Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Reading Resolutions


This is me :o
  As Christmas sadly draws to a close and we set about pulling the mistletoe down from the ceiling, blowing out that sickly sweet cinnamon scented candle and eating the last crumbs of Christmas cake that no one really wanted, it really is easy to feel a bit sad, isn’t it? When all that festive cheer is gone you’re going to need something else to replace the excitement of having all those santa ornaments dotted around the house – New Year! If we can’t celebrate December anymore let’s celebrate January instead! And, of course, with New Years Day comes New Years Resolutions.
    Now, don’t worry. I am not going to harp on at you about my overwhelming desire to stop eating chocolate and start hitting the gym at every possible moment during the day (I think we all know that’s never going to happen). No, this is a book blog, so of course, these must be Reading Resolutions. And, trust me; I have a few bad habits to break…
      So without further ado I bring you this year’s  4 Reading Resolutions:

   1.     Start using bookmarks
It has begun

What have I been doing instead, you ask? Fine - May as well get it out in the open now, because it’s all about to change. I am a page folder. I know it’s terrible, I can see you all wincing when you see me put a crease or a crinkle in a brand new book, and up until recently I have felt no remorse. But the problem is getting out of hand – It was okay when it was just my books, at that point it was just a quick and easy way to mark my pages, but now I’m folding other people’s books without even thinking! I can’t handle the shame of creasing another’s book, any more of this guilt and I’ll drive myself insane. So, this is why, starting January 1st I will pick up a bookmark and never fold again… I hope.

   2.     Read at least two classic novels

Okay, I’m kind of lazy so maybe two is a tad optimistic, but still! I would like to read at least one classic novel. Too many of my favourite teen fictions and movies are based off or make reference too classic novels such as ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘The Scarlet Letter’. Supposedly these books provide some amazingly mind-blowing experience that will skyrocket me into such an intense euphoria that I will never be able to enjoy reading again. I want in on that, Dudes. So, though it may be hard work, and at times I may curse a Brontë or stamp Dickens name into the dirt, but as long as I persevere I shall take my place among the reading elite and I will be able to finally let myself swoon over Colin Firth acting in the old BBC ‘Pride and Prejudice’ series.

   3.     Stop holing up in the teen section, you hermit!

Looking through my bookshelf at all the different books I’ve read this year and it occurs to me that I have a certain… taste in books. What I mean by this is apparently I read almost solely what Waterstones puts on the recommended table in the teen section. I am addicted to teen fiction, particularly the contemporary kind! I can actually feel the craving in me now. I crave Rainbow Rowell and John Green like a drug-addict craves crystal meth. Is there a rehab for this kind of thing? Whether there is or not, I’m not going. I can do this on my own. Cold turkey. This year I shall finally take those few hesitant steps out of the confines of young-adult. I shall browse through not-young-adult and sci-fi and crime/thriller novels!... Maybe.

   4.     Attempt the Goodreads 50 Book Challenge

I'm learning! I swear!
I have spent many hours tampering about with the site but I think I have finally worked out how Goodreads works. However, as I explored through the deep depths of the website trying to work out exactly what a TBR is and how the hell one makes a ‘Listopia’ I stumbled upon the 2014 Reading Challenge. Obviously, having found it in December, it’s a bit late to attempt my 50 books this year, but with any luck I will be able to sign up on January 1st and power-read my way through the rest of the year. I’ve never done goodreads stuff before, nor have I ever counted the amount of books I read in a year, so I’m not entirely sure how big a number 50 really is, so if you lot reckon I should boost that figure or push it back down, do tell me! All I know is that in 2015 Majestical Evie shall fix on her determined face and she shall read more books in one year than ever before! And that my friends, is a promise, not a resolution! 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Nostalgia Reading

          If you have been keeping up with me on my twitter and facebook accounts, or read last week’s blog post (a review of Dash and Lily's Book of Dares) then you will know how much I love Christmas time! The cold, the food, the family… All of it – there isn’t a bit I don’t like (Except for mandatory Christmas dinner sprouts…)! But, I think my favourite part of Christmas is that lovely feeling of nostalgia that gets unboxed with all of the festive decorations. Christmas, for me, is a time to remember. I am the youngest of five (I know… How did I survive?) But seeing as all my siblings have grown up and left home for university, jobs and life in general, the only time we are all together in one place as a unit is Christmas. Despite the constant teasing they like to bring home as an early gift, it really is lovely to see them and quite often we spend long evenings after dinner, remembering all our different stories from growing up together.

           So, what with being in the Christmas spirit and all, that’s what I think I’m going to do with you all today – remember. I want to take a little trip down memory lane of some of the most important books to me growing up and just celebrate the fact that they existed, because without them I probably wouldn’t be here writing this blog now. Let’s get right down to it!

            Where should we start..? I think we ought to go right back to the very beginning and talk about one of my absolute favourite picture books – ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ by Roald Dahl. For those of you who don’t know, ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ is a book about a very boastful crocodile (obviously… It wasn’t going to be a giraffe, was it?) who absolutely loves to eat children. The story follows all his attempts at doing just that.

 As a kid, I never realised just how weird and twisted ‘The Enormous Crocodile’ really was, I was just happy to be read a story with such great illustrations. When I was five my oldest sister (and main babysitter) was nineteen and she had a love for creepy things, which is why she always read me this book in particular. I remember quite vividly that every time she read the book to me in bed, she would make little innocent baby me put on my creepiest, most disturbing voice and read the line: “if you listen carefully, you can hear their bones go munch and crunch”… Sister, I blame you for any strange child-eating behaviour I may develop as an adult! Than you very much. 

            As I grew up a little bit and became much too mature and sophisticated for picture books and Quentin Blake illustrations (Though, I never did truly outgrow his wonderful pictures…) I suddenly decided that I wanted to read all sorts of ‘classic’ books - the older, the better. My lovely Mum took it upon herself to go rooting through our most ancient belongings to find me her copy of ‘Nancy and Plum’. Yes, it was beaten and brown with age, but it had been my Mum’s favourite when she was a kid and that was enough to launch eight-year-old me into the first chapter. It truly is a gorgeously sweet book, following the story of two orphan sisters, Nancy and Plum, at Mrs Monday’s wretched boarding school. The story starts in a barn on a snowy Christmas Eve (the most charming setting I think I’ve ever read) and every time I read it, it just makes my heart swell. Ever since I first picked it up, I have read it at least once per year at Christmas time and the book holds so much nostalgia for me now that I can’t help but cry when reading its festive goodness!
          It wasn’t too long after that that I came across my first ever ‘banned’ book. It was my older brother who told me that I wasn’t allowed to read ‘Angela and Diabola’ by Lynne Reid-Banks. Apparently, the story was horrifically, inappropriately disturbing – especially for a tiny ginger-haired kid like me – and I was not, under any circumstances, to read it. He practically gave it the kiss of death. Of course, as soon as he seemed to have finished with it, I snuck into his room and stole it from his bedside table.

 I read secretly for the next two days, devouring the words with a mischievous smile on my face. It was a children’s book, but in truth it was dark! It was all about a young couple and their difficulty bringing up their two twin girls – one was the most perfect girl in the world, and one the most evil. The book certainly was a change from my usual sunshine fairies and ice princesses and I loved every single bit of it. I went on to read it a countless number of times, happily rereading it between every other book. It may have been just to spite my older brother, but I know for a fact that if he hadn’t forbidden me from reading ‘Angela and Diabola’, I never would have read it.
          Those were three of the most important books of my childhood, the ones that even now when I read them I feel that same familiar burst of excitement that I did when I was younger. These books have helped shape my personality and my reading tastes and I just love each one of them so much. I know that when I am an adult, and I have munchkins of my own, that I will read them these books and maybe they’ll like them just as much as I did. Either way, there’s something about these books that just makes me feel so nostalgic and Christmassy that it’s all I can do not to have a little bit of a weepy moment.
         Anyway! I’m getting all emotional now, so I best go find something a bit cheerier to do, sip eggnog or roll around in some tinsel or somethin… But, I’d love continue this conversation down in the comments! I want to hear all about your nostalgic books! Which books hold the most memories for you? Tweet me, facebook me – I’d love to know.

            And to all the rest of you – Have a very merry Christmas! 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

In the run up to Christmas I love to get into the Christmas spirit and read a few Christmassy books and so back in September, during a particularly wild Amazon book spree, I purchased ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’ by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan in preparation for the festive Winter months. When the book arrived with a lovely thump on my doorstep I was very sensible and placed it safely in a hidden corner of my bedroom to sit and wait until the reindeers roamed the streets, tinsel was strung over every available surface and it was okay to be excited for Christmas. I definitely was not going to read this book until Christmas. I wasn’t. I wasn’t! ... I did.

            I am currently writing this blog in October… Okay! Okay! So, kill me! I saw a wreath of holly in a passing shop window and I got a teensy bit excited. Well… when I say a ‘teensy bit’ I mean I freaked out in the middle of the street, pre-ordered a new reindeer pattern Christmas jumper, pulled my ‘Snowman’ snow globe down from the spiders in the attic and shook it manically as I began to read ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’.

            But, all that is beside the point. The point is that ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’ is one of the most wonderful Christmas books that I have ever read! The book follows the story of New York teenagers, Dash and Lily (the co-writers writing the two perspectives chapter for chapter) as they get to know each other over Christmas using only the fantastic dares and challenges they leave each other in a little red Moleskine notebook.

 Now, bear in mind, just in case you like to take my word as law (As I know you all definitely do!) that this is not for all you lactose intolerant readers out there. This book definitely has rich, creamy, full-fat gorgonzola cheese as its main ingredient – and I loved it! Cheese is exactly what a Christmas book should have, heck, the entire season is cheesy, not just its literature. There were so many sweet little scenes and Christmassy settings that I could almost smell the cinnamon in the air. I have never in my life left Europe but I’ll be damned if I don’t what Christmas in New York is like after reading that book.

Dash, I thought, was a very unlikely character to appear in a Christmas book and at first I found him quite irritating. The complete opposite to Lily, he hated Christmas and chose to spend Christmas alone, hiding from parties and festivities and delicious gingerbread men.  Dash seemed to think himself incredibly deep and troubled because of this particular preference and kept spouting pretentious moody rubbish all the way throughout the book.  However, as I became more familiar with the characters and their individual thoughts and feelings I began to realise that this was no accident. Dash was meant to be annoying! Though infuriating, it was crucial to the plotline and I actually began to become quite fond of this particular personality quirk.

I liked Lily straight off the bat! I think her best contribution to the novel as a whole is her close connection with her family. Lily’s relatives feature a lot throughout the novel and though they may only be minor parts I think collectively they make the book more Christmassy than any number of snowflake baubles, giant nutcrackers or North-Pole themed mittens. This may only be a personal opinion, but, to me, family is the most important aspect of Christmas and I know that if Cohn and Levithan had forgotten to sprinkle a few aunts, uncles and lazy older brothers into their writing, then the book would not make my heart swell as much as it did.

Because I am a lazy blogger, now, as I finish this blog, the calendar reads December 15th. I have read ‘Dash and Lily’ again since my little (massive) Christmas freak out back in October and I can confirm to you that nothing I have said as thus is a lie - induced by an early dose of mistletoe and fake shop-display snow. The book manages to maintain its lovely warmth and sweetness for the re-read and if, still, this late into December, you haven’t yet felt that familiar glow that comes from warm mince pies and santa-shaped mittens, then I guarantee you, this is the book to kick-start your holiday spirit! 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas Book Guide!

Ah, Christmas time! The streets are packed with people, there’s a bite of frost in the air, everything smells a bit like cinnamon and if you’re lucky, there might just be some lovely book-shaped parcels under the tree. Christmas is a brilliant time for book-lovers everywhere! The bookshops are stocked with all sorts of wonderful Christmas releases and if you have a family that listens quite closely you can replenish your entire to-be-read pile with the fantastic new titles you’ve been lusting over for ages!
         However, if you happen to buying for a book-lover and they are not entirely explicit about exactly which book it is they would like to receive from Santa, then having a successful Book-Christmas can be a tad tricky! But don’t you worry; I am here to help you through this difficult time of year! This is a book-lovers guide to Christmas!

    1.     I am going to get this out of the way first because I love you all and I don’t want you to waste your money. If you don’t know almost exactly what titles a person may want, don’t guess. Seriously, either just ask them what they want or avoid the bookshop entirely, it isn’t worth it. If your loved one is quite an intense book-lover then chances are that they will have read quite a lot of what Waterstones, Barnes & Noble and WH Smith have to offer. Unless you happen to be a crazy stalker or know their exact reading tastes and experiences inside-out then I really wouldn’t bother. Play it safe and don’t be tempted by that gorgeous new John Green box set, if you don't know for sure, it’s much too dangerous!

    2.     Okay, so you’ve read tip number one and you’re thinking, but if I can’t get a book-lover books, what the hell do I buy?! No fear, my dears! This is where your trusty friend, the book token, swoops in to save the day. It may seem impersonal and a bit weak but trust me, stick even just a £10 book token inside a card and you will be able to watch the sheer delight on your loved one’s face as it falls out onto their lap! Physically, a book token is just a small rectangle of plastic, but emotionally it is so much more. Book tokens are exciting, they hold all sorts of possibilities, and they give book-lovers an excuse to go for another thrilling adventure through the shelves at the local bookshop!

3.     Now obviously, we don’t all have obese wallets of cash to spend on festivities but buying books really doesn’t have to be expensive. It is so easy to get cheap books if you buy second hand. You’d be surprised the amount of good-quality, well-known books hidden inside your local charity shop. I’m lucky enough to have two different Barnardos bookshops near me and an Oxfam one as well, but if you don’t have access to these shops specifically, any old charity shop will do! I once found the entire Hunger Games series in almost brand-new condition for only about £3.50 in a random Hospice Care on holiday. I really don’t think your loved one will care if the books are second-hand or brand new, if it’s a good story they’ll thank you profusely and stick their teeth in right away. After all, it is the thought that counts!

    4.     But when shopping for Book-Christmas you are not solely limited to the bookshops only. Book-related merchandise is a fantastic gift for any passionate fan girl or boy! If your friend happens to be a massive potterhead then the possibilities are endless! Replica Marauders Map? I do think so. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans? Yes please! Magical heat transforming ‘Mischief Managed’ mug? Well, I don’t mind if I do!  Simply search your loved-one’s favourite book or series along with the word ‘merch’ into your favourite search engine and I guarantee you’ll get hundreds of gift ideas in mere seconds! Personally, when I want to find cool and interesting merchandise I hop on over to Etsy.co.uk, there’s thousands of people on there, hand-crafting and creating merch every single day! Just a few quick clicks and Christmas is sorted.

   5.     If you really are strapped for cash, but you still want a love-filled, heart-felt gift to give for book-Christmas, well, why not get a little arty? Sure, it takes a bit more time and effort, but, even if it doesn’t turn out quite the way you want it to, the finished product can still be something quite awesome and special. It doesn’t have to be all that complex – if you have art skills and some coloured card you can make cool book themed cards like this one – and if you can’t think of any ideas there’s tons of guides and templates on the internet. It’ll cost you one day, some knitting needles and a couple balls of wool to make a long cosy Gryffindor scarf, or if you want to get really fancy you could even have a go at crocheting yourself a woolly Potter dolly!  Just, have a go. It’s fun and a great way to get the expensive book merchandise you really want.

   6.     Lastly, don’t be afraid to write inside the books. I know some people might crucify me for saying this, but there’s something so fantastically gorgeous about opening up a book someone has given you, ready to start reading, and finding that they’ve left you a little message. It’s so sweet and cute and very personal! It adds a lovely little touch to an otherwise fairly usual present. If you want to leave a message but are a bit scared to commit so fully to leaving a permanent mark on the gift, just write it lightly in pencil, then it can be rubbed out at the reader’ own discretion. It’s counter-intuitive but it is an undeniably romantic, I’ve wanted someone to do this for me ever since I first read ‘The Fault In Our Stars’. So go on, be a bit cheeky!

So there we have it! Six great tips on how to have an absolutely blurbtastic Book-Christmas! 

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Isla and the Happily Ever After Review


       I know, I know. I speak about Stephanie Perkins way too much, but if she didn’t cause me so much heart ache maybe I wouldn’t have to! I can’t just let her tear me apart, rip my heart out and use it as a football and pretend like it isn’t happening! I need to speak through my feelings with you, It’s the only way I’ll ever come close to moving on,  – particularly my most recent feelings concerning her newest book, ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’. In recent weeks I have once again found myself lying on my bed at 2am, that familiar pain in my chest, wishing with all my might that I could pull one of Stephanie Perkin’s boys out of their fictional world and safely into my arms.
This time it was Josh. Joshua Wasserstein. Though I had not truly appreciated him when reading ‘Anna and the French Kiss’, my mind too consumed with the sheer swooshiness of Etienne’s hair, I was certainly appreciating him now. While Etienne and Cricket, the romantic interests of Perkins two previous companion novels, were friendly and confident, Josh was quiet, artistic and mysterious. In my mind he was stronger built than the other two boys, less soft edges, with a gorgeous well-shaped smile. It was a lovely change from the other two love interests and I ate up every romantic gesture like I hadn’t had a meal in weeks.
       There is an added physicality in ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ not found in the previous books. Usually, Perkins focuses on exactly how the lovely couple came to be, the book ending with that fantastic first kiss moment so highly anticipated by the reader, however, this time we get to have a look at what comes after that. Of course, once a seventeen year-old couple has been together long enough to get that kiss out of the way, things begin to progress to much more… serious stuff. However, being so familiar with Perkins’ usual romance structure, I really did not expect this uh… new kind of kissing contained within the book.
         But, of course, Perkins being the literary genius that she is, it was all okay. Better than okay, it was nice. It wasn’t awkward or disgusting. She avoided explicit language and instead of the actual physical act, Perkins spoke of the feelings her characters experienced, something not usually the focal point of this kind of scene. It wasn’t pornographic and strangely, it didn’t seem all that sexual. Josh and Isla did not ‘have sex’, they ‘made love’. It was beautiful.

           However, don’t for a minute think that ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ is about sex. Most definitely not. These moments were simply the finer details of an ultimately gorgeous picture; the glint in Mona Lisa’s eye.

           Of course, this wouldn’t be a Perkins book if we didn’t have an artfully chosen romantic setting. The book has two main settings – new and exciting Manhattan, brimming with people and possibilities, and… Paris! I squealed with joy when I found out we were going back to Paris, setting of ‘Anna and the French Kiss’.  I want every book to be set in Paris, things just seem to be more dazzling over there. Joshua Wasserstein was amazing for many reasons, he was gorgeous, artistic, thoughtful and funny… but now he gets to speak casual French too? I’m practically swooning as I type.
          More specific than Paris, in ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ we get to return to Anna’s boarding school from ‘Anna and the French Kiss’. Yet another reason to read the series – the three stories are all tastefully intertwined, with ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ featuring, in my opinion, the best cameos of the entire series. Etienne, Anna, Meredith, Rashmi, Cricket, Lola and Calliope all make an appearance at some point in the book.  The reader is given enough to detail to both excite and satisfy, but crucially, the cameos do not take over the main plotline of the book. I really do wish that I could talk to you about the wonderful scene near the end of the book, but even I would not be so mean as to spoil such a perfect surprise.
          There is only one fault I have for ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ and that is this; the remarkable book marks the end of the three-part series. As I put the book down a weird sort of sadness washed over me and I suddenly wished I had never read any of it at all. I wished I could be back on the first page of ‘Anna and the French Kiss’, my low expectations about to be blown out of the water.

           However, at the end of ‘Isla and the Happily Ever After’ I knew one thing for certain. Stephanie Perkins is my favourite author. She writes exactly the kind of books I want to read, satisfyingly romantic and perfect right down to the last detail. I can’t stress enough how much I loved this series and I just know that whatever Perkins chooses to release next, I will buy from Waterstones with a bright grin on my face and an open heart. 

If you would like to find out more about Stephanie Perkins, here is her website!