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Stacking the Shelves: August 2014

Stacking the Shelves is a book haul meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews.

Hey guys, guess what. It was my birthday yesterday!

Yesterday I took a day trip to Edinburgh with my family for my birthday, and I had the most awesome of times until we got in the car to go home. Not because of the fact that we were going home, but because I was ill. Like really bad. Something I ate didn't really agree with me, and you really didn't need to know that whoops.

What else have I been up to this month? Well, my room got redecorated and I FINALLY HAVE BOOKSHELVES OMG. I got one for my books, and another for DVDs and games, and everything fits on them. This hasn't happened in the longest of times. I'd have a picture here, but I'm too lazy. Oh well.

Also, I've been doing a lot of planning for October, which is when I'm planning on having a horror themed month. So far, it's not anything huge because this is the first time I've done something like this. I already have two posts scheduled, and I've still got a lot of planning to do. I'm totally solid for reviews, but if anybody would like to do any guest posts, just give me a bell with what you have in mind!

Anyways, let's see what goodies I got this month!

Review: Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla and the Happily Ever After
Series: Companion to Anna and Lola
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Released: August 14 2014 by Dutton
Source: Purchased

The café is boiling. The atmosphere is clouded with bittersweet coffee. Three years of desire rip through my body and burst from my lips: "Josh!" His head jolts up. For a long time, a very long time, he just stares at me. And then... he blinks. "Isla?"

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on brooding artist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And, after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer break, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to face uncertainty about their futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.
Want to know what I thought of Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door? Click the titles for my reviews!

It's here! And I finally read it! I had a preorder out on Isla and the Happily Ever After since April, and once the release date actually came around, I was obsessively checking my emails every day for my copy to be dispatched. I absolutely adored both Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, so to say that I had high expectations of Isla, is a bit of an understatement. And while I did love this book, and there are plenty of things that I love about it, I didn't love it as much as the previous two books in the series.

As with all of Stephanie Perkins' books, Isla's story is incredibly sweet, fluffy, and romantic, which is definitely my favourite kind of romance; however, I got a more mature feeling in this book, compared to Anna and Lola, and I absolutely loved that. Josh and Isla have a pretty harsh reality to deal with, which is that there's always going to be something that could separate them, as much as we all want them to be together forever. That just doesn't happen in reality, and I'm really glad that was a big part of the story as it made Isla and Josh's situation seem just that more real. The reason why I've marked Isla down by one star is because at the beginning, to me the romance gave off a bit of an insta-love vibe, and I felt like things were moving a little bit too fast. And by 'too fast' I mean we're already on first dates, kissing, and 'I love you's before the book is half over. However, as I continued reading, I did think that maybe the romance moved that fast to make way for the more heavy stuff, but I still had a very faint taste of insta-love in my mouth, and that's thanks to the fact that Isla has had a crush on Josh for years before the book even begins.

Yay for awesome characters! I think that Isla is another great MC, and I loved her. Initially my biggest fear was that all the way through she would only be concerned with Josh and her relationship with him, and while that is kind of true, she does grow a lot as the book progresses. She learns a lot about how to treat other people, which I think is incredibly important because I've seen a lot of people abandon their friends who they've been joined at the hip with for years in favour of their new boyfriend or girlfriend, which just isn't cool. I love it when MCs grow as their story continues, and the way that Isla grows is one of my favourite things about this book. The main thing about Isla's narrative that I like is that she is a total romantic, but she's not the kind of "my boyfriend is totally infallible and there isn't a single thing wrong with him" kind of romantic. She has her insecurities, and while they do get in her way sometimes, she ultimately doesn't let them immobilise her. As for Josh, I really liked him, but he hasn't taken Cricket's place as my book boyfriend (I love Cricket too much for someone else to take his place). I'm not usually one for the brooding kind because in my experience, they usually focus on themselves, but Josh isn't like that. You can definitely see that he really does care for Isla, and almost manages to forget about everything going on with himself when he's with her. That's the main thing I liked about him: for the most part he's totally selfless, even to the point of risking his own future for Isla. However, one thing that I didn't like about Josh is that when he and Isla are planning their future together, to me it felt like Josh was the one deciding everything, and Isla just blindly went along with it. A relationship is a team: you can't always do what only one person wants to do. Another character related point that I love is that we get to see characters from the previous two books, yay! Being able to see so many characters again made me feel so nostalgic, and also seeing some stories come to conclusions was one of the best parts of the story.

The main thing that I absolutely love about Stephanie Perkins' books is that her work isn't just about romance. Yes, the romance is a big part of her stories, but there are other important themes there too that you just can't ignore. In Isla, I got a big theme of friendship and family, mainly with the message that you can't abandon the people that you've always loved, just because you've gained a romantic interest in someone. Seeing this nestled inbetween the romance and even a bit of angst in the third quarter of the book just reminded me so much why I love Stephanie Perkins' writing. Inbetween all your sweetness and fluff, you can still have a heaping dose of reality to make you think, and she does it so well that I can't help but admire her writing. I love it so much!

Although I didn't love Isla as much as I loved Anna and Lola, I did still really enjoy this book and would definitely read the whole series again. And again. And again. I liked how Isla's story felt more mature in comparison, once I'd gotten over the initial insta-love taste that I had at the beginning, and I was pretty much glued for this book. All that waiting was definitely worth it, because this was an awesome light read.

Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Directed by: Michel Gondry
Genre: Drama / Romance / Science-Fiction
Released: March 19 2004 by Focus Features
Running time: 108 mins (1 hr, 48 mins)
Rated: R (USA) 15 (UK)
Viewed at: Home / Netflix
Rating: ★★★★★+

IMDb | View Trailer
Joel is stunned to discover that his girlfriend Clementine has had her memories of their tumultuous relationship erased. Out of desperation, he contracts the inventor of the process, Dr. Howard Mierzwaik, to have Clementine removed from his own memory. But as Joel's memories progressively disappear, he begins to rediscover their earlier passion. From deep within the recesses of his brain, Joel attempts to escape the procedure. As Dr. Mierzwiak and his crew chase him through the maze of his memories, it's clear that Joel just can't get her out of his head.
For a long time, I'd been a big fan of Michel Gondry's music videos, but I'd only ever seen one of his films, which was Be Kind Rewind (which is a pretty good film, I'd definitely recommend it). Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind had been recommended to me hundreds of times, but I'd never gotten around to watching it and it just sat in my Netflix queue for months. After a particularly disastrous cinema trip (screen wasn't working), I was looking around for something a bit light to watch and decided to stream this film at long last. Maybe all of that waiting was worth it, because this has now become an instant favourite of mine.

ESotSM is the story of downtrodden Joel (played by Jim Carrey), who finds out that his former girlfriend Clementine (played by Kate Winslet), has had him erased from her memory after their break up. In an attempt to move on from her, Joel goes through the same memory wiping process, and their relationship plays out in reverse. The film's plot is the main reason as to why I liked it so much: I love the way that the events unfold backwards, and also how the story begins and ends in around about the same place. It's a little bit more complex than the ordinary linear storyline, as there is a steady back-and-forth going on that really doesn't get very confusing at all. By back-and-forth I mean that we go into Joel's memories that are being erased by his technicians in his apartment, who we also see have a story too, but I'll get on to that in a bit. The thing I loved the most about how Joel's memories are told backwards is that we get to see how his relationship with Clem started and I went from thinking 'wow no wonder they broke up', to actually liking how sweet their relationship was in the first place.

Sometimes I'm a little wary of films with ensemble casts because I've seen a lot of films where some members of the cast get pushed into the background while the others get the spotlight (looking at you, reboot Star Trek series). I did initially have that fear, but thankfully every single cast member gets a fair amount of time in the film, and the characters that initially seem like bit players actually do have deeper stories than just being there to erase Joel's memories. In most films there's that one character that you're not supposed to like, and here that character is Patrick, who is played by Elijah Wood. Wood's character is definitely one that made my skin crawl more and more every time something was revealed about him. I'll not say why because of spoilers, but I really got to give it to Elijah Wood for managing to make me creeped out by a character played by him. The rest of the ensemble cast - Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst, and Tom Wilkinson - also give great performances as their characters also have a story that I can't mention too much because of spoilers, but the way that their characters go from just being peripheral characters to having stories and emotions of their own is one of my favourite things about ESotSM.

The one actor in the whole film that I had my doubts about is Jim Carrey, and now I feel a bit silly for doubting him so much. Carrey has always been one of my favourite comics, but before ESotSM, I'd never seen him in any dramas so I really didn't know what to expect of him. Once the film got into full swing, my doubts were completely pushed aside because Carrey gives a great performance as Joel, and shows how versatile he really can be. He has a few moments where he uses his comedic skills, but his dramatic performance outshines those moments. On the surface, Joel is a pretty boring character who I normally wouldn't give too much thought to (he's just set up for a Manic Pixie Dream Girl), but Carrey realy managed to give him more of a character other than being that guy who can't stop pining over his ex-girlfriend who obviously doesn't want anything to do with him anymore. And also throws Beck tapes out of the window (not cool).

My favourite character in ESotSM is definitely Clem, because she completely smashed my expectations of her. I totally expected her to be a regular Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she not only acknowledges that trope, she totally rejects it and I just love her for that. She's not in Joel's life to complete him, or change his life in any way, she's with Joel because she likes him and she'd much rather change her own life than anybody else's. Kate Winslet is an actress that I used to keep my distance from because I absolutely hate Titanic more than any other film, so her performance in ESotSM has totally changed my opinion of her and made Clementine one of my favourite film characters from now on (I also wish I had to courage to dye my hair like hers).

This is the part where I might go a little mad, because this is why I love Gondry's music videos: the cinematography. In terms of camera work, I really love how there are two styles that have been used: in the non-memory scenes, the camera work is pretty standard stuff which is kind of to be expected, but in the memories, there's a dreamish atmosphere that gets fuzzier and fuzzier as the memories are being erased. And in some memories, the erasing is more catastrophic, with it literally falling apart. Another stand-out thing to me are the special effects, which is a mixture of traditional effects (using different perspectives) and also computer effects. In some scenes, people's faces become warped or blurred as Joel's memories are being erased, which is really cool to see, but I found myself being more impressed by the traditional effects that are used, for example in the scenes of Joel's childhood memory of hiding under the table crying. The way that the effects make Jim Carrey look tiny and Kate Winslet look a lot bigger than him is really interesting because there's no special effects used. This is the same for scenes were Joel can see himself getting the procedure done, as Jim Carrey simply changed his clothes and ran into each shot. I love me some special effects, but sometimes I find myself being more impressed by the tricks that directors can do with cameras.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is easily one of the best films that I have seen this year. Why I just left it in my Netflix queue for so long, I have literally no idea. Jim Carrey was already one of my favourite comics, but from this film I've gained a whole new respect for him as an actor because I had no idea that he had the ability to perform these kinds of roles (sorry, Jim). This film has instantly become a new favourite for me, and I'll definitely be watching this again and watching more of Michel Gondry's work.

On Pre-Ordering

I used to love pre-ordering things: books, DVDs, even games (but never music though, I can actually wait for albums to come out), but now I'm a little bit more wary of pre-orders. And this has possibly come about after I pre-ordered my copy of Isla and the Happily Ever After all the way back in April. Yeah, April. That got me to thinking: when is it too early to pre-order something?

Another thing that I'd been itching to pre-order is Only Lovers Left Alive on DVD, which won't be released in the UK until the 15th next month. Obviously that isn't too far away now, but the pre-order was announced in about May because the DVD was released in the US on the 11th of this month (I think). Now this just strikes me as weird. Why? Because the film was released in cinemas in the UK first, but we're still getting the DVD later. I just want it now!

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Ah, this is where my problem lies: money. I'm a student who is particularly terrible with money. I mean, really bad. The amount of times that I've gone broke in the past year is pretty alarming because I like spending money so much. One of the things I like about online shopping is that the store doesn't take the money out of your bank account until your things are dispatched, which is good in case you need to cancel your order (or you get jerked around like I did one time). However, this is where I'm more hesitant with pre-orders. With my order for Isla, I had to leave an appropriate amount of money for months until the book was actually dispatched on the release day. I'd always thought that if you pre-ordered something, you'd get it on the actual release date, but that only happens if the store you're ordering from does that, or you go into an actual physical shop and buy it in person (I did that with Beck's album Morning Phase, but mainly because I was at uni the day it was released).

Even though I've been pre-ordering books and DVDs less and less these days, there are only one thing that I will continue to pre-order: cinema tickets. Whenever I go to the cinema, I prefer to book my ticket in advance because I like to sit in the exact same seat every single time. For spur-of-the-moment cinema trips I book the day before, but if it's a film that I've been waiting for absolutely ages for, I'll book my ticket the day the bookings are available, which is usually a week or a few days before (I've done this for Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, and Godzilla). But obviously that's different because once a seat in the cinema is taken, you're not going to be able to get it. Booking in advance is the best way to get the seat you want. When The Avengers came out two years ago, my friends and I made the mistake of going on the first Tuesday night after it was released (Tuesday is saver day at my local cinema), and we didn't book our tickets online so we went down and the only seats left were at the very front. I always refuse to sit at the front because it hurts my eyes really badly, so we had to wait two hours for the later show. Because of that, I always book tickets in advance.

As of right now, I'm really impatiently waiting on both Afterworlds and The Infinite Sea to come out (as well as OLLA), and I'm seriously debating on whether to pre-order them or not. It's getting closer and closer to the release dates, so it actually seems better to just wait until I can go into a shop and physically buy them in person. I can wait. Not very patiently, but I can still wait.

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When do you think is too early to pre-order things online? Do you pre-order, or do you prefer to wait until you can buy it in person?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 9 - My Favourite Teacher

back to school book blogger challenge

Day 9 (last day!) - Share with us the story of your favourite teacher or mentor.

image by fyspringfield
My favourite teacher just so happens to be the best teacher that I've ever had. And that teacher was my Year 9 English teacher, who will simply be referred to as Mrs. C (because C is her last initial).

Mrs. C is still teaching at the school I went to, and she's a bit of a funny character. When you've never had her as a teacher, you just don't want her. She has a reputation for being a bit of a witch when she's chewing kids out, and she's pretty strict. However, when you were actually in her class it didn't feel that way at all because she's actually really nice. Obviously, if you break the rules and really get on her nerves you're going to hear about it (trust me, I once got a two minute lecture because I asked to leave the room because I didn't feel comfortable with just leaving while she was talking, and ended up interrupting her train of thought. oops), but she didn't hold grudges. She didn't have any favourites and there weren't any kids that she hated for no reason. And even if she did (and that was incredibly unlikely), she wouldn't show it because she treated all of us equally.

If it weren't for Mrs. C I wouldn't have any confidence in my academic life, and I certainly wouldn't be studying English at university. At school I'd always done well in English, but when I was in her class my marks hit the ceiling. She made the subject fun, but she also challenged us at the same time. We were doing exam-style assessments every couple of weeks that didn't feel like a chore at all, and she managed to make studying Shakespeare fun. And trust me, I know how much kids hate Shakespeare these days, and I've technically studied Macbeth three times (once when I was 10, another time when I was 13, and the last time when I was 17). Mrs. C has us doing GCSE level work without us even realising it because we enjoyed it so much. I was basically a combination of Lisa Simpson and Spongebob Squarepants in that class.

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(Literally me writing in that class.)

I was only in her class for one year, but I wanted to be in her class so badly for the last two years that I was at school. I'd heard stories about her being too demanding but I really wouldn't have minded because I liked her that much. Apart from being an amazing English teacher, Mrs. C was a great source of motivation for me. When I was in Year 10, she got promoted to being Deputy Head Teacher, and if I ever had any problems, I could always go talk to her about it. My biggest academic road block was maths and she helped me get through it by telling me that I could do it, and I really couldn't thank her enough for that. My next two English teachers were great too (Year 10 was a bit weird because our regular teacher took ill halfway through the year and we had a number of subs before getting a regular teacher, who was also my Year 11 teacher), but neither of them compared to Mrs. C. Sometimes I'm actually tempted to visit my old school just to see her.

Did you have a favourite teacher at school? What were they like?

Big big big big BIG thank you to Parajunkee for hosting this awesome challenge; I had a lot of fun with this!

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 8 - My Biggest Blogging Lesson

back to school book blogger challenge
Day 8 - What is the biggest lesson you've learned as a blogger?

I've learnt quite a few things during my time as a blogger, but the biggest lesson that I'm still paying attention to is this:

Want people to read your blog? Make sure they know that you exist.

You aren't going to get any readers if those potential readers don't even know that your blog exists, so you've got to share links to your posts, and leave those comments. And also, there are some methods of getting more followers that aren't always going to work (i.e. hosting a giveaway because some people might unfollow you everywhere once the giveaway is over). If you want people to come to your blog, you've got to work at it.

Other things I've learnt:
  • Don't compare yourself to other bloggers
  • Stats aren't everything
  • It isn't the end of the world if you didn't post anything in that one week
  • Try to not review everything that you read
  • If you don't feel like blogging or reading, then don't force yourself to
  • Make sure you get organised
  • Use your social networks!
  • It's okay to say no
And most importantly: life comes first. If everything that's going on with your life suddenly gets too overwhelming for you to sit and run a blog, take a break and wait for things to calm down first. The last thing you want to do is make yourself ill from worrying about a multitude of things at once.

What lessons have you learnt as a blogger?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 7 - My Most Inspiring Assignment Books

back to school book blogger challenge

Day 7 - What are the most inspiring books you've read that have been assigned to you?

I've mentioned in a discussion post before that I don't really like studying novels. Short stories, I can get down with because short stories are awesome. It's a big fat no way in hell for poetry though (poetry can go jump in a hole). I haven't had the best experience with studying books and I kind of blame the school and sixth form that I went to. The books that I enjoyed the most were books that we ended up not studying for one reason or the other, and the rest I was either completely indifferent towards or hated with every fibre of my being (that aside, I will still fiercely defend GCSE English because I really don't think it makes kids end up hating reading because most of those kids probably didn't like reading in the first place, and it's all down to the teacher).

My two choices are a little strange because these are books that I was supposed to study and ended up barely doing anything on them.

I was supposed to study this book for GCSE English because everybody else (apart from the top set who studied Hard Times) was doing Of Mice and Men, which we had pretty much done every single year because the teachers couldn't really think of anything else to teach by the end of the year. Want to know how many chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird we read? One. ONE CHAPTER. Why? About four people (and not to be mean, but these were lazy kids) complained that it was "too hard". I personally would love to hear how To Kill a Mockingbird, a book written in plain English with barely any slang, is harder than Of Mice and Men. Anyways, we took a vote and over half the class wanted to continue with To Kill a Mockingbird, and we ended up doing Of Mice and Men anyway. I ended up taking a copy out of the school library because I wanted to continue on with it myself, and now it's one of my favourite books that I still need to own a copy of.

Ah, my favourite book ever. I'd read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time when I was 14 after a friend on Piczo (shows how long I've been on the internet for) recommended it to me. For my second year of A Levels, this book was the book that we had to write an essay on, and it was assigned as summer reading (one of the teachers actually said "I'm sorry, but you'll have to read it again", and of course I didn't mind it's one of my favourite books). That summer reading assignment basically ended up being for nothing because the teacher that I got decided to do the syllabus her own way. Which was completely upside down. The other class studied Frankenstein first, which we didn't touch until after Christmas vacation and ended up spending too long on. Instead, we studied stories from Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber (which were okay, I didn't really think much of them) as part of feminist criticism and then, for some reason, we studied Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, which will go down as one of the worst short stories/novellas I've ever read. We finally get to Nineteen Eighty-Four about three quarters of the way through the term, and it turns out that I'm the only person who can answer any questions about it because I'm the only person who's read it twice (even my friend who read it once didn't say as much as I did), which I didn't mind because I was totally in my element there. We spent one week on it. Yeah, just one week. That's two classes that last two hours each. Four hours on one book that we were supposed to write a whole essay on. But, despite that little experience, this is the book that started me off in dystopian fiction and it's shaped what my view on dystopian fiction should be.

And I have one more as a bonus, because I technically didn't study it at all, but it has inspired me a lot.
This is the book that gave me my writing style (obviously not my blog writing style, my fiction writing style). My original writing assignment at GCSE was to write the opening of a detective novel, using The Big Sleep as a stimulus (every other class just got told "write a story". my friend wrote a story about a vet going into space), and even though I'm not one for bragging, I got an A for that assignment. Yeah, I'm just that great. In fact, you can read it here if you want! It's been changed since then, and I waited two years before posting it online, but I'm still proud of it. Anways, we only had the first chapter to go by so I got myself a copy of the book and I've since been hooked on the Philip Marlowe series and Raymond Chandler is my biggest writing inspiration. From reading his work, I've learnt how to effectively write in the first person and use a character's voice to the best of my ability.
What about you? What assignment books do you remember the most?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 6 - Getting Organised

back to school book blogger challenge

Day 6 - Back to school means time to get organised and start fresh. What are some steps you'll take on your blog to keep things flowing smoothly and change things up?

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I will somewhat shamefully admit that I am the worst person at planning posts. A lot of my non-review posts are written somewhat spontaneously and then posted on days where I don't usually have anything specifically planned (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are my review days). I'm always trying to make myself become a better blogger because even after nearly three years, sometimes I still feel like a newbie and that is mostly my fault (I didn't actually start commenting on blogs properly until this year, oops) because I'm not as organised as I should be.

At the minute my weekly schedule looks like this:
  • Monday - Free
  • Tuesday - Book Review
  • Wednesday - Free
  • Thursday - Film Review
  • Friday - Life of a Blogger
  • Saturday - Book Review
  • Sunday - Free (I'm still trying to come up with something to do on Sundays, but I don't really want to do a weekly recap kind of post. Also, I post my Stacking the Shelves posts on the last Sunday of the month.)
I do my best to not fill those empty slots with fluff posts that I came up with the night before, but it's too easy to have weeks where I post nothing but reviews (plus, I don't participate in blog tours or cover reveals

Lately I've been planning out what I aim to do in the next month, but for September I don't have much so far because I've been doing a lot of planning for October. Why October? Well, back in 2012 I wanted to have a bit of a Halloween vibe during October so I reviewed four classic monster movies and held a giveaway. But this year I want to do more, so I'm planning to make October a horror-themed month here and while I'm pretty much solid for reviews, I've been trying to come up with posts. (oh, and if anybody wants to contribute to it, you're more than welcome to) 

I think one of my biggest struggles starting next month will being able to find time to read and blog since I'm about to go into my second year of university and I'll be getting a lot more work this time. And if it turns out that I don't have the time to run things at times, I'll have to accept that it's okay and this blog will still be there waiting for me to come back whenever I'm ready. I just need to take things easy! And if things get too hard, I can always picture this guy telling me it's okay:

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Thanks, Supes.

Another thing that I'm going to start doing - and I'm really going to PUSH myself to do this because it's not in my nature - is being more social on Twitter because the way I tweet right now looks like I'm talking to myself. I'm the kind of person who's shy both in person and online. I used to sit with a comment completely written out for about half an hour before I clicked the submit button, and sometimes I'd just exit the page altogether, so interacting with other bloggers on Twitter just freaks me out sometimes. I used to get so shy that whenever people replied to my tweets, I'd not reply back to them which I feel really bad about now because that's actually pretty bad mannered. So, being more social on Twitter is a definite must for me.

One thought that I've been having recently is this: although I don't participate in Top 10 Tuesday, I do come up with my own top 10 lists. My main concern with this is unknowingly stealing a list idea from TTT, so I've recently been considering making my top 10s non-bookish. Instead I could make lists about TV shows, films, characters, or even video games if I wanted to because as much as I try, I'm not very good at coming up with bookish lists. From now on, I'll leave bookish top 10 lists to Top 10 Tuesday, which will hopefully take a load off of my mind.

And while I'm on the topic of features, for a while now I've been planning on a new feature that I came up with myself but still haven't debuted yet due to not really knowing where to start with it. I call this feature "Doubleplusgood" (because of my love for Nineteen Eighty-Four) and it's basically where I fangirl about my favourite things, either bookish or not. Hopefully I'll get my butt in gear and write a post for it so that I can finally get it going.

What are your ways of getting your blog organised?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 5 - Where My Love of Reading Came from

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge

Day 5 - Share your own story about what or who fostered the love of reading in yourself.

I've always liked reading in some way since I was little, and I have my parents to thank for that since my mum taught me how to read herself when I was two. I actually don't remember not being able to read and write, and that's all down to my mum. I've also got to give credit to my dad too for building me bookshelves in my room and agreeing to let me have so many books (my dad's not a big fiction reader, but he'll happily sit and read maps or instruction manuals or non-fiction) and even letting me borrow some of his.

However, the person who really got me to love reading was my secondary school librarian. I used to go to the fortnightly book club in the library after school (it just fizzled out for some reason or another), and there I was introduced to all sorts of books that I'd never heard of before. At my school you had to be in year 10 before you could read books that had a "senior" label on them, unless the librarian knew you pretty well, and I was taking out those books when I was in year 9, which introduced me into even more titles. In fact, school is where I first started reading YA books and even though very few of my friends read, I still had someone to talk about books with in our school librarian.

Another influence on me would be my year nine English teacher (who I know I'll be talking about again in this challenge), the way she influenced me is in my love of not only reading, but studying literature. She made English both fun and challenging at the same time, and showed me that there is never one truly right answer when you're analysing a text. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be studying for an English degree.

How about you? How did your love of reading come about?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 4 - My Advice for Parents

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge

Day 4 - If you are a parent, or have advice for parents... what do you (or think would work) to foster the love of reading in kids?

image from fyspringfield
My biggest piece of advice would be to first of all get them to start reading when they're really young, and possibly even teach your kids how to read yourself rather than waiting for them to start going to school/kindergarten. My eight year old cousin didn't read until she was five and whenever you try to read with her she comes up with the classic excuse of 'I can't read'. My mum, on the other hand, taught me how to read when I was only two and read both to me and with me as much as possible, which leads on to my next piece of advice.

Reading isn't just for bedtime! Lots of kids like bedtime stories to help them sleep but reading isn't just for one specific part of the day. Set out some time each day to read during the day, to show that reading is for fun, that it's not a chore and it's not just to help you go to sleep. I can't even remember the last time I read before going to sleep.

This next thing I have to say is something that I know not all parents will agree with me on, and it's to not control too much what your kids read. Obviously don't let your five year old read Fifty Shades of Grey or The Silence of the Lambs, that's just common sense. The best way I can explain this is through experience. My family is what I call semi-religious (my mum and my brother go to church, while my dad and I don't because we don't like the church that they go to), and the people at the church we're connected to are pretty sensitive. There's no way of putting that lightly, they're really sensitive to a lot of things you'll see in films rated above 12. And that's because they've always been told 'you can't read this, look at the content' and 'you can't watch that, you're not old enough'. Once I got to a certain age, my parents were perfectly fine with what I read or watched on TV because it doesn't influence me. If you think that your child is mature enough, then they can move up a reading level when they want to, instead of feeling like they're stuck reading things that are too easy for them.

And my last piece of advice, which could be given to anybody really, is that it's okay to not want to read at that moment in time. If you just don't feel like reading, don't force yourself to! You could catch up on your favourite TV show, watch a film, beat that level that's been annoying you in the latest game you've been playing, and when you come back to your books you'll be ready to read!

What advice would you give?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 3 - Memories...

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge

Day 3 - Share your most memorable school memory

To be totally honest with you guys, I don't really like to think about school because I didn't have a good time there at all. I got jerked around by the system and bullied really badly by the other kids, and it's just not something that i like to think about a lot. But, I do have one particularly good school memory that I'm always eager to share with people!

Got your milk and cookies ready? Good, because I'm going to tell you a story!

When I was in year eight, we got a new kid in our class at around a quarter of the way through the year. His first day was a Wednesday, which is weird. Anways, on Fridays that year, our last class of the day was English and on that particular day our teacher wasn't in so we had a sub. Now, the school I went to wasn't the best school. As a matter of fact, the head teacher who founded the school actually got sacked because he pretty much didn't care about what went on (no, really, he just sat in his office and ate chocolate for most of the day). The best word to describe my school is rough. The kids did what schoolkids typically do when they've got a sub for the day: basically nothing. To cut to the chase, the boy was asked to get something out of the cupboard at the back of the room, and he ended up getting locked in. On his first week. 

Nobody had a way to get the kid out of the cupboard and he was basically stuck there. NAturally, as the new boy, he had to come up with a way of not looking like an idiot in that cupboard so he starts shouting things from inside. My personal favourite one was "I've found Narnia!" It took until about four o'clock (school finished at 2:45 pm back then) for him to get out, but it was still pretty funny.

What's your most memorable school memory?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 2 - If I Were an English Teacher...

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge

Day 2 - If you were/are an English teacher, share with us your dream lesson plan as far as reading assignments.

I get asked quite a lot if I want to be a teacher in the future (I'd be a terrible teacher, so I'm leaving that to my brother), but I've never been asked what my dream lesson plan would be, so I've had to think a lot about this!

If I were to teach a module or unit (I don't know what other schools call them), I would teach the dystopian genre because it's one that I feel like I know pretty well.
I couldn't have my reading assignments just be crusty mid 20th century books, could I? Since I imagine this would be for people in school, I have to include some YA books into the mix because, in my opinion, YA dystopian is different from adult dystopian and the genre has changed since its inception. So, here I have three different types of dystopia: one that looks like a utopia, but is actually still pretty bad (Uglies); one where the population is kept in constant fear (The Hunger Games); and one where everybody is dying and there's pretty much nothing that can be done about it except forcing girls into polygamous marriages (Wither).
I hadn't heard of this story until I watched a YouTube video titled 'Top 10 Most Depressing Games' (sounds lovely, doesn't it?) because I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream was adapted into a video game. Cool, huh? obviously the video game is about twenty years old now, so i don't have a way of playing it anytime soon but i gave the story a read and holy crap. This story is what made me realise the difference between YA dystopians and dystopians of the past. There's just a feeling of hopelessness once you get to the end, which I still have yet to get from a YA dystopian. And there's just nothing like coming out of class feeling incredibly disturbed, isn't there? You can read the story HERE, if you'd like to. Just don't read it in the dark at 2AM like I did. That was a bad decision.
Yes, I am truly that cruel. Just kidding! Nineteen Eighty-Four is one of my favourite books ever (I've read it twice, and the first time it wasn't for school) and I actually only studied it for one lesson when I was in sixth-form and supposed to write an essay on it, so I would love to include it in a lesson plan and see how other people would interpret it and read deeper into it. That's the beautiful thing about studying literature; there are technically no wrong answers! Unless you completely read it all wrong like the people in a class I was in once did (even the teacher had a look of pure 'did we read the same book?' on her face, they got it so wrong).

And just as a bit of fun...:
Create your own dystopia! The worse the society, the better. Extra points if it's just beyond overthrowing!

What books would be in your dream lesson plan?

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge: Day 1 - Introductions

Back to School Book Blogger Challenge

Day 1 - It's time to stand up in front of the class and share with the rest of us a little bit about you!

Hihi, I'm Louise! I'm an 18-year-old university student from the North East of England, and next month will be my three year blog anniversary (wowzers). Apart from my obvious obsession with reading, I'm also completely obsessed with films, TV, and cartoons. Oh man, do I love me some cartoons (the vast majority of reaction images in my folder are from The Simpsons).

Anyways, I am a university student, and am about to go into my second year studying for a BA in English and Creative Writing. That means that I do a lot of reading that gets in the way of my reading. Trust me, that totally makes sense.

A few random facts about me:
  • The city where I'm from is where Lewis Caroll wrote Jabberwocky and The Walrus and the Carpenter. There's a statue of a walrus in the park in the city centre to commemorate it.
  • My book collection grows at about the same rate as my DVD collection.
  • I spend more time on Tumblr than I should (you should totally follow me btw)
  • See that Bender gif above? I made it. Yup. I've been teaching myself how to make gifs recently and I think I'm getting better at it. It's like everything: practise makes perfect!
  • I'm obsessed with aliens. Because aliens are just the coolest.
  • When I'm not reading or blogging, I can be found watching films, or TV shows, or cartoons, and also around the net!
So, that is me in as much as I could remember about myself! I shall see you all around the blogosphere :)

gif from Tumblr

Review: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

These Broken Stars
Series: Starbound #1
Genre: YA Science Fiction / Romance
Released: November 20 2013 by Disney Hyperion
Source: Purchased

It's a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they're worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a torturous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other's arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder - would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won't be the same people who landed on it.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I first wanted to read this book out of pure cover lust. I mean, just look at that cover, it's gorgeous! But once I read the blurb, that sealed the deal. Although, I will admit that the whole Titanic in space thing made me a little bit nervous (it's no secret that I hate Titanic more than any other film I've seen), but those nerves were completely calmed down once I actually picked up the book and read it. And despite a few little problems that I can easily shove aside, I really enjoyed These Broken Stars!

These Broken Stars follows Major Tarver Merendsen, a decorated soldier, and Lilac LaRoux, daughter of the richest man in the universe, who have been marooned on a deserted planet after the luxury starship they were on, the Icarus, was pulled out of hyperspace (basically the book's version of Warp Drive) too early and crashed, leaving Tarver and Lilac as the only survivors. The pacing of These Broken Stars is pretty steady; once the story gets going properly, everything goes at just the right pace, speeding up when something exciting happens, and getting incredibly tense when it's leading up to something particularly revealing. One thing that I'm incredibly happy about is that I felt like even though Lilac and Tarver are stranded on this planet with only basic essentials, the science fiction aspect isn't ignored at all. As for the romance part of the story, I'm glad that it was eased into rather than being total insta-love, and it also didn't force the science fiction part to take the back seat, which was such a huge relief. My only issue with the book's story is that it took a while for me to fully get into it, and I think after the ship crashes right at the beginning of the book, the pace is just a bit too slow. Thankfully, it does pick up the pace and gets more exciting. My reading experience with These Broken Stars is probably the best that I've had with a YA book in a short while. Once I'd gotten past the slower parts, I became really engrossed with the story, even having to stop and reflect on what had happened at times because I just had to take in what I'd just read. Plus, I'd started reading this will I was having a good book hangover, so I guess this book pulled me out of that and maybe into another one, although a minor one.

For a book that technically only has two characters, These Broken Stars pulls it off incredibly well by telling the story from both Tarver and Lilac's points of view. I'm sometimes a little particular about dual POVs, but I liked how it was done in These Broken Stars because the two POVs never really seemed the same to me, which is a problem that I sometimes have. The fact that Tarver and Lilac are our only two characters for the vast majority of the book really didn't bother me at all, because I liked them so much. Out of the two, I think I liked Lilac the most because of how much she grows as the story progresses. We see her go from being a spoilt rich kid who is way too concerned about what her father will think if he finds her with this soldier, to being a strong young woman who is able to do things for herself and gains the ability to take care of both herself and Tarver. Another thing that I liked about Lilac is that even while she is still the rich kid, she is incredibly smart and has the skills necessary to get their escape pod away from the dying ship, which just threw the bratty heiress stereotype not only out of the window but into a black hole. As for Tarver, I liked him but at a glance he seemed like a bit of a bland character. However, I grew to like him more and more as the story moved on as he became more and more devoted to keeping Lilac safe (even though she was then able to take care of herself).

As for the setting and world-building, I liked the setting but I do think that the world-building was a bit lacking. The setting of an uninhabited planet isn't exactly groundbreaking, but it did feel different to me in the sense that this planet has been terraformed - altered so that humans are able to live there - but there isn't a soul around. I think it gave off a more dangerous atmosphere rather than if it was just some random planet that they'd crashed into (of course, because they'd be dead as soon as they got out of the escape pod), because it looks seemingly safe but it's unknown what exactly is out there. As for the world-building, I don't think there was enough of it. We know that Lilac's father is the richest man in the universe and has made an empire out of terraforming planets and building luxury starships, but when did this start? When in the future is this world set? What exactly is the terraforming process and how exactly do all of these technologies work? For a sci-fi story, I don't think that there was enough world-building, which was on the wrong side of mysterious, and if those questions that I've posed above were answered, then the world-building would probably be a bit better.

Overall, I really enjoyed These Broken Stars; it was well written, exciting and even shocked me at times. I liked the characters, and the romance aspect, as well as the fact that it didn't completely force the sci-fi aspect out of the way. Although there were issues in world-building and the beginning of the book being a bit slow, I really enjoy reading this book. And I'm definitely looking forward to reading the novella This Dark So Night, and the full sequel This Shattered World later on in the year!

On Being a Fangirl

Just a note before this post continues: the point of this post isn't to bash my brother or to insult him or anything like that. I'm just merely stating that his opinion is the thing that sparked my want to write this post. You can keep reading now!

I have an older brother, and a lot of his opinions are ones that I don't agree with. If you ask me, I'd say that a lot of his opinions are gross and ignorant (he's mostly got them from his friends). The other day, he said that the new series of Doctor Who will "hopefully separate the fans from the fangirls".

gif from Tumblr
Just, what is that even supposed to mean? And what's wrong with being a fangirl or a fanboy?

Well, let's take a look at what Urban Dictionary defines as a fangirl and fanboy (I've used the first result on each page).

Fangirl: A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obesessions.

Fanboy: A passionate fan of various elements of geek culture (e.g. sci-fi, comics, Star Wars, video games, anime, hobbits,Magic: the Gathering, etc.), but who lets his passion override social graces.
-from urbandictionary.com

Notice something? The definition for fanboy is much nicer than the definition for fangirl. I wonder why that is... Oh yeah, it's because fangirls are girls and girls can't enjoy anything without being judged, no matter how fanatical we get.

Fair enough, fanboy is sometimes used as an insult to male fans of things who just blindly go with companies or directors (the most I see it used in this way is towards male Nintendo fans), but fanboys actually get praised for liking things so much when fangirls are criticised for liking things only because they think that actors/characters are attractive.

And even if we do, so fucking what? Everybody's done it. I'll shamelessly admit that I wouldn't have watched Thor at all if I didn't think that Chris Hemsworth is hot. This is definitely where I think that my brother's opinion is total wank. He said that he didn't like it how in the previous series of Doctor Who, Matt Smith had a nude scene 'for the fangirls'.

gif by monica-ciccona
So it's perfectly fine for women to have nude scenes or wear skimpy clothing for absolutely no reason whatsoever other than being something for the guys to drool over, but when a man is nude for a couple of minutes (whether it's actually for women or not), it's unacceptable? I can't even brain how ridiculous that is.

I, for one, don't feel insulted when people call me a fangirl because I don't see it as one. In fact, I take a sense of pride in being such a devoted fan of something that it can seep into my everyday life and be something that I can talk to people about. The thing that does bother me is that because I'm a girl, I'm not seen as being a true fan, which is something that happens a lot in the comics fandom (not necessarily online all the time, but it still does happen). I could sit and defend Superman until I'm blue in the face and I won't be taken seriously because I'm just some fangirl, and not a real fan, and I'm probably just doing this to impress the boys.

gif by pamivy

And not to get off topic, but that's another thing that pisses me off: what makes someone a 'real' fan. Y'know, the whole "you're not a real fan of ____ if you don't..." thing just pisses me the fuck off. One of my favourite bands is Everclear; a band that has never been to the UK, is unlikely to come here any time soon and the only place I can buy their music is on iTunes. Does the fact that I've never seen them live or physically own any of their albums not make me a real fan? Hell no. Here's what makes someone a real fan of something: they like that thing a lot. Being a real fan has nothing to with how much merchandise you have or how much trivia you can spout, because to the people involved in that thing you're a fan of, it doesn't matter. Fandom isn't a contest, it's a community.

Going back to the topic of being a fangirl, sometimes I think it's just a label to differentiate between how devoted people are to something. I mean, let's face it, we're all just nerds getting excited over something that we really like (even in sports, it's the same thing, just in the UK we use the word 'supporter'), so why should we laugh at or criticise certain people for getting more excited than others?

Sometimes there are parts of a fandom that I just don't want anything to do with because, to be completely honest, they embarrass me (I get embarrassed by a lot of people on Tumblr), but as a whole I'm not embarrassed to be a fangirl. In fact, it's a badge that I'll wear quite proudly. And if other people don't like that, then fuck them.

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Series: Standalone
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Released: September 10 2013 by St. Martin's Press
Source: Purchased

Cath and Wren are identical twins and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they're off to university and Wren's decided she doesn't want to be one half of a pair any more - she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It's not so easy for Cath. She would rather bury herself in the fanfiction she writes where there's romance far more intense than anything she's experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she's ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she's realising that there's more to learn about love than she ever thought possible...
For a little while, I'd been a little hesitant about reading Fangirl because everybody appeared to be totally fawning over it and let's face it, nobody wants to be the black sheep and be part of the few that don't like something. Plus, I'd read Eleanor & Park before I read this book, and wasn't too keen on it, which made me a little nervous. And the on top of that I had about five people telling me that it's boring, so that didn't help too much either. Thankfully, I managed to breeze through Fangirl, and ended up really liking it (good thing I ignored all of the people who told me the book was boring)!

Fangirl is the story of Cath, a college freshman who is on her own for the first time, after her twin sister Wren wants to be her own person and not a twin anymore. Rather than going out partying all the time, like Wren wants to do, Cath wants to stay in her room and write her popular Simon Snow (an incredibly thinly-veiled Harry Potter parody) fanfiction, which has suited her just fine throughout school. I liked how light and easy-going Fangirl's story was, which suited me just perfectly considering that I've been in the mood for light contemporaries very recently. As I'd said above, a few people were telling me that the book is 'boring, and I can't help but disagree with them. Just because there's not any action in the dictionary definition, that doesn't make it boring. I think that Fangirl moves at just the right pace, and is exciting in its own unique way that maybe some people just don't get, and that's totally fine. Moving on to the romance of Fangirl, it was so cute and fluffy that I just couldn't handle it. I loved both Cath and Levi and actually being able to see their relationship develop from being friends, to dating, and then being in love, which is where Eleanor & Park failed for me. The plot took its time with it, so when it got to the point where Cath and Levi were expressing feelings for each other, it was incredibly satisfying and I wasn't let down at all.

My favourite part of Fangirl (and also why I liked this book more than Eleanor & Park) is definitely the characters. I love how complex they are and how I didn't simply like them all the time. There were times where I liked them, others where I was frustrated by them, and even some times where I wanted to slap some sense into them (especially Cath, with her aversion to writing original fiction). These days, I'm really enjoying reading characters who are so complex that I go through a full spectrum of emotions, rather than just liking them from page one, especially in contemporary fiction because it just makes the characters seem more realistic. Let's face it, we've all been annoyed by our own friends at one point. I loved Cath as a protagonist, but at times she reminded me of myself so much that it was actually kind of scary. There have been plenty of times in my first year of uni that I just wanted to stay in my room on my laptop rather than going out and socialising, and eve more times that I've been too shy to talk to people. And also, like Cath, writing is a huge part of my course, but I'm not a fanfiction writer. Cath's aversion to writing original fiction actually got on my nerves and everything that her fiction writing professor says to her about it is completely true. When you write original fiction, nobody expects you to create an entirely new world, because everybody writes different things (I mainly write crime/thriller stories that take place in the 20th century; no need to create a new world because it's already there), and the feeling of falling is the whole point; none of us know what we're doing. As for Levi, the way I felt about him is a little strange. I didn't really have an opinion about him at first, but as the story progressed I definitely started to like just how sweet and caring he is. I loved how much he cared for Cath, it was just so adorable.

One of the things that surprised me the most about Fangirl is that it's more than just a college love story. Not only do we get romance, we also get themes of growing up, family, and mental illness, which I think made the story richer than if the story was simply just about Cath and Levi's relationship. When it comes to the plot involving Cath's dad and his mental illness, I thought that this was particularly important because mental illness is something that is still misunderstood in modern society, and is close to me because both of my parents have depression (my dad once took time off from work for four months and ended up having to take anti-depressants, while my mum has had depression since I was born), and sometimes it's hard to understand what people go through, especially when they try their hardest to not show that things aren't right. Another thing that I loved about Fangirl is that I think that it took kind of a neutral stance on the subject of changing who you are. Wren isn't exactly condemned for changing who she is in order to impress other people, but Cath isn't really praised for being the same person she was in school.  People can change if they want to, it's their life and nobody has the right to tell you who you should be and the life you should be living.

I'm so glad that I liked Fangirl. I loved the story, the characters, and I still can't get over how satisfyingly cute Cath and Levi's relationship is. I'm not usually the kind for re-reading books, but I may be giving Fangirl a re-read sometime in the future, and I will definitely be reading more of Rainbow Rowell's books!