a push to come forward with an issue like that which may be bothering them at home.

An awful lot of this novel deals with faith. Lucy is a pastor's kid, but starts to question her beliefs after her Mom's news. I'm not religious, but I understand that it is a major part of many people's lives. I do enjoy reading about it in books as long as it doesn't turn preachy, which in my opinion it never did here. With so much of it juxtaposed with her Mom's illness, it drove home how little many religious phrases helped me in my similar situation. We got a few of these in condolence cards, and for me they did not help any. I do understand that faith can be a huge help to some people in these type of situations. Just that for me, it didn't help. The one thing I did appreciate was the phrase "you're in my prayers." Even as an atheist, I understand the sentiment behind it.

Side note: who on earth can't recognise daisies? Lucy, apparently. "Anna slowed us down by picking roadside flowers. She calls them daisies, but I think they might be fancy weeds."

As a non-religious person, I feel odd about recommending a novel about faith to people. As someone who hasn't faced many of the issues handled in this book, I feel odd about recommending it for them, either. I'll just say that if anything in this book sounds like something you'd like to read about, give it a try.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

A Review of Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Wonder Woman: Warbringer is the first in a new series of books based on DC characters. It is authored by Leigh Bardugo, and later books are planned to be written by Marie Lu, Sarah J. Maas and Matt de la Peña. Wonder Woman deals with Diana, Princess of Themyscira as she saves a life. This simple action has further-reaching consequences than she could ever imagine. The girl she saved, Alia Keralis, is a Warbringer, someone with the ability to ignite conflict by her very presence.

My history with comic books is limited. Growing up, I didn't live near anywhere that sold them. I didn't get into them until I found I much enjoyed the recent movies based on them. I've been trying to catch up on the years I spent deprived of comics since, but that's a lot of history to catch up on. Also, please don't suggest that makes me any less of a geek, considering I can school anyone in a room on Pokémon trivia. It just means I wouldn't necessarily call myself a comic book geek.

The book is a separate canon from the comics, and the recent film. It deals with a Wonder Woman who has yet to prove herself to the other Amazons, despite being set in our modern day. She also feels younger - by Amazon standards, that is - and less sure of herself. I don't know how closely it follows the original comics, and I don't see that as a bad thing. The deal with comics - I would even say one of the best things about them - is that they can be reimagined and reinterpreted. In fact, they have, several times. Comic book characters have entered our consciousness in the same way that myths and legends have. Many myths and legends - Roman, Greek, Viking - have also been rewritten over the years, in some cases by these very comic books. And where's the good in any piece of media if it can't be updated for a different time period, or even just experimented with by different people?

The characters in this book are fantastic, and very varied in their personalities. Diana can seem invincible at times, but this book really goes into her doubts and insecurities, which I appreciated. She has Maeve, a good friend within the Amazons, Rani, a rival who she still looks up to and Tek, and someone who does seem to strongly dislike her. This book proves the adage that if you have enough female characters, you can afford to give them a wide range of personalities. Alia, the girl she saves, is a mortal, not as physically strong as the Amazons. However, she is a science geek, more brains than brawn. Once they get to our modern world, it is Alia who really has to take the lead and show Diana how the world works. Alia's best friend, Nim, is also a brilliant designer, who is interested in clothes. You have a girl who likes fashion, a girl who likes science, and a girl who's better at physical things. Despite this, they never feel like they're just "beauty, brains, brawn" - all three are more than that, and well-rounded characters in their own right. The growing friendship between them is one of the best parts of the book.

The book is also amazingly feminist, and intersectionally so. Alia is Black, and the book deals with the issues she faces as someone of her race in New York City. As I mentioned above, the female characters have a wide range of personalities. The relationships between women are at the forefront of this book, particularly the positive ones. Amazons, because of their backstory, can come from anywhere. Nim, Alia's best friend from New York, is Indian and described as "gay, maybe bi. She's figuring it out." In the same discussion, Diana mentions of the Amazons that "Some like men, some like women, some like both, some like nothing at all." Normally, in discussions like this, Aro and Ace people aren't even mentioned, and I had the biggest smile on my face at this point.

I also feel obliged to comment on how well-written this book is. It throws you into the story on page 12. It's decently long, and the font is small, but it never feels slow, it never drags. While reading it, I could imagine it as a film, and was disappointed that it most likely wouldn't ever be made into a movie. As I mentioned above, the characterisation, particularly on our three leads, shines off the page. They feel like real people you could meet on the street - even, especially and most impressively, Diana. Despite focusing on her human side, the book never loses sight of her 'super' side, either. Alia is also flawed - because of her upbringing, she has an easy talent for deception. I'm sure everyone will find something in these characters that they can relate to.

With all the good I have to say about this book, it's a shame I do have a few complaints, but there is an entire sequence with a plane where Wonder Woman catching up to it while it is moving is the most realistic thing about it. The plane, a proper jet, lands and takes off in the Great Lawn, and is known to Air Traffic Control. In a world that is already on tenterhooks for some kind of attack, the thing would have been shot down the second it had gone off course. I'll give Bardugo credit that she does at least acknowledge the unrealism of her scenario in the Author's Note.

I wouldn't say you need a large knowledge of the comics to read this book, and since it is a separate canon a person could read this with little knowledge of the books. However, I would recommend watching the 2017 movie, either before or after reading, so you give yourself a visual reference. Bardugo has set a very high bar for this series, something I am worried that the later authors will not be able to meet. I think I also should mention that I absolutely would recommend it to fans of the comics, too. This book is easily one of my favourites of the year. This was actually my first Bardugo book, and now I'm wanting to read more of what she's written!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A Review of Side Effects May Vary

Side Effects May Vary is a book by Julie Murphy. Alice Richardson is diagnosed with cancer, and makes a list of all the things she wants to put right before she dies. She takes her childhood friend Harvey Poppovicci with her on her adventures. Many of these involve revenge one someone who has wronged her in some way. However, when she enters remission, she realises that her actions may have consequences that she never considered. Alice must learn to live with herself, in a world she never thought she'd see.

This book is an entry into the YA Cancer books genre that has become popular in the last few years. I wanted to try and review this book on it's own merits, but I couldn't help looking up it's publication date compared to The Fault in Our Stars. TFioS: 2012 SEMV: 2014. It almost reads as a John Green checklist - dying girl, revenge list, the boy she drags along on her wild schemes, theme park break-in.

However, if you're expecting anything quite like TFioS, you might actually find yourself disappointed. I was expecting a cute contemporary romance with a background of cancer. Alice and Harvey are childhood friends, which is one of my favourite set-ups for YA, because it means it doesn't feel rushed and avoids insta-love. However, this actually feels more like the movie Mean Girls than anything else I've read.

However, this book is actually a completely different story to how it seems. I guess the most important thing to tell people is that Alice is not a nice person. And I don't mean not nice in the way that Cancer Teens can get away with - she's just generally an unpleasant person to know. Not every YA protagonist has to be, or has to be a good role model. Sometimes it's important to read about the kind of person you don't want to be. Points to her having a passion with ballet, though. Harvey is a teenage boy in all senses of the word - still immature, idolises Alice without really knowing her, lets his hormones think for him. I really don't think their relationship would survive college. College is where we start to find out who we are and where we stand, away from the people and places we've known all our lives.

As for more minor characters, her best friend Celeste is described on page 2 as "more of an enemy than a friend and always wanted what I had." It's a shame, because I would love to read about a friendly competitive rivalry between two teenage girls who are still there for each other when the chips are down. Is it too much to ask for supportive friendships in YA? However, we do see points where Celeste displays traits other than just being the bitchy ex-best friend. Later, Alice's mother, talking about said best friend says "Girls can be barbarians." I've never understood this attitude. I always had a worse time with teenage boys than I did teenage girls. The one character I did like and wanted to read more about was Dennis. He reminded me of people I know, being into video games and films, yet still having a life outside of them.

There is a lot of girl hate in this book, but I wonder if Murphy might have just been making a point about how internalised misogyny can make us perceive other girls. Much of it comes from Alice's POV, who is predisposed to see other girls as competition or threats. It is a thing that does happen, and I won't complain about it's use in fiction, since it does need to be addressed.

One of the things I liked was that Alice's physical description came from Harvey. The overly flowery way he describes her is fitting for a love-stricken teenage boy. It doesn't gloss over the bad parts of her appearance, either. Her dancer's feet are described in full detail, and her puffy face and falling-out hair from chemo are also covered.

I also thought the story might flow better if the chapters were ordered chronologically. All the "Then" chapters first, and the "Now" chapters later.

I guess, if you've enjoyed other YA cancer books, you might like this one, however it doesn't do anything groundbreaking with the genre. It's also a cancer book I would say is readable for those who don't like cancer books. However, if you're looking for something sweet and feel-good, with likeable characters, this is not the book you are looking for.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A Maelstrom of Emotions

I got a nice new dress today, and I was happy about that.

Then I felt guilty for being happy, so soon after Mum's death. Then I felt sad about that. Then, I berated myself for being sad, it's a few weeks since and I'm not the only person in the world who has lost a parent. Then, I realised the dress had pockets, so that made me very happy. Then I wondered what other people might think about me, being happy about something so shallow and materialistic so soon after Mum's death. Then I decided I didn't give a damn about what people would think.

This hasn't been an isolated incident, either. Every time I've been happy over the last few weeks, I've gone through a storm of emotions. One second I'm up, and the next I'm down. I haven't been sad all the time, and I feel guilty. I've been happy and sad at the same time, even. I've also reminded myself that Mum would not want me to be sad all the time.

I've been angry at the stroke, and annoyed that it's not really a person I can take it out on. I've unfairly blamed the NHS, who did as much as they could and treated Mum and us with the utmost respect. I've felt guilty that it happened early, and I was awake but lying in. I heard Mum breathing oddly, but thought maybe she just had a cold. Even though the doctors said that a few minutes wouldn't make any difference, I have wondered if I just found her those few minutes early, if things could change. Maybe if we hadn't gone to the zoo the day before, she wouldn't have been so tired and maybe the stroke wouldn't have happened. If I could turn back time, could I make her go to the doctors and ask them to check for a blockage and take it out before it happened? At the very least, could I tell her everything I should have told her, before she died?

I can't remember the last thing I said to her. I can't remember the last time I told her I loved her. I made bargains, I wouldn't sigh and roll my eyes if she needed help with technology and I'd do more for her around the house and I'd stop doing the puppy-dog eyes "buy me stuff" that at 25-year-old really should have grown out of.

The one thing I've noticed is that I've been concerned about how my grief appears to other people.

During Mum's funeral, me and a friend started talking about Pokémon Go. This was nice, a small way in which I connected with the various people there. I also remember how, since the game came out, Mum would roll her eyes when she saw me playing it, but always asked "catch any rare ones?" Since then, I've been wondering what other people thought about me, discussing something like that at Mum's funeral. Then I decided I just don't care.

There have been times where I've wanted to talk to people, but I haven't, because no-one wants to hear someone going on about their dead Mum all the time. So I've been telling people I'm fine. I've had people respond with "That's good," and "You're doing well." Now, I've been wondering if people thought maybe I wasn't acting sad enough.

Now, I've decided I just don't care about other people perceive it. Everyone deals with grief differently. Any emotion I experience is acceptable and valid, but not always reasonable. Sadness is reasonable, happiness is reasonable. Blame and guilt are not.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

A Review of Heartless

Heartless is a novel by Marissa Meyer, the author of The Lunar Chronicles. It is a reimagining of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland from the point of view of the Queen of Hearts, set before the events of Alice. Namely, when she was a teenager. Lady Catherine Pinkerton is the daughter of a Marquess. She loves to bake, and has dreams of opening her own bakery one day. However, the King of Hearts is showing an unwelcome interest in her, but it's his mysterious court joker that seems to be capturing Cath's heart...

I'm going to start by talking about the story, which is surprisingly dark for a YA-aimed book. What's rather interesting about this is that the conclusion is obvious when you start the story. For Cath to become Queen, things can't work out with Jest and she'll have to marry the King, who she dislikes. Somewhere along the way, her personality will have to change to become the Queen of Hearts we love to hate. As the book goes on, it becomes obvious that there is more going on than it seems, and the reader starts to realise exactly what might happen to Cath.

The worldbuilding here is brilliant. It is surprisingly tricky to tell a story, while remaining within the confines of someone else's world. The "Wonder" part of Wonderland comes through nicely. Animals can talk, plants sprout based on dreams and sport is played with animals. It gives a whimsical, kiddish feel that contrasts nicely with the more serious nature of the storyline. There are definitely some parts which came directly from the book - and Alice Through the Looking Glass is referenced, too. But Meyer adds enough of her own flair to her Wonderland to make it hold up in it's own right.

The characters are stellar, too, although this will surprise no-one who is familiar with Meyer's other series. Cath is a down-to-earth protagonist, much more than your average rebellious noble. She has a dream (and you know how I like it when  female characters have dreams) and it involves baking, making a nice excuse for mouthwatering descriptions of food. It also made for a great pun - not so much a Queen of Hearts as a Queen of Tarts. She is also contrasted with her friend, Mary Ann, a serving girl in her house. To Cath, owning a bakery is her dream, but she would have little idea of the work really required to put it. Waking up at 4am to bake the first batch of bread each day, and staying late into the night to clean probably wouldn't be the sort of life she'd imagine. Mary Ann has a much better idea of the amount of work something like that would entail. She's the businesswoman, and Cath is the dreamer. Cath isn't always likeable, either - she's a product of her upbringing, and sometimes behaves in ways which does remind you that she is the daughter of a Marquess. I did appreciate this as not entirely unrealistic. Jest manages to be very different yet wholly familiar from many romantic leads. He's the poorer suitor of the rich girl, but he also has a few tricks up his sleeve.

I would like to talk about how one of the people Cath knows in the nobility, Margaret Mearle, is almost completely unlikeable, and is also described as unattractive. Now, it would be one thing if this had been mentioned once, but she's never in a scene without her looks being commented on. The book is long, and can feel like the ending drags somewhat - maybe that's a consequence of a foregone conclusion? There is a lot of foreshadowing that not everything will go right for our protagonists, so don't read this one expecting a happily ever after.

You don't really need too much knowledge of Alice in Wonderland to read this book - I would recommend a refresher with the animated Disney movie - but if you liked Heartless, why not give the original a read? That way, you'll be able to see what concepts Meyer took from the original book. I recommend this for fans of Gregory Maguire - who Meyer says influenced the idea - and other untold stories, especially those featuring the villains.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Trust Me, I'm A Doctor (Who Isn't)

Trust Me was a series that ran on BBC a few weeks ago. It follows Cath Hardacre (Jodie Whittaker), an NHS nurse, who finds herself suspended from her job after attempting to blow the whistle on someone else. This was actually because there has been a few complaints raised against her, but we never find out the outcome of these. Cath takes on the identity of her friend Alison Sutton, a doctor and gets a job in a hospital in Scotland. As a doctor, under a false identity.

Whittaker, who is probably more famous already as the next Doctor, manages a stellar performance in what is at times a confusing and demanding role, tying the series together. Cath may be one of the most interesting roles written for a woman I have seen. She is a mother, but she is primarily defined in series by her career. While her love and dedication to her child is shown in the series, it is of secondary importance to the overarching story. In a role reversal, the two more important men in her life are more defined as "Cath's love interest" and "Molly's father" than by their own careers or personalities. One of the other prominent female characters, Bridget, is a complex character in her own right. She's revealed to have made a lot of mistakes on the job, is not above falsifying her reports, and has been drinking on the job. She actually shows off one of the downsides of the medical profession, which is known for putting a lot of stress onto it's employees. Cath and Bridget also pass the Bechdel test at several points.

It's possible to read Cath as a hero defined by circumstance, but if you ask me, she was the villain of the series who got away with far too much. Not that I think this is necessarily a bad thing - it is interesting to see a series where bad people do not get caught. However, in this case, I actually think the series would have been stronger if it had ended with Cath being caught, confessing everything in the face of overwhelming evidence. No-one forced her to take a false identity. No-one made her lie, and her motivations seemed to come more from anger at the NHS than desperation at her situation. It's easy to imagine a counter series where an astute young nurse investigates a seemingly-incompetent doctor, only to find out they were pulling one of the biggest cons of all time.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

A Review of 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is a novel by Jay Asher. Clay Jensen receives a set of tapes, which turn out to be from his classmate, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide recently. On these tapes, she details her list of reasons why she killed herself. There are thirteen. One for every person who she believes was one of the reasons why she did it.

I think everyone and their mother has heard about this book at this point, so I'm sure that synopsis won't come as a surprise. However, it might surprise some people to know that this book and show do a very bad job of educating people about suicide.

This is trivial compared to most of the problematic aspects of this book, but the prose is odd, not helped by the dual narrative style. "I did this, then that. Then I did this." Hannah tells us what happened to her, then Clay tells us what he did and where he went. And why did Hannah record her thoughts on tapes? Surely any teenagers nowadays knows several other ways to record herself? Privatised YouTube videos, for example? She'd be in as much risk of those leaking out to the general student population as she is with the tapes. At least the TV show tries to explain this, somewhat. However, it just comes off like Asher has no idea how central technology has become to the lives of teenagers.* Also, so much girl hate. I can't think of one positive female relationship that Hannah has in this book.

The reasons why someone commits suicide are much more complex than this book seems to think. They can't be broken down into thirteen easily defined reasons. There aren't really "reasons" why someone kills themselves, in a lot of cases.

Telling a group of teenagers, who aren't professionals with any training in this at all, who are also trying to figure out where they stand in the world, and how to relate to each other, that they are somewhat at fault if a classmate commits suicide is awful. Suicide is no-ones fault, but people who know someone who kills themselves can carry guilt that they didn't do more to prevent it. The book spends so much time showing where people went wrong, that it never stops to show what people can do to help. A better message would be showing people trying to reach out to Hannah, encouraging her to talk to them.

The overarching message of the book "be nice to people." Hannah killed herself because people were horrible to her, and that can certainly happen. However, the book and show seem to imply the opposite is also true - that if you are nice to someone, they won't kill themselves. There is a quote from the show "if one of us had been the friend she needs, Hannah would still be here today." But the thing is, you can't say that for definite. So now I feel like friends of people who commit suicide are going to wonder what they did wrong, even more than that already happens. When the reality is that sometimes, you don't do anything wrong, you can do everything right and still not manage to prevent a suicide.

And the thing is, this had the potential to do good. It discusses objectification and sexual harassment, and shows how even a nice guy like Clay can play into it, without even meaning to. It could have opened up an interesting discussion about suicide and depression in teenagers, showing that even teens considered pretty with loving families can experience it. The only times the world "depressed" is mentioned in this book is to snark about Holden Caulfield. The part where Clay was surprised that Hannah wore make-up - girls can wear make-up because it's fun, even if you think we didn't need it, and honestly, we really don't care if you think we need it or not considering that it's not for you - should be taught to all teenagers. But none of this really helps when the basic premise of the show is outright implausible.

And the less said about the Netflix series, the better. The worst thing that could have been done was taking this book, making it more inaccurate and more accessible to people, particularly the group most at risk from the subjects discussed in this book. At least in the book, Clay has the decency to listen to the tapes over the course of a night. But I guess they had to stretch it out into 13 episodes somehow. With a lot of unnecessary filler, too.

For further reading, try googling "problems with 13 Reasons Why." I especially recommend you check out Emmareadstoomuch's "Thirteen Reasons Why I Hate 13 Reasons Why" which discusses the problems with this book better than I ever could.

I wouldn't recommend this book for teens with depression, and I wouldn't recommend for teens trying to help someone with depression, either. I've yet to read a young adult book I would recommend to either of those groups. I'm also not counting All The Bright Places, which uses suicide as a plot device for romantic angst.

*Edit: I thought the book had been published later than it was. At the time this book was written/published, technology and social media wasn't quite as ubiquitous as it is nowadays. However, it does make the books seem dated to modern readers.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

My Mum Passed Away Recently...

Last weekend, we were camping.

On Tuesday, we went to a Zoo together.

On Wednesday morning, she had tea with my dad at 9am, and got up at 9:30 to take a shower. I was still in bed. Dad went downstairs to make breakfast.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Everything You Know About Lolita is Likely Wrong

As people may have noticed from my Goodreads account, I have been reading Lolita on and off for a few months. Because of the subject matter, I have often found myself needing to take a break from it. Mum saw me reading it recently, and asked. "What are you reading?"
"Lolita," I said.
"What's it about?" She said. I hate being asked this question about anything I am reading, but with a book like this especially.
"Um, it's about a man who wants to have sex with a pre-pubescent girl. Like, it's not presented in a good way, he's the villain, but he's also the protagonist."
"Oh. But she's really the villain?"
"Um. No? She's twelve, and a twelve year old girl is never at fault for a grown man wanting to have sex with her."
"Oh, but you hear girls described as Lolita's all the time." As if that makes it okay? Just because something is so normalised in culture that it's accepted, doesn't make it okay.

Also, the protagonist is horrible. Like, this isn't a man creepily watching a young girl from afar. This is a man starting a relationship with someone to get close to her daughter, and touching himself in secret while he's talking to her. I don't know how much worse it gets, yet.

I would also ask you to think of any cover you've ever seen of this book. Did it have a sexualised young girl on the cover? Nabokov explicitly stated that “There is one subject which I am emphatically opposed to: any kind of representation of a little girl.”

Young girls, weird disconnected body parts and sexualised fruit.
However, if you have avoided this book because of the reputation it has, think again. It's not a book that glorifies that sort of relationship. The common misconceptions about it fly in the face of what Nabokov was actually intending to portray.

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!