Always & Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 4th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
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Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

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Unfortunately, I do not think Always and Forever, Lara Jean lives up to it’s predecessors.

While all three books in the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy definitely exude this feeling of living on a pink, fluffy cloud that smells like bubblegum and cake mixture, this last book feels a little different to the others…it doesn’t really have a plot.

Unlike the first two books where there’s the whole fake boyfriend scenario in book one, and then relationship drama and a love triangle in book two, book three just sort of happens. I love Lara Jean and enjoy getting this insight into her life but AAFLJ just came across as diary entries that she was forced to write for a Creative Writing class that she’s not really into.

There’s no conflict, and if there is even a little, it’s no big deal and it’s easily resolved. The word I would call this book is: mild. It’s a chicken korma. I like chicken korma, but it’s not exactly my most adventurous choice of a dish.

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An Amateur’s Guide To Copenhagen

Hello, and welcome to the first in a travel series called An Amateur’s Guide, where I, an amateur traveler, will give you a guide to all the places I’ve been and hopefully share with you some tips and tricks into getting the best out of your trips.

While I may be an amateur (and very poor), I’m determined to visit as many places as possible, meeting new people, and exploring beautiful countries and cities that may not be as far from you as you think. I’m going to be splitting these posts into sections; In & Around, Doing Stuff, Good Views, and Sleeps, but also just talking about how beautiful and amazing each place is.

Let’s begin with Copenhagen, Denmark!

Continue reading “An Amateur’s Guide To Copenhagen”

The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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The Joys Of Learning A Language (And How You Can Do It Too)

I really love languages.

Vague, I know. But I end up saying it to myself and to other people a lot. I just really like languages. My own language, languages I’m learning, languages that I’m not, dead languages, languages that hardly anyone speaks anymore. I just…*clenches fist*.

While I know I’m not the only one (obviously), I still often feel like the only person who wants to at least try another language. Usually, people just find it to hard. Ok, I get that. Language is woven into every single part of your life and so, to understand a whole other language is to understand a whole other life, a society, a history and culture. But, usually, the rejection of other languages comes from ignorance and the desire for there to only be one language; English.

Yeah, we won’t get into that.

I wanted to talk a bit about my language learning experiences and how you, if you’re interested, can get into the wonderful world of language and how it’s not as hard as you think!

First, take it out of your mind that you have to be ‘gifted’ or have to be talented from a young age at language learning. Yes, there are going to be people who find it easier than you because they were brought up in a bilingual household or moved to another country and was forced to learn the language etc. If you want to learn, are ready to learn, and love the language you’re going to learn then you too can do it!

Next, choose your language! There are so many reasons why someone embarks on this journey; maybe your job needs a multi-lingual person? Maybe you’ve got plans to travel to multiple places and want to at least try when speaking to locals? Maybe you’re packing up and moving to a whole new country (lucky you)? Maybe there is a new part of the family who you want to get to know but they don’t know English? Or, like me, you’re a bit of a language nerd. Most of the time you won’t have a reason, and that means the pick of the litter. What language appeals to you the most? The easiest? The most challenging?

While I’m always trying to learn French and Spanish for practical reasons, the language I’m focusing on and having the most progress I’ve ever had with a language is Norwegian (Bokmal). The reasons why are actually quite simple, and I hope you can implement them into your language learning too!

memrise-appRookie mistake? Using Duolingo. I hear you all shouting ‘WHAT?’ at me while you have Duolingo open and ready. For many it is a treasure trove of language tips and tricks, but for me it’s just trying to remember weirdly worded sentences that you’ll never use. Multiple times I’ve had to translate ‘The dog is in the house’ or ‘I read while I cut oranges’ while I haven’t grasped how to ask for directions or introduce myself yet. If you’re going to use a language learning app, I’d recommend Memrise which was recommended to me by my travel buddy Anna whose Swedish is already coming along very well with the help of this app. Now, I know there’s a Duolingo app for your phone, but I always found it worked better on desktop which, to be honest, isn’t ideal. Memrise not only teaches you relevant things, it tests you over and over so that the translation comes naturally. You can use it anywhere too (hence the purpose of apps), meaning if you’ve got a few spare minutes on the bus or in the dentist waiting room, you can brush up on your vocab. There’s also an option to watch little videos of actual native speakers saying phrases normally, so you can get used to the speed and pronunciation of the sentences you’re learning.

Consuming the entertainment of another culture is also a fantastic and vital way to learn a language. The easiest way to learn a language is to surround yourself with it, and if literally moving to that country isn’t an option, the best way is to watch, listen, and read the language. For Norwegian, I’ve been soaking up the culture through television and music. Watching SKAM has opened me up to slang and with matching it with language apps and standard language learning, I’ve started to understand bits here and there without subtitles (it’s honestly a magical feeling when that happens). I’ve listened to popular radio channels too just to hear speed. I know that dialect changes depending on where you are in Norway which is normal in most languages (English in Newcastle and English in Somerset aren’t the same, for example), but I believe in Norway it’s even more so, and so I’m trying to just conquer the dialects in Oslo and the dialects used predominantly in the media. Music is great too; trying to decipher what the lyrics are is actually just as fun as singing along (and getting it royally wrong). Hearing the language constantly makes my accent and pronunciation more confident, and so I urge you to look for films in the language you’re learning, shows, youtubers from that country, podcasts, anything where you can hear and take it all in.

Learning a language by yourself begins to suck when you have no one to practice on. My dad, a language lover too, has no problems having small chats with me in French and Spanish, but completely shuts down when I talk in Norwegian. So what’s a girl to do?

Pets.

(If you don’t have a pet, skip this paragraph)

I talk to my dog, Barney, a lot. I didn’t realise how much I did until I said “Er du en godt gutte?” and he wagged his tail happily because yes, he is a good boy. I know dogs don’t respond to actual language; I know my dog doesn’t understand Norwegian, but to have someone actually reply to me in their own way that isn’t blank stares is actually really useful. So now, I just chat with him, make sure he’s good and happy, ask him if he wants a treat, and I try to make sure to do it all in Norwegian. So, if you chat to your pet (which I know you all do), see how comfortable you feel talking to them in the language you’re learning until you’re having full blown conversations about politics and the economy with them. Me and Barney haven’t got there yet, but I know he’s interested.

I never realised how much language learning had always been a large factor in why I love education in general. Maybe not the education system, but learning that through a language is a whole new world, culture, and people, living on the same polluted spec of a planet that we live on.

Let me know what languages you’re learning and how you do it if I’ve missed anything!

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Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 2013
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
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Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate breaking down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with a boy who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

In all honesty, this book was not what I expected.

41rr-qkuy2blWhile it was funny and romantic, I did not expect a genuinely thought out message which you don’t normally find in an LGBT story; the actual label of being ‘gay’ and how people perceive you as a person, even if it’s a positive perception. While the message does get tossed back and forth and Rafe’s opinion and thoughts about what he’s set out to do change throughout the book (ergo, a plot), I did find myself struggling with a lot of things that he was made to accept just because she should be ‘grateful’ that he as cool and welcoming parents.

A lot of the things that Rafe asks of his parents do not slide with them and, though that may be the case, they still should be accommodating even when they do not think that is the right thing for him. They express their concern, but still go out of their way to make Rafe uncomfortable. He’s a teenager; not only are things super uncomfortable and embarrassing for him anyway, going against someone’s wishes regarding their sexuality or identity opens a whole other can of problematic worms. But, because ‘other people have it worse’, he’s made to embrace it which, if I were him, would not slide. This is about Rafe, and his parents often made it about them.

However, I loved the dissecting of male friendships and relationships while Rafe is at the all-boys boarding school. I have read stories with male protagonists with male friends, but I hadn’t really read something that felt so organic and true (despite not being male with male friends). It can be a toxic environment, and Rafe definitely sees that dark side to being surrounded by just guys, but also sees the joy and openness of it, especially when it comes to Ben and how they both do away with toxic masculinity to just be themselves without the weight of the world on their shoulders.

I’ve heard some not great stuff about Openly Straight’s sequel, Honestly, Ben. But if you’ve read it please tell me what you think!

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‘I’m Going To Read It Anyway & See What I Think’

As a blogger, I read book reviews almost daily. Whether it be here on WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, or Goodreads, I use them as a guide to find out whether a book I’m thinking of reading is really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to use them, and I’ve often dived into a book without knowing what it’s about or what people have said about it (it’s one of my favourite things to do), but hey, reviews are useful!

As a book blogger, I also write them, and while I don’t write reviews of books that I just stopped reading after a short while for no particular reason, I do write reviews of books that I did not like and also include, if necessary, warnings about scenes or chapters that some may find triggering and/or upsetting. I want my reviews to, if positive, entice readers into picking up the book and sharing the joy that I felt. But I review the books that I did not enjoy to make aware to my readers and others who are browsing the reviews on goodreads of why I don’t think said book is worth your time.

However, at the end of the day, I cannot decide for you whether or not you read a book; my opinion may contribute to that decision, but reading tastes are reading tastes and my opinion will not be the same as yours. And that’s ok!

Whether or not a reviewer likes the book or not is very different to a reviewer stating the problematic issues in a book.

Vocal debates on this topic have been surfacing around once a month about these two definitions and how they’ve been overlapping. While the same issues happen with disabled bloggers, LGBT+ bloggers and Muslim bloggers, it’s specifically POC bloggers who are constantly being harassed online for their reviews of books that they have stated have racist content and therefore should be at least called out on to make others aware.

The problem does not lie in bloggers making readers aware of racist content, what is worrying are the many (white) people who respond to these criticisms with ‘I’m going to read it anyway and see what I think’.

In my scenario, where I give a book two stars because I didn’t enjoy it, that’s where a statement like that would be ok. Books are subjective, and ‘the writing style is poor’ is an opinion that another reader may not share. However, when POC review a book and say it’s racist, a white person cannot then decide to ‘see what they think’, because here are your two outcomes:

Outcome 1: You read the book and agree yes, it is racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if there’s does not mean anything unless you’ve waved in on it.

Outcome 2: You read the book and disagree, it is not racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if you can decide what does and does not clarify as racism.

I think the crux of the matter is people don’t like it when they are told not to read a book. Of course, when someone tells you not to do something, you kind of wanna do it, right? But here’s the thing, racism is not an opinion. That book, whether you read it or not, dislike it or not, has racist content. So, you cannot ‘read it and see what you think’. And when these bloggers/reviewers are asking you not to support these books, they are not trying to restrict your reading, they are trying to let publishers know that books like these cannot slide, that they are problematic and should not be getting published in the first place. Institutional racism is deep and ingrained and small justices can make large waves. Read the books if you want, but keep aware, and support the voices who are hurt by racist, homophobic, and ableist content.

You see a person stepping on another person’s foot without realising. They walk away. The person whose foot has been stepped on is hurt and rubbing their foot. They come up to you. “Did you see that? That really hurt.” Would you then question if that actually hurt them? Or would you have to find out for yourself and step on their foot too?

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Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Publisher: MIRA Ink (Harper Collins)
Release Date: 3rd October 2014
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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It’s 1959. The battle for civil rights is raging. And it’s Sarah Dunbar’s first day of school, as one of the first black students at the previously all-white Jefferson High. No one wants Sarah there. Not the Governor. Not the teachers. And certainly not the students – especially Linda Hairston, daughter of the town’s most ardent segregationist. Sarah and Linda have every reason to despise each other. But as a school project forces them to spend time together, the less their differences seem to matter. And Sarah and Linda start to feel something they’ve never felt before. Something they’re both determined ignore. Because it’s one thing to be frightened by the world around you – and another thing altogether when you’re terrified of what you feel inside.

This was a damn hard book to read, and only because of how raw and real it is. Robin Talley has let nothing slip beneath us, and while I’m not a historian or even a history student, I can see the research done to write something so strong with a powerful message.

But at the same time, I want to talk a bit about authors and representation. It’s important to have stories such as these ones; where the struggles of POC throughout history aim to inform, teach and hold nothing back. The thing is, a lot of these stories get put in the slush piles and a lot of the authors who write these kinds of stories are POC. Considering Robin Talley is a white woman who managed to publish this novel while #ownvoices POC authors get rejected to me is not so great on the publishers part. It’s how problematic, unrealistic, and downright un-researched novels get published. I have a great problem with white authors writing POC struggle; there’s a difference between writing diversely and downright getting your novel about black people published over an actual black author.

lwto1I’ve read and been apart of many conversations about the context of these situations and how POC authors should be able to accurately portray POC stories in publishing without white authors using status or straight up privilege to write that story ‘for them’ (ick). Thankfully, I don’t think that’s the case here, and from Robin Talley’s author notes, she has taken care in portraying these characters and their lives as accurately and as considerately as possible.

So while the novel was heartbreaking and shocking (but not surprising), I loved Sarah and her sister’s perseverance and strength throughout dealing with this nastiness. I’d hate to say that society has not progressed in any way but sometimes it certainly feels that way, hence why Black Lives Matter exists. Racism hasn’t disappeared; it’s shifted, it’s changed shape to become sneakier, casual, swept under the rug rather than segregated schools and buses. But Linda’s father’s newspaper reminded me of newspapers and journalists today and the ‘facts’ that Linda spouted are definitely still things that some believe.

Speaking of the LGBT part of this story; while I’m a massive fan of the inclusion of LGBT characters and stories about LGBT topics in general, I was rather disappointed with this one. It felt rushed and shoved in as an after thought. The horribleness that was happening overpowered any LGBT plot that was trying to happen, and it was obvious that it was only the beginnings of something that neither of them understood, especially with prejudice and religion shoved in between them. But a part of me felt that this story could’ve carried on successfully without a romance plot, especially one that wasn’t going to be explored properly throughout most of the book. But then again, it was an interesting aspect to see a dialogue be opened about this, especially in this setting.

I’ve given Lies We Tell Ourselves five stars because of how chilling and frightening it was, how real and raw, but how full of life Sarah still was. I had to keep reading to find that happy ending and to see these characters not be down-trodden by the horrible society they lived in, but I’ll leave it at that without spoiling.

Trigger warnings for this book: A boat load of racists insults, liberal use of the N-Word, racial assault and minor sexual assault.

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