Friday, July 3, 2015

Book Review: Ophelia by Jackie French

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: Ophelia
Author: Jackie French
Series: Not a series as such, but the second book Jackie French has put out where she has rewritten or tweaked Shakespeare's female leads.
Publication Date: July 1st 2015

Synopsis: "She is the girl who will be queen: Ophelia, daughter of Denmark's lord chancellor and loved by Prince Hamlet.
But while Hamlet's family stab, poison or haunt one another, Ophelia plans a sensible rule, one filled with justice and delicious cheeses. Even if she has to pretend to be mad to make it happen, Ophelia will let nothing - not even howling ghosts - stand in her way.
This is Shakespeare's play, but with what might also have happened behind the scenes. And this story has a happy ending."

My thoughts: I reviewed I Am Juliet last year when it come out and found it really good, but a little bit dull at times. Ophelia I found to be perfect. The difference here may be that I studied Hamlet in high school and I guess I have never really let go of my interest in it, and finally being able to read a different, interwoven story that connects with Hamlet's was fascinating - I loved that Jackie French wanted to give Ophelia a voice here.

And I liked Ophelia - she was the most wonderful mix of roles and personality - how she acts around the King and Queen and her father outwardly and then seeing within her to hear what she is actually thinking made for very interesting reading. She is also not immune to love and lust, and yet she is very considered and logical about things. Basically, a character that I could really get behind and as I am writing this I want to dive back in and maybe read the alongside a copy of the play...

As with I Am Juliet, lines from the play are interwoven into the story, and it adds a great sense of beauty and homage to Shakespeare. Some of the research and history of the play and a few things within it are included in the end, as well, and I really loved how much French introduced cheese into the story. Seriously. It made me hungry.

I don't think I can really keep raving about this for much longer because, really, you ought to just go read it for yourself and see if you like it. I think French really brings out the tragic humour of the play, and brings a certain level of 'seriously? why are you doing that?' to the action and intrigue. Seriously, just go read it. I loved it.

I received a review copy of this book from HarperCollins (thank you!).

You would like this book if: You like Hamlet and always wanted Ophelia to get a bit more of a say; you like cheese...

Tea to drink while reading this book: There wasn't much tea drinking in this book, so I would recommend a fruit tisane - perhaps something lingonberry or citrus - to reflect the drinking of wine and ale that happens so often in this tale. Perhaps Twinings Raspberry, Strawberry and Loganberry? I want to try that now...

Rating:  10/10

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

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

{2015} June Reading

Books bought/received:
~ Uprooted by Naomi Novik
~ Stone in the Sky by Cecil Castellucci (Tin Star Book 2)
~ Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johanssen (The Queen of the Tearling Book 2)
~ The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell
~ Prudence by Gail Carriger (The Custard Protocol Book 1)
~ The Divine by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, and Boaz Lavie (review)
~ A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (A Darker Side of Magic Book 1)
~ The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
~ A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway (The Baskerville Affair Book 1)
~ Ophelia by Jackie French (review)
~ Zarkora: The Fyrelit Tragedy by Nicholas and Alison Lochel (Zarkora Book 1) (review)
~ Way Down Dark by JP Smythe (The Australia Trilogy Book 1) (review)
~ Frostfire by Amanda Hocking (Kanin Chronicles Book 1) (review)
~ Ice Kissed by Amanda Hocking (Kanin Chronicles Book 2) (review)
~ The Simple Act of Reading edited by Debra Adelaide (review)
~ Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (gift)
~ The Shape-Changer's Wife by Sharon Shinn (gift)

Books read:
~ A Table in the Orchard by Michelle Crawford
~ Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, and Dave Marshall
~ Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift by Gene Luen Yang, Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko, Gurihiru, and Dave Marshall
~ The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows (review)
~ The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell
~ Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changeling Book 14) (review)
~ The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day (Cafe La Femme Book 1.5) (review)
~ The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan
~ The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
~ The Divine by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, and Boaz Levie (review)

That was two long lists to compile there... and I feel sure that I have missed some things. Let me just say as a blanket statement here: I bought and received a lot of books this month, and I read a few. If you read nothing else in this post, at least you know that much!

I have been recovering from some serious burnout this month that is actually still going on - you only have to glance at my other posts to see it so I won't talk about it here. But that has influenced how much I have been reading, and what I have wanted to read this month.

A Table in the Orchard was just such a beautiful book, and I was reading it at a really turbulent time. It talked about moving to a country house in Tasmania, getting chickens, picking apples. Lots of amazing things that I have always wanted to do and I felt so comforted by this book. I have made one of the recipes out of this book (each chapter has one or two) and I hope to make more soon.

Avatar made a reappearance this month and I absolutely loved it. More please?

All of my reviews books will have links so you can see my thoughts, but I will just quickly mention that The Truth According to Us and The Blackmail Blend were standouts for me. They both gave me some of the comfort and intrigue that I was craving this month.

The Bookshop Book! Okay. I may have formed a bit of an obsession with Jen Campbell this month... I discovered her youtube channel and just started binge-watching everything she had put up. She has such interesting taste in things which kind of reflects my own taste to a certain extent (she likes dystopian stuff more than I do for sure, but she also loves Haruki Murakami!), and she is just such a lovely person that I decided I wanted to read The Bookshop Book. Imagine my delight when I found it in a local bookshop that I love! I gobbled this one up pretty quickly and it was just such a comforting read to learn about different bookshops all over the world.

Speaking of Jen Campbell, she also recommended a book on her channel known as The Gracekeepers, and even chatted to the author in a video. After hearing about it a few times, I decided to pick it up and oh my goodness I adored it. This is not doing good things for my Jen Campbell addiction, as it then made me want to read more things that she liked, and that is how I finally picked up Amanda Palmer's book The Art of Asking. And I loved that too. The obsession continues...

So, what are you reading at the moment?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Book Review: The Blackmail Blend by Livia Day

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 Blackmail Blend
Author: Livia Day
Series: Cafe La Femme #1.5
Publication Date: June 12th 2015

Synopsis: "Six romance writers
Five secrets
Four poison pen letters
Three stolen manuscripts
Two undercover journalists
One over-complicated love life
Way too many teacups and tiny sandwiches

This shouldn't be a recipe for mayhem and murder, but Tabitha Darling has been burned once before and she knows the signs that she's about to fall into another crime scene. At least she doesn't have to worry about love triangles anymore. Right? RIGHT?"

My thoughts: My mini-in-the-mean-time review of this short story on goodreads was "Oh man this is like a big warm hug." And I stand by it. This welcomed me back into the world of Tabitha Darling so effectively that I must admit to wriggling with happiness whilst reading it.

The books featuring Tabitha Darling are mystery novels with a difference - they feature tea, cake, and a touch of romance - the resulting concoction is delightful to read and delicious to consume. I love the humour in these stories, it is just the right balance of cheeky and sometimes a little dark, and it just keeps everything moving along so wonderfully. Tabitha Darling is such a relatable character, thrust into mystery madness, that you can't help but love her and want to stick with her every step of the way.

I have placed my order for the second book in this series - Drowned Vanilla - and I will be devouring that as soon as I can get my hands on it!

I received a review ecopy of this short story from the publisher, Twelfth Planet Press. (Thank youuu!)

You would like this book if: you enjoy mysteries with lovely characters; you like reading about someone with similar weaknesses for tea and cake.

Tea to drink while reading this book: why not the Tabitha blend mention in the book? It's available from the publisher, and you can get a copy of the ebook while you're at it!

Rating:  10/10

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What 'burnout' actually means for me at the moment, and why it's still happening.

I mentioned this topic recently, but mostly discusses the different roles that people occupy and how that was influencing my burnout, rather than the burnout itself or why it was happening. This time, I'm going to talk about that a little deeper.

I'm probably going to leave a few things out of this. I'm not sure I want to talk about everything that is going on, or has been going on, but I want to write things out. I'm exactly sure why I feel the need to do this on my blog, but I think a small part of me hopes that by writing about it, it will help other people dealing with something similar.

Anyway, here we go, I guess.

I am having so much trouble at the moment just doing things. Sometimes I get little bursts of energy and motivation, and then I will do something like unload the dishwasher and put the recycling in the bin, and then I will go back to not being able to do very much. And I must admit that during this time I have kind of slipped back into old, unhelpful habits, like telling myself I should be doing more, feeling irritated with myself, and circling my mind repeatedly with the same old lines.

Like I said, it's unhelpful.

And I think it might be part of the reason why I'm still feeling so burnt out.

By not allowing myself the time to rest and recover from everything, the way my body and mind need me to at the moment, I am actually just prolonging this state. It's like when you get a cold - sure, maybe in the first few days you could push through and assume that it will sort itself out, but actually you just make yourself sicker and then you end up needing to rest for even longer than if you had just taken a day off at the very start of the cold.

I feel like I am slipping backwards with a lot of things - my stomach, after months of not much pain, has started giving me pain again. Honestly, I don't think I have actually recovered properly at all from my cystitis, as it will come back whenever it can. I constantly feel like I'm about to get a migraine, and my skin is feeling like it is going to break out at any moment. I feel lethargic, sore all over, and thoroughly depleted.

And yet I can't stop thinking about study and how I haven't done any readings today, or the fact that I have assignments due soon. Somehow the joy of rest has dropped out of my head at some point and I find myself trying to push my body and mind to do things that they just doesn't seem capable of doing at the moment. In this constant struggle of will against body and mind (and, what the heck, spirit too), I don't think anyone really wins.

I know what the obvious answer is - to take some time off to myself. But I feel like it's more than this. I think I need to reboot my approach again, so that I can take better care of myself. Sometimes we have to foresee when things are going to go a bit haywire, and put safety mechanisms in place so that we can go somewhere and recharge after the worst has passed.

I will try and post further about this once I discover more, just so I can have some advice to give myself later down the track, but I'm not sure when that will be.

I hope that, whatever you are doing, it involves a little bit of self-care.

Love to all who read.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book Review: Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh

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: Shards of Hope
Author: Nalini Singh
Series: Psy-Changeling Series #14
Publication Date: June 4th 2015

Synopsis: "Awakening wounded in a darkened cell, their psychic abilities blocked, Aden and Zaira know they must escape. But when the lethal soldiers break free from their mysterious prison, they find themselves in a harsh, inhospitable landscape far from civilisation. Their only hope for survival is to make it to the hidden home of a predatory changeling pack that doesn't welcome outsiders.
And they must survive. A shadowy enemy has put a target on the back of the Arrow squad, an enemy that cannot be permitted to succeed in its deadly campaign. Aden will cross any line to keep his people safe for this future, where even an assassin might have hope of a life beyond blood and death and pain. Zaira has no such hope. She knows she's too damaged to return from the abyss. Her driving goal is to protect Aden, protext the only person has ever come back for her no matter what.
This time, even Aden's Passionate determination may not be enough - because the emotionless chill of Silence existed for a reason. For the violent, and the insane, and the irreparably Zaira."

My thoughts: I have tried this series before, and have not had much luck. Granted, every time I try this series it is one of the later books, so I think that may be a bit of a no-no, as I find it really hard to gauge who is who and what is actually going on.

This book started off no different. I had no idea what was going on. But the characters were intriguing and so I stuck with it. The development of Aden and Zaira's characters and their relationship was extremely interesting, and I found myself thinking about it occasionally when I wasn't reading. I was also fascinated by the changeling characters and their concepts of family and pack, and that has made me interested in maybe going back and reading from the start, to see if I can find more out about them.

However, I had quite a few issues with this book. Occasionally it felt like every single character in this entire world had a shocking and traumatic past which was mentioned more than once - with Zaira, it felt like it came back every single time she was on the page or in the scene. There is only so many times that you can read about someone's horrific, abusive past, and their murderous tendencies. I understand that maybe Singh wanted to make it authentic, perhaps try to reflect the obsessive mind or indicate lingering issues with post-traumatic stress, but I know little about these conditions and it ended up feeling tedious to read about it often, if not a little bit triggering for me.

There are other storylines going on within this book, of which I will say little so that I don't give anything away, but to be honest I think I could have dealt without them. The storyline following Aden and Zaira was interesting enough for me, and I think the book could have benefited from being made a lot shorter and having less going on - I found myself kind of skim-reading the other parts of the book so I could get back to the main couple in question.

Overall, this book has made me interested in starting the series 'properly', which I think is a good result, but I also wasn't overall impressed with it.

I received an unsolicited review copy of this book from Hachette (thank you!).

You would like this book if: You have been following the psy-changeling series and want to know about Aden and Zaira; you enjoy darker paranormal romance books with damaged characters.

Tea to drink while reading this book: something dark with a bit of bite, maybe a nice rich Russian Caravan.

Rating:  5.5/10

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

Monday, June 15, 2015

Human Complexity

There's been so much going on in my world lately: finishing Study Period One for this year, starting Study Period Two, my dad going in and out of hospital a couple of times (he is fine now, just in case you were worried!), and me catching the cold of doom, to name a few. And the result of all that is that I feel super burnt out now. For a few days I didn't really want to do anything and I couldn't encourage interest in much outside of lying in bed staring at Castle reruns and maybe eating some food. (I still got myself out of bed on these occasions and tried to do things anyway, but it did feel a little hollow.)

It took Xin repeatedly telling me that I seemed a bit burnt out, and my realising that he had complimented me on things, or someone had said something to me, and I just kept forgetting that these things had happened. I would say something and then Xin would ask 'do you remember me saying that to you this morning?' and I would be like 'no...'. My brain had taken a holiday for a few days, taking me memory along with it. (Again, just in case you were worrying, it wasn't anything major, just little things here and there. I seem to be fine now.)

For those that have met with burnout before, you probably know this creature. It really makes it hard to do anything and, for those of us with already compromised immune systems, it can actually make you quite unwell. My cold has yet to go away completely and it has been around for about a two weeks now. This led to a lot of time with me just idly thinking about things, and I realised that what I was thinking was a little troublesome.

You see, recently it has come to light that Centrelink want me to apply for five jobs a fortnight to show my commitment to getting employed, so that I will keep getting paid. Putting all my issues with this aside, let's just say that that has brought up a lot of stuff for me. It has made me start thinking that maybe I am not as sick as I think I am (old problem) and that I should be going out and getting a job (another old problem that hasn't been around for a little while).

This led me to thinking about what I actually wanted to do with my life, and how come I hadn't been writing in so long, and what right did I have to choose a job when so many people just pushed through and worked jobs that they hated. And ERRHGHGHGHGHGH. You may be familiar.

Over the last couple of days I have been chatting with Xin and my dad about these things, just talking about them without any sort of doom and gloom or fear, and what I have realised (again) is this: people rarely occupy just one role. In fact, I think that is pretty much impossible. If I start trying to define myself by the fact that I am currently unemployed, then I will exist solely around that definition, and I will welcome depression back in with open arms. It would represent a complete dismissal of everything else I am: book reviewer, writer, blogger, student. Not to mention daughter, sister, fiance and friend. It also works to dismiss the things that I still deal with when it comes to my health, and the fact that I decided to study online this year to try and take the pressure off a little bit.

With that in mind, I am going to keep dreaming about what sort of jobs I would like to have, but I am also not going to take my other roles for granted. Studying at uni is actually a lot more work than some would think, particularly for me, and I would rather finish that this year than get a job and try and work as well as study until I burn out and have to take time off before completing my degree.

This means I may have to continue to relearn lessons that I thought I already knew, and I may have to talk to those close to me over and over about different things, but I am going to try and do what's right by me during that time.

May you always see how complex and wonderful you are, and not define yourself by one single role.Work is what you do, not who you are. Love to all who read.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Book Review: The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

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 Truth According to Us
Author: Annie Barrows
Publication Date: June 12th 2015

Synopsis: "In the Summer of 1938, Layla Beck is forced out of the lap of luxury and sent by her senator father to work on the Federal Writers' Project, a New Deal jobs program. Assigned to cover the history of the little mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, Layla envisions a summer of tedium.
But, once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is completely drawn into their complex world.
At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to acquire her favourite virtues of ferocity and devotion, but her search leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried.
Layla's Arrival strikes a match to the family's veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns and their deep entanglement in Macedonia's history. As Willa peels back the layers of her family's past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed - and their personal histories completely rewritten."

My thoughts: Very much like the previous book that Barrows worked on - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - I was taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed this book. The characters were so interesting and hid secrets that just begged to be uncovered. Layla Beck's character in particular intrigued me - I don't think I have ever simultaneously loved a character and also been so frustrated with their willful ignorance. At times I would mutter to myself 'stupid stupid girl', but then would keep reading because I needed to find out what happened next.

Willa is also an interesting character, somehow managing to be both your typical 12-year-old girl and someone quite intelligent and interesting to read about. At times - particularly towards the very end - I found her to be a bit too intelligent for someone 12 years old, but it somehow all fit with the story, so I forgave her for that. Both she and Layla Beck managed to do some sleuthing and finding things out, but each on their own, and following their stories as they veered towards each other was fascinating and even quite exciting.

But I wasn't just fascinated by Willa and Layla - all of the characters offered something amazing to the story, and I found myself doing that wonderful thing that you can sometimes do in books, where you disappear entirely into the setting and feel like you are a fly on the wall, watching everything and wincing when things start to go pear-shaped, or feeling heart-warmed when things go well. Barrows has described an good setting, yes, but it really is the characters in this story that make you feel welcome and excited to keep reading. To be honest, I am tempted to pick this one up again for a cheeky re-read, just to see if I missed anything the first time round.

I received a pre-release copy of this book from Dymocks as part of their Gold Booklovers Program, in exchange for an honest review.

You would like this book if: You enjoy complex and wonderful characters; you feel like some garden-variety sleuthing.

Tea to drink while reading this book: Iced tea - particularly lemon iced tea - so you can feel like you're sitting on the porch with Willa and Jottie, discussing how hot the weather is.

Rating:  9/10

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