Cover Design: Ring of Bright Water

Another thing I realised when coming back to this poor neglected website-o-mine is that in a wild fit of enthusiasm, I had designed quite a few extra book covers last year, which I never posted.

One of them is this one, for Ring of Bright Waterby Gavin Maxwell.Ring of bright water

Ring of Bright Water is a beautiful book written by a man who lived on a secluded island near Skye, with an otter for a companion.

I took this photo when I was on holiday in Skye a few years ago. I did actually see Gavin Maxwell’s island, but unfortunately they’ve build a big bridge from the mainland to Skye, which has a pillar right on his island, so it wouldn’t quite have captured the seclusion. The bottom is slightly blurred because I took it on a bus!

XoxoxOXX

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A Dance with Dragons – George R R Martin

After a lengthy hiatus I have decided to return to muse upon some bookish things.

Currently Reading: A Dance with Dragons Part 2: After the Feast

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This is (currently) the final instalment of George R. R. Martin’s epic series, A Song Of Ice and Fire, which I have been reading for a very long time.  I did a mini review of the third book in my summer reading mini reviews post , which I seemed to really enjoy. I think for me, the key to reading this series is only committing when I have lots of time for reading. In a holiday, I can devour these books pretty quickly, and enjoy them a lot.  When I try to read them during the term though, I end up in a bit of a deadly cycle. Each time I pick up the book I seem to have forgotten entirely what’s going on, which is made only worse by the fact that each character only pops up every 7 chapters or so. I am lost in a sea of confusion, which only makes me less likely to pick up the book. The marvellous plot is almost entirely lost on me, and I can never remember who’s doing what.

I’ve also been borrowing the e-book from the library so it seems to have expired every time I feel like reading it. Ah well, my gritty determination to finish will (hopefully) see me through.

I’ve also just finished watching the series with some friends, which in some ways has made it easier to follow the plot, although sometimes just leads to more confusion, when I can’t remember which things happened in the book, and which in the series.

Enough Game of Thrones rambling. I’m going to be jolly glad when I can get onto something else.

Book (so far) – ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5

My Commitment – 0/5

xoxoXOOxx

Cover Design: Lady Chatterly’s Lover

Aha, I haven’t done one of these for a while, have I!?  Never fear, my inspired book covers have not dried up entirely! No indeed.

Lady Chatterly’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence, is a book about a bored aristocratic lady, who has a torrid affair with one of the gamekeepers on her estate.

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I had a massive shock when I read it, because I mistakenly believed it to be a cutesy historical novel, à la Jane Austen, when in fact what I was met with, after a couple of token scene setting chapters, was a series of graphic sex scenes, which basically made up the whole of the book. It was extremely shocking when it first came out, because nobody wrote that kind of thing in those days, and it contains lots of naughty four letter words.

This photo is of a man gardening, as viewed from a distance. Kind of as if the reader is Lady Chatterly, watching him from afar. With lustful gaze. Sorry.

XoxoxX

Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

This is a book I’ve had on my To-Read list for ages, since I first found out about it from John Green’s book recommendations video. I randomly spotted it in the college library and thought I’d give it a go (so begins many of my reading stories).

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This was such an interesting book. I was slightly put off by the title, which I thought sounded quite soppy and sentimental, but this was absolutely not the case. The book was written by an American journalist, who decided to spend 3 years living in a slum in Mumbai. The title actually arises from some adverts for tiles that is on the wall between the slum and the airport. The adverts promise that the tiles will be “Beautiful Forever”, and so the slum itself is “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”.

Anyway, the book follows various inhabitants of the slum, what they do in their day-to-day lives, their aspirations, successes, and failures. Katherine Boo herself is not a character, and it is just told in the third person as if life were going on as normal.

I thought this book offered amazing insight into the lives of people in slums. It was very interesting, and taught me a lot I didn’t know about their struggles, and especially the extraordinary amounts of corruption that they face from all authorities. It raised quite a lot of issues for me about the effectiveness of charities, and how difficult it is to help people in need when they are surrounded by a cage of corrupt authorities.

I thought the topic was dealt with a great deal of humanity, but without being sentimental, or patronising to the characters. I would recommend this to everyone really – I think it’s one of those books that’s “important” to read, in order to understand the problems that other people face.

Incidentally, anyone who’s read this book and worries (as I did) about how helpful the money they donate to charity actually is, I’d recommend you check out Giving What We Can. It’s an organisation that investigates charities, and comes up with a list of the most “effective” ones – i.e. the ones that allow your money to have the most impact. Many of the charitable organisations mentioned in this book are having their money siphoned off by corrupt authorities at a higher level, and it never actually reaches the people it was intended for. I believe GWWC investigates charities very carefully, to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5/5 stars

XooxoXXOO

Summer Reading – Mini Reviews

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Hello, it’s been a while as I’ve been enjoying the summer and haven’t had any university work to procrastinate from. But of course that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading, so I thought I’d kick off again with a wrap up of all the books I read while on holiday with my parents. (Sorry, there are loads).

image1. 13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough

So the first book I read on holiday was 13 Minutes, by Sarah Pinborough, which was an ARC from NetGalley. It’s a gripping thriller about a teenager who has an accident, resulting in her being dead for 13 minutes, but can’t remember what happened. With some fairly sickening twists and turns, I thought this was fantastic, and you can read my full review here.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5

2. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Dìaz

This one was slightly strange. I can’t remember where I heard about this – probably just2629628booktube videos over the years. I didn’t really know anything about it, but spotted it at the college library and decided to give it a go. It’s about a boy called Oscar, who has moved to the USA from the Dominican Republic. The story follows him and his family growing up and the things that happen to them. It also had a lot of interesting bits about the political history of the Dominican Republic. It was quite good, but not amazing in my opinion. I think this was partly due to all the Spanish words that I had to look up, which made it quite a clunky reading experience.

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5


3. City of Ashes and City of Glass – Cassandra Clare

1582996.jpgI am quite late to jump on this whole Cassandra Clare bandwagon, but since the ebooks are free on my local library’s reading app, I thought I’d give them a go. I’d read the last one the previous summer, and all the other books I wanted to read were on loan. So why not. I’m reviewing these together because I can’t really remember which things happened in which. This series is quite silly, but a fun and light read. There’s an interesting magic system, entwined with the occult, angels, demons, and various other mythological creatures, all with a ridiculous angsty teenage twist. I can see where a lot of the criticism comes from, as some of the main characters are incredibly immature and annoying, but I think you just have to accept that this is not ever going to be a fantastic piece of literature and enjoy it for what it is.

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

4. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler 22817474.jpg

This is one of those books that’s slightly tricky to review without spoilers, but I highly highly recommend it. The narrator is a girl called Rosemary, who is looking back at her childhood, in particular her sister Fern, who went missing under suspicious circumstances. I found this book quite upsetting, but in a good, thought-provoking way. It asks some important questions about the way our society works.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5/5


5. One Hundred Years of Marriage – Louise Farmer Smith

29524815.jpgThis is another one from NetGalley. The book is split up into sections, each following a different marriage in an American family, going right back to the pioneers. It was an interesting idea, but I’d say the execution was fairly ‘meh’. It did make me want to find out more about my family history though, and there was some interesting demonstrations about how quickly stories are forgotten and changed, as they are misrepresented by continuous tellings.

⭐️⭐️2/5

6. Surviving the Angel of Death – Eva Mosez Kor18898968.jpg

This is another NetGalley one (last one I promise!). I’m not really sure why this one was on there, as it seems to have been published in 2009, but anyway, it is certainly well worth a read. The book is a true story, written by a person who not only survived Auschwitz, but also was one of the twins experimented on by the Nazi ‘doctor’/evil scientist Joseph Mengele. This is one of those stories that is just too horrible to believe, and how awful humans can be.  It’s also a story of resilience, and the end was strangely uplifting, especially since Eva Mosez Kor has gone on to do lots of amazing things for other people after her escape. It’s impossible to say this kind of book is an ‘enjoyable’ read, but I think books like this are very important. If you are interested in this kind of thing, I would also recommend “A Detail of History” by Arek Hersch, who came to do a talk at my school.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4/5

7. A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin

62291.jpgAnother instalment in the fantastic Song of Ice and Fire series, and definitely the best book so far. I’m currently watching the TV series with a friend, and desperately trying to stay ahead with the books (as far as possible). These books are so long that it’s often daunting to start them, but I always end up absolutely glued to them. The chapter structure (which alternates POV chapters from several characters) can get frustrating, because some characters are way more interesting than others, and lots of chapters end on cliff hangers, but ultimately this is quite an effective way of spurring you on through the book. Lots of shocking deaths (obviously) and dastardly schemes and plotting (obviously). I’m told the next one is quite boring though 😞

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️5/5

8. Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo11869272

This is an amazing book about the lives of some people who live in a slum next to Mumbai airport. I tried to write a brief review for this post, but it ended up getting ridiculously long, but I still wanted to say all the things, so I’ve decided to make it into a separate post!

***

Right, that’s about it I reckon! I hope you all read some interesting books on your holidays too. Has anyone read any of these?

XoXOOXO

13 Minutes – Sarah Pinborough

13 minutes is a gripping YA thriller/mystery, set in a sixth form college in Lancashire.

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A popular girl from the school has been found drowning in a river in the early hours of the morning. Although she survives, she ends up being dead (unconscious and with no heartbeat) for 13 minutes before being resuscitated. When she wakes up, she has no memory of the events leading up to her accident, or how she ended up in the river. She and her friend Becca are determined to unravel the mystery.

I thought this book was utterly gripping, with a compelling plot and plenty of twists and turns as more bits of evidence are discovered. It reminded me of the books I’ve read by Gillian Flynn (which are fantastic), although slightly toned down in graphicness for a YA audience.

The teenage school setting was wonderfully toxic, with all the Mean Girls-esque cattiness and plotting, false friends and queen bees aplenty. The suspicion and jealousy of those kind of teenage friendships and relationships was portrayed really well.

I’d highly recommend this to anyone who likes thrillers. It’s really made me want to read more of the crime genre!

Thank you to Netgalley and Gollancz for providing me with a copy of this book!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4/5 stars

xxxooOx

Harry Potter Fanfiction – #PotterheadJuly

1.jpgHello! I’m very excited to be taking part in Aentee’s Harry Potter Blog Festival. Basically lots of bloggers are coordinating to write loads and loads of Harry Potter -related posts throughout the month of July and I’m lucky enough to be one of them!

I’ve decided to write my post about Harry Potter Fanfiction, including mini reviews of some of my favourite stories.

I haven’t read a huge amount of Harry Potter fanfiction, but the stuff I’ve read has been amazing. A good fanfiction lets you re-enter the world you thought you’d exhausted and spend more time with the characters, letting you witness new stories and conversations, experience novel situations, and sometimes alternative scenarios. With a world and characters as amazing as Harry Potter, this is obviously an UNMISSABLE opportunity.

Finding new fanfictions to read can be difficult. Anyone can publish their fanfiction online, and there are literally THOUSANDS of stories on various websites. There’s no filter for quality and so it can be a really mixed bag. Personally, I tend to rely on individual recommendations for specific fanfictions, so that I don’t waste my time reading something awful. (Kudos to those who valiantly trawl through the reams to provide lazy people like me with epic recommendations).

As a result, I’m going to recommend my two absolute favourite Harry Potter fanfictions, as I’m so grateful to the people who recommended them to me! Also they’re brilliant and more people should read them.

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Delicate is a “second generation” fanfiction, meaning that it follows the children of Harry/Ron etc, in the time described at the very end of the last book. In the final chapter, as I’m sure you all remember, J. K. Rowling briefly flashes to the future, where the next generation are being delivered to the Hogwart’s Express. This small chapter was basically a gift to fanfiction, and many stories have been written about these characters.

One small issue with this type of fanfiction, is that because only a brief glimpse of these characters is given in canon (the real books), every author tends to write different personalities for the characters. This is fine, and of course makes for diverse and interesting stories – the only problem is that it can get a little confusing remembering which version of Rose Weasley did what!

Anyway, to get down to it, Delicate is a story about how Rose Weasley (Ron and Hermione’s daughter), gets pregnant with Scorpio Malfoy (Draco’s son). Obviously their parents are pretty much enemies, so the whole think is hugely awkward. It’s an absolutely wonderful story, with amazing characters, which manages to be both deep/serious at times, and absolutely hilarious at others.

While there are many new characters introduced in the story, we also get to see the older generation as adults and parents. It’s also lovely to see aspects of the parents’ personalities in the children. Good old Hogwarts is the same, and some of the familiar teachers are still there. It’s very interesting to view the events of the original series as “historical” –something students are learning about in classes, and something some even joke about (for example, an emo-like child threatening to get a dark mark tattoo).

I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who hasn’t read it, even if you’ve never read any fanfiction before! 5/5 stars!

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (1).png

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a different kind of fanfiction. Rather than continuing on from the events of the books, Yudkowsky has changed the original premise of the story, and rewritten it from the beginning.

In HPMOR, Aunt Petunia has married an Oxford professor of biochemistry, instead of Uncle Vernon. As a result, Harry has had an incredibly scientific upbringing at the hands of his uncle. When faced with the prospect of magic, rather than blindly accepting his fate, Harry uses his scientific skills to critically asses his new surroundings, trying to work out how magical objects and spells work.

This story was absolutely hilarious, as well as being amazingly clever and interesting. The author is actually an artificial intelligence researcher! There were so many bits where he points out how silly something from the real series is (like branding all your secret members with a highly distinctive, visible, and accessible dark mark tattoo), but he manages to do this without insulting or belittling the original writing.

I’d highly recommend this one, especially to scientists or people interested in science and logic. Despite the scientific approach though, the story remains entertaining and hilarious. Gah, writing this has made me want to reread it!

***

Have any of you read either of these fanfictions? What did you think? Also PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE recommend me more fanfictions if you have any you particularly enjoyed!!

OXOoOXoxoxx

Risuko – David Kudler

Can one girl win a war?

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From the blurb and description, I expected this to be an epic story of a brave young girl managing to play her part in a world of men. Kind of like Mulan (although of course that’s set in China, not Japan). I have a feeling that this may be the case in future instalments of the story, although so far this hasn’t really been evident. The question “Can one girl win a war?” is certainly not that relevant, as she doesn’t even try.

This really did feel like the first book in a series, with a lot of setting up of characters, but not a lot of actual plot. I felt as though I spent a lot of time waiting for things to happen, but not much really did.

The setting of ancient Japan was interesting, and not something I’ve ever read about before. There was a lot of stuff mentioned about the Japanese civil war, although I can’t say I actually understood what was going on. Partly because I couldn’t remember the unfamiliar names (totally my fault though, not the book’s!)

Despite the interesting setting, I just didn’t really ever feel emotionally invested in the book. There were elements of mystery in it, and some parts were quite exciting, but when the climactic “reveal” moment came, I didn’t really get it. Perhaps the author assumed too much background knowledge of the Japanese factions, or perhaps I hadn’t been concentrating hard enough.

Overall I did find this book to have a very interesting premise, and I loved the main character, Risuko. The time period is an interesting one, that I would be keen to learn more about. I think the main problems I had were just that the history wasn’t explained clearly enough, and that the story seemed to be “saving” itself for future books.

Thank you very much to Netgalley and Stillpoint Digital Press for providing this book!

⭐️⭐️⭐️3/5

 

June Book Haul – 2016

Here’s a look at the books that made their way into my possession during the month of June! Most of these ones come from libraries this month, because I bought quite a lot of books in May

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  1. Heffer’s

This is the Cambridge branch of Blackwell’s books, est. 1876. It has a really cool multi-layer layout, with multiple concentric balconies going all the way round. I went their with my friend last week, and picked up…

The Lies We Tell OurselvesRobin Talley22710376.jpg

I definitely heard about this on Booktube, although I can’t remember whose video it was. It’s set in 1959 Virginia, in a school that has just started allowing black students to attend. Both a civil rights and LGBT book, and it’s had fab reviews.

  1. City Library

Went and picked up a couple more books from here. I’m loving using this library, although unlike my college library it charges for fines for late books, so I’d better be careful…

23592235Am I Normal yet? – Holly Bourne

I’ve already read and reviewed this, and absolutely loved it. It follows a teenager with OCD, through her life and relationships, and includes some awesome feminist stuff too.

We were liars – E. Lockhart16143347.jpg

This is an old booktube fave that I’m sure pretty much everyone has read. I’ve heard it’s best to go into it blind, so I don’t really know much about it.

  1. College Library

My college library has mostly academic books, but there’s this wonderful magical room called the light reading section, where you can just borrow as many books as you like. It’s based on trust, so there’s no official deadline/stress for giving them back. I picked up 4 books from here.

884424.jpgThe Almost Moon Alice Sebold

I’ve read 2 books by Alice Sebold in the past, The Lovely Bones, which was absolutely amazing, and Lucky, which was OK. I saw this one, which I hadn’t head of, and thought I’d give it a try, in the hope it lives up to The Lovely Bones. Not really sure what it’s about, but it had something about a girl killing her mother on the back…

Behind the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo11869272.jpg

I heard about this one from one of John Green’s book recommendation videos, where it was recommended for people interested in decreasing “world-suck” (bad things like poverty/suffering/disease/inequality). I believe it is set in a slum in India.

2629628.jpgThe Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Díaz

Again, not completely sure what this is about, other than a person called Oscar Wao, set somewhere in America. Has had great reviews though.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake ­– Sloane Crosley2195289.jpg

Probably the most random choice on this list, this is a set of essays by someone I’d never heard of. I was drawn to it by the interesting title, nice spine, and held onto it for its funny blurb. I hope this will be entertaining. We’ll see.

***

So that’s it for the books I’ve got in June! I’ve also started reading some things on NetGalley, one of which I’ve got rather stuck on, but feel the need to soldier on so I can review it… Oh well. I hope you have all had marvellous Junes.

XoxoxxOX

 

Am I Normal Yet? – Holly Bourne

OK, so this book was completely not what I expected it to be.

From the title, cover, tag line (“It’s tough being a girl”), and the checklist on the back (college, parties, friends who don’t dump you, a boyfriend), I had categorised it as a light, girly contemporary. Its description in my Summer TBR was a “hilarious light summer read”. Clearly I hadn’t read the blurb with any kind of accuracy. I think this comes of having had such a strong recommendation from a trusted friend – I knew I definitely wanted to read it, so I hadn’t spend much time researching what it was actually about! 23592235

Anyway, to correct my previous misconceptions, Am I Normal Yet is about a girl called Evie, who suffers from severe OCD and general anxiety disorder. After a long period of recovery, she has returned to college, where she’s faced with all the normal college-y things, and has to deal with them on top of her illness.

The book was written from Evie’s point of view, and it was very eye-opening to get inside her head. Holly Bourne did a lot of research for this book, talking to psychiatrists and people suffering from OCD, and I think she did a great job. The first person narrative combined with the anxiety-ridden inner monologue really got under my skin, and made me better understand what Evie was going through, giving me a real sense of paranoia and lack of control.

Another interesting aspect was Evie’s perspectives on mental illness, from how she thinks people perceive her, to her family’s reactions, how society’s view of them has changed, and the way people use the names of mental illnesses flippantly in conversations.

Despite its heavy subject matter, this book was still actually pretty funny at times. Some of the characters were hilarious (I loved Amber especially).

I thought the discussions on feminism were absolutely fantastic. The three best friends, trying to reclaim the word “spinster” set up the Spinster Club. During meetings they discuss a range of issues, from periods, friendships, dating, and mental illness. They brought up topics such as the “Madonna-whore complex”, and “Manic pixie dream girls”. I’ve never seen this kind of discussion in a YA book before, and I think these are such important ideas for teenagers to learn about.

Another feminism thing I really enjoyed was the Bechdel test, which I’d never heard of before. Basically, a book/film passes the test if it contains one conversation between two women, that isn’t just about men. A surprising number of films don’t pass!

Despite this educational element, this aspect of the  book remains funny and light hearted, and isn’t at all preachy.

Overall, I was very impressed with this book and how much important stuff it managed to fit in. Its discussions of feminism, mental illness, family, friendships, and relationships, in such an entertaining yet informative way, make this book a thoroughly deserving recipient of the YA book prize.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️4.5/5

XoxooOooOX