Books That Have Changed Me

Hello again! At the beginning of this year I said I’d like to do more posts about reading on this blog, which I definitely still want to do, so today I thought I’d take 5 books which have really stuck with me and just talk about my experience with them and their legacy in my life, let’s say. Hopefully this will act as a good lead-in to the book posts to come, as I feel these books give a pretty good representation of my reading tastes, and will probably be appearing many more times in future.

Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Let’s start with a series that I know is close to a lot of people’s hearts, not just mine – the Harry Potter series, following the adventures of a boy who learns he is a wizard, and travels off to a distant magic school, encountering all manner of exciting and strange things in his seven years there, each of which are shown in one of the books. Considering I started out hating these books when my sister – known on this blog as sophofbread of course – started listening to the audiobooks around the house (I wrote her many notes and angry emails in an attempt to get her to turn it off… they didn’t work), it’s amazing how big a part of my life these books are now. Once I finally caved to the Scarhead love, discussions and jokes about the series with sophofbread were a huge part of building the relationship we have now, and even pteroturtle, our younger bro, has started his own obsession with all things Potter in the past year or so. Though it’s been epic to see his love for and knowledge of these books grow just like mine did, in true little brother fashion he manages to annoy us even with Harry Potter – constantly sprouting random quotes or facts from the series at the least appropriate moments.

As well as bringing me closer to my siblings, Harry Potter has helped me shape my outlook on life – most notably because of the Hogwarts House I was sorted into on Pottermore, which surprisingly for me, was Hufflepuff. Being quite an academic person, I always saw myself in Ravenclaw before then, but now I love all the qualities and values of the Hufflepuff clan to bits and it’s awesome to be able to say I am one. I’ve come to see the qualities of my house more as things that it’s important for me to strive for than things I already am, and striving to be more loyal, fair, hard working and accepting has definitely helped me become a better person.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

OK, let’s move on quick before I spend this whole post gushing about Harry Potter. This next one is a Young Adult standalone novel following two teenage boys, both by the name of Will Grayson, who have absolutely no connection to one another, until one night, by the least likely of circumstances, they meet. The story basically tells the tale of both their lives during this time, how they become connected through one extraordinary boy, and how he impacts on both of their lives in a big way. I know that’s a pretty vague synopsis, but suffice it to say that this is a hilarious, addictive and heart-warming read (or it was for me anyway) told in a realistic, snarky and pessimistic tone by both narrators. I received this book as a gift a few years ago and was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it, but I gave it a try and was instantly hooked. I recently read it again and loved it even more (marking off about a million quotes I liked with tags along the way), and though it starts off a bit depressing, there’s this magical moment in the middle when everything picks up and when all is said and done this book gives me so many happy feelings.

So, onto the point of how this book has changed me, this was one the first contemporary books I ever read (that’s to say, set in modern times about real life, with no hidden world of wizards or vampires etc.), so the characters were really easy to relate to for me – they weren’t heroes destined for greatness or protectors of some ancient secret, just normal teenagers struggling with real life problems. This was also the first book I read from the point of view of a gay character, and though I’d been exposed to queer characters on the side or on TV before, actually seeing their perspective was really valuable to me. As well as this, this was one of the first books meant for older teens that I actually liked, and I think I might have given up on the YA genre if it hadn’t been for a select couple of books which I’ve really loved, headlined by this one.

A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray

Sticking to the YA theme, this is another book that helped restore my faith in this genre, which, if you read a lot of it you might know, has a lot of annoying – and often unhealthy – tropes which have been repeated way too many times. However this book (and its sequel, which was even better) really stuck out to me and I think the author has created an original and refined series (as it is so far – the final book comes out in November) while remaining appealing to teenage readers and true to the YA genre at its best.

This book is about a teenage girl named Marguerite, whose parents have created a device that allows people to jump through alternate dimensions, potentially revolutionising science and our view of the universe forever. However, not soon after, Marguerite’s father is mysteriously murdered by one of his students, who then steals his device and leaps away into another dimension. Marguerite ventures to follow him through the alternate universes to take her revenge and find out the truth. There are many unexpected twists and turns in the story, an awesome cast of characters and travelling to the different dimensions with them makes for a seriously cool ride. What I love most about this series is the science – you can tell Claudia Gray has really put in the effort to make it believable and yet mind-blowing, and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from of this series. It helped me realise that I’m much more into sci-fi than fantasy (a big part of what I was reading beforehand), as I like concrete explanations for things (far too often in fantasy all you ever get is “It’s magic”), and also just how much I like science in general.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

This next one is a gothic horror classic following a young man named Dorian Gray, living in the 1800s. At the beginning of the book, he has a painting done of him, and consequently sees what he looks like for the first time (why he’d never seen a mirror before I don’t know… just roll with it). Entranced by his own beauty, and knowing that it will wither and fade as he ages, he desperately wishes that he could stay looking just as he is forever, while his painting bares the marks of age and injury. You can probably guess what happens next, and as the novel goes on it presents an extraordinary portrait (see what I did there) of how obsession and pride can lead to utter corruption, while also exploring some witty views on life, beauty and friendship in an often comedic manner.

This was the first classic I ever finished (after giving up on Little Women after one chapter and announcing old books were not my thing) and I’m really glad that I did. Classics has since become one of my favourite book genres and Oscar Wilde is a firm favourite. His endless wit and charm, disguising underneath it a phenomenal wisdom, is what makes his writing so intriguing to me, and I am steadily making my way through his other works in a hope I can someday read everything he’s written. Gothic horror is also something I’ve become interested in thanks to this book – a genre my younger self would never dream of going near, but that I’ve recently developed an interest in. Jump scares and cartoon villains will probably still never be my thing, but when dark themes are explored in a really spooky manner and polished off with a clever one-liner bound to make you unable to think about anything else for days – that’s something I really enjoy.

My Sister the Vampire series by Sienna Mercer

And finally, my childhood books, the ones that got me into reading, the My Sister the Vampire series. This is a tween series following two girls who are complete opposites – Olivia, an upbeat, friendly and pink-loving cheerleader, and Ivy, a brooding goth who loves all things dark and spooky. In the opening to the first book, Switched, Olivia moves to a new school, and soon she and Ivy realise they are long lost twins, but not only that, Ivy is a vampire! It’s a very creative take on these classic paranormal creatures – everything is kid-friendly and the books are very feel-good, while still retaining the mysterious, eerie nature of living amongst vampires. Seeing all the fun adventures Olivia and Ivy find themselves wrapped up in is tons of fun for me – even when I’ve been reading and rereading them for almost eight years now or something ridiculous.

My Sister the Vampire not only ignited my love of reading, but it also started my love of the Middle Grade and Chick Lit genres – both of which have provided some amazing reading experiences for me over the years. It also helped me discover the awesomeness of Goodreads and, like Harry Potter, has been a big part of me and sophofbread’s relationship. Sister the Vamp rules!

So that’s my very rambly list – hopefully you enjoyed learning more about my favourite books and what they mean to me. Hope to see you in more posts soon!

Earth Hour and Thoughts on Climate Change

So, it was WWF’s Earth Hour this past weekend. In case you weren’t aware, this is a yearly event in which people turn off all their lights and stop using electricity for one hour, to share the love for our Earth. Here in the Home-ed Heads household we’ve been participating for only a couple of years, but I can unashamedly say it’s one of my favourite annual holidays (OK, it probably isn’t technically a holiday but it should be!). There’s something really relaxing for me about turning off all the lights and shutting out all the background noises, and just hanging out with the family, doing something simple.

During this year’s Earth Hour we all hung out in the dining room with some candles – though Dad and pteroturtle kept turning on their devices :/ – and everyone else played a board game while I did some reading (the game was only up to four players!). Of course we also played with the candle wax as per Earth Hour tradition (well, in our house anyway) and did some good old fashioned talking. The thing I most like about Earth Hour is the mysteriousness the house gets when suddenly it’s pitch black, and you have to stay together to share the candlelight. I just think the whole thing is a bunch of fun. 😀

Another thing that’s great about Earth Hour is that it does help me appreciate the electricity we take for granted and how amazing the natural world is. You may not know this about me but I happen to be a huge nature lover and am very interested in eco-friendliness. There are a couple of things relating to this I wanted to talk about in this blog post, but before we get into that I wanted to quickly mention some courses I’ve been taking on Future Learn. Both of them have finished now but they’re still available for people to take (I’m still only halfway through both of them!) and I’ve been really enjoying them.

The first is Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions run by the University of Exeter. This is my personal favourite of the two and one of my favourite courses I’ve ever taken online. The course starts by jumping straight into exploring what ‘the greenhouse effect’ really means, and whether we should really call it ‘the blanket effect’ – fittingly demonstrated by the lead educator Tim Lenton spending the entire video wandering around a greenhouse wrapped in a blanket! Each week focusses on a different aspect of climate change, for example how our climate has changed in the past, or different ways we may be able to stop it.  My favourite week I’ve taken so far was probably week 4, in which it was discussed whether decreasing our use of fossil fuels is really the way to fight global warming, amongst other things. There’s also a handy round-up video each week where the lead educator answers some of the popular questions from that week in a very clear and friendly way. I will say that I’d recommend having some former knowledge of geography concepts and the like because the course often tries to explain complicated ideas in one ten minute-ish video, which can be overwhelming. Don’t let that put you off though – they do explain most things it just might take you a little longer to get it if you’re not already familiar with the basic terms and principles of this field.

The second course is Environmental Management: Social-ecological Systems run by the University of Leeds. I’m not as far through this course as the other one and so far I haven’t found it quite as compelling or fun, but I feel it covers a more unique subject and discusses things I’ve never thought about before. It focusses on human relationships with nature, what problems these can cause and how they differ between different cultures and time periods. The final week specifically talks about the impact on nature in the midst of human conflicts, which I think sounds very interesting and am looking forward to working through that part of the course.

So, what with Earth Hour happening and working through these courses online, I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change recently. That’s why today I thought I’d try to evaluate my thoughts about it all and bring my perspective to the table.

I don’t know when or why I started getting into climate change but I’ve had a lively interest in it for years and I think it is a fascinating subject and a pressing problem. Maybe it’s just down to fear – the predicated flooding in some places that will be caused by rising sea levels while others face severe drought, the species of animals that will be forever lost to extinction, the enhanced threat of skin cancer as the hole in the ozone layer grows; all these things are terrifying to think of.

But in some ways, I find climate change exciting. It’s not hard to imagine in the far future, somebody teaching in a classroom (or at home, of course), “And here is the early 2000s, when the world’s fossil fuels ran out and humans had to find other sources of energy.” Then of course there’s the possibility that in millions of years, fossil fuels will have reformed, and our ancestors will be using them and they’ll face this problem all over again. I think these are a good ways of putting the issue into perspective, which is something a lot of us forget to do when thinking about global warming. It’s not an apocalypse – the world won’t just explode if we get things wrong. It’s a process, and a continuous challenge. I don’t know how humankind is going to deal with these challenges, but it’s highly unlikely we’ll all die out.

So let’s talk about fossil fuels. They’re running out. It is predicted that the oil supplies will be used up within 50 years. We have 70 years left to use natural gas. Coal is predicted to be all gone in 250 years. Is this scary? In a way, of course it is – any major change is scary. But on the other hand, maybe it’s good. There is countless evidence that use of fossil fuels is one of the main causes of the build-up of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere (up there with deforestation), and so really, isn’t it good that we have a proper motivation to stop using these dirty, polluting substances?

There are definitely hope prospects – we do have alternative energy sources to fossil fuels, there are charities and organisations working to preserve animal species, and there is a chance the ozone layer could repair itself now that CFGs are no longer being used. Who knows, maybe having such a global, universal problem will help bring different cultures and governments together. Maybe we’ll have to inhabit other planets. Maybe it will encourage spectacular scientific advancements.

At the risk of sounding philosophical here, in my view, never has humankind faced a problem that is simultaneously so exciting and frightening, and I definitely think it is not something to be overlooked. Climate change will and is affecting every person on this planet, so let’s try to protect it while we can. Go Earth! 😀

My Top Five Productivity Tips!

Hi again! Artybaker here, and there’s something you should know about me. I’m kind of obsessed with productivity. OK… maybe get rid of the ‘kind of’ and replace it with ‘totally’. I’ve always got many projects on the go which I am very passionate about, and when I set myself goals for them, I really want to complete those goals. Since the beginning of the school year though I’ve been studying for some GCSEs I’m taking this May and I’ve had to prioritize that over my other projects. For the first few months, it was a struggle, but I’ve found ways to fit everything in and still enjoy life over the past few months. I’m really grateful for these exams, regardless of how well I do, because not only have I learnt a ton about the subjects, but it’s taught me a lot about how I work and what ways of working are best for me.

So, today I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learnt about being productive. There are many different interpretations of the word but I see it as getting the work done that I want to get done within a certain time frame. And ‘work’ can really be anything from writing an essay to playing a videogame. Also, these tips are obviously just stuff that works for me in my situation right now – productivity is about working with your own strengths and limits, so I’m not saying these tips will work for everyone or are foolproof or anything.

So, enough rambling, my first tip is Write Stuff Down. This is literally a life-saver – I’ve learned the hard way that when there’s something you need to remember, you may think there’s no way you’d forget it, but trust me, more often than not you probably will. I find it’s much easier to sort through my thoughts when they’re down on paper (or a computer screen) in front of me. It’s really not that difficult to write yourself a little note (not too little, though, or you might see your one-word note and wonder what the hell that’s supposed to mean – this has happened to me too!) and it’s often just the act of writing it down that makes you remember. Either way, I love making lists so I write all sorts of stuff down on a daily basis and it really helps me.

Next up is Get the Shorter Things Done. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you have a long list of jobs in front of you. A good policy for this is to make that list shorter! This certainly isn’t always what you should be doing but if you prioritise the long-term or recurring jobs, you’re not really crossing anything off your list and you won’t feel accomplished. But, if you put the one-off jobs first then they’re done and out of the way and, in my experience, it feels like I have more breathing room.

This next one I feel is very important, and something all of us are guilty of ignoring when feeling overwhelmed by the stuff we have to do. Set Yourself Doable Goals. Productivity is about motivation, and making yourself reach for something you know you can’t accomplish only makes you feel disappointed in yourself. It’s also about, as I said earlier, knowing your own limits. Sure, setting goals and pushing yourself can be great but I for one don’t work that great under pressure, and if I know I can’t do something, why should I try very hard? For me the best way to do this is spreading jobs over multiple days or weeks (monthly goals are pretty cool), so you can do less on some days and more on others, and if you didn’t have time to get to something, don’t beat yourself up because you still have tomorrow. 😉

On a related subject, my next tip is to Know Your Schedule and Work With it. Obviously there’s the obvious time restraints of work, appointments, sleeping and mealtimes etc., but what I’m really talking about is the times when you’re most motivated. Using myself as an example, one of the biggest things I’ve learnt in preparation for these exams is that I’m most productive in the morning. The earlier I start, the more I’ll do. So, I’ve started waking up at 6:30 most days (don’t worry, you don’t have to do this; I’m a morning person!), then going straight to my desk to start working – before I even get dressed or have breakfast or anything. That way I can have most of my GCSE work done within a couple of hours, and have the whole day left to do other things (only after devouring a tasty breakfast though, of course).

So yeah, work out when you work best – maybe you like to get up early, like me, or you do little things here and there throughout the day, or you might like to work in the dead of night! Once you’ve found a routine that works for you, my advice is to stick to it and hopefully you’ll really get into the swing of things. Don’t be too rigid about it though – I have plenty of days where I ask myself why I’m getting up at such an inhumane time and go back to sleep for another two and a half hours.

That kind of leads onto my final tip. Give up. I know this sounds kind of strange, but it’s again about knowing your limits. There’s a lot of advice and motivation material all over the place about never giving up and pushing through the tough times, so that for a long time I felt really bad giving up on anything. However, I’ve learnt that sometimes, it can be healthy to give up. This advice comes in most useful to me on a smaller scale – not giving up on a whole project, but giving up working on it at that moment in time. If you’re tired or bored and you think you’d be able to focus more later, or tomorrow, feel free to set it aside, and as Shakespeare says…

No profit grows where is no pleasure taken.

– William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew.

And that’s all my tips! For me, feeling like I’ve been productive is great for my day-to-day happiness, so I hope these tips might prove helpful to you too! 🙂

(P.S. I seem have an obsession with lists… my next post will be something different, I promise!)

Top Eleven Books I Read in 2015!

Hellooooo! It’s artybaker here – sorry I haven’t posted on this blog in a while. I’ve been pretty stuck on ideas and everything I could think of just felt pointless, so I really wasn’t motivated to write on here. However, recently me and my fellow Home-ed Heads have been bouncing ideas off eachother and it’s really inspired me. My new resolution is to do at least one post a month on this blog in 2016. I know this isn’t much, but I want virtually zero pressure because my posts are probably just going to be little fun stuff that I think up randomly, and I don’t want it to become a chore or anything like that.

Anyway, onto today’s post – last year I read 95 books, and it was an amazing reading year for me. I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourites of the year in a blog post, so that’s what I’m here today to do! I do want to do more book-related posts in future so hopefully this list will give you an idea of what kind of books I like and what I’ve been reading recently. Disclaimer: I know ‘Top Eleven Books of 2015’ doesn’t roll of the tongue as well as ‘Top Ten’ but I couldn’t narrow it down! I read too many awesome books this year! Also, these are unranked and in no particular order. I will be putting links to the books on Goodreads below in case you want more info on them. Hope you enjoy! 🙂

~ Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis ~

There’s a couple of Middle Grade/Tween books on here so let’s get this one out of the way first. Even though I’m now 15 and technically out of the age range for this type of book, it remains my favourite genre just for the fun and the friendship involved. You can also find a lot of family aspects in this genre which I really enjoy. Kat, Incorrigible is an excellent example of all three of these things.

This book follows twelve-year-old Kat as she discovers her mother’s hidden legacy as a magical guardian and determines to use the magic herself to save her family’s honour in strict Regency society. Kat is literally my perfect protagonist for this type of book and I LOVED the relationship she had with her sisters. They were just as developed characters as Kat was and they acted like real sisters, which, having two sisters myself, was so enjoyable. I don’t usually like books set in the Regency period and I’m not a huge magic fan either but both were brought to life in a very entertaining and captivating way in this book, so I was definitely on board. This is the first book in a trilogy and I can’t wait to see what the next two have to offer!

Goodreads |

~ Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck ~

This next one is a classic I read for an English Literature GSCE I’m taking in June. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I ended up loving it to pieces and have since read it again and enjoyed it even more. It follows two friends – George and Lennie – who are looking for work as ranch hands during the Great Depression. George is logical and serious, but Lennie is big, curious and forgetful – a combination that has a tendency of getting him into trouble. The book begins with George and Lennie arriving at a new ranch they’re going to work at, then follows the friendships and feuds that they encounter there. It’s a tale of loneliness and unrequited dreams, but also of prevailing friendship. I found this book heart-touching, and Steinbeck’s views on racism, sexism and what those prejudices do to a person were truly fascinating.

| Goodreads |

~ Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray ~

This book is the second in a YA Sci-fi trilogy about jumping through different ‘dimensions’, which are basically parallel universes. I also read the first book this year, which I loved too, but this was my personal favourite. That book is called A Thousand Pieces of You, and I believe the series is called the Firebird Trilogy. There was a lot of hype surrounding the first book when it came out and I must say I wasn’t really interested, but a friend on Goodreads recommended it to me and I was looking for a new audiobook, so I decided to give it a go.

I’m really glad I gave this series a chance because in lots of ways it’s restored my faith in the Young Adult genre, which does often repeat some annoying tropes. One such trope is the love triangle, which this series does have, but the two guys involved are very realistic and likeable, and I trust in the girl, our main character, to make the right choice and not be an idiot about it. 😀 Family is a big part of this series, which I love, and they’re also a home-educating family, so extra points for that. It’s not the typical innocent-introvert home-educated main character you sometimes get in YA either – they’re a close family, the parents are responsible and the kids are smart. Tavia Gilbert’s narration of the audiobooks is one of my favourites I’ve come across and although I found her overly-posh interpretations of English accents a little annoying, her flawless Russian ones made up for it and she brings so much emotion into her narration which I love. Oh, and the science is EPIC. I could sing this book’s praises all day but I think we should move on.

| Goodreads |

~ The Long Haul by Jeff Kinney ~

This is again a sequel – the ninth in a series, in fact! The Diary of Wimpy Kid series is a hugely popular series of kid’s books about Greg Heffley, a self-described wimp, and his adventures through school and life with his crazy family. This book follows Greg and his family on a holiday they won’t forget. I’ve always enjoyed this series and although I can’t really remember much of the previous books, I think this is my favourite. Just the picture on the cover is really nostalgic for me about holidays with my own family. I’ll admit as the book goes on, it gets very unrealistic and frankly ridiculous, but it was all the more hilarious because of it. I read this book in one go, which is extremely rare for me, and was laughing the whole time.

| Goodreads |

~ King Lear by William Shakespeare ~

A bit (OK, a lot) of a change of tone here. I always thought I would hate Shakepeare but a little more than a year ago I stumbled upon his works and decided to give it a try. Since then I’ve become a massive Shakespeare nerd and have read seventeen of his plays. This was one of the nine I read in 2015 and it is now my favourite of his tragedies. If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, it’s basically about an ageing King who decides to split his lands and his fortune between his three daughters before he dies. The eldest two seize upon the opportunity and start showering him with praise and telling him how infinite their love for him is. The youngest however, Cordelia, tells him she loves him just as much as a daughter should love her father and isn’t going to lie about it just for the sake of money and power. This enrages her father and shocks her sisters, and begins a story of betrayal, madness and quests for power.

I thought the story was very interesting in this play, the language was exquisite and I was fascinated by all the themes Shakespeare brought into it. I loved following Lear’s journey through the play and Cordelia’s good-hearted strength as well as her sisters’ ruthless cruelty made them great characters to read about. A very worthwhile read.

| Goodreads |

~ Ready Player One by Ernest Cline ~

This one has been very, very popular in the book community over the past few years. I heard it was a great book and it was all about videogames and anything and everything nerdy, and was basically like sign me up! This book takes place in 2045, where the planet is pretty much a wreck, but the virtual world is thriving, all thanks to one virtual reality program named the Oasis, which offers salvation to almost everyone from their frankly messed up situation. However, after the creator of the Oasis dies, he leaves behind a trail of Easter Eggs within the game which, if found and completed, mean that you have control over this billion-dollar virtual reality. Our protagonist, Wade Watts, is one of the million trying to complete the Easter Egg Hunt and gain ownership of the Oasis, before the power-hungry big companies get there first.

This was another one I listened to on audiobook (narrated by Wil Wheaton, who did a stellar job of it), and I was in love from the beginning. I’ll admit it’s not the most perfect book ever, but I just rolled with the entire thing and had a blast because of it. As well as all the videogame elements, there’s a lot of references to ’80s pop culture, so if you’re into that I definitely think you’d enjoy this book. I knew next to nothing about the 1980s beforehand but it was all super interesting anyway and this is a book I continuously think about.

| Goodreads |

~ Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen ~

I read quite a bit of non-fiction, but this is the only one that made it to this list for last year. It’s the true story of 14-year-old Maya, who finds a old book on popularity and self-confidence in her attic and decides to apply it’s advice to her modern school situation for a whole year and see if it makes her ‘popular’. Being around Maya’s age when I read this, I found her extremely relatable and admirable. She relates the results of her social experiment in a mature and entertaining way so that you really feel like you’re on the journey with her. She was extremely brave and determined to do what she did and it was a joy to read about. I will say that I found the chapters on the more social parts of the experiment a lot more enjoyable than the beauty ones, but those definitely still held a place in the book so it was all good. This was another audiobook, this time narrated by Amber Faith and Lee Adams, and I loved how much both narrators seemed to understand the tone of the book and the people they were representing (Faith narrates Maya’s parts and Adams reads the extracts from the popularity guide Maya uses).

| Goodreads |

~ William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: The Jedi Doth Return by Ian Doescher ~

This one’s a bit different. This is the sixth in Ian Doescher’s retellings of the Star Wars movies in Shakespeare’s language. That’s really all I need to say to describe it, and as a Shakespeare and a Star Wars nerd, I think it’s needless to say I looove this series. I’ve only read the retellings of the three originals so far, and as Return of the Jedi is my favourite movie of those three, this was my favourite book. It’s hilarious reading these timeless characters speak in ‘thou’s and ‘doth’s, and the author often adds in little inside jokes about Star Wars or plays on famous quotes from Shakespeare. What I loved particularly about this book was the interpretation of Leia (it really made me appreciate how brilliantly strong a female character she is) and Darth Vader (his character development in this book… beyond compare).

| Goodreads |

~ More Than This by Patrick Ness ~

Moving on, this is another YA standalone that’s got a lot of buzz over the years. All I needed to hear was that it’s supposed to blow your mind, and I was in. I’m also really into books about ghosts and the afterlife and all that stuff so that’s another reason I wanted to read this. It follows a teenage boy named Seth who, at the very beginning of the novel, dies. Then he wakes up in a strange, deserted, eerie version of his old home. The rest of the book follows his journey into discovering what happened to him, how he’s here and what this place is.

I went into this book wanting to have my mind blown, and it so was. I will say that the first 200 pages or so (it’s a long book) could be quite slow and uneventful, but looking back I think it added to the effect of the book and was realistic considering that Seth was alone and confused and meant to be dead. The second half was utter perfection and I absolutely loved the side characters of Regine and Tommy. I am still haunted by this book, but in a good way, and am definitely going to pick up more Patrick Ness in the future.

| Goodreads |

~ Spooktacular by Sienna Mercer ~

This is a bit of a weird choice since it’s the seventeenth in a series, but I couldn’t not include it! This, along with the Harry Potter series, is my favourite book series of all time and was what got me into reading in the first place. The series is called My Sister the Vampire, the first book being Switched. It’s a Middle Grade series centering around vampires, but it reads like a Contemporary or a Chick-Lit book, and is a bunch of fun. The main characters are two twins, Olivia and Ivy, and in the first book, perky cheerleader Olivia moves to a new town and on the first day of school, meets gloomy goth Ivy, who is, by the way, a vampire! The two soon become friends and discover they are long-lost twins. The rest of the books follow their adventures into discovering their biological family, protecting the vampire secret and just living their crazy lives.

This book, Spooktacular, introduces ghosts into the series, though I won’t say more than that to avoid spoilers for the previous books. The last couple of books before this have been my least favourite in the series, and after over a year without news of a new book we were left wondering if that was the end of the series. However, Sienna Mercer made a fierce comeback with this book, which I think brought the series back to it’s roots (not that it actually ever strayed that far) with cute family moments and paranormal fun thrown into the mix. There was also an EPIC cliffhanger at the end and I am literally dying of excitement for the next book to come out.

| Goodreads |

~ The Ladies’ Paradise by Emile Zola ~

This last book I’m going to talk about is another classic. Mumlovesearlgrey and I like the BBC TV show, The Paradise, which was based on this book. When we started watching it halfway through the second series, it was full of romance so it was more of a guilty pleasure for me than quality television, so I wasn’t sure how much I would like this book. Since then, though, we’ve been watching the show from the start and it is more than just affairs and kissing and there is quite a lot about the shop and how they run it and stuff which is interesting. The same is true of this book. It follows Denise, who comes to Paris to stay with her Uncle and gets a job at ‘The Ladies’ Paradise’ which is one of the first department stores in the world.

The biggest thing I got out of this book was the incredible intrigue on capitalism and the whole big shops vs. local shops debate, right where it all began. Denise was a fantastic main character and I loved her cousin Geniveve and her storyline, which was left out of the TV show unfortunately. The writing was great too and I really liked how the romance was done. I’m very interested to check out more Emile Zola in future.

| Goodreads |

So that’s my whole list! Like I said before, 2015 was a great year in reading for me and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2016 brings in books! Hope you enjoyed this post – see you next time! 🙂

artybaker’s Random Researches About Life | Part 2

Hi there! The second part of my Random Researches on Life is here! If you missed the first one, click here.

Saint Peter

In the New Testament in the Christian Bible, Saint Peter is one of the Twelve Apostles (or Deciples) of Jesus Christ, and is considered by many to be the first ever Pope. The common phrase of Saint Peter ‘calling your name’ refers to the fact that Peter calling your name is a symbol of dying and going to heaven.

Condensed Milk

Condensed milk is cow’s milk with the water removed. It is normally sweetened with sugar, making it sweetened condensed milk, but the two names have become pretty much interchangeable in this day and age. Condensed milk can be stored in cans at room temperature for years.

Colloquialism

A colloquialism is a sort of slang way of saying something, without saying the literal meaning of what you’re saying. For instance; “It’s a no-brainer,” is a colloquialism of “It doesn’t require much thought.”

Sonnet

The word sonnet is derived from the Italian sonetto, meaning a short poem. Sonnets are 14 line-long pieces of rhythmic text.

References and Additional Info:

Saint Peter – Wikipedia, the free encylopedia

Condensed Milk – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Colloquialism – Dictionary Definition: Vocabulary.com

Sonnet – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thanks for reading, see you later!

artybaker’s Random Researches About Life

Hello everyone! Here’s a post a little bit like sophofbread’s question page. Below is a list of a few things I’ve come across in my weird wanderings into life, mostly through books, TV or the internet, and have either wanted to know more about or not known what they were. I’ve also added some brief explanations as to what or who the listed things are. So without further ado, let’s go…

Dementia

Dementia is a type of brain condition, which causes problems with thinking and remembering things (such as short-term memory loss, difficulty with visuospatial skills {judging distances and suchlike}, and indecisiveness). It most commonly affects people over 65, but anyone can get dementia, and it is caused by a wide variety of things, but most commonly Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia gets steadily worse over time and, although there are ways to deal with it, there is no known cure.

The Holocaust

The Holocaust was the mass murder (or genocide) of over six million Jews and millions of other people (such as communists, mentally or physically disabled people and homosexuals), on the order of Adolf Hitler. The aim was to wipe out certain groups of people who didn’t believe in the same things as the Nazi party, and it took place between 1933 and 1944.

Jason and the Golden Fleece

The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece is an ancient Greek myth following the hero Jason and his quest to find the Golden Fleece, a magical sheep skin which has he power to heal any injury.

In the tale, Jason travels to the kingdom of Iolkos, of which he is the rightful king, and approaches his usurping uncle King Pelias, asking for his throne back. Pelias agrees, but only if Jason brings him ‘the Fleece of the Golden Ram’. Jason then sets of on a quest for the said fleece, on a ship named the Argo, with a company of around 100 ‘Argonauts’.

After a very eventful journey, Jason and the Argonauts arrive at the land of Colchin, and ask the current owner of the Fleece, King Aietes, to give it to them. Aietes says he will give it to him if Jason completes a series of almost impossible tasks. Aietes’s daughter Medea, who has now fallen in love with Jason, offers to help him with these tasks, and together the pair complete them all. Aietes confesses to Medea that he was never actually going to give away the Golden Fleece, and planned to kill Jason and his crew instead. Medea tells Jason this and they retrieve the Fleece and flee, with the rest of the Argonauts.

When the heroes return to Ioklos, Jason find that his uncle, the king, has killed his father and his mother had died of grief. Medea kills King Pelias and she and Jason go into exile in Corinth. However, as Jason was never really in love with Medea, he deserts her and marries the King of Corinth’s daughter. In revenge, Medea kills her and Jason’s children, and his tale ends when the beam of the Argo falls on top of Jason, and he is killed.

Sisyphus

Sisyphus was a character in Greek mythology, and is famous for his eternal punishment in Tartaurus (the part of the Underworld for the worst souls), where he was forced to push a heavy boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down and start all over again. This was the result of many sins in his lifetime, including tricking the god Thanatos (god of death) into chaining himself up and preventing anybody in the overworld dying. Thanatos was eventually freed by Ares, god of war, who was tired of his opponents in battle never dying.

Words Shakespeare Invented

William Shakespeare invented over 1700 words which we still use on a everyday basis, including: bump, hurried, addiction, olympian, lonely, worthless, generous, disheartened, gloomy, dawn, torture, fashionable … the list goes on!

Brian Blessed

Brian Blessed is an English actor, known for his roles in the movies Hamlet (1996), Tarzan (1996), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). He has particularly starred in a lot of Shakespeare-adapted films, and is known for his booming voice and hearty portrayals.

Führer

Führer is the German word for leader, or guide. Nowadays it is most commonly associated with Adolf Hitler, and in some languages it is used exclusively as a synonym for Adolf Hitler.

Brevity

Brevity means the exact and correct use of words and grammar in writing or speech. It can also mean the swift passage of time.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and learnt something from it – I certainly did! I have a second part planned which I will post as soon as possible.

Special thanks to (and resources if you’d like more information on these subjects):

Alzheimer’s Society – What is Dementia?

CBBC Newsround – What was the Holocaust?

BBC – History – Jason and the Golden Fleece

Sisyphus – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Words Shakespeare Invented – Shakespeare Online

Brian Blessed – IMDb

Führer – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia