From 4pm Saturday to 4pm Monday I took part in the 24in48 readathon challenge, where the goal is to read for 24 hours in the space of a weekend. I actually managed to do it,… More
This is absolutely the last thing I need to be writing, which has made me want to write it. I have an essay to finish by tomorrow and a couple of poems to write by September so I still count as a Real Writer, but I just remembered that I haven’t written an update post here for a while, so I’m doing that instead.
The past month has had essays, and whole days spent lying down, and two milkshakes, and walking in the cold, and headaches, and frustration, and plenty of cats, and watching cartoons late at night, and lipstick, and being conflicted, and being scared, and being confused, and reading enough for once, and wanting to do better, and making an effort to learn, and bus rides, and listening to the same songs too many times, and sarsaparilla, and being on the very edge of being honest with people, and making progress too slowly.
Maybe that’s why things never feel right. I know I’m making progress and carrying on and trying my best, but I can still feel that it’s too slow and that in the end my efforts aren’t going to matter. In any case I like sarsaparilla and I need to wear lipstick more. Also spearmint milkshakes are delightful.
I’ve been having nightmares about things that are real too. Real things are the worst subject matter for nightmares. They don’t bother me for very long, which is a small mercy, but it does bother me to know things can have such a huge impression on me that they’ll even bother me when I’m asleep. That’s the whole point of sleeping – I see it as procrastinating and putting off life. Long hours of not thinking and being warm. It’s hardly surprising people think I’m lazy, but I think if they were in my shoes they’d do the exact same thing.
Anyways, this month has been full of small discoveries and an overwhelming sense of things burning out.
When I’m not writing one of my soul-sucking essays on library processes, I’ve been watching a few television shows. My two current favourites are Brooklyn 99 and Bob’s Burgers. I’ve also started watched The Handmaid’s Tale which I’m enjoying very much. I read and reviewed THT on this blog back in February, and since I heard that OITNB’s Samira Wiley would be playing Moira I was 100% hyped for the show. I’m going to be writing my thoughts on the show – if you don’t want spoilers, here’s your warning to stop reading!
I have seen three of the six episodes that are currently out and overall I’m a fan. The acting is incredible, and the show is true to the book entirely. The show does still include a few elements we didn’t see in the book. Offred’s name is revealed as being June, and there are characters such as Ofglen who are being focused on far more than they were in the book. The Commander and his wife Serena are significantly younger than they are in the book, but this change works.
The tension is spot-on, and the world of Gilead is perfectly chilling – maybe because it manages to feel like a possible world we could find ourselves in. As the show is mostly from Offred’s perspective, you generally only know as much about the world as she does, which adds to how scary the show feels. The only thing that felt jarring to me was the choice of songs that would play at the end of each episode – they all have felt like strange or inappropriate choices so far.
There’s one thing in the show that feels very different to the book to me, which is that the Handmaids are very clearly human. The book makes you feel detached from all of the Handmaids but Offred, as she’s the only one whose voice you’ve been able to hear. They seem to fit into their awful roles so well.
In the show, the Handmaids’ facades don’t feel as strong. As risky as it is to take the wrong route through town, or speak of anything other than the weather, the Handmaids can’t help but reveal aspects of their identity and their past. In an early scene in the show a Handmaid at a supermarket speaks to Offred and Ofglen, and accidentally reveals that she has been listening to the news. She’s instantly horrified by her mistake, and tries to cover it up.
That sort of thing never happened in the book. I think I prefer seeing the show’s portrayal of Offred’s fellow Handmaids – it’s interesting to see that even though these women are the only ones strong enough to have survived so long, they still are human and they still are afraid.
Lucy’s Book by Natalie Jane Prior is an adorable read about a little girl and her favourite book. This is one of the cutest picture books I’ve seen – the story and the illustrations work so well together.
Lucy and her mother visit the library one day and the librarian introduces Lucy to a brand-new book. Lucy falls in love with the book and reads it everywhere – then she starts sharing the book with her friends. The book travels from friend to friend; it becomes a banana sandwich, it goes to a wedding – it even goes to China. When Lucy’s book becomes so well-loved that it gets taken off the library shelves, she must find a way to be reunited with her book.
This is such a nice picture book; the colourful illustrations and the focus on how books can bring people together make this really special. If you ever had a favourite book that you read constantly when you were a child, this book will make perfect sense to you.
For whatever reason, I have read two young adult novels this April about girls and their adventures in Paris. I don’t know why this happened but it makes it quite easy for me to write a list-style blog post about books in April, so that’s a win. I wanted to write about them today, to discuss which ones I prefer and their similarities and differences. Here we go. Please note that many spoilers will follow!
1. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.
According to Goodreads, Anna and the French Kiss is by far the most popular book of the two, with over 272,000 ratings. If I was up-to-date with popular YA novels I probably should have read this about five years ago, but I’m not, and I haven’t.
Here’s the synopsis for you. Anna has been sent to a school in Paris for a year by her father, who is described as being something along the lines of John Green but with a fake tan and less likable personality. For whatever vague reason, Anna isn’t happy about this arrangement, and presumably this is why she doesn’t learn a word of French before going.
Anna arrives in Paris and almost instantly forgets to be a reluctant protagonist. It is Paris, after all. She finds herself quickly drawn into a group of friends at said French school. This friendship group is surprisingly fleshed out character-wise, and their conversations are brimming with plentiful banter.
The YA Love Interest Dude makes himself known quickly. Etienne St. Clair is, I have to admit, a much more realistic character than you usually find in a young adult novel. He has a fear of heights, daddy issues and is saddled with the burden of having at least four girls attracted to him at any given time.
St. Clair is honestly a better character than Anna. Anna’s character isn’t developed as much as I would have liked; the book is made up of her having communication issues with people, her learning that Paris is cool, and her eventually starting a relationship with St. Clair.
I found it really easy to get into this book; it’s a light and fluffy read. I had a few issues with it however, including the plot relying too much on miscommunication between characters, Anna’s fear of looking like an American tourist, and her dating someone in the middle of the book to make St. Clair jealous, which was a cliche I didn’t think this book would stoop low enough to make. Having said that, Anna and the French Kiss was an enjoyable read that I would possibly read again, with plenty of great characters and some really engaging dialogue.
[ 4/5 cups ]
2. Just One Day by Gayle Forman.
This was definitely my favourite. While there were a few elements that I also noticed in AatFK (protagonist is reluctantly traveling in Europe, protagonist is American and judgemental of other American tourists and their ungodly white sneakers), Just One Day is far more my style. Here’s why.
The main character of Just One Day is a girl named Allyson. She’s in Europe on a tour for teens that her incredibly overbearing parents bought her, and on a whim she decides to stay an extra day. The whim is in the form of a mysterious Shakespeare performer called Willem approaching her, giving her a nickname and offering to take her to Paris for the day.
The following day is a magical experience for Allyson; she bonds with Willem who, while devoid of much personality, seems to see her as a person, which is something she doesn’t get much of at home. They meet intimidatingly sophisticated French people, go on a boat trip, and do many other magical Paris adventure-type things before settling down for the night. The story takes a turn for the worse when Allyson wakes up the next morning to find she has been abandoned by Willem. She panics and calls her tour guide who manages to help her get home. Allyson is heartbroken that the boy she has known for all of 24 hours would leave her.
Months later, she begins studying at medical school, which is what her parents want for her. However, she just isn’t feeling it. She’s horribly depressed (which her mother brushes off as her ‘sulking’) and can’t stop thinking about that one random Shakespeare guy. She also has absolutely no interest in medical school.
Here’s where the story got interesting for me. Allyson decides that enough is enough. She begins a quest. This starts with her standing up to her parents and taking courses she actually wants to study; she then begins to track down Willem while saving money to go back to France. She learns the language. She gets a job. She befriends the girls in her dorm, who up until then had been dismissed by her as annoying and over-enthusiastic. She even finds common ground with her mother.
Allyson’s motivation for traveling back to Paris is what makes me like this book. While she wants to see Willem again, the main reason she wants to return is because of how she felt as a person when she was there. Above all else, she is doing this for herself. She learns French for the sole reason of feeling independent when she’s in France. She is searching for the magical feeling that made that one day in Paris so special for her, which she realises was not just because a magical YA dream boy was escorting her.
While this book is a romance novel, Allyson’s development as a person is wonderful, and her focus is never entirely on Willem. She confronts a number of things that are troubling her, and she does them almost entirely alone. This book also gets points for LGBT+ representation. Mostly though I’m just impressed with how Just One Day puts Allyson before the romance; it’s something I wish I saw more of in YA fiction.
[ 5/5 cups]
On the surface, YouTube in 2017 is a bit of a trash heap. You have a page of ‘recommendations’ that are essentially just Vine compilations and videos of people chopping iPhones up with knives, and you have a page of ‘Trending’ videos that are…still the Vines and knife videos. For a while I’d been avoiding trawling through YouTube; people seem to be getting 5 million+ followers for posting clickbait and videos of ‘triggered feminists’. Ew.
As of late, however, I’ve been looking past the spam and hunting for YouTube gems that deserve more attention. Today I wanted to write about three YouTube channels that I genuinely enjoy. I recommend you go check them out; their content is original and funny, and they are all wonderfully creative people! They’re proof that you can create good content in 2017 without falling into the usual YouTube sinkholes of clickbait and ‘triggered’ jokes. There’s hope for the internet yet.
1. Lucy Moon.
Lucy Moon is a YouTuber from London; she is also one-third of a book group podcast called Banging Book Club, which you can listen to here. I love watching Lucy’s videos; I enjoy how fresh and original they are, and how well-made they are. Her ‘168 Hours’ vlogs are week-long vlogs that are creative and beautifully edited. Her videos range from covers of songs to baking videos; she shares her thoughts on music, her favourite poetry books, being organised and anxiety. I highly recommend you check out her channel, which you can watch here.
Mari and Stacy run a YouTube gaming channel called Geek Remix, which I’ve been watching for about a year now. At the moment they’re one of the only gaming channels I enjoy watching, and here’s why. While your average YouTube gamer will scream through horror games for the audience’s benefit and be as obnoxious as they like (because they know they’ll get away with it), Mari and Stacy’s videos are different, because they’re genuine. Their playthroughs of video games are fascinating; they don’t talk over the dialogue or detract from the experience, but they add to it instead. They theorise about the plot while playing, talking about feminism, mental health, and whether they’d date a robot (answer: yes, if the robot has a good personality). I highly recommend their channel; watching one of their videos is like playing a video game with friends, and their discussions always make the game playthrough that much better. (Find their channel here.)
Carrie Hope Fletcher is a YouTuber from the UK; I’ve been watching her videos for years and they have always been amazingly creative, entertaining and adorable. Other than being a YouTuber, Carrie is an author, singer/songwriter and actress. She’s well-known for her former role as Eponine in West End’s production of Les Miserables. She has released two singles, and is about to release her third book. I definitely see her as one of the most talented YouTubers out there. She’s such a sweet and talented person, and you should definitely have a look at her content.
I’d really like to write more about my favourite YouTubers, so there might be a sequel to this post sometime soon! In the meantime, check out one or more of these people; they deserve all the attention they get.
(FEATURED IMAGE SOURCE: http://www.iamlucymoon.com)
This week I reread The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank’s famous diary – and I came across a paragraph that I thought was particularly sweet. I wanted to share this quote as a response to the Daily Post’s prompt ‘heal’.
“Riches, prestige, everything can be lost. But the happiness in your own heart can only be dimmed; it will always be there, as long as you live, to make you happy again.
Whenever you’re feeling lonely or sad, try going to the loft on a beautiful day and looking outside. Not at the houses and the rooftops, but at the sky. As long as you can look fearlessly at the sky, you’ll know that you’re pure within and will find happiness once more.” – Anne Frank
This impressed me a lot; Anne Frank’s writing style is so mature and her words are infused with wisdom. I generally avoid advice and quotes about happiness because people generally say something along the lines of that happiness is a choice, which I don’t believe is true for everyone. This quote is lovely though; it’s more about the fact that you always have the potential to be happy, and even if you can’t be happy in the present, you know that the feeling will come back to you. It’s a good thought.
We’ve all read a YA novel and picked up on something that sounds a little too familiar. We’ve all met the protagonist who’s living in a dystopian world run by a corrupt government – you know, the one who has a lot on her plate right now, what with having to save the world and having some kind of supernatural power that’s endangering her? She’s also the one being pursued by not one, but two guys, and she just can’t choose between them. And she probably has red hair.
Books in the young adult genre can be amazingly well-written and original, but a good number of them seem to rely on the same tropes every time. Today I wanted to write about a few of them. I didn’t want this post to just be a list of cliches that annoy me personally, so I asked my fellow members of the Literary Box Book Club – a great community of book lovers – what tropes they were tired of reading in young adult novels. Here are ten of the tropes that we need to see less of in books!
1. Love triangles.
This one is no surprise. The trope of love triangles appears in some of the most popular young adult novels out there – hi The Hunger Games – and it’s rarely relevant to the plot in any way. The main character, generally a female of the not-like-the-other-girls variety, is in love with two guys. She can’t choose between them. This is either tacked onto the book as a forced romance storyline, or is the basis of the entire novel. You can usually tell exactly which guy she’s going to end up with purely by their introduction.
In The Hunger Games, the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale is certainly not the most important element of the books, but it’s focused on far too much. Predictably, when the movies came out the media blew the love triangle even more out of proportion. Forget Katniss taking down the government or dealing with PTSD or literally being in an televised-murder-kid-explosion-arena – what the teen magazines wanted to know was are you Team Peeta or Team Gale?
2. Being the ‘chosen one’.
There’s only so much of prophecies, magical powers and being descended from some kind of mythical being that a reader can take. Stating that your protagonist is ‘the chosen one’ at times feels like a cheap way of explaining why your main character is…well, the main character. She is the chosen one. Legend says that a white straight girl with red hair and eyes that change colour when she’s upset is destined to save the world. Deal with it. The prophecy foretold you so.
3. “I let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding.”
We don’t know where this originated or why people keep writing this, but it’s a thing. A weird thing that adds nothing to the writing and…doesn’t even really make sense. When the reader’s attention is being directed to how the character is breathing, that’s when you know the story is getting intense, right?
4. Diversity where?
This one is a little more serious. The majority of YA novels have white, able-bodied, female protagonists with white, able-bodied, male love interests. There’s a lack of diverse characters in young adult novels that is unrealistic and disappointing. There’s no representation for the young people that these novels should be written for.
In an attempt to claim the cast of characters is in some way diverse, the author might insert one token black character into the mix. When this is done poorly it can be pretty obvious. If the black teenage girl (who is, quite suspiciously, the one person of colour in her entire high school) seems to have zero qualities or personality traits other than being ‘sassy’, then you might need to think about rewriting. Remember that including minorities for the sake of including minorities is a bad move, and nobody’s personality entirely revolves around their race, sexuality, gender or disability. They deserve to be written with equal depth as the other characters.
5. The token Best Friend character.
The Best Friend character generally falls into one of three categories:
A type: Incredibly attractive. More popular than the protagonist. Has a good understanding of makeup and fashion, so she likely helps the protagonist dress up for a date or the prom in later chapters. Is likely to turn out to be unkind and betray the protagonist in some way. In the world of YA novels that revolve around love triangles, female friendships aren’t worth too much.
B type: Their name is Mia and their personality is as bland as porridge. You’ll never hear of them after the first two chapters except for a possible cameo at the end. Bye Mia.
C type: The best friend is a guy. Oh boy. He and the protagonist have been friends since preschool when they tried to drown one other in a duck pond. He is very obviously in love with the protagonist and this will not become clear to her until the end of the book. Has brown floppy hair much like a wildebeest. Possibly a guitarist, almost certainly a social outcast that only the protagonist understands.
6. Instantly falling in love.
The protagonist and the love interest see eachother across the room – sufficient grounds to say that they’re in love. Or maybe their eyes meet at the school cafeteria. Hell, maybe their hands brush accidentally. In your typical low quality YA novel, it’s surprisingly easy to fall in love. If not easy, then fast.
7. Alarming levels of heterosexuality.
Oh god. The YA genre can be painfully straight at times. I can count the good LGBT-inclusive YA novels I’ve read on one hand. And really I can’t say it’s LGBT-inclusive so much as…LG-inclusive? Bisexual and/or transgender characters are a rarity.
Perhaps even worse than an 100% straight cast of characters is, once again, when the author adds a gay best friend for diversity’s sake. This is the only time you’re likely to see a female protagonist with a male friend who remains just a friend. The gay best friend trope is one of my least favourite – these characters are almost always painfully stereotypical. “Oh my Gaga” is a phrase I’ve had to read with my own two eyes. I’m not even kidding. I can’t imagine that every gay teenage boy’s primary purpose is to drift about his high school until he finds a straight white girl who needs a makeover – and yet this character trope persists.
8. Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
They whisk away the incredibly dull male protagonist, get them to shoplift an inflatable dolphin for the sake of quirkiness, teach them how to love and live, then die in a freak accident. All in about the space of a weekend. There’s no rest for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. They’re equal parts lovable and irritating in a vague blue-haired way, and they appear in YA fiction way too much. If you’re trying to write a realistic novel, don’t make your male protagonist’s love interest someone like this. Life is not a John Green novel, ladies and gentlemen. And shoplifting is more illegal than quirky.
9. Parents where?
Chances are the answer to that is something along the lines of:
A) They died in a car crash when Protagonist was three.
B) Business trip.
C) You are briefly introduced to them in the first chapter but after that they are sucked into the void never to be seen again.
D) The antagonist or the government killed the parents.
10. Red hair. So much red hair.
Red hair occurs in 1-2% of people, yet somehow either Protagonist or Best Friend are always redheads. If we lived in a world where young adult protagonists ran wild, red hair wouldn’t be quite so uncommon after all. Then again, if red hair was common, the protagonists would probably not have red hair. And then again! If we lived in a world where young adult protagonists ran wild, at least 1-2% of the population would be Chosen Ones. That’s a lot of choosing.
Thanks to all of my fellow book club members who helped contribute their thoughts and ideas! It’s good to see that so many readers aren’t settling for predictable writing or stereotyped characters.
Let me know in the comments what your least favourite YA trope is!