Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Series: Red Queen Trilogy Book 1
Publication Date: Some conjecture, I am a bit confused. I know that it came out in America on February 10, but Hachette reckons April 2015 for the rest. Thus, posting this review at a kind of random time! (Sorry!)

Synopsis: "This is a world divided by blood - red or silver.
The poverty-stricken Reds are commoners, living in the shadow of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers. To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from the Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.
Then Mare finds herself working at the Silver palace, in the midst of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control."

My thoughts: This was one of those books that turned up with one of those tag-lines written on it, in this case - 'A thrilling new fantasy trilogy for fans of DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES' (publisher's emphasis). These sorts of tag-lines serve a purpose - getting people interested in the book if they've read the listed titles - but I tend to find them more annoying than anything. I want a chance to read the story before I start making comparisons between it and other things I've read - a chance to understand what is going on before I start having my opinion swayed.

Unfortunately, the presence of these tag-lines has begun to make me feel a little biased already - against the book. I recognise that this is a strange and kind of silly reaction, but I can't seem to help it. Sometimes books with tag-lines turn out to be some strange amalgamation of books already written, and a not very good specimen at that.

And some, like Red Queen, are actually pretty awesome once you give them a chance.

It took me a few chapters to get into this story - I am not exactly silent on my dislike of most dystopian fiction, and I find it difficult to read about people like the Reds who deal with so much on a day-to-day basis. But I started to warm to the characters and figured this would be a good romp if nothing else. And then things began to get serious.
The way some of the Silver characters have been created is intriguing - they seem to have quite a few layers to them and I found myself equally suspecting them of wrongdoing whilst also wanting to trust them, right along with Mare. At times I found Mare to be a little irritating, but those times were few and far between, and more often than not I was analysing her reactions along with the reactions of the people around her.

The romance is present, I must add, as I know some people find romance destroys a good dystopian (for me, I find it one of the only things that I cling to during all the doom-and-gloom), but, having said that, I didn't find it overwhelming. I occasionally found myself wondering how I would feel if I had been placed in Mare's situation, and I guess I am a romantic at heart as I wanted the romance to succeed (plenty of opportunity here for different 'teams' according to which male character you prefer), but Mare often tries to ignore romantic feelings and turn back to her tasks (tasks that I will not discuss).

One of the main things that I think authors need to get right is the structure of the world in which they place their characters. Aveyard managed to create a world which was alarmingly reminiscent of our own, which I think helped me to connect with what was happening that much more easily. Certain parts of the world made me think of ongoing situations that we have in our own world, and it makes you wonder just how far off we are from the sort of division that Silvers and Reds experience.

Analysis aside, this is an intriguing book that I ended up loving, and I am definitely looking forward to the sequel.

I received an unsolicited copy of this book from Hachette for review.

You would like this book if: you enjoy dystopian YA; you feel like something that reflects our own world a little, but with awesome powers thrown in.

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On the Unconscious Decision Not to Blog

I haven't been posting super often (again) (you may have noticed). And I kept thinking about my blog and wondering when I was going to head back and start things up again, get into the tea reviews I had promised, maybe post a few more spoonie diaries or KPop CloseUps. I still feel the desire to do those things, but I just didn't have the drive to do them.

That's not to say I haven't been writing, I've just been working on my own stuff.

And it wasn't until I read a blog post by Havi over on The Fluent Self blog that I linked a few things together. You see, Havi writes a lot about things being right because they are what they are - she follows the paths that she knows are right for her, even when Siri or someone else tells her that they're wrong. Sure, she sometimes still gets caught up in her stuff (who doesn't?), but she owns her stuff, recognises it like an old thing come back to say hello, and she gives herself the space and time and love to move through it.

And after reading that, and remembering that, I realised why I had been avoiding writing on my blog. It was never an active choice, I just... didn't feel the need to go there. I sent it love and thoughts when I thought about it, but couldn't think of anything to write.

The thing is, I just wrapped up reading and judging for the Aurealis Awards for the second year in a row, and I also just fell into a new year (perhaps you noticed that we're in 2015 now? seems crazy! and also we're in the year of the ram!). Last year was good, don't get me wrong, but it was also crazy hard and kind of scary for me. The health stuff that I went through cracked me open in an entirely new way, and I can't say I have ever felt so exposed, so vulnerable. I am still working on getting my drive back for seeing doctors and such and, while I have had a few visits, most of them have just been general maintenance rather than anything super serious or new.

And I needed a break. I needed to step away from all of the new stuff - trying to find new publishers, trying to find writing jobs, trying to find new things to try for my health. I have spent most of this month reading romance novels, because that's what I felt like. I just wanted to turn inwards and work on things that made me feel joyful and content. Things like my own writing, or learning Korean, or even researching watercolour. I wanted to experiment with my cooking a little bit, and I wanted to be inspired again.

I think I'm doing pretty well at the moment. I am feeling happier and more joyful than I have in a long time, and I am feeling a deep connection to who I am, to my partner, to friends, and just generally feeling more resilient about life. I'm not sure I'm quite there with my medical stuff, but that's okay. I'm not in any hurry at the moment. Maintenance is fine by me.

I am hoping to return to blogging regularly soon. I will still post the occasional book review when they pop up, but I am just taking things as they come at the moment. I look forward to returning!

Love to all who read.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review: Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula
Author: Andi Watson
Publication Date: February 24th 2015

Synopsis: "Princess Decomposia is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Even though she has plenty of her own work to do, Decomposia always seems to end up doing her father's job, too. The king doesn't feel good, you see. Ever. So the princess is left scurrying through the halls, dodging her mummy, werewolf, and ghost subjects, always running behind, and always buried under a ton of paperwork.
Enter Count Spatula! This charming go-getter chef is determined to help Princess Decomposia to sort out her life. And with the count at her side, you can be sure she'll succeed."

My thoughts: This graphic novel is super cute and also manages to have an interesting story-line. I only say that because I went into this expecting a cute, but simple romp with little real plot. I was pretty wrong there (sorry about that...). This book actually has a really decent little story, following Princess Decomposia around as she tries to cope with the demands of her kingdom, and also the demands of her (supposedly) sick father.

I have to say I did react initially to the portrayal of the father - it triggered me because he represented everything that I try to avoid: pretending to be sick when you're not, trying to guilt trip those you love into caring for you, generally lying around and not doing anything because you're lazy. But once I got past that (I had to realise again that I am not like that), I began to really enjoy the story and was absolutely cheering on Decomposia and Count Spatula. 

The character creation was so lovely, and the little things that Spatula does to cheer up Decomposia really made me smile. I loved all the side characters, too, there's even a tiny flying skull! The art is simple, but charming in it's depiction of the character's emotions.

While I did say the plot was great, I did find that it tried to do a few too many things and I feel like it could have been a little longer and maybe explore the relationships between the characters a little more. Not a huge complaint, but one that I felt fairly strongly. Otherwise, this is a sweet book with even sweeter characters. :)

I received a review copy of this book from First Second Books (thank you!).

You would like this book if: You like slightly dark characters with a sweet twist; you enjoy lovely graphic novels that make you feel warm and fuzzy.

Rating:  8/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

notes on using illness as an excuse

About a month ago I had a few really difficult conversations with people close to me/people concerned and invested in my welfare. I have managed in the past few years to get things into a particularly decent routine, and so these conversations were no longer a common occurrence.
However, as a result, have these conversations meant that I felt absolutely wrung out, depleted, like I was looking up at rock bottom. And sitting down there in the dark with me was a few things that I needed to confront.
The main one that hit me hard was the fact that I had fallen into a habit of using my chronic illnesses as an excuse not to do things, I was allowing the fear of my illnesses getting worse control my decisions.

Now, don't get me wrong, often I have to say no to things because I am genuinely too unwell to do them, or because they are just a really stupid idea for me (for example, I generally say no to events with lots of loud noises and alcohol, as my body does not cope well with that). I feel a lot of strength and rightness in those decisions.

But sometimes I was saying that I was not feeling well enough to go somewhere, when really what I meant was 'actually, I would rather stay home with my book at the moment' or 'that doesn't really sound like my kind of thing, so I might sit this one out'. It was easier to go with what people would expect from me than to tell them the truth.

I have realised that the friend group I have around me now is genuine, understanding, and appreciates my quirks. And I want to get to a point where I can say things like 'hey, thanks for the invite, but I am just not that into ______. I hope you have an awesome time though!' and know that I am saying that with genuine love and appreciation.

I have started doing that already, and I hope to continue as the year goes on. As this kind of feeds into fear of new opportunities and of failure as well, I have a feeling I will be working on it a bit this year. Fear of failure is something that I deal with regularly, and not always that successfully. But I am taking on a few new things for myself, and I am trying to encourage myself to try new things.

At this point, I don't want advice on how to be courageous or extroverted, or how to speak my truth more often. This is something I am enjoying working on myself, and I already feel a little outside my comfort zone posting this on my blog. However, if you have similar fear of failure or excuse-using strangeness, I'd love to hear about your experiences or simply receive gentle support in the comments below.

Love to all who read.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

feeling the Inner Happy when things kinda suck

Here's the thing. I made a decision last weekend that I would take the week off from pushing myself to do things outside my home - I could see that I was feeling a little worn down and that maybe some pain was on it's way, so I decided to rest.
I felt great about this decision and really worked to keep to it. I spent time at home doing little things. The pain was there, and yet, for the most part, I coped with it.
And then the weekend hit and I figured that now I could spend lots of time with Xin while he was off work and just genuinely enjoy going out and doing things...

Yeh. So, as you can probably tell, that's not what happened.

I spent a lovely night feeling good and spending time with Xin, and then woke up on Saturday morning with the slow realisation that I had an infection coursing through my body at warp speed. I actually felt it developing, the pain hit me hard and fast and I did my best to do some damage control, but quickly realised that I would probably need to see a doctor.

I was angry, to begin with. So angry. I started thinking to myself all the old stuff like 'I don't deserve this, why is it happening now, I didn't do anything wrong, what the *bleep*' - that sort of thing. And then I remembered that with this particular infection (I've had it before, multiple times), strong emotional reactions can often make it worse. (Fun, right?) So I took a deep breath and smiled. Yeh, it was forced, but it helped. I listed off the things in my head that I could do to look after myself until Xin got back from training, and I did them. Making tea, getting a heat pack, taking some painkillers, setting myself up with books and comforting squishy things.

It didn't make the pain or discomfort go away, and I was still sad and a bit afraid, but I could also feel that connection to the things that make me happy, and that really helped.

Xin was also amazing, and his support and love definitely helped me to maintain that connection to happy-me. He got me to the after-hours GP, took me to the pharmacy, and remained cheerful throughout all of it.

Just below is a list of things that helped me to remain super happy even while I was trying to deal with a silly infection:
  • light romance novels with fun characters
  • giant squishy pillows/plushies
  • awesome cute animes about patisserie schools
is there anything that is making you feel happy lately?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Review: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

I love reading. Books are amazing. They are a form of escapism, yes, but they are also inspiration, joy, and... well. Goodness. I think in some ways I have used my appetite for reading to define parts of my personality, so it made sense for me to review some of what I read! Here we go...

Title: The Sculptor
Author: Scott McCloud
Publication Date: February 3rd 2015

Synopsis: "David Smith is giving his life for his art - literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought. And discovering the love of his life at the eleventh hour isn't making it any easier."

My thoughts: Wow. Just wow.
I requested a review copy of this book from First Second after reading the synopsis, thinking it sounded like an interesting premise. When it turned up on my doorstep, I was thrown by the size of it - this graphic novel has almost 500 pages of amazing artwork and moving story. I picked it up that day and... I was gone.

It took me a long time to get through this beast, but I emerged wanting to turn straight back to the start and read it again - to look deeper into the expressions on each of the characters faces as they made each decision (particularly David's face when he made his deal with Death) and to watch more closely as things played out.

The art in this is wonderful - a blend between simple and complex (especially when looking at expression of emotions and tense scenes) - using a lovely palette of black, white, and different shades of blue. Some of the scenes are so intricate and beautiful that I find myself staring at them even now as I flip through for this review, and I think that says a lot about the hold that this book already has over me.

I want to go more into the story of this and discuss it in-depth, but I also really don't want to give anything away because I think this is one of those books that you have to read and experience for yourself - whatever form that experience takes. In case you can't tell, I highly recommend you pick this up. I should note here, though, that this is not for youngsters or a light-hearted read - it contains sex scenes, violence, and a little bit of gore. Just letting you know.

I received an advanced reader's edition of this book from First Second Books (thank youuu!).

You would like this book if: You enjoy amazing graphic novels that take the work to the next level; you like reading something a bit different, with a solid plot and awesome characters.

Rating:  10/10

If you'd like to keep up to date with what I'm reading, follow me on Goodreads here!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

{2015} January Reading

Books bought/received:
~ Lonely Planet Korea
~ The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Books read:
Aurealis Awards...
~ The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller
~ Afterworld by Lynette Lounsbury
~ Unwrapped Sky by Rurik Davidson
~ The Godless by Ben Peek
~ Fireborn by Keri Arthur
~ Shadow Sister by Carole Wilkinson
~ Thorne: The Chronicles of Kaya by Charlotte McConaghy
~ The Assassin of Nara by R.J. Ashby
~ Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck
~ City of Masks by Ashley Capes
~ Endsinger by Jay Kristoff
~ The Memory of Death by Trent Jamieson
~ The Miranda Contract by Ben Langdon
~ The Story Makers by Tamara Pratt
~ The Unfortunate Death of Jonathan Wild by Stephen Hart
~ I, Morgana by Felicity Pulman
~ Trinity by Sophie Masson
~ The Dagger of Dresnia by Satima Flavell
~ The Shadow of what was Lost by James Islington
~ The Unbound Man by Matt Karlov
~ The Last Great Hero by Scott J. Robinson
~ Isis, Vampires and Ghosts - Oh My! by Janis Hill

Note: I didn't keep a thorough record of what I read this month, so I may have missed some things or doubled up from previous months. I have now finished my Aurealis reading, though! Yay!

Own reading...
~ Daughter of the Regiment by Jackie French
~ The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians book #4)
~ Clean Gut by Alejandro Junger
~ Hardboiled and Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto (actually two short books in one)
~ Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories edited by Alisa Krasnostein
~ An Age of License by Lucy Knisley
~ The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
~ Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Goodness me! It's been a busy month. We needed to finish Aurealis reading this month so we can get onto the judging and such, so I was often to be found in bed or on the couch, or in my reading chair, too, just reading and drinking gallons of water and tea (the weather has climbed up into the high 30s and low 40s lately, which is alarming [I mean celsius, by the way]). Often it would look a little like this:

Anyway, I managed to get all of my reading done, plus some of my own stuff, too! As always, I won't really talk about the Aurealis stuff, but I will talk about my own stuff!

I have been very firmly on the bandwagon with my 'read three before you buy one' plan to reduce my unread books, and have been really enjoying it, too! It has made me realise that I have such a wonderland of books just where I am (I always kind of recognised that, but lately I have been so excited to just read books I already have, which is lovely). I have quite a few Jackie French that I collected when I was younger that have been unread until now - last year I read Tajore Arkle and loved it, and this month I picked up Daughter of the Regiment. I love her style of writing and am looking forward to diving into some of the others on my shelves - The Book of Unicorns, The White Ship, and even a book sent to me by Katharine - Nanberry.
I battle ever onward with my Percy Jackson books - I find them enjoyable but not my favourite things ever - and I am still doing research on different diets and such to support recovery and maintenance of IBS, so Clean Gut was a worthy read this month. The rest of the books in my 'own reading' list were all stand-outs for me: Hardboiled and Hard Luck were fascinating little stories that added to my list of Japanese literature (I want to read more by Banana Yoshimoto! Not least because her name is Banana); Kaleidoscope absolutely lived up to the hype and I was so so grateful to Katharine for sending it to me as a Christmas present.
I delved back into Lucy Knisley's beautiful art/view of the world through 'An Age of License' and felt so comforted by that. I still prefer 'Relish', but she is an absolute favourite of mine.
Ava Lavender was a bizarre story, but no less beautiful and lovely to read, I definitely recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind a beautifully written story that is a bit off the wall.
Finally, FINALLY, I managed to finish Murder of Crows. I am still really loving this new series from Anne Bishop. Can't wait for Vision in Silver, due to come out the day after my birthday I believe...

What are you reading at the moment? Do you have books on your TBR you need to get through?
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