Whodunnit? 4 Mysterious Books to Spice Up Your Summer

Now, I don't know about you, but I am in general a pretty big fan of murder.

Sorry, sorry. Murder mystery books. That was what I meant. Please don't call the police. I'm not exactly cut out for jail and they probably wouldn't let me blog from in there anyway, so I guess it's in your interest to keep quiet.


I am, however, a morbid enough person that I very much enjoy murder mysteries, and ... I guess if your worldview is skewed enough to be spending your time here, then I'm assuming you are too? I like to read a nice chilling thriller to cool me down in the middle of a hot summer, but if you're in the southern hemisphere, then don't despair. My British summer is always so full of rain that I'm sure your winter can't be much colder.

Anyway - if I can drag my stereotypical British self away from complaining about the weather for two seconds - let's get down to the books.

#1 ~ S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett
I might be slightly obsessed (as the ridiculously large stack of Harrow: A Very British School recordings on our TV will demonstrate) with any type of media that gives me a glimpse of how the other half lives. I'm genuinely enthralled by the whole stately-home, deer-hunting, reputation-obsessed aesthetic, and when you give me some along with a side dish of murder?

You have the recipe for one of my favourite books of this year.

It isn't a traditional murder mystery, because a) the death is at the end, not the beginning, and b) you know straight away who the murderer is. The victim's fairly obvious too. But everything else? Yeah, you won't have a clue. This is one of those books that just grips you from start to finish (with twists! such twists!), and the cliffhangers are blooming ridiculous.

Honestly, I would have loved it just for the discourse on social media and whether it's good for humankind or not. But the murder helps too.

#2 ~ One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
Do you want to know how the author came up with this book?

She watched The Breakfast Club, loved it, and then thought to herself "what a great movie, but it really could do with some more murder". If that isn't one of the best premises for a book ever, then I honestly don't know what is.

Basically, a kid dies in detention. And he's the kind of kid that, if they were going to be honest, everyone would have a motive to murder. But which of the four POV characters did it? And why? And, as a reader, how are you going to cope with the fact that you can't trust the people you're starting to empathise with?

What made the whole thing so engrossing was the way it effortlessly mingled high-school gossip, teenagerhood, and the emotional mess that was a police investigation without making the former seem trivial or the latter seem overdramatic. The characters were absolutely flawless - that's including all the secondary characters and parents, which in YA in particular is amazing (the parents! meant! something!) - and I think it says something about how well this book is crafted that despite sniffing out the murderer almost immediately, I was then completely convinced that my first instinct was wrong by all the red herrings, turned upside down, and sucked in by the story. The whole thing is just properly brilliant.

#3 ~ These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly
Because who doesn't love the idea of a 20s high-society New York girl solving the murder of her father, all the while trying to convince her journalist sidekick that she has what it takes to work at his newspaper?

As you might predict, it's a wild ride from start to finish. The characters are gorgeously hilarious, and I absolutely adored getting a view into the crime-solving methods of a hundred years ago - there's basically one forensic officer in the whole of the city, who is the best kind of nerd, and everyone looks at him like a bit of an oddity. Which he is, but not because of his fascination with forensics.

Also! Such! Feminism! GREAT DISCUSSIONS! TACKLING THE PATRIARCHY! PROVING SEXISTS WRONG! (Sorry, I guess I got a little overexcited there.) The main character, Jo, was incredibly independent but also slightly naive due to her sheltered upbringing, which of course gives you some very funny moments when they get to the wrong side of town involving horny men and pimps and poor Jo having absolutely no idea what's happening.

In summary: if you're looking for your murder fix wrapped up in a gorgeous 1920s setting, then this is the book for you.

#4 ~ The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Not only is this book an absolutely nail-biting, heart-stopping, twisty-turny wonder of a murder mystery, but it also has a kickass team of main characters, an absolutely hilarious case of British-American culture shock, and ghosts. That's before you even get to the spree of Jack-the-Ripper style killings.

Never let it be said that I don't treat you, okay?

What I love (and hope you'll love) about this particular style of murder mystery is that it's not entirely plot-driven. Don't get me wrong, the plot is excellent, but it's spurred on by a group of characters that you genuinely care about - which only makes the whole thing more thrilling because you're constantly worried that they might die.

One book isn't enough tension for you? No worries! This is the first in a series of three, just to make sure that your nerves are completely shot by the end.

In the comments: Are you guys as into murder ... mystery books as I am? Can you give me some more recommendations? Or did you love any of these?
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How to Make Aesthetic Collages and Prettify the Internet

I'm not sure if you guys are aware, but I'm fast becoming majorly, majorly obsessed with picture collages. I basically put them anywhere I can ... tags, lists, some of the oldest posts on my Tumblr.

Oh, you were aware? Because you've noticed how heavily they feature in this post and this post and almost every conversation I've ever had online? I was worried that might be the case. Anyway, huge thanks to Dina for asking for kind-of-sorta-asking-for this, because I don't think I'd have thought to write it otherwise.

Are you guys ready to spend surprising amounts of time tearing your hair out in the name of aesthetic? Don't worry - the first ones are the hardest. You'll get a knack for it eventually.

Step 1 ~ Pick your aesthetic

You can probably predict that, since it is quite literally the name of the game, identifying and sticking with your aesthetic is pretty darn important - and honestly, most of the time it picks itself based on what you're trying to do. If you're making a collage for your favourite ship from a YA Contemporary, then you know you're looking for something cute and a little bit sugary; if it's a Ravenclaw theme, you want something more classic, with an air of learning and seriousness.
You then need to choose your colours based on those aesthetics. Again, it's really simple, but having a basic palette in mind really helps when it comes to combing through photos and trying to figure out what's going to work with what. That contemporary one would probably suit pastels and paleness, your Ravenclaw aesthetic would need some cool tones (specifically blues and coppers, obviously) and something more romantic would require warmer colours, maybe with some smoke or fire.

Step 2 ~ Find some images

I'm only going to say this once, so I'd better say it very loudly: IF YOU PLAN TO USE YOUR COLLAGE IN ANY PUBLIC CAPACITY WHATSOEVER, THE IMAGES YOU USE NEED TO BE PROPERLY LICENCED FOR DESIGN. This goes for if you're using it online, in print, on some missing cat posters ... you're probably okay if all you want to do is stick it up on your bedroom wall, but if there's even the slightest chance the photographer might see it, then you'll need to do things properly.

Luckily, it transpires this is relatively easy, provided you know where to look.

What I tend to do is make sure that all of my images are licenced under Creative Commons Zero - which means that the photographer is happy for you to use that particular work in any context, edit / remix it, and even make money out of it without giving credit, provided you don't pass the work off as your own. And, of course, credit is always appreciated. My favourite search engine to use is Unsplash, because the sheer artistry involved in its photos is stunning, but their selection isn't huge - if you're struggling to find something specific you definitely want, then Pixabay is a good backup. I also found Pexels when I was doing the research for this post, and their library is seriously impressive.
When it comes to actually finding photos that fit, it might be a good idea to brainstorm yourself a few search terms related to your theme- colours, keywords, even specific items from the plot of a book, like the mini eggs that I included in my Upside of Unrequited collage. Don't go nuts like I have above, because you only need a maximum of about six images and sometimes you find everything you need on the first try, but be willing to cast your net as wide as you need it. Once you find a good image, save it to your computer.

I like to at least attempt to get some different-shaped photos - some portrait, some landscape, some square - since they make for a more interesting collage. This can be tricky though, particularly if you're struggling to find what you want, so don't worry too much about it if it's becoming a headache.

Step 3 ~ Open a blank collage

I use PicMonkey to do this because it has a specific collage function and you can use it straight out of your browser pretty much hassle-free. (Absolutely #NotSpon, just to be clear.) If you're a diehard Canva or BeFunky or insert-other-photo-editor-here addict, then I guess you probably could use whatever you're more comfortable with, but I only know PicMonkey, so you'd have to be pretty confident that you can make it work by yourself or with some other tutorial.

If you are using PicMonkey, you'll want to hover over the "Collage" icon in the top menu and select "Computer". Select your required photos from whatever folder it is you have them in (check Downloads or Pictures if they've disappeared entirely) and you should be taken into an editing screen that looks something like this:

Step 4 ~ Choose your layout

This can be as simple or as complicated a step as you need it to be: to insert a photo into a collage, just drag it from the photos menu on the left of the screen into one of the hatched grey areas (or cells) on the picture itself. I tend to just start sticking photos into cells to see if they work, messing with the shape (which you can do pretty easily by dragging the dotted lines) and adding in more if I need to (to add a cell, just drag a picture into a space between two existing ones, and it should just appear). The interface might take you a few experiments to figure out, but it isn't that tricky once you've had a little practice.

If you're unsure about finding a way to fit pictures together, then you can use one of PicMonkey's pre-made layouts - switch from "Photos" to "Layouts" (the second icon down) on the left hand menu - and just start sticking your photos into that. Don't feel locked in by the proportions, either - you can click the little padlock at the bottom of the screen and drag at the edges of the collage to change the size around as required to ensure your photos aren't squished.

Step 5 ~ Make It Pop!

If you've followed all the steps above, then you should technically have yourself a finished collage. But is it a little meh? Don't worry! Here are some things which I think make a big difference to the appearance of a nearly-finished collage.
  • Colour the borders between the pictures
    • See that little paintbrush icon? The very last one in the left hand menu? If you click on it, you can change the thickness of those borders (or make them disappear), round the corners, or change their colour. If you find a colour that matches the palette of your pictures, it makes them look a lot more coherent, and anyway you should avoid white when publishing to a blog with a white background because the edges kind of disappear and it looks funny. I like to use the little eye-dropper to pick a colour directly out of one of the pictures, because otherwise the exact tone is ridiculously difficult to replicate.
  • Focus in on certain parts of each image
    • If you hover your cursor over an image in a cell, you should see a sort of pencil in a circle. Clicking on it will give you the option to change the zoom, and dragging the picture around within the cell allows you to move it so that different sections are in the frame. This effect is perfect if there are certain parts of an image that don't fit your aesthetic, because it allows you to focus in on only the colours that match.
  • Add in swatches and colours
    • Have a space to fill on your layout, but no image to fit it? No worries. By clicking on the "Swatches" tab, which is the third icon down on that left hand menu, you can find loads of cute patterns to add (they're organised by theme, so make sure you click on the drop down menu and look at each one in turn to get the full selection). They're especially great for really cutesy aesthetics, but if you can't find one to fit, you can always just choose a block colour by clicking back on that paintbrush and selecting "Cell" instead of "Background". Click on the specific cell to fill it.

In the comments: Did you find this useful? Send me links to your aesthetics! Is there anything else you need to know?
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5 Real-World Advantages to Being a Blogger

I'm assuming I don't have to convince you guys that being a blogger is amazing.

You get to meet tons and tons of likeminded people, you have your own personal little corner of the internet that you are overly proud of ... and your social media stats, no matter how paltry in blog-world, are super-impressive to your real-world buddies.

(I know, I'm transparent, competitive and vain. Shh.)

But these are all internet-based advantages. What's the point of all this when we inevitably have to log out, close the laptop and step into the big, scary wide world? Well, I have some suggestions:

#1 ~ The CV boost is insane

Okay, my friends, story time.

A little over six months ago, I was hardcore freaking out trying to find myself some work experience. I applied everywhere I could think of that would be mildly interesting, be that publishing houses, libraries, bookshops ...

I'll be honest, I wasn't casting the widest net in the world. But when I was offered to come in and interview at a local bookshop (which, thanks to fiddly insurance stuff and already having said yes somewhere else, I didn't actually do), I discovered that the girl who sat next to me in science had also gone for one there.

The first thing her interviewer said to her was "oh, are you the one that has a blog?" And she is absolutely, definitely not a blogger.
The "blog" part of my CV had stood out so far in the mind of whoever was reading it that it sounds like they were attempting to apply it to anyone from my school who happened to walk through the door. It might not be this dramatic every time - and I'm keen to emphasise that she had not been asked to interview thanks to any of my skills: they were jumping at the chance to have her even without the blogging thing - but it illustrates just how much potential bosses love bloggers, particularly if their blog is vaguely related to the industry they're applying to.

If you're writing a CV and trying to come up with some skills you could demonstrate through your blog, I would go with:
  • commitment
  • social media skills! (seriously, they love this, particularly if you have expertise with stats)
  • photo editing? video editing? HTML manipulation? GIF selection? Whatever it is that you've had to somehow figure out between headdesks in order to make your blog look pretty.
  • you can write things
Hang on, no. I have to expand on that last point.

#2 ~ You get some great writing practice

I've low-key dreamed of being an author / writer / story-making person for a very long time. Imagining things is one of my favourite things to do, I love reading and everyone I know has always encouraged me to write ... but I find the idea of sitting down with a blank word processor not just terrifying, but lonely. I'm getting better now (thanks to the amazing practice that is blogging) but it turns out that I will only sit down and actually write something if I have a deadline and immediate feedback available.


And this doesn't just apply to people who might want to write books in the indeterminate future. Blogging gives us a very specific skill: an ability to write for an audience who have limited time and a lot of possible content out there to read. This skill can be applied everywhere, because you have both adaptability and your own style. Texts. School assignments. Emails (especially ones that are asking for something). You can use it for networking, getting your point across ... missing cat posters ...
In a way, it's not even writing practice. It's communication practice. And if you've figured out a way to live your life in the world without communicating in any way whatsoever, then please let me know.

#3 ~ I don't think there's a better way to learn about your subject

My absolutely encyclopedic knowledge of many, many random things is almost entirely thanks to blogging. Obviously, I can tell you about the current YA market and what's about to release, but also how the publishing industry works, the politics of diversity in media, what it takes to be an author in an ever-changing world ... and a lot of other, much weirder things besides. 

What I think blogging does is two-fold. It exposes you to people and channels chock-full of incredibly specific knowledge and news - stuff that there is no way you just stumble upon - but it also gives you an obsessive enthusiasm for the whole topic. You get introduced to all these people who care about it just as much as you do, and it creates a sort of frenzy in which you all get more and more excited about the whole thing.

We become slightly dangerous, quite honestly.
I was always obsessed with books, otherwise I guess I would never have started this blog in the first place, but what I've been experiencing in the last few years is next level. I never walk into a bookstore without at least three recommendations to sniff out. I always know when my favourite author has a book out. I drag my parents to conventions maybe twice a year.

All this is very book-centric, of course, but it applies everywhere. It's tech bloggers who can tell you exactly what PC to get and why. Fashion bloggers are the ones who know which boutiques to check out. And if you need a great recipe, you'll find something a lot more original by talking to a food blogger rather than a cookbook.

Basically, blogging gives you superpowers. So obviously that's an advantage wherever in the universe you end up.

#4 ~ It gives you an excuse to buy stuff

This actually could be a disadvantage, since having an excuse to buy stuff also means that you buy a lot of stuff. Money-wise, it's probably a bad idea.

But having an excuse to read books also means that I can spend way more time in bookshops than is strictly necessary, pre-order the latest books at extortionate shipping prices in the name of ensuring I am 100% up-to-date, and feel no guilt! I guess strictly I don't need to feel guilt anyway, since it's my money and I can do what I want with it, but it's nice to have justification when the parentals are rolling their eyes at being dragged into yet another room full of shelves.

"Yes, Mum, I do have to go in despite having been in another branch of the exact same shop less than half an hour ago. It's research."

#5 ~ It's ... fun?

Yeah, sounds kind of obvious. But think about this. Having fun doesn't just have short term effects (you know, excessive smiling, the odd peal of laughter, generally being a happy lil' sushi roll) - it also means you're looking after your mental health by making time to do the things you love. In fact, it's kind of impossible not to make time for the bloggersphere - because, never forget, it is EVERYWHERE - and I really love that. It's so easy for a lot of other hobbies to slip away, no matter how much you love them, just because you feel like you can't justify the time required in your already-busy life.

Please don't do that with blogging. Obviously, if it's too much for whatever reason, you can take a break. Don't feel forced to keep going if you aren't enjoying yourself, because that's not beneficial to you, your brain or the people around you. But if you do love it, make time.

There are so many real-world advantages to benefit from!

In the comments: What day-to-day advantages have you discovered being a blogger has given you? Where have you gone that you never would have been able to reach otherwise? And which of these advantages do you think is the most beneficial?
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