The Beauty & The Beast Book Tag

I'm HAPPY. You want to know why?
Well, firstly, I'm doing a tag, courtesy of the brilliant Soudha from Of Stacks and Cups, and secondly, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!

Hey. You knew I was a musical nerd. Don't act surprised that I like Disney.


Be Our Guest

(5 characters you'd invite to your dream dinner party)
Ella from Gemina: Oh my gosh ... Ella is possibly my favourite character. Ever. She's a fifteen year old hacker who manages to hold her own in a intergalactic version of the Russian mafia (and handle a pistol suprisingly well) from a wheelchair and surrounded by a candy shell of "I'm going to protect my daughter / sister /cousin because she can't do anything for herself".

I need some advice from her on dealing with life.

Alice from Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue: So, I was considering inviting Alice's Broadway-auditioning, drama-queen twin sister Della to this dinner party, but a) I figured her histrionics might be a little irritating, and b) I'm pretty sure the Ella / Della thing might have got confusing pretty quickly.

Alice, however, is smart enough to derail business espionage in the tech sector (and dammit, we all know that's the most cutthroat sector of business espionage) using just the power of her own brain and a bicycle. She sounds like a fascinating dinner guest ... although I might have to be careful not to reveal Ella's - uh - upbringing to her. I'm not sure an investigation would set the kind of mood I'm looking for in this party.

Jo from These Shallow Graves: All I'm going to say is that being a 1920s undercover detective when you're both female and from one of the most uptight, reputation-oriented families in New York, requires an awful lot of badassery.

I can imagine it also makes you the kind of person who has a lot of anecdotes to tell at parties.

Jasmine from Something In Between: I relate to Jasmine on a level so deep that it borders on psychic connection. I mean, overachiever. Constantly tired. Pressure.

I ... I'm also kinda broken. Can you tell?

Anyway, I feel like I need to talk to Jasmine. We'd get on ... comparing revision notes, asking for tips on how to break exam stress, complaining about bad teachers. I mean, it would be utterly mind-numbing for my other guests, but they're interesting people. I'm sure they can entertain themselves.

Lucas from The First Third: Lucas is hilarious. And just because I refuse to call him Sticks doesn't mean he's going to lose his outrageous powers of humour overnight. He seems to be an expert in having CP in the modern world - I was thinking maybe we could exchange survival tips? And probably laugh while we're at it?

Belle

(A character whose dreams of adventure inspire you)
What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne
So, I don't know if a quest to get into Cambridge university counts as a dream for adventure to most (read: normal) people, but it inspired me, okay? You've no idea how reassuring it is to read about a character like Lottie managing to achieve her Oxbridge dreams while actually having a life and fighting for the things she cares about.

And, of course, there's the whole "I'm going to call out anything sexist whatsoever for a whole month and do you know what I'm going to use a klaxon to do it" thing. That is an adventure, for sure - and inspiring doesn't even cover it.

The Beast / Prince

(A character who went through an unexpected transformation)
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
This was not a good character transformation.

Cath went from being a kickass, independent baker who argued with the Cheshire cat about whether tuna has any place in cake to a selfish whiner whose only motivations were to do with a love interest. And it made me so sad. I mean, I know this was an origin story for the Queen of Hearts. I knew she was going to have to become an antihero eventually. But this was not the way to do it.

On the plus side? This book wins the award for being the only one ever to make me dislike an unsympethetic character more after hearing their backstory. So ... I guess it had that going for it?

The Enchanted Rose

(A book with a terrible curse at the heart of the story)
Sorry. It appears I'm fresh out of curses? If any of you guys have any suggestions, please let me know.

Tale as Old as Time

(A classic romance story that you love)
Flambards by K.M. Peyton
It's been a long time since I read this, but it remains one of my favourite classics - because a) horses, b) very early aeroplanes, and c) actually readable prose! (I ... don't get along with Regency novel - a lot of people love them, and fair enough, but to me it just feels like reading a brick.)

What makes the romance in this one is the characters. I absolutely adore Christina, and am more than a little bit in love with Will; if you guys think being a misfit in today's era is difficult, then geez. Try it in pre-WWI Britain, when being a girl means you should fall in love with the correct guy (or else) and being a boy means that you do what your father tells you. Even if said father happens to be an alcoholic obsessed with horses, and you're terrified of them.

I ... I just love it, okay?

The Dance

(Your favourite romantic scene from any book)
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
If you've read this book, then I mean the scene. You know the one I'm talking about. There were forests and fire and kisses ... *tries and fails to remain coherent*

*swoons reluctantly*

The Last Petal

(A book character who managed to break a terrible curse)
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Oh, I absolutely adore this series. It's gorgeous. American! Protagonist! Hilariously! Attempts! To! Negotiate! British! Life! WHILE TRYING TO HUNT DOWN A SERIAL KILLER WHO IS PROBABLY A GHOST!

No, you calm down.

And - wow - if there was ever a character to break a terrible curse, it's Rory. I mean, it took her a few chapters to get her head around the fact that the British Isles and the United Kingdom aren't the same thing, and work out how she's supposed to survive a game of hockey with a bunch of public schoolgirls who've been attacking anyone who gets on the wrong side of their stick since they were five ... but she's also kind of kickass.

Beauty and the Beast

(Your bookish OTP)
Waking in Time by Angie Stanton
I think I must have a thing about couples in which one of the participants is called Will? Or couples in which that very same participant is from the early twentieth century? Honestly, though, I think it's mostly about my love of culture clash between book characters. GAH. They were both struggling to adjust to accidental time travel and making faux pas that also happened to be incredibly cute.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Kate @ The Magic Violinist (because she's as obsessed with musicals - and Emma Watson - as I am)
Eve @ The Twist in the Taile (because she's the blogger I think of when I think "music")

Cee Arr @ Diary of a Reading Addict and Alyssa @ I Am a Writer, Hear Me Roar (for commenting on 99% of my posts lately and being EPIC cheerleaders)

If anyone else fancies stealing the tag, I'm not one to stop you. BE MY GUEST.


***
In the comments: Do you guys have any suggestions for books revolving around curses? Or some more dinner party guests? Who would you invite?
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The Lazy Blogger's Guide to Title Graphics

So, it turns out that title graphics are kind of important.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, then forgive me. I should explain. A title graphic (in my mental dictionary, anyway) is the picture on the top of a blog post with the title written across it. The picture just at the top of your screen right now, in fact. They matter because they literally go everywhere. If your blog's hooked up to Bloglovin', then the first picture in the post will automatically be attached to its title and your blog name, and show up in people's update feeds. If you attach them to your tweets, then you'll get on average 313% more engagement, according to Twitter. If you have a picture-displaying homepage, like mine, then title graphics are the very first thing that someone sees about your blog.

You want them to see good things. Right?

And I know that anything picture-related that isn't just slapping an appropriate GIF near some text is time consuming. I know you're busy trying to juggle everything else that comes with trying to keep a blog afloat. Me too. But in all honesty, it doesn't have to be as gargantuan a task as you might think.

You just need to know the right shortcuts.
Image reads: Shortcut #1

DON'T TAKE ANY PICTURES

I have absolutely nothing against blog photography, but you'll probably know as well as I do that it takes forever. Between placing everything in the exact right place, waiting for the light to be perfect and then taking shots from at least a dozen different angles, only half of which are anywhere near comfortable, a decent photoshoot has been known to take hours - and this is all very well when you need to update your Instagram feed or feature a specific book (or lipstick, or video game ...) on your blog. But 99% of the images you need for a title graphic are just going to be backgrounds. Is it really worth your time to slave over taking them yourself?

Then where - I hear you cry - am I supposed to find my images? I don't want to violate any copyright!
It can be tough - unless you want to go ahead and remix old images you took for other purposes - but knowing where to look is the key. There are a lot of websites out there which specialise in Creative Commons Zero images - this is a type of copyright which basically means the creator has waived all their rights in relation to it, so you can use it in any way you like, personally or commercially, without giving credit, provided that you don't imply the photographer is endorsing your blog / work. My favourite of these websites has to be Unsplash. Their contributors are all incredibly talented, and they specialise in high-resolution photos, so the detail is perfect for big images. PicMonkey, the free photo editor, also has a bunch of textures and overlays built into it that you can use for backgrounds or extra detail. (The denimy background of the image just above this bit of text is from their 'Paper Scraps' section, and they have a whole collection of buttons available to use too.)

Lastly, when looking for pretty patterns or pictures to put in the back of your title graphic, remember that they don't have to be relevant to the post you're writing. I went through a phase when every single graphic I made had to have something to do with books or blogging ... this was problematic not only because it's hard to find a wide variety of decent photos like this, but because it was cluttering everything up - something interesting but uncomplicated, like marble or concrete or ... I don't know, a tablecloth, tends to work a lot better if you want to be able to actually read the text.
Text Reads: Shortcut #2

EDITING TRICKS

Once you've found an image, you'll need to upload it into your photo editor of choice in order to mess around with it (uh, I mean create the perfect background) and then add some text. These are some things to think about in order to make your image sing really easily:
  • What dimensions do I need for this graphic? I know, it seems like the kind of step that you ought to be able to skip if you're being lazy, but it's honestly really important if you want to make something that looks good - not to mention that it's one of the easiest things to decide in the world. You don't need to know the exact pixel width of the blog template you're putting it on, for instance, because your blogging platform will probably scale it up or down accordingly anyway. Your options are:
    • wider than it is tall (as is best for most blogs and webpages), 
    • taller than it is wide (as is best for Pinterest and probably Bloglovin), or 
    • square (a good all-around dimension if you want to use the graphic in a lot of different places).
  • (And please, for the love of love, remember to crop your background image as needed. It's no use thinking "ok, this is what I require" and then making the exact opposite because you're just following its dimensions. Seems stupid, but ... guess who's done it?)
  • Can I use more than one font here? I will admit that it's a tiny bit more time consuming to separate out lines of a title so that the key words are in one font and the less important ones in another, but it takes maybe two minutes more than slapping the whole thing into one textbox on top of an image - and the advantages are numerous. You get more size control. It's easier to change the shape of the various lines to fit around any features on your background (like the laptop on the title graphic for this page). But the other thing is that it just looks nicer. It might be something about having my eyes drawn to the key words, or liking the variety, but I always find myself clicking more on posts with more than one type of text in their title graphic.
  • Have I got too many colours going on? Colour is great, sure. It's pretty and without it, your graphics would look kind of ... dull. But they clash big time if you're not careful - not to mention that 'less is more' is cliche for a reason! I like to use mostly monochrome plus the odd one or two highlight colours, but then I am the kind of person that appreciates grey. Finding whatever works for you saves a lot of time because you create a formula for yourself; that formula is a downright incredible shortcut for professional looking title graphics.
  • Am I done? Here's a hint, bro. You probably are. Less is more with these things (hush, I knoonce you've got the title written out, looking nice, you probably won't need much more. And it's much quicker to call it quits early rather than spending ages fiddling with filters and effects, then realising that it looked better to start with, anyway.
Image Reads: Shortcut #3

PRACTICE

I know, this sounds counter-intuitive. You're trying to save time, goshdammit, and can't I understand that?

Shush, peasants. I know exactly what's best for you and I'm your overlord anyway, so a) you should be smart enough to listen, and b) it's not like you even have any choice. After about eighteen months of this 'making graphics' lark, I can do one I'd consider decent in about ten to fifteen minutes. Sometimes way less, if I've got a specific design in mind. And I have invested a bunch of time in reading tutorials and working out how to use PicMonkey and just making lots of graphics, but I never sat down and intended to. I've just learnt odds and ends from hanging about in the bloggersphere.
I'd say that now I have the design speed, I've more than made up for my time learning the ropes. And to be honest, it's got to the point now where I kinda love it. I look forward to starting a new post because I get to be creative and make pretty things. (Plus, for some reason it requires less brainpower than typing. I like to use the time I spend designing to mentally brainstorm the post I'm about to write.)

Also? I have by no means finished learning. There's so much I want to be able to do, so many people whose blogs I look at and want to emulate (if only a tiny bit because I fancy inspiration, not copying.) I honestly believe that every time I learn, I make my blog a little bit better.

That's awesome.


***
In the comments: Do you guys like designing graphics for your blog? Or ... is it kinda dull? Tell me what you found useful here, and if you've got any questions, please. Ask away.
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Wrapping Up February & March

I'm just going to come clean right now and say that I don't know what I'm doing here (probably as evidenced by the fact that I'm posting March wrap up almost a week and a half into April, but I digress). I've never written a wrap-up post before, because ... I guess I didn't want to talk about what I was doing month to month? Despite the fact that, usually, you guys can barely shut me up? But lately, since I've been posting reviews on Goodreads instead of my blog lately, I figured it might be nice to do a roundup so you can have a peek at what I've been reading in the last few months.

Plus, you know, yak about myself and what I've been seeing online lately and my plans for world domination and ... basically anything I fancy.

Welcome to the madhouse, my friends.

Books

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff ★★★★★ full review

Oh. This one. LOVED IT SO MUCH, YOU GUYS. Because I got more amazing formatting and the psychotic Artificial Intelligence I'd been missing since I finished Illuminae, and even more amazing characters! (In fact ... I think I might have loved them more. It's nothing personal, Kady and Ezra, but Gemina has a badass wheelchair-using hacker and what's basically a sci-fi Mafia.)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Septys ★★★☆☆ full review
Ek, the constant head-hopping irritated me, but I'd definitely still recommend this one. It tells a fantastically important story, a tragedy that is only silent because it was drowned out in the utterly desperate clamour of tragedy that was World War II. Its characters are vivid and diverse; their stories are ones we don't hear enough. So I'm going to encourage you guys to read this anyway.

Waking in Time by Angie Stanton ★★★★★ full review
SO FRICKING CUTE.

I mean, a time travel novel is a tricky thing to pull off. The premise - a girl accidentally time travelling and experiencing university life through the decades - was just mindblowing, but the execution could have let it down. Spoiler = it didn't. The plot intertwined with history beautifully, and I don't think I've ever read anything as shippable in my life.

All About Mia by Lisa Williamson ★★★★☆ full review
So ... was not expecting to love this one - I thought I wasn't going to understand or empathise with the main character, since she's so different to me. But it turns out I was being judgemental, because wow. This was probably one of the best portrayals of family dynamics I've read, well, ever, and ALSO THERE WAS DEBATING. FEMINIST DEBATING.

*swoon*
The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald ★★★★☆
So, there are no full reviews for the next three books because when I'm given a choice between reviewing a book and reading a new one, I go with the standard bookworms' choice. #noregrets. But this one was most DEFINITELY amazing - possibly the best MG I've read in a fair while. It was the sweetest thing, and so inspiring for younger kids to read. I mean - overcoming bullies! Subverting popularity complexes! GENUINE FRIENDSHIPS! And, to top it all off, some pretty darn good disability rep, which I can prove with a kickass quote:

‘Was he born in a wheelchair?’ she’d asked as if he wasn’t right in front of her. ‘No,’ I’d answered helpfully, ‘he wasn’t. I think you’ll find that nobody is born in a wheelchair. You get a wheelchair if you need one, after you’re born.’

Yes to shooting down patronising idiots with this amount of style. Plus utterly delicious apple tarts.

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co., #3) ★★★☆☆
I do love this series - and whoop, good ending there, I'm not quite sure what to do with myself - but maybe it's getting a little old? The same characters (which I know and love, of course), fighting slightly different ghosts in the same way? Don't get me wrong, I was hooked, and the author did a particularly good job of making me feel what the main character was, (So much angst guys, so much angst) but ... meh?

Oh, I feel so bad. Because I did enjoy this. But I guess it was kind of a guilty pleasure?

Asking For It by Kate Harding ★★★★★
I've just finished this, so my thoughts are still swirling round my head slightly, but I'll do my best. Much awesome. I mean, this essay was kind of readable? Not only that, but it was fascinating, and as someone who likes to think they know their stuff about rape culture, I was overjoyed to read new angles and arguments.

I'm not going to say that 'if you're a feminist, you should read this', because everyone who thinks that women - not to mention all the non-female rape victims out there - are human beings, whether or not they identify as feminists or not, should. It's one of those books that has the potential to make society better, and I really hope it does.

The Bloggersphere

This one made me squeal in excitement when I saw it pop up on Bloglovin'. I mean ... discussion posts are downright impossible to come up with when you don't know what you're doing (and wow, I really don't know what I'm doing), but this really was helpful. Not to mention, since it's Cait's writing, downright hilarious.

My Writing Process by Kate @ The Magic Violinist
I'll be honest, this post is mostly awesome because of the GIFs and a music playlist stuffed full of Broadway. And no, I am not ashamed. Being able to read about the angst in another (very successful) author's writing process made me feel a lot better about my own dysfunctional relationship with words, let me tell you.

#AskAmber - Fear, Publishing and Potatoes by Amber @ Mile Long Bookshelf
Okay, fine. In that I'm still fangirling slightly about the fact that Amber was lovely enough to answer my question in this post, I may be slightly biased. But hush. I always find Q&A posts fascinating, a) because I'm nosy, and b) because it's really interesting to see just how much of someone's life you don't normally find out about from their blog, even if you've read every post they've ever written.

Also ... potatoes.

TBR


Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
I'm not sure I've ever heard more about a single book from Twitter than this one. At the end of last year (not to mention, let's be honest, the beginning of this one), I could not log in to Twitter once without seeing this book somewhere. That, ladies, gentlemen and others, is good marketing. And it won. I'm just kind of fascinated to see whether all the hype is worth it - or whether the two-star reviews on Goodreads are right.

Wish me luck. *scurries off to flag down the anticipation train*

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Maybe I'm in a mood for poetry at the moment. Maybe I saw this had become available at the library and reserved it on impulse. Who even knows anymore?

Anyway, I'm not sure I've ranted about it online yet, but I became utterly obsessed with Sarah Crossan's One when I read it about a year ago, and ... I don't know. I guess I'm in the mood for more gross sobbing.

Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson
Seventeen different authors. Seventeen different viewpoints. You're intrigued already - don't shake your head, I know you are - and I haven't even told you that's it about trying to correlate what you already know about a person with the fact that they just brought a gun into school ... and killed six of your classmates.

I'm excited because a) murder is kind of exciting (horrible too, I know, but exciting), and b) as a maybe-sort-of-aspiring-writer, I can't wait to read so many different styles and takes on the same or similar situations. BECAUSE THIS IS THE KIND OF THING THAT I FIND FASCINATING, GOSHDAMMIT.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Subverting the stereotypes that beauty pageant contestants (not to mention women who care about their appearance) can't be intelligent? With satire? And a Lord of the Flies-style, trapped-on-an-island melting pot filled with a dozen different girls with different upbringings?

Yes, please.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
So ... I don't know if it's definitely a good idea to take recommendations on literary entertainment from your English teacher (she is, after all, the one who makes every page in my Poetry Anthology look like the pen section of WH Smith's exploded over it, and if that's not the definition of un-relaxing reading I don't know what is), but I can't say it's a bad one exactly. Especially since the idea of a dystopia that gives women no power or education whatsoever sounds fascinating in a terrible sort of way.

***
In the comments: Did you guys enjoy this post? Or were parts of it kind of boring? Please let me know! I want to get used to this whole 'wrap-up' thing.
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