Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Hibiscus Tea

Way back in May (which seems centuries ago on this rainy August morning), I bought some celebratory proper herbal tea from a little tea shop just off Covent Garden as a 'Yes, you got through exams' present to myself. It's only recently since the weather has changed once again that I decided to bring out the Hibiscus tea to try!

I discovered hibiscus tea when I visited a tea shop near me that has probably every tea you can possibly think of, where I always have blackcurrant and hibiscus. Although I don't drink tea normally, I am a fan of fruity or different teas especially anything with blackcurrant or cranberry in. Hibiscus is known for its properties that help with blood pressure, stress and generally good for the heart - all things I think my body would appreciate!

I bought loose tea, therefore, a tea strainer was needed. I bought mine in the shape of a strawberry for £3 in a funky home shop in London named 'Tiger'. Once putting the water in, I left the strainer in for the recommended maximum 10 minutes as I prefer strong tea. I would recommend NOT to do that with loose tea now, as it was a little bit too strong for me when I got round to drink it.

I've found that about 5 or 6 minutes is perfect for this tea, although it depends a lot on the strength of flavour of the tea and what someone personally prefers, much like the different ways people take their tea and coffee on a daily basis. This tea is lovely, something nice after dinner or on a cold afternoon. I'm going to be going to the Tea House in Covent Garden again to try some more of their flavours!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Moment Before - Suzy Vitello

Source: Netgalley
Pages: 216

Synopsis: Sisters, Brady and Sabine Wilson are sisters born eleven months apart. However, despite their closeness in age, they are entirely different to one another. Sabine is popular, the head cheerleader with a popular boyfriend. Brady is alternatively artsy, quieter and fades frequently into the shadows of her older sister.
All is turned upside down when Sabine dies in a horrific cheerleading accident and Brady's life is suddenly full of heartbreak and grief. The only person she finds who can help her find out exactly what happened around Sabine's death is the guy, Connor, everyone blames for her death.

Review: My first thought after I read the first few pages was 'Oh, well this has been done before'. With a synopsis similar to that of Undone by Cat Clarke, Saving June by Hannah Harrington and The S-Word by Chelsea Pitcher, I was expected a tale of grief, anger, infidelity and ultimately, revenge.

However, I was at once drawn into the story particularly to Brady and her quest to find out the back story in the wake of her sister's death ending in suddenly finishing this book within a couple of days. While many of these kind of novels focus on suicide and revenge, this account was largely far more accurate in Brady's curiousity of the circumstances of the death as well as illustrating a family that is entirely broken yet haven't given up on the hope that they can get over this all.

I loved the way THE MOMENT BEFORE was written with this harsh, unemotional and critical narrative from Brady that truly describes one way in which people can deal with grief. While her fellow school friends are celebrating her sister's life and achievements, she is critical of the memorials they set up which ultimately perhaps will not be lasting. I just loved how real the narrative sounded. While the characters are typical characters in this genre, Brady's negativity and cynicism just brought another touch of realness and enjoyment for me.

I was loving this book, until I reached the end. For me, the ending was a real let down. I got to about 95% through the book and started to wonder how on earth this was going to end in that last 5%. Once I reached the last page, I realised how. The ending is entirely too melodramatic, too quick and rushed. It felt like Vitello felt there needed to be this massive conclusion, that seemed completely out of character to me, to complete the whole circle of the narrative yet this needed to be done quickly and not describing entirely that well in comparison to the whole novel. Considering I liked the book because of its touch of reality shed over this situation, I felt so disappointed and confused that she chose to have an ending that contrasted so drastically to the rest of the novel. If the book was largely dramatic, this ending would have fitted but this book was far from that and that's what made it so brilliant in my eyes. As I read in a review in Goodreads, there were so many questions suddenly and it seemed that most of actions in the ending were out of character for the characters involved. This may have been done on purpose, but I don't think it was needed.

Overall, THE MOMENT BEFORE is largely enjoyable despite the fact its the kind of narrative done frequently before. I didn't find it repetitive. It wasn't all about suicide, death and grief. While that was a small element of the story, this book is so much more and a nice addition to this genre.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Monday, 11 August 2014

Octavia's Bookshop, Cirencester

Last weekend, I headed to Swindon to visit one of my friends at university along with two other university friends. It was really nice to be all together again, laughing and insulting one another much like we do back in Bournemouth as well as planning our new house, which I'm moving into for the second year with these guys and two other friends.

While we were there, we took a trip to Cirencester, a lovely little Cotswold town in Gloucestershire, which reminded me of a smaller version of Bath. We had a wander around the independent, cute shops and along the cobble streets until we settled in a cafe named He Says, She Waffles which basically sells sweet or savoury waffles in every combination you could think of. I settled for smoked salmon and cream cheese waffle, which was delicious and so reasonable at only £5.

However, it was on our wander through the streets back to the car that we discovered one of the prettiest, friendliest bookshops I've come across in a while. Octavia's Bookshop is in one of the back streets, and specialises in children's books but also provides a selection of adult and reference books.

I recommended my friend to read Sarah Dessen so she bought ALONG FOR THE RIDE by Sarah Dessen while I found a posh student cookbook with some really yummy looking recipes which I wanted to try. We approached the till and were instantly met by two booksellers who were so friendly and lovely to talk to, it seemed like they knew exactly what they were talking about when another customer asked which they would recommend between two books she liked the look of. 

When my friend bought her Sarah Dessen book, she pointed in my direction when the bookseller said she would recommend it too so commenced out little geek out about how we both loved her writing, it was so good to speak to someone else who agreed wholeheartedly with why I love Dessen's writing. 
I noticed they had some 'Books Are My Bag' bags hanging about, something I wanted to join in for ages since the launch day last year which also happened to be the same day I moved to university. So, this was my chance to buy one and join in. However, when I asked about buying one, I was surprised by given one for free. So I am now the proud and delighted owner of a 'Books Are My Bag', a fact I kept repeating throughout the rest of the day.

Throughout my experience in Octavia's Bookshop, something was niggling at the back of my head that I recgonised the name of the shop. It wasn't until I was having my geek out at the till that I noticed that last year, Octavia's Bookshop was the winner of The Bookseller Best Independent Children's Bookseller. I remember reading a spread about the shop in The Bookseller in a lunch break when I worked at Waterstones and thinking of how lovely a bookshop it sounded to visit. 

Octavia's Bookshop is the type of bookshop I love coming across - a diverse selection, enthusiastic and knowledgeable booksellers and just a great atmosphere. It's the type of bookshop I live to find in unexpected points in life and I hope to visit again. It makes me realise how we need more bookshops like this, yet there seem to be decreasing instead of increasing. When we left the shop, one of my friends exclaimed "I swear every time we visit a bookshop, Rebecca makes a friend". And that is what every bookshop for book lovers should be like...

Octavia's Bookshop, Cirencester

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Panic by Lauren Oliver

Source: Netgalley
Pages: 408
Publisher: HarperCollins

Synopsis: In the small town of Carp, a game is played every year by the graduated seniors because it's summer and there is nothing else better to do. Heather has watched the dangerous game, Panic, most years but never thought she'd enter until she finds something to play for. Dodge, however, always wanted to play Panic, a quest he wishes to fulfil by making his way entirely through the game - whatever the cost. The game will form new alliances, new rivalries and create and destroy secrets. Everyone is playing the game for a reason, they just cannot afford to panic.

When I finished PANIC and sat down to write down a few thoughts on the book so I could create some kind of post that looked like a review, I came to a realisation.
I started by writing about its comparison to other Lauren Oliver books I have read. For me, this book didn't seem to slog on and on like I found some of Oliver's books doing. Neither did I feel like there was way too much poetic prose that sometimes felt showed more her brilliant writing ability rather than adding to the narrative. I felt I got more into this book than her other ones and perhaps hooked quicker on the narrative in comparison to her other books.

Then, I started to think about my reaction after reading and my reaction to finding out the premise of the novel. I went to a Lauren Oliver signing early last year when she was in the middle of writing PANIC. She described it as 'teenagers taking part in a deadly game'. As Hunger Games was at the height of its popularity at this point, the whole idea reminded me of the dangerous Hunger Games, especially as Lauren Oliver's previous books I've read have steered more towards dystopian than contemporary.

This is when the realisation dawned on me that apart from those sentiments, I did not really have much else to say about this book. I liked this book, but I didn't love it and I didn't dislike it. In a word, it was 'okay'. The more I thought about it, the less I had to add to my thoughts on this book. It stood out for me because it was something different, an edgy contemporary not like other books seen out there, however, not a book that I would remember time and time again. The characters are well-developed and unique mostly due to the length of the book allowing that to happen, however, it did make the main narrative - the game, Panic - draw out, sometimes a little bit too much. I liked the writing and I liked how Oliver approached it following two very different teenagers, Dodge and Heather, who also have far more similarities than meets the eye.

I did enjoy this book, I did like the edginess and the uniqueness of the narrative. However, it was predictable and not the more memorable or be a book I will keep coming back to. PANIC is a great novel and in the game itself to deal with some of the social issues teenagers deal with on a daily basis and it was engaging and slightly addictive to read as I wanted to see how the game panned out. But, although it was nice to see Oliver write a more contemporary novel, it did have some flaws.

I give it a 3.5 out of 5

Monday, 4 August 2014

Final Decisions on Blogging

After a couple of months of umm-ing and arr-ing about my blog and talking about it with all the close people I have in my life, I think I've finally made a decision about this blog.

From my first year in university, it's clear that I cannot keep up blogging on a permanently becoming a blogger that is thinking more and more about the followers I've generated in recent years rather than myself. It's clear that thinking more about yourself in blogging is better and more motivating than any follower list. If you think my blog posts have been sparse, the books I have finished throughout the last year is a bit shocking in comparison and it's something that both comes with being a university student as well as being incredibly frustrating for a bookworm such as myself.

I want to read the books I want to read without thinking about what everyone else thinks of the book. I'm also 19, going on 20 in six months time. As much as YA is still a part of my reading, the sheer reality is that I've grown up and sometimes adults books sound far more appealing than YA. I have been putting off Wolf Hall because of all the YA books I have on my shelf that need reading that my blog will benefit from more.

I'm also a university student, where while reading is a definite part of that, it's definitely not the only thing in my life as it used to be. I love cooking, I love tea and coffee, I love clothes, I love TV, I love my friends, I love London, books are not my only love anymore and it's time to create a place where I can express that.

The second year at university is going to be tough and for someone who handles stress badly, I want somewhere to escape to, to look back in a years time for a documentation of the best and worst parts of university. In the upcoming year, I'm becoming even more independent moving into a house with five of the best people I've met over the course of my first year, I'm a mentor for the first years, I'm working for the student magazine on a secret project, I have a lovely boyfriend, I want to socialise and on top of that, the work at university in the second year is known as more stressful. I don't think book blogging has a part in all of that.

However, blogging does. This blog isn't disappearing (and I know I keep saying that), but just changing into more of a lifestyle blog and online diary - you have the choice whether to join in or not. For book lovers, I am going to write about books of course, just don't expect a book review every week. I'm only reviewing the books where the words come to me naturally.

And the best part of this post and this decision, this is probably the post that's come to me the most naturally in months. 

See you guys soon!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

On My Bookshelf (45)

I came to the realisation that the last time I did one of these was in February just after my birthday! Surprisingly, I've been quite good and not bought many books in the last five months, mostly because I haven't been blogging as much and haven't had much time to peruse the shelves of my nearest Waterstones. I'm slacking really, aren't I?


Londoners by Craig Taylor - I picked this up for £3 in a secondhand bookstore in Bristol when I visited there the other week when visiting one of my flatmates from Somerset. It's a book that came out just after I started working at Waterstones and I was always a little intrigued by it. Since going to university, I've realised how lucky I am to be a Londoner and so close to the city as well as some of the perceptions of Londoners both from the residents of the capital and those who live far away from it. I'm interested in what my fellow Londoners have to say!

Landline by Rainbow Rowell - Rainbow Rowell has a new book. She wrote Fangirl and Eleanor and Park. Need I say more?

Books by Charlie Hill - I found this on a table in Waterstones in Bristol and since I feel like I've going through a book version of a mid-life crisis recently, this seemed to appeal to me perhaps to make me appreciate reading for myself again.


Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld - Oh YALC, how you were so brilliant. When Lucy and I spotted this on the table in the corner of YALC, we both instantly grabbed a copy of this proof and preceded to fangirl about how much we both wanted to read it. Scott Westerfeld is one of most well-liked authors after his superb Uglies series, so I'm interested to see his latest book. So looking forward to delving into this one soon....

Popular: A Memoir by Maya Van Wagenen - This was handed to me at YALC and I'm interested to read a memoir that is aimed at YA. While I'm not normally into non-fiction books, this sounds quite interesting and reminded me a lot of the novel Going Vintage from the blurb!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? 
What did you receive this week? Link below and I'll send a comment!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Meant To Be - Lauren Morrill

Source: Own
Pages: 304
Publisher: Delacorte Books

Synopsis: Straight-A student and geek, Julia knows she is accident prone, she knows how to follow rules and being organised and prepared. She knows how to write essays and that she needs to have her pocket Shakespeare and pencil sharpener on her at all times. That's also why she knows Mark, her crush since childhood, is her MTB (Meant to Be).
However, everything Julia knows is about to be turned upside down on her spring break as she goes on a school trip to London where she is partnered by her personal tormentor and the class-clown, Jason. After Julia is dragged to a wild party, she keeps receiving texts from an unknown number. Jason promises to help find out the suitor if she agrees to live a little and break some rules along the way. Julia will find out the meaning of rules and true love all in the backdrop of the city of London.

Although I may be bordering on the last six months of being a teenager as my 20th birthday looms closer and closer, I still love to slink back to the days in my mid-teens when I loved a good romance novel. While I'm far more cynical about them, I don't think any female can resist a dash of romance in their reading as long as its done right. MEANT TO BE was a book I got given about a year ago, mostly because Julia sounded like a version of myself but also, because it seemed like a fun, easy read.

Upon starting this novel, I could immediately see the conclusion and started to think maybe this book wouldn't be as good as I hoped. However, I struggled on and found myself suddenly really enjoying this book. The book becomes addictive with all these questions lying underneath that made me want to read and read to find out at the end. This is a cheesy romantic comedy for sure, but I was left with this appreciation for any love in my life at the time - be it for family or friends.

The main character, Jules, goes through London, seeing both the unknown places of the city and the tourist attractions we all know and love. It was brilliant seeing a modern perspective of the city, especially for myself as a Londoner, which isn't too rife in books. London isn't considered 'romantic' with that title calling to places like Paris or Rome, so it was good to have this setting instead of something more stereotypical.

Anyone that is a reader will appreciate Jules, a nerdy girl who follows the rules and consumes literature. I loved Jules mostly because it was like reading about myself and I entirely felt for her and related to her as she negotiated the confusing and exciting world of love.

MEANT TO BE is the perfect, summer easy read or even as a light break between books with the continual theme of death, war and grief (which is a lot of books these days). This is predictable and cheesy, but sometimes we all need a bit of that as a break. I liked this a lot, especially as it made me appreciate those around me and any book that has that kind of emotional response, well, the author's doing pretty well.

I give a 4 out of 5

Thursday, 17 July 2014

It's Kind of a Funny Story - Ned Vizzini

Source: Own
Pages: 444
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Synopsis: Struggling with academic and social pressure, one night in the early hours, Craig Gilner's depression becomes too much and he seriously starts comtemplating suicide. However, he checks himself into Six North and put in an adult mental health ward to start working towards getting better. Here, he meets an interesting cast of people who help him move towards facing his depression.

One of the woes of being a reader, a bookseller, or a book blogger is that amongst all these books you consume day in, day out, the books you read, regardless of how good you thought they were, seem to blend all into one. It seems like you've read lots of books over a month because you've been reading constantly, until you discover the total count for the month is only two short books. That is until you find that one book out of 9 or 10 books that really shines out. The one you become completely and utterly besotted with, consuming the pages eagerly, ferociously planning your day around your reading, ready and waiting for the moment you can start reading that book again. Those books are always the ones that stay with you, become rereads, get recommended dozens of times and ultimately, become our favourite books.

This is how I was for Ned Vizzini's IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY. I was on holiday when I was reading this book and found myself waiting somewhat patiently for some free time in between being a tourist, eating and sleeping which meant I could absorb a couple more chapters of this magnificent book. It was utterly brilliant surprise to love this book that much, something I wasn't quite expecting when I first picked it up. I bought this book over a year ago, and I wonder now why I left it sitting on my shelf for so long.

The best way to describe IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY is that it is a novel about depression that is not at all depressing but ends with this new found hope installed within you. It's a book that is needed and highlights a lot of issues young people experience in growing up that perhaps isn't really talked about enough. I mean in literature when is it ever discussed about the impact of the pressure that is placed on a lot of us to do well especially at a school that wants to keep its prestige? I know that throughout my school years and at university, the pressure mounts up continuously as expected when you want to do well and everyone deals with that differently. While some behave as if the potential to not do well is on the same problem level as choosing what to wear in the mornings, there are others where the pressure can take hold. I'm one of the latter, and I can fully understand and believe how something like school can make someone get depressed, like Craig in this book.

Vizzini writes Craig as if he is any other teenage boy. Certainly he is, but as the book goes deeper and Craig comes closer to facing his depression, it becomes clear how real and messed up his problems are. This book is so beautifully written, it's engaging, intelligent and original, making it a delight to read on every page. The characters are truly what make this book even more superb. From the beginning, there is the idea that these characters are too extreme, too crazy, too affected by their problems to enjoy their character and trust what they say. However, through these moments scattered throughout the book, it is evident that all these characters (and there's quite a few) have a brilliant depth to them, and this craziness that we kind of expect without even thinking when someone says 'mental health ward' makes them that much more interesting. They are some interesting voices, including Craig, to tell a novel like this through.

This is a rich, real and insightful novel that is simply a pleasure to read. There are parts which some may find difficult particularly near the beginning, however, the overall feeling of hope by the end of the novel is reason enough to read this book. Depression is a complex issue to write about and even understand and can be misdiagnosed or missed all together, both instances explored in this book.
Something that kept being brought to mind while I was reading was the coverage from book lovers when I found out Ned Vizzini had passed away last year. He writes something special with a richness and emotion that makes this novel so sad, hopeful, exciting and annoying all at the same time. We need more books like this. 

I give it a 5 out of 5

Monday, 14 July 2014

My Mad Day at YALC

On Saturday, instead of having a lie-in or helping with housework, I headed to Earls Court for the first ever YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) hosted by the London Film and Comic Con. To say it was a really good day doesn't even cut it, it was brilliant.

Aside from the crazy queues to actually just get in and the craziness of being amongst thousands of cosplayers while clutching my heavy bag of books for dear life, the day started well once I found the YALC area. I stood at the back of a panel discussing dystopia (a favourite genre of mine) in YA with Malorie Blackman, Patrick Ness and Sarah Crossan - all three authors I love and admire. It was interesting to hear about their thoughts on genres in general and where they think the genre is going. It was such a surreal moment standing and listening to these authors whose books I have devoured, spotting a few familiar faces in the crowd who I knew were bloggers and then, Stan Lee walking past me on the way to his photo taking session. Very, very weird and brilliant moment.

The Dystopia panel - Sarah Crossan, Patrick Ness,
Malorie Blackman

Those kind of moments only got more frequent. While walking away from getting my book signed by Sarah Crossan, I happened to look over at the group of people I was passing and came face to face with none other than Lucy from Queen of Contemporary. Out of all the people I wanted to meet and see at YALC, she was the one I wanted to meet the most. Lucy is a really good blogging friend of mine, and her blogs are one of the best in my opinion around. She's helped me so much from motivating me to blog, talking to me constantly for the past two years to helping me write a feature article all about blogging for a university assignment. I've watched her blog work its way and it was just so amazing, so surreal and so brilliant to talk to her face to face. We went to the Superfans panel together with some other bloggers, where I think we both geeked out about Rainbow Rowell being one of the speakers, as well as then meeting Rainbow Rowell herself together and I spent a bit of time going round with her with so many authors, bloggers and publicists recognising Lucy, it was really nice to see for me.

I am so awe struck by both how lovely and genuine everyone was. There were times people had a conversation with me having probably no idea who I was, but merely because of a shared love for books and publishing. As Lucy put it in her reflection of YALC, no-one cared what your gender was, no-one cared where you came from, no-one cared about your age, everyone just cared about you being there for your love of literature. And that is something that makes me put faith back in humanity.

I left YALC about 5pm at a point where I felt utterly exhausted and like my shoulder was about to turn permanently numb. I continued my celebration of an amazing day by meeting my boyfriend and some friends who were in London for the day and had dinner at this nice restaurant just off Oxford Circus called 'Vapiano' (the cheesecake was so good).
Upon already commenting that I felt like the amount of books I had brought with me up to Central London made me feel like I'd robbed my local Waterstones store, I handed my boyfriend my goodie bag of books to him exclaiming 'Wow, that's heavy, that's a lot of books'. Yes, it was and yes my shoulder hated me on Sunday morning but it was so worth it. Bring on the next YALC!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

There is a geek in all of us.

I have a confession. It's perhaps not at all surprising if you know me personally or if you've followed my blog for a long time but it's a confession all the same.

I am a geek.

Geek [geek]. noun. a person who has excessive enthusiasm for and some expertise about a specialized subject or activity [Dictionary.com]

Yes, I definitely am. Apart from the cliches that are brought to mind when thinking about geekiness, such as actually paying attention in lectures, working 100% towards every assessment and seem to do quite well from doing so, when it comes to books, the geekiness is really brought out. Amongst my friends who are all similar to myself, I ooze this ideal life full of books with a passion for books, a blog and until recently, a job in a bookshop.

However, when it comes to the real world (which became shockingly clear when I went to university), I am essentially a geek. I have been told that whenever I talk about books, I have this wide smile on my face and I talk really fast with many hand gestures. Another passion of mine is sci-fi films. Watching anything with any sort of science fiction theme in it brings this special sort of concentration where I am so absorbed within the narrative and how clever the plot is. With my boyfriend describing himself as a 'film geek', this works when watching films together to the point where he specially chooses films that have a sci-fi element because he KNOWS I will enjoy it. However, with anyone else, getting them to watch something other than a teen move with a dystopian element (I point to The Hunger Games which for the record, I did enjoy) is trouble and I know they are secretly judging my geekery. So, science fiction in books is like the ultimate thing that brings out the total geek in me.

I get excited about book signings and book adaptations rather than going clubbing. I remember coming back to university from a trip at home where I met and got a book signed by Veronica Roth. I was so happy and excited by it yet I was only met by plain looks. For instance, I'm going to Comic Con on Saturday in London, a fact people either raised their eyebrows at quietly judging or starting geeking out themselves about the film aspect of Comic Con. However, why am I going? Well, there is YALC, a book conference...

However, as I've grown older, I've realised that everyone has a little geek in them. Everyone has different interests and passions and that enthusiasm differs from different people. Mine is stronger than a flatmate's passion for cooking, but as long as those around you allow you to share your enthusiasm as they do, that's the main thing. The conversations around the dinner table at university is purely geek if I think about it, ranging from topics about the media, books, TV shows, make-up, computers, films and video games. I remember when I was in secondary school and going through the realisation at how geeky I was, I was reading in our form time as I always did considering no-one really spoke to me and the conversations around me were incredibly boring. A girl who I would have guessed as someone who would rather take an ice cold bath than read a book asked me what I was reading. I told her, and there was a pause when we kind of looked at each other in surprise. Then, she asked me for some recommendations and we had a massive geek out about books. Apart from that 5 minute conversation, I never talked about books with her again, she chose to keep her love for books under wraps while I was more open.

Moral of the story? Everyone is different. Yes, I am a geek. I am an open geek that is kind of proud and weird about those kind of things. It is something that defines me and what people like about me. However, this guy I see at university who just oozes coolness could go home and spend endless hours watching foreign films and then blog about them. I could see someone in my seminar class at Comic Con in the Book Zone. I think we just have to accept that geekiness is a part of all of us.

I'll leave you on one of my favourite quotes I found somewhere which someone told me defined me.

"I want a girl who reads, who feeds her addition for fiction with unusual poems and plays that she hunts out in crooked bookshops for days and days and days" Mark Grist