Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Waiting on Wednesday #67

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
October 8th 2015
Find it on Goodreads

Simon Snow just wants to relax and savour his last year at the Watford School of Magicks, but no one will let him. His girlfriend broke up with him, his best friend is a pest and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he'll be safe. Simon can't even enjoy the fact that his room-mate and longtime nemesis is missing, because he can't stop worrying about the evil git. Plus there are ghosts. And vampires. And actual evil things trying to shut Simon down. When you're the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savour anything.

Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you'd expect from a Rainbow Rowell story - but far, far more monsters. (from Goodreads)

Okay, I am procrastinating from exam revision by posting this, but I am so excited for this book! I adored Fangirl and I loved all the Simon Snow/Carry On extracts. I was dying to know how Carry On ended (Fangirl finishes without telling you), so the fact that Rainbow Rowell has actually written a whole story for us is amazing! Simon and Baz were awesome characters, I got attached them to just from those few pages of excerpts, so definitely looking forward to seeing more of them and how things turn out in this particular story. I must say, I don't love this cover as much as Rainbow Rowell's previous books' covers, but I still like it a lot and ugh! I just really want to read this book.

What are you waiting on this weekend?

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1) by Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Released: May 5th 2015
My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price.

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.
(from Goodreads)

Unsurprisingly, I really enjoyed ACoTaR. I think I just like everything Sarah J. Maas writes. Her writing style is addictive. If you've not tried one of her books yet, please rectify that as soon as possible.

So the thing that really got me wanting to read ACoTaR was that I found out as well as being a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, it was partially (and very loosely) inspired by East of the Sun and West of the Moon. I was in a play of EotSaWotM way back in my GCSE days (I was a minor character. I'm not so good at acting :P) and I was so excited to see a novel taking inspiration from it! There have been a lot of retellings recently but I hadn't seen anything associated with EotSaWotM before so this just made me really happy. Anyway, on to the actual review, erm yes this book was very good. Feyre, I really liked. I had no idea how she managed to put up with life for so long being the only one actually DOING anything for her family as well as having to deal with her sisters being horrible and inconsiderate and her father just ignoring everything. I understand they had all been through hard times but Feyre seemed to be dealing with the worst of it. Then she was taken away to live in the Fae world and everything changed. She was living a lavish luxury life, and she didn't really know why. No-one asked anything of her. No-one even spoke to her much to start with. She was just left to wonder around the grounds. Tamlin, who initially seemed furious at her for killing another faerie, just seemed to accept her presence with no trouble. She was confused. Understandably so. But then as she got to know Tamlin, and Lucien who was always hanging around (I adored Lucien, more on him later), she started to think differently about faeries. Maybe they weren't so bad. Maybe they weren't all murderers like she thought. It was really interesting to see her opinion slowly change - and it was slowly, which I really loved. It took her a long time to trust Tamlin. She knew he was hiding things and she wanted to know whether she could trust him despite that.

Tamlin was not what I was expecting. I liked him, but he was not my favourite of Sarah's male characters (that award goes to Rowan). I had a few issues with him and his secretiveness (I know he was literally incapable of talking about his main secret but there were other things he could have been honest about) but I did like him overall. I guess I could understand his hesitance since he was cursed and had a mask permanently stuck to his face. And I liked the way his relationship with Feyre took a while to develop. There was a good romantic buildup - definitely not insta-love, which I greatly appreciated. He and Feyre were also very similar in many ways. They both basically lived for other people, and had responsibilities they couldn't ignore. They both found it hard to trust people and took a while to open up to each other. Tamlin was also very generous and kind in the sense that he just did stuff for others without really thinking about it, like it was just what anyone would do. And judging by all the steamy scenes, I'm guessing he was one attractive guy (the parts of him that weren't blocked by a mask, anyway).

Lucien was Tamlin's closest friend and he was hilarious. His comments made me laugh so much and he definitely livened things up. I also especially loved the way that he would refuse to offer Feyre any help but then ended up helping her anyway. He really did not like Feyre at first but she grew on him even though he didn't want to admit it. You could tell by the end that he had genuine concern for her. He was also very loyal to Tamlin and just generally an appealing character.

Plot-wise - weellll. A lot of interesting this happened in this book, but one of my favourite parts was the trials that Feyre went through, set by Amaranth, the evil Queen of the Night Court (who was honestly one of the oddest evil villains I've come across). The first half of this book was quite quiet, quite calm. Not too many big/shocking things happened (though I did enjoy reading about the lengths Feyre was willing to go to get some answers). It was mostly about developing the relationships between the characters, and I really enjoyed that. The second half though, wow. The pace doubled. The trials? They were incredibly difficult and unfair. They were horrendous at times, and Feyre had to employ some very clever tactics in order to survive (I was impressed). But she suffered so much. She was tortured and then not healed after sustaining grievous injuries during the trials and ugh! It was so intense - I loved it. Feyre wouldn't give in. She had to resort to doing things she didn't want to do but she didn't give up. Another thing I loved about this book was the way a lot of things surprised me. I had guessed most of the secrets Tamlin was keeping but the ending was unexpected (how will that play out, I wonder, especially for Feyre?). And characters-wise, people I thought I'd never like - like Nesta, one of Feyre's sisters - really grew on me. I was also so intrigued by Rhysand (though I can't say actually liked him) because he was just so clearly up to something and I wanted to know what he was planning. The only problems I really had with this book, besides certain things with Tamlin, were the lack of worldbuilding and the straying from mythology which just made some stuff too convenient.

Overall, I really enjoyed ACoTaR and am very excited to continue the series, especially after the ending. Recommended.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

How to Revise for Exams

If you, like me, are a student of some sort, it is likely you will have exams at some point or other. Mine start in eight days (hahahahaha), and many other people are due to have exams very soon. I have created a guide to help you perfect your revision technique, and ensure top results on all your exams.[1]

1) Plan your revision - create a revision timetable. You can make one by hand, or there are lots of online tools you can use as well if you prefer. Make sure you give yourself realistic targets for each day (no-one can do 14.7 hours of revision a day, don't pretend you will be the only exception) and don't try to do allocate yourself too many subjects a day. Once you have made this timetable, proceed to ignore its existence and never look at it again.

2) Get organised - make sure you have everything you need with you IN the room you are revising in. This will prevent you from continually getting up to find that folder you need, or your lucky pen, or those notes that you think are behind the sofa. Just gather everything and dump it in your room, then arrange it all by subject so you can easily access the materials you need when you need them. Once you have done this, lament the fact that actually, all these notes are useless because you can't read your own handwriting and so all those lectures you went to (where the lecturer wouldn't allow typing or recording because she's from the 13th century - she also didn't use powerpoints, she literally just talked at you for two hour periods so if you missed a lecture, hahahaha) were a colossal waste of time and now you have to try and understand everything from the textbook which is a CONVOLUTED MESS, so basically, just ignore that module for a while.

3) Remove distractions - your laptop is your biggest enemy. If you need it for research, install those extensions that block your social media, or make a friend or family member change all your passwords until you're done. Do the research as quickly as you can (and print things if possible) so you can take that back with you to your revision area, and leave your laptop alone for the rest of the studying period. If you don't need it to revise, don't have it with you during your studying. Leave it off somewhere, preferably a bit of a distance away from you so that if you feel tempted to use it, it's countered by the fact that you actually have to get up and move towards it. Then remember that you are using your phone as a clock to time your revision (because who actually has clocks in their rooms nowadays?) and that your phone has internet access, games and social media apps that will distract you every time you want to know what time it is, so basically it doesn't matter where you put your laptop because TECHNOLOGY.

4) Revise actively - this means not just sitting down and staring at a textbook blankly. Highlight key phrases as you read through it, or take notes of the most important parts. Some people find colour coding their highlighting or creating spider diagrams and flow charts can really help, whereas others may benefit from recordings, or sticking things on their walls or making flashcards. Once you have completed highlighting every sentence in the damn book because how the hell are you supposed to know which parts are the most important and taking notes by basically just writing out everything again in equally bad, unreadable handwriting because no-one taught you how to summarise efficiently and making spider diagrams that have so many legs it just looks like someone coloured in the page, proceed to panic that nothing you just did actually helped you in the slightest and you remembered nothing, suggesting that taking action is stupid and we should all just live life passively and wait to die because humans are mortal and life is meaningless and WHO INVENTED EXAMS ANYWAY they do nothing but invoke existential crises.

5) Stay hydrated - drink water, it's good for you.

6) Take regular breaks - revising for four hours straight is not actually going to help you. Your brain can only take in so much information at a time, and if you force yourself to study for long stretches, you'll just end up making no progress. Take short, but fairly frequent breaks - maybe get a snack, check your email, pack a bag, put it in the trunk of your car, drive far away to somewhere no-one knows you, fake your degree certificate in a subject you actually like and start a new life under an assumed name where you are a successful businessperson/artist/dancer/cook/scientist/fraud who lied about everything and will probably one day be caught by the police but until then you can enjoy life.

7) Get some sleep - sleep is very important. If you don't sleep properly, your short-term memory can be impaired, you will find it harder to focus, harder to come up with ideas and harder to recall anything you may have learned (which is not beneficial to you in an exam). Make sure you go to bed at a reasonable time the day before the exam and allow yourself at least enough hours sleep for you to feel okay to function. Then get up after half an hour because you couldn't fall asleep because of that twisted knot in your stomach that is making you feel sick because all you've done for the past two weeks is highlight textbooks and cry and you don't know anything so you try to cram in the entire module the night before the exam which is impossible, but you try anyway so of course you stay up all night, reading pages of crap notes whilst you rock back and forth, and as the sunlight hits your tired eyes, you squint from the pain the light brings and you know you have to leave your room and go to the exam but you're so tired you're practically hallucinating and the exam room is suddenly there and whaaat it's the exam paper in front of you but you can't even read it because your brain has gone fuzzy like old TV screens and you are writing stuff but who in Aberforth's herd of goats knows what it actually is and oh it's time to leave now, did you actually answer all the questions, you don't really remember oh but you have another exam tomorrow so time to go home and let the cycle begin again.

8) Remember, it's not the end of the world - as important as your exams may seem now, they are not the most important thing in life. If you don't do as well as you'd hoped, it's not the worst thing that can happen. Life is full of many opportunities that may very well present themselves to you when you least expect it. The world is beautiful and has much to share. And while you hide under your duvet, weeping uncontrollably, just remember, the world will go on. With or without you. You are a tiny speck in the universe. Your life and troubles are insignificant. The universe does not give a damn that you failed your stupid exam. Wait, is this comforting or not?

And there you have it. My tips on how to revise. I'm not trying to reassure myself, or anything. I am an adult. I am good at life. I know how to mop up spillages. See my great transferable skills. Ha. Hahaha...

[1] This is a lie, don't take my advice, I am woefully unprepared for my exams and am procrastinating, don't listen to me unless you want to fail, in which case there are far better and more spectacular ways to plan your failure.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Review: Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2) by Rachel Hartman
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Released: March 10th 2015
My Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5
Find it on Goodreads

The kingdom of Goredd: a world where humans and dragons share life with an uneasy balance, and those few who are both human and dragon must hide the truth. Seraphina is one of these, part girl, part dragon, who is reluctantly drawn into the politics of her world. When war breaks out between the dragons and humans, she must travel the lands to find those like herself—for she has an inexplicable connection to all of them, and together they will be able to fight the dragons in powerful, magical ways.

As Seraphina gathers this motley crew, she is pursued by humans who want to stop her. But the most terrifying is another half dragon, who can creep into people’s minds and take them over. Until now, Seraphina has kept her mind safe from intruders, but that also means she’s held back her own gift. It is time to make a choice: Cling to the safety of her old life, or embrace a powerful new destiny?
(from Goodreads)

NOTE: this review contains spoilers. Proceed with caution.

It pains me to say this, but this book was such a disappointment for me. I loved Seraphina, absolutely loved it, but this was not on the same level. I had been looking forward to this book for years, and to have it turn out like this is really sad. I wanted to love it, I tried so hard, but in the end it was just a miss for me.

I did like some things, including the glimpse of Seraphina as an old woman, which we got to see at the beginning. I also thought it was interesting to learn about Jannoula's backstory and why Seraphina was so afraid of her. It definitely wasn't what I was expecting, and I enjoyed being surprised by that and Jannoula's power, which was pretty damn scary. I liked the diverse set of locations and characters included as well. One of my favourite parts was the reveal about Glisselda, which I was sort of expecting, but was happy to have confirmed. It made a lot of sense and Glisselda has always been one of my favourite characters, so I was glad she could finally be honest. Eska also grew on me as a character, which I didn't expect, though her ending was kind of weird.

The rest of this book though, I did not enjoy. I was hoping Seraphina leaving the castle would be interesting, but it turned out to be a boring journey that was dragged out for so long. I just wanted it to end. Seraphina was trying to find all of the other ityasaari by using the visions she could see in her mind (her garden of grotesques). While meeting some of them, like Master Smasher, was definitely interesting, I was just wishing she'd get on with it and find them all quickly. If there weren't so many of them to find, maybe it would have been better, but having to track down each and every one individually across different areas, oh my God. I just got bored. Even with Jannoula invading people's minds, even when Abdo got ill - everything just dragged out for too long and I felt like no actual progress was being made. The writing, I don't know whether it was too descriptive or whether I just didn't care about what was happening - either way, I was not invested in this excessively long road trip. And the more Seraphina was away from the castle, the less time she got to spend with Kiggs and Glisselda who were two of my favourite characters. We were stuck with all these uninteresting newbies being introduced instead, while those two were barely in it. I missed Orma too, he wasn't in it much either. And okay, yes I did like some of the characters we ended up meeting, but again, the journey just took too long.

And while I was thinking the whole way that this book was not as good as the first book, I was really hoping the ending might be able to turn it around, but nope, it just cemented my disappointment. The solution was a cop-out, they beat Jannoula way too easily after all the trouble she caused with a method that didn't really make much sense to me (what even was that? Am I the only one who was confused? Did Jannoula really not see it coming despite the fact she was practically all-knowing before?). And after that, NOTHING was resolved. I'm going to get into spoilers now, so beware, but it just didn't make sense to me. Glisselda and Kiggs decided to get married even though BOTH of them were actually in love with Seraphina, and Seraphina was in love with Kiggs. When the issue of what they would do when they needed an heir came up, it was shrugged off as a problem they would get to when the time came. Like, what the actual hell. After all this waiting and build up, THIS is what we end up with? Nothing was discussed. It was unclear what anyone's feelings actually meant and whether anyone would actually be together. Did Kiggs plan on keeping Seraphina as his mistress? Would she even be okay with that? What about Glisselda - would she get any resolution? Or would it just be an angst fest where everyone denied their feelings forever? I was just confused to be honest. I get that Glisselda didn't want to marry a stranger, but I didn't really see why she couldn't have a long engagement, and then rule alone? Or change the law so she could marry whoever she wanted/didn't have to get married? She was Queen after all! Queen of a new kind of era as well, after all that happened in this book. Surely some change could have been accepted. What were they actually planning to do here? And what happened to Kiggs's and Seraphina's promise of "the time will come"? The time never came! And even if we let that go as a non-issue and say it's all fine because of feelings or whatever, nothing else was resolved either! The future of the ityasaari and human-dragon relations was still sort of left hanging. Abdo just decided to leave after everything. The future was barely discussed, especially the whole society based on saints system which would clearly be needing some kind of adjustment now. And what about Orma? It was a mess! And there's no sequel to wrap any of this up so I'm just left with all these questions.

Overall, this book was not nearly as good as I hoped it'd be. It had none of the charm of book one and I'm actually surprised by how much I didn't like it.