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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

YA Picks (Part 1)

Rainbow Rowel - Fangirl ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Having read 'Carry On', the fanfiction talked about extensively in 'Fangirl' I was very interested to read this book. It was only Rowel book that my local library had in stock so I was quick to pick it up. Fangirl is set around a young college girl, forced to move outside of her comfort zone, make friends and find love. The novel's protagonist, Cather, is so relatable with her social anxiety and the way she worries about seeing people and even leaving her room. Cather's thing is fanfiction. Under the username Magicath, she writes a popular Snowbaz fanfic about her favourite characters in the whole wide world. She's quite comfortable with writing her fan novel and sharing everything with her twin and built-in best friend, Wren. Then one year, Wren doesn't want to share a dorm room with her in college, and Cath is forced to room with a complete stranger in an entirely separate building, which is something she finds really hard to handle. It's a great story and I like that the relationships are slow going. It takes Cath a long time to be able to openly befriend her room-mate Reagan, Reagan's friend Levi and Nick from Cath's fiction writing class. It's much more believable this way as well. It's interesting to watch her develop her confidence and to watch how her sister Wren grows when away from her. Their family situation I found hard to read at times, simply because the difficulty between Cath and her mother came through so well in the story but it was worth it to the very end. A great book and one I really enjoyed that gave me a good back story for 'Carry On'. It's inspired me to read 'Eleanor and Park' when I next get the chance.

The thing that stops this from being five stars overall is that I was expecting more fandom. I was expecting cons and community and joy of falling in love with characters but I think that Cath writes more to escape her own life than to participate actively in the lives of the characters and fans. While it is stated that she has internet friends, I thought it was strange that none of them were ever mentioned by name. 'Carry On' does NOT read like a Harry Potter book, but in 'Fangirl' its easy to see similarities between the two fandoms. I presume that HP was not used for copyright reasons or something, but in the book Levi comments "It's like hearing that Harry Potter is gay." and I'm not sure that actively naming the HP fandom was a good move. 

Otherwise the story was excellent. The writing is very character driven and the relationships between characters are warm and heartfelt.

Paula Weston - Shadows ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

'Shadows' seems a solid start to a series. It's hard writing a character with amnesia as it means there needs to be lots of exposition by other characters but I think Weston pulls it off. Gaby or Gabe (loving the use of angel names all the way through!) is a girl living the quiet life. She fills her days by the sea with her library job, relaxing at the local cafe, running and spending time with her housemate Maggie. Gaby still finds it hard to move on, despite it having been a year, from her brother's gruesome death in a traffic accident. When a strangely knowledgeable stranger comes into town to tell her that everything she thought she knew about her brother was a lie, that's when Gaby begins to doubt, and little by little, uncovers a world on angels and demons that she'd long since forgotten. It's a little clunky in places, like where she goes from not knowing how to fight to being able to kick ass from muscle-memory, but other than that it's a good set up for a series. 

The characters are good. Gaby is well built upon. In other book reviews I've read from other bloggers, they don't seem to understand Gaby's decision to stay in her town and not run or fight, but personally I think it's pretty reasonable, seeing as she finds out that everything before one year ago was a lie. I think that staying in the one town she KNOWS is real is a plus. Maggie seemed like a loyal friend and a very solid character and I find Gaby's need to protect her believable. I didn't Jason in this book, though I didn't actually find a reason to dislike him. I still hope he'll be a good guy in the long run but I've a gut feeling he'll turn. Who knows? I think I'll give the next book a shot and see. 

This book got 3 stars from me for being a solid, original and well built upon book with limited info dumps despite the amnesiac protagonist.

Marcus Sedgwick - My swordhand is singing ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Wow this story was chilling! A brilliantly written 17th century horror for teens. Peter and his father Tomas move from village to village, running from something that Peter's never told about. Eventually, it finds them. Their only hope of surviving is the sword that lies in a wooden box Peter's father has kept from him and a strange song about a dead shepherd.

I liked the way this story was built up. I liked the understanding and sharpness in Peter and the way that he knew his own feelings. Peter accepts the village superstitions when his father discourages them, trying to piece together a puzzle that he's not got all the pieces for. I got really involved in the legends surrounding the Nosferatu and I found the scene where they open the grave the best part. The charcoal writing on the lid of the empty coffin was thrilling.

The way the song is connected up is very well thought out as well as the limitations that the vampires share such as having to pick up all the millet seeds and undo every single knot in the nets and write until their charcoal runs out.

Gothic, well-woven and packed with mystery. I'd recommend reading it and am pleasantly surprised to find it's the first in a series.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

National Trust Visit: Sissinghust Castle Garden

This blog post is going to be a little slice of life/adventure for you. During my stay in Kent, with one of my very best friends, we visited Sissinghurst castle garden. It was a really lovely day, the sun was shining, birds were singing and the walled garden looked fantastic.

They have a lovely little cafe there, where I got a latte and a salad, but not just any salad! I chose to get a beetroot and goats cheese salad, even though I'd never had either of those things before. It was just one of those more impulsive days. It was a good guess!

Myself and my friend Anna paid to enter the house and the gardens. The view from the top of the tower was amazing. This picture really doesn't do it justice. You could see for miles of rolling hills and beautiful scenery. It was really something special.

For those of you that don't know, Sissinghurst castleonce belonged to the passionate and exuberant Vita Sackville-West, a poet. Looking around you can see all the wonders she had to create her poetry with. She created one of the area's most iconic and peaceful gardens and used it to broaden her literary mind.

I bought one of her poetry books, Il gardino, an anthology of poems about the garden in Sissinghurst. It's superbly written and is one of my favourites to date, both for the lyrical words that soothe the mind and for a certain green-blue post-it. While I stayed with her, Anna must have slipped it in, but I didn't notice until I opened the book again at home.

On this special little postit she'd written 'I love you, Penny, my moon and sun.'. The surprise at having discovered this unexpected treasure made me feel really warm and wanted. I haven't been able to bring myself to remove it, not even to paste it into my scrapbook or in my memory box. This way every time I open Il gardino I get a little bit of my best friend.

The poetry itself is nicely penned. It's very reflective on experiences and the patterns in life. While she talks about the trials of nurturing a garden from a bare patch of earth, Vita goes on to compare it wholely to life in a very introspective yet compelling way.

In spring it's easy to see where she gets her inspiration from. The daffodils were out in full bloom, almost carpeting the ground in some places. It was an amazing place.

Vita Sackville west had the most beautiful library. It's any book sellers dream! I loved this small round room that came off from the main staircase. It had shelves stacked high all the way around and a ladder for getting to the great leather bound tomes. Most of all it looked warm.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Fantastic First Volume: Mangas

Looking for a new manga to embark on? These are a couple of my favourites, reviewed for their first volumes only (though I've read on with many of them). None of this 'oh it gets better later on' stuff. These mangas start being fantastic from the first line. Hope you enjoy them!

Tokyo Ghoul – Sui Ishida

I have recently finished reading the volume 5 and let me tell you, if the bookshop was still open I’d be back down there buying the next one! It’s got a strong story line; one that makes you question right and wrong. After being attacked by a ghoul, Ken Kaneki becomes the only half-ghoul half-human hybrid. The story follows him learning about another side of the monsters that he’d never considered before and trying to survive in both their world and the human one.

It also has a brilliant protagonist already. Kanaki is that mix of brave and weak that I really crave in a lead character. He’s weak physically. He’s weak because he’s over powered by the ghoul’s instincts.

But he is so strong as well.

He’s strong morally and resists eating humans as long as possible. He’s strong in that he stands up against opposition. He stands up against other ghouls that tell him to just get it over with and eat somebody. He’s strong in his new found powers.

The art is beautiful. There is a particularly brilliant sequel of panels at the end of the first chapter in which the doctors save his life and thus transform him into a half ghoul. I liked the picture of the ghoul girl Rize with her hands over his eyes. The style of the title page for the first chapter is also nicely done and has quite a soft look about it in comparison to the style of the manga.

There is fighting! There is action! Both of which are relevant to the story (no needless violence here!) and play out smoothly. Frankly, I found some of the fight scenes exhilarating.

This is most definitely worth a read.

Red River – Chie Shinohara

This story is everything I love all smushed into one book. I first read it online as it is not very widely available in my country but have rectified that mistake via Amazon. The story line is magical. Magic is one of my all-time loves in stories. Yuuri (the leading lady) is taken from 21st Century Japan and transported through time to be used as a sacrifice in an ancient civilization. Bingo! Magic! Love status has been achieved!

The first problem Yuuri encounters is the obvious. A very powerful evil queen wants to use her as a sacrifice. In fact this queen wants to kill her so badly because if she does then her son is certain to become king, even though he is currently only 6th in line.

The next thing I love about this, aside from the magic and evilly brilliant plot lines, is the passionate love story between Yuuri and prince Kail. It’s beautifully presented, yet modest in the way it is drawn.

Incredible artwork is also a must for this devastatingly romantic story! The panels are well laid out and the style is pretty and a very good representation of the mangaka’s skill. The backgrounds and the exotic dress is what really hit me here however, as each costume and set layout are so precise and detailed they really add the finishing touches to this amazing manga.

While the series is a little old now (I don’t think it is still in print) I would well recommend finding it online!

Skip Beat – Yoshiki Nakamura

I know that this post is supposed to be just the first volumes of mangas, but Skip Beat was so incredibly un-put-down-able that I’ve read every chapter that has been released in English so far! God I love this book. Thanks to it being a work-in-progress series I’m can’t spoil the ending for you, but it just gets deeper and better as it goes on.

Okay, back to volume one. The story is about Kyoko Mogami, a young girl who has been used as a house maid by her childhood friend Sho, as he achieves stardom. Thankfully, Sho’s deception is discovered fairly quickly on, and the story follows Kyoko as she tries to get revenge on him by any means possible!

Unfortunately for her, Sho has already become famous in Japan as a singer, and Kyoko can no longer get close enough to throttle him, so she decides to get her revenge by becoming an even bigger star and booting him from the show biz world!

This manga is hilarious from the beginning. Kyoko is such a dynamic and passionate character that she could bring a smile to anyone’s face. She has these little Kyoko-demons which I adore, and she uses to unleash fury upon the other characters too.

The art, as with all of my top 5 choices, is spectacular. I love the way the mangaka does eyes, especially Kyoko’s, as they are big and detailed without being too cartoon like. There is also a nice series of panels where Kyoko is listening on Sho’s conversation with his manager that I particularly like.

It’s a brilliant series about one woman trying desperately to stamp out her own naiveté about love.

Naruto – Masashi Kishimoto

Damn, Naruto is that manga that you think will be an entertaining, funny ninja comic but actually surprises you with attacks of the feels and brilliant portrayals of emotions that will hack your heart out with a metaphorical axe.

I’m going to start with the art style this time, as there is one scene that struck me as so beautifully drawn I have to comment on it. When main character Naruto cries, it is the most honest representation of tears I have ever seen in a manga. That picture of his face scrunched up looks so detailed and so life-like that it broke something inside of me. Don’t get me wrong. The mangaka does draw beautifully all the way through and her style is definitely manga, but the expression was so open and accurate it made me cry.

This was of course partly due to the story as well. Naruto feels something that we all experience at some point in our lives. He feels universally hated. He feels lonely and unloved from the very beginning of the story, yet has such a cheerful mask of indifference you really can’t tell.

He’s been shunned by the village hidden in the leaves for longer than he can remember, but doesn’t realize why. When he fails his ninja exams, an instructor convinces him to steal a sacred scroll from the hokage, with the promise that if he learns one of the techniques on it, he will be automatically passed.

His tutor, Iruka is sent out to try and capture Naruto, and finds him practicing by himself. Mizuki, the instructor that told Naruto about the scroll drops in on the two of them and tries to kill Naruto, revealing his intention to steal the scroll himself. Out of spite Mizuki also reveals to Naruto the reason why the villagers hate him. Cue all of my feels pouring out.

The series covers Naruto’s adventures as a ninja, including fights against enemy ninjas and battles against his rival Sasuke!

There are devastatingly sad moments as well as laugh out loud funny parts. Put together 
they make a really beautiful story.

Inuyasha – Rumiko Takahashi 

Inuyasha is quite a long haul manga, and one that I used for this post because I think people are sometimes put off from starting it once they realise quite how lengthy it is. From the fact that it has made it onto this post we can assume that I did go past the first volume (though I have yet to finish the series, sorry!) and enjoyed every single hour of it. Yes, hours. I didn’t stop reading for hours.

Again, Inuyasha has a beautiful art style and also a very unique one. The images look a lot like paintings and all have that soft edged look that I can’t get enough of, only all the way through. The picture that struck me in the first volume was the very first moment when Kagome Higarashi, our protagonist, discovers the half-dog-demon Inuyasha bound to a tree by a sacred arrow.

After stumbling through a well and into feudal era Japan, Kagome is forced to run for her life from an insect like demon. The demon was awoken by the presence of the shikon jewel, or the jewel of four souls, inside Kagome, which had disappeared from their world over 50 years ago. When she discovers inuyasha, he offers to help her, as long as she releases him from his wrongful imprisonment. Unfortunately, one battle later and the shikon jewel is shattered and the fragments shoot off to Lord knows where, so Inuyasha and a rather reluctant Kagome begin their adventures battling demons and collecting the shards.

As I’ve said, those shards have gone all over the place, and it does take the duo a while to discover them all, but it is well worth the time to read!