A Very Potter Christmas Haul

Potterhead (noun) - either
a) Term used to describe a ridiculously enthusiastic fan of the Harry Potter books series and its various spinoffs
b) Me (and hopefully most of you guys, or else I've seriously misjudged my audience and this post is going to be wildly unnecessary)

I've been spoiled a bit this Christmas.

Family members and friends, you aren't reading this, because I have consciously never mentioned this blog around most of you for fear of endless mockery (or, worse, the risk that you might actually be supportive and read it), but if you were I would thank you. I honestly have not been a good girl at all this year, but you still got me MANY presents.

I'm going to do a more bookish haul at some point, but for now I thought I'd highlight some of the more Potter-y ones. Because they are oh-so pretty pretty pretty.


ITEM #1 - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay
So this is absolutely beautiful and I'm guessing I'm enthusiastic enough about it that you can see my heart eyes through the screen. I mean, there's an entire illustrated double page on various mythical animals and it's wonderful. This is the third one of these illustrated editions that I've got, and yet I have yet to read one all the way through ... because have you seen how heavy these things are? Still, I think for the sake of the beautiful art I think I might at least try.

*glances at spinach with dubious hope*

ITEM #2 - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Hardback Hufflepuff Edition by J.K. Rowling
Considering that, along with my original childhood copy and the illustrated edition I got last year, this is the third edition of Philosopher's Stone I own, it might have been considered a pointless addition to my wish list.

BUT 10 EXTRA PAGES OF HUFFLEPUFF GOSSIP, FRIENDS! Apparently it says something about Sprout and Flitwick dating as teenagers?

I have no regrets. Absolutely none.

ITEMS #3 - #10 - An Unreasonable Number of Potter-Themed Funko Pops

I have a Potter-themed bedroom to decorate, okay? Leave me and my big-headed plastic army in peace!

I'm not kidding, either. I've painted the walls Hufflepuff yellow and it's like sleeping inside the sun, but I love it. Maybe a room tour's on the cards once I finally get it finished?

ITEM #11 - Butterbeer Candle by Crybaby Cuties
Image Credit: Crybaby Cuties Etsy Store
This one wasn't even on my wishlist. I am incredibly impressed with the family members who managed to find this, especially since it IDENTICALLY MATCHES those Hufflepuff-coloured walls in my sun interior room.

And the smell ... it's a heady mix of Christmas and buttercream which smells exactly how I wish those Butterbeer rip-offs at Harry Potter World tasted. I honestly cannot wait to burn this while I'm working - if anything's going to defend me from the debilitating stress that is homework, it's this.

ITEM #12 - Harry Potter, A History of Magic by The British Library
So THIS IS POSSIBLY THE MOST FASCINATING COFFEE-TABLE BOOK I'VE EVER SEEN. Ever. It's based on a Harry Potter exhibition which is on at The British Library at the moment, and basically, it focuses on the real-life history and mythology which inspired Potter's magic system.

It's an absolutely gorgeously illustrated and photographed fusion between sociology and human nature and Harry Potter. Of course I love it. Just in case you need another reason to pay the (admittedly fairly expensive) price, it's organised by Hogwarts subject with celebrity forewords to each chapter. And Steve Backshall does the Care for Magical Creatures one.

(If you didn't grow up in Britain in the late noughties, then that might not be the bombshell I was going for. Here's his Wiki page.)

ITEM #13 - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Illustrated Edition by J.K Rowling and Olivia Lomenech Gill

Seriously. I've never seen any of Gill's illustrations before, and she's done an amazing job of making this look pretty much exactly like a field guide, but with just the right amount of magical spin. The text itself is absolutely hilarious, but it isn't any different to the original Fantastic Beasts, which released in 2007.

Ten years ago, guys. How on earth was that ten years ago?

If any of you are wondering how on earth I managed to find this much collectable Harry Potter merch in one year, well. The UK appears to have just realised that it's the twenty year anniversary of the first book, Philosopher's Stone, being released, and everyone's gone a little bit crazy.

Anyway, that's my haul. I hope you've had some very Happy Holidays, folks - just please don't try and rob me.

In the comments: How was your holiday season, guys? Did you do anything fun? Get anything good? It's been AGES since I've had a chance to talk to any of you, and I genuinely want to hear about how you've been. 
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The Art of Buying Books for Other People

Christmas (noun)
The most wonderful time of the year; would be absolutely magical if it weren't for the month of pure hair-ripping agony that proceeds as you try to buy people presents.

Maybe I'm a pessimist - or overly fussy about buying the right gifts. I'm inclined to believe that my friends and family are just downright impossible to buy for (I'm looking at you, Mother-who-has-everything), but I'm not going to go too far down that road at risk of starting a feud.

If you've ever had a similar dilemma, though, you may appreciate this post. Because as bookworms, we have hour upon hour of blissful experience selecting and buying books ... but buying them for others?

Is that even a thing people do? And how the heck are we supposed to do it?


Step #1 ~ Let go of what YOU would want to read

So ... go with me here. This might mean that you end up buying something for your nearest and dearest that you HAVEN'T ACTUALLY READ.
Please stop hyperventilating.

My point is that different people are always going to have different tastes. You have to come to terms with the fact that sometimes, those tastes do not interact ... at all. Trying to find a book you both like is akin to expecting Donald Trump and Theresa May to agree on Twitter. Except with maybe less chance of a world war.

That isn't to say you can't give your friends and family something you've read and loved if they'll genuinely like it! And you should definitely make sure that you choose something that looks interesting! Just remember that your usual TBR tick list isn't necessarily going to be applicable.

Step #2 ~ Be willing to accept help

You see, this is why physical bookshops are so important. If you find a friendly employee with more experience of your intended giftee's kinda thing, USE THEM. If there's no friendly employee around and you happen to be an adult attempting to buy for a pubescent family member, then you'll probably find me at some point. I rarely make a bookshop trip without managing to attract some sort of lost-looking older person looking for recommendations.
If you're looking online, maybe find a blogger or Goodreads reviewer who seems to have similar tastes to them, or look up the backlist of their favourite author. If you know a couple of books they've read and enjoyed, What Should I Read Next? is a resource to try. Only problem is that you've got to use a pretty well-known title for it to actually work, so it isn't a cure-all solution.

My point is - do your research, punks!

Step #3 ~ Avoid the most well-known books

I'm guessing the majority of loved ones you'll be buying for aren't going to have a Goodreads account. If they do, then honestly I don't know why you're bothering to read this - just go buy their To-Read list.

(Yes. All of it. You can get a loan for buying thousands of books, right?)
As long as they don't, then you have no way to absolutely ensure that they haven't read a book. Sorry. But if you want to try and find something they're unlikely to already own, then don't go for anything on the bestseller list - especially if they're a voracious reader. This sounds simple enough, but if you're following step one and going for a genre that you don't usually read, then you might not know which books are widely read.

Again, research is key. But ...

Step #4 ~ Don't spend too much time on this, yeah?

Given that it's the second week in December, I can concede that you probably don't have hours and hours to spend on this whole enterprise. I'm guessing you're going for a book because you can get free delivery on Amazon and still have it within a couple of days. But I'm going to give you the tip anyway, because if you spend too long searching for the perfect book ... well.

The thing to remember is that the graph representing time spent searching for gift and quality of gift doesn't necessarily look like this:
You're probably already exhausted. It's nearly Christmas, you've been planning the next couple of weeks for the last couple of months, and this is the thirteenth - or thirtieth - difficult gift you've tried to procure in the last four days. 

If you spend more than thirty-five or forty minutes scrolling through book lists or traipsing through local bookshops, your desperation will be building with every passing second and your gifting standards will drop with every bite of your fingernails. Keep your head clear. Find the first thing that you believe will work.

Congratulations. You just bought a book.
In the comments: Have you ever tried to buy a book for a loved one for Christmas? How was it - child's play? Akin to trying to outsmart Stephen Hawking? Or somewhere in between?
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How to Beat Boredom As A Bookworm

Do you have days when you don't know what to do? When you're just sort of zombieing around in a state of utter, utter boredom and feel like you're wasting your life? When you don't even feel like reading?

(You'd better, or I'm going to feel even worse.)
Never fear, bookworms! Right now, I'm on my summer holidays, which means that I am an absolute expert at fending off boredom in the most bookish of ways. I have ideas you can use at a moment's notice with access to the internet or maybe some books, and also some that might require some planning and - maybe - leaving the house. No, really. You should listen to me anyway.
You wouldn't want to end up like Sherlock now, would you?

Go to a bookshop and recommend reads to anyone who will listen

This, ladies and gentlemen, is excellent fun. And only a little bit creepy.

The first time I ever did it, I did not intend to. I was just looking to spend all my money as sacrifice to the reading gods. But when a woman came in with two young children and started looking for Percy Jackson books under J as if Percy was the author . . .

I had to say SOMETHING.

Then there was the time I was at the library and a (different) woman dragged her son over to me and asked if I thought he was old enough to read the Alex Rider book he had clutched in his hand. (I can only imagine that, since I was rearranging a shelf that was annoying me, she assumed a worked there.) It was surprisingly satisfying to tell her that, seeing as he'd read Harry Potter, he should be ok, but he was holding the fourth book in the series. I handed her the first one and made my exit.

I guess if you don't feel comfortable doing this, you could just go to the library or bookshop to read. Go ahead. Be normal if you dare.

Plan a party based on your favourite book

Pinterest will be full of ideas for you on this one. Just search "Harry Potter party ideas" or "Lord of the Rings party ideas" or pretty much anything else, and you will be swamped with snack recipes, ideas for decorations and party games. It's a wormhole. You will literally be lost in it for hours, to the point where everything is almost too entertaining. Plan costumes, party bags, and pretty much whatever else you want.

You don't have to actually have the party, of course. That's far too much work in my opinion (but then I'm a nerd who prefers planning things to actually doing them) and you actually need friends who won't stand in the corner reading a book the whole time.

Volunteer at your local library

There is literally no bad side to spending days when you would have been bored working at a library. I mean for a start, you're no longer bored, and you get to spend hours a day surrounded by books. Most libraries, especially small ones, are pretty much always in need of help thanks to the ever-present budget cut, so you're even helping keep afloat the library that is probably supporting your book addiction more than anything else. YAY for aiding the local community (but mostly yourself)!

I know, I'm a selfish and terrible human being. You don't need to tell me again.


I can't believe I'm saying this, but YALC, the UK young adult lit convention, is this weekend - and as of right now, they've still got tickets available! If you can get yourself to London, you can see over eighty authors (full list here), including Malorie Blackman, Holly Bourne, and Maggie Steifvater. There's also a full timetable of writing workshops, and an agent arena where you can hear talks about the publishing industry, or even pitch your work to an agent in a 1-2-1 session.

It's just occurred to me that you might be reading this after YALC 2016 has finished. (Poor you.) Never mind! There are all kinds of book festivals and conventions out there that you could go to. Just spend an hour or two researching online, and you'll forget why you were reading this post.

Set yourself a reading challenge

Sure. There are loads of challenges out there online that you could join in with, but where's the creative fun in that? Besides, some study somewhere has probably shown that humans are more likely to achieve goals they've set themselves.

Just to give you an idea, I've always thought it'd be fun to use a book tag, answering the questions with books on my TBR rather than ones I've already read.

You might not be all that surprised by Friday's post.

Make some bookish crafts

There's all kind of art that can show off your love of books.

Paint the first page of your favourite book on a wall! Make stickers to put in your books so everyone knows they're yours! Create as many bookmarks as humanly possible! Again, Pinterest is great at coming up with ideas for this, especially if you're willing to (take a deep breath here) cut up books and use the pieces for your art. No? Okay. *backs away slowly from rabid bookworms*

Or, if like me you have absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever, you could always buy some pretty things on Etsy and pretend you made them.

Organise your bookshelf

If you've ever even approached the great sparkly being that is Bookstagram, you'll notice that many people's shelves look like rainbows of impossible beauty. The secret? They're organised by colour.

But that's not the only way to go, you guys! Books can be shelved by author, by genre, by length or subject or even how much you enjoyed them. Go wild finding ways to make them look pretty, or easier to find.


While you're taking books off the shelf, do you think it might be time to get rid of some? WAIT, DON'T BITE MY HEAD OFF! I'm merely suggesting that you could make room for more? It's up to you, but Amber @ The Mile Long Bookshelf wrote this really awesome post on how to root out stuff you don't really need and then what to do with it afterwards.

In the comments: When do you normally get bored? What do you like to do to beat it? And are there any non-book-related things that help?
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A Thousand Pieces of You Review

As the daughter of two brilliant physicists, Marguerite Caine grew up surrounded by wild scientific theories, always encouraged to imagine the improbable or even the impossible. But when her father is murdered, Marguerite’s life is turned upside down. All the evidence points to one person – Paul, her parents’ handsome, enigmatic protégé. Before the law can touch him, though, Paul uses Marguerite’s mother’s latest invention – a device called the Firebird, which allows people to leap into alternate dimensions – to escape.
With the help of another physics student, Theo, Marguerite chases Paul through various dimensions, determined to avenge her father. Her parents theorised that people who have met in one reality will be likely to meet in another … that key moments will happen over and over, in different ways. But when Marguerite leaps into each new world, she meets another version of Paul that has her doubting his guilt and questioning her heart. Before long she realises that what happened to her father may be more complex, and more sinister, than she ever dreamed.
First off - why on earth is this the only book I've ever read about inter-dimensional travel? The whole premise is just so original and brilliant and has so much scope. 

Oh wait. Another book about dimensional travel wouldn't have the same originality, would it?

Because ... it just makes the book a kaleidoscope of different settings and genres - you know how much we all love a well-built fantasy world? Well this book has three. Three! I don't want to spoil anything for you, but I've never seen the inside of a Palace from a Sci-Fi book. Especially not a Sci-Fi book that has also given me a beautifully real contemporary setting with brilliantly individual characters, and a technologically awesome-

Urgh. No. The mere existence of any of these parallel universes is a spoiler. I really need to stop talking to you about them. What else can I possibly talk about?

Oh, I know. Characters. As a creative black sheep in a scientific family, I couldn't help but identify with Marguerite, the painter who grew up in a physics-saturated household. I usually don't like changeable characters, especially those with love triangles to deal with, but I guess we'd all be a little bit changeable if we had to jump into different versions of ourselves. It's a pretty good excuse, I'll give her that.

As for quiet, intense Paul and flirty, ever-so-slightly-arrogant Theo, the love interests, I'm so glad they were well-written. They were both developed to the point where I honestly didn't have a team - not to the extent that I was annoyed at Marguerite for her confusion, anyway. Plus the boys genuinely cared about each other - no thinly-veiled hatred that made the love triangle more of a V.

I'm really hoping you know what I mean by a love V because I don't know how else to explain it. 

Marguerite's family had all three things a main character's family need to be realistic and brilliant in a YA novel. 1) They existed and actually had some page time; 2) Her parents had tangible, multi-faceted personalities, and 3) they were actually properly individual.

Sorry, maybe my boundaries were unfairly low there. But you get my point about it being refreshing (not to mention downright AWESOME) to see a well thought-out and described family in non-contemporary YA, right?
Hmm ... plot. It was very twisty-turny, which I found majorly exciting - especially when combined with all the dimension-hopping - but it meant that the characters weren't working to a consistent goal the whole time. I barely even noticed, to be honest, but you might get annoyed by it, so consider this a warning if you get fed up with that sort of thing.

In conclusion: parallel universes = many many vivid settings from many genres wrapped up in one beautifully original package, and a love triangle I don't actually get frustrated by because the characters are all great. GIVE IT A SHOT, OKAY?

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The Keeper of Portals Review (In A LIST! How EXCITING!)

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

So ... V.S. Nelson's The Keeper of Portals releases tomorrow.

Yeah. Up until a few months ago, I didn't know what it was either - but I now know, ladies and gentlemen. It is a fantasy-adventure story about a pair of teenagers who discover not only that the world and everything within it is controlled by Keepers - from the Keeper of Buttons to the Keeper of Causality - but also that these Keepers are being kidnapped.

Which could result in, you know, the entire world crumbling in on itself.
It turned out that I rather enjoyed this, but I'm guessing you might want to know about my opinion in more detail, being the demanding little things that you are, so I made you a list review. Please enjoy it.

Things I enjoyed and would like to cheer about:
  • Isabel. ISABEL. I have so much love for her and her particular brand of 16th century sassiness - she's so brave and smart and incredible.
  • Also loads of girl power on Isabel's part. Huzzah.
  • It took me a while to warm to Martin, but once I did, I saw the truth. He is a cheeky, protective little cinnamon roll and I love him for it.
  • The whole book was just delightfully, unashamedly weird, as all good portal fantasy should be, and - although it took me a while to adjust - I ended up loving that uniqueness.
  • I JUST SHIP MARTIN + ISABEL SO HARD. Misabel? Isartin? I don't have a ship name, but at this point I don't particularly care. (As for whether or not I have canon, well. You'll have to find out.)
  • That ENDING. It HURT. In a frankly amazing way, of course.

Things I did not like so much, thank you:
  • It seemed to take forever to get going. The first two or three chapters seemed to be solely made up of Martin's internal monologue, and WOW it dragged. 
  • Obviously I don't want to say too much, but there were some magical powers involved. I've nothing against magic in general, and mostly it was fine? It just got overly convenient at times ... as you can imagine, I rolled my eyes a little.
  • Martin and Isabel were supposed to be about fifteen. They did not read like fifteen year olds. I don't know exactly why? Maybe it's because the plot and it's lovely wackiness feeling more middle grade? But at times I got confused and had to remind myself of their age.

In summary - don't go into this book expecting a full-blown YA fantasy, because that's not what it is. You'll be disappointed. But if you enjoy MG-style, wacky fantasy with historical elements, squeeworthy (and squeaky clean) will-they-won't-they romance, and kickass, loyal characters, you're in the right place.

If you would like a synopsis, here is one of those. Never say I'm not generous.
Everything in the universe is maintained by its own keeper, from the most insignificant insect to time itself. When 15 year-old Martin moves into a stately home that’s dangerously overhanging a cliff, he meets the Keeper of Portals and learns of the mysterious door at the end of his bedroom.
    One morning, Martin wakes to discover the Keeper of Portals is missing and the door at the end of his bedroom is open. Martin steps through the door to find himself in the 17th century where he meets Isabel, the house’s maid. Upon discovering two imprisoned keepers, Martin and Isabel gain the ability to control time and travel through portals. 
    After being attacked by hordes of brainwashed villagers, Martin and Isabel learn that the master of the house has a devious plan, one the keepers are powerless to stop. Martin and Isabel must jump between the present day and the 17th century in order to hide from the twisted master, avoiding past versions of themselves, as powerful keepers thwart them at every turn. But as items from the future begin to bleed into the past and the present day is plagued by malfunctioning portals, Martin and Isabel’s only option is to confront the master – the Keeper of Questions.
(via Goodreads)

In the comments: Do you like a list-based review, or do you prefer more traditional ones? Does this book sound like your sort of thing? Why or why not?
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5 Simple Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

You have this important piece of work to get done. Or maybe six. There's a big deadline looming, you've got the whole day ahead of you to work as hard as you can - and do you know what? It isn't even that difficult. You've done stuff like it before, and you'll probably have to do it again at some point.

But as you stare at your blank computer screen, you can just feel yourself twitching. Your hand moves, almost of its own accord, and suddenly there's a new tab on the horizon. That new tab, within seconds, has wandered over to Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and goodness knows what else.

The situation is so dire that after about half an hour, you find yourself reading some random post about how to get work done. Because reading about it is practically doing it, right?

Wrong. But if you're here, I might as well give you some tips:

#1 ~ Use ambient noise

Yes, I can see the weird look you're giving me right now. It's pretty obvious even through the screen. But however weird it sounds when I tell you that silence can be distracting, I'm going to need you to try listening to some computer generated sounds in the background next time you work - and no, I don't mean your favourite YouTube channel or the latest episode of Sherlock.

Not that I can remember a time when there was a latest episode of Sherlock to watch, but you get what I mean.

I tend to use RainyMood.com, which I love mostly because of its simplicity. All you have to do is enter the URL, wait a few seconds for it to load, and hit play - there's no need to go anywhere near YouTube, which frankly I don't have the willpower to do -  and it's also on a handy half-hour loop, so when the sounds stop for a few seconds, it's a great time to get up, stretch and take a break from whatever it is you've been doing.

If rain isn't your thing, then you could also go for white noise, bird calls, or even whale song. Classical music is also great provided you aren't the kind of person who's going to spend hours finding the exact right piece to fit your mood.

Having a variety of sounds is also really useful because, after a few months of using the same one, I've found that my brain gets kind of used to the noise and it doesn't work as well. I resorted to some Mozart for a few days when that happened last time, and now I'm back on my lovely rain noises.

#2 ~ Get out of the house

You may not be surprised to learn that I am currently typing this post from the World and Family History section of my local library. It's nice for a lot of reasons, but I think the main motivator for me right now is that I've made the effort. I got up early, dragged my Dad out of bed in order to drive me here, and now I'm actually taking up a valuable study table - I find it very difficult to justify doing all that only to get sucked into YouTube, if I'm honest.

Another thing I love about libraries in particular is the air of concentration. Being surrounded by other people working just as hard always spurs me on to work; I don't know quite why I've decided that everyone else would somehow know if I was procrastinating and judge me for it, but the feeling does tend to make me type quickly.

Don't forget - libraries are by no means the only place you can go to work! If they make you uncomfortable or are too far away or you're just looking for a more casual vibe, then school study centres or even local cafes can be of great assistance.

#3 ~ Shut that computer!

This, not-so-shockingly, is the one tip I haven't managed to put into practice while blogging today - which goes to show that it's not always possible. That said, you should always find a way to try, because it can be really, really effective provided that you manage to resist the waves of temptation coming off your lovely shiny laptop for an hour or two. I'm that bad at self-control that I've been known to convince a friend to hide it from me, and only reveal its location once I can provide them with evidence of finished homework or whatever.

They take far too much joy in frustrating me, if I'm honest. It's a tad worrying.

The thing to remember about this tip is that you can use it a lot more often than you think. I do most of my schoolwork / blog stuff / world domination online these days too, but I can always find odd bits of a task that can be done by hand, be that planning, writing out a rough draft, or even (shock horror) doing research with actual books! Spend some time figuring out exactly what you can do, and ... do it.

Basically, anything that allows you to get started while avoiding even the possibility of procrastination online is always worth it in the end.

#4 ~ Use Fighter's Block

Fighter's Block is a free, in-browser piece of writing software which turns your word processor into a video game. You enter a word goal, choose a character and monster, then - FIGHT!

For every word you take out of the goal, your monster's health bar drops further - and for every moment you're not typing, it takes a little bit of health out of your character. There are so many tiny things I love about this software, from the animation (which is simple enough not to distract you from what you're writing, but cute enough to spur you on) to the ability to choose different characters (so I can keep my blogging separate from my school work and my school work separate from my writing) to the fact that you can actually change the monster's speed and attack strength based on how quickly you're able to type.
This particular feature was really helpful for me because my disability makes my fine motor skills kind of funky, so I struggle to type as quickly as a lot of people. But the custom difficulty really does make it possible to defeat as many monsters as I please.

Oh, and did I mention that achieving your word goal adds XP to your character? The more words you've written in the past, the more points you get - and points = levels, so ...

If I'm being completely honest, the only thing that convinced me to start writing this post today was the possibility of another thousand points.

#5 ~ Just. Get. Started.

In the end, it literally makes no difference how much time you've spent looking up the perfect combination of classical music and pattering raindrops, or how many miles you've travelled to find your ideal studying location, if all you're going to do is sit there, listening, and stare into space. Or surf Twitter.

Please trust me here when I say that I absolutely get how hard it is (I'm speaking from literally hours of personal experience) and I'm not judging you for it in any way whatsoever. But if you want to get finished, then you're going to have to get started.

Write a word. Now write another word. Now, try a sentence! Good. You're on a roll. Don't stop until you've done what you wanted to, and if you really have to get up to use the toilet or something, stop slap-bang in the middle of a sentence. Then you'll at least have something to pick up from when you get back.

Now what are you still doing on the internet? Bookmark my blog and get out of here!

In the comments: Do you have any preferred techniques for avoiding procrastination? Or have you tried any of these? Please - I think I have a problem, and I'm desperately in need of techniques!
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Why I (A Voracious Reader) Hate English Lit.

DISCLAIMER: This post was written a little over six months ago: I was stressed, I didn't really know what I was doing when it came to reading critically, and mostly I was just fed up with having to explain Shakespeare to my desk partner when I didn't really get it myself.

Call me crazy, but this year I'm applying to do English Lit at college. Voluntarily. All I'm saying is that your relationship with a subject can change drastically if you start looking at things from a different angle, and I'd feel hypocritical if I didn't acknowledge that.

I'm probably making myself a bit of a black sheep within the community here, but I feel like it's time to come clean:

I really, really hate English Lit.

It's terrible, I know, because English Lit is, quite LITerally (hardy hardy ha ... I like my puns, okay?) reading made into a qualification. In theory, I should love it. It should be my favourite thing. I should run into that lesson - which, joy of joys, I get to have FOUR TIMES A WEEK - with my face split in a grin and my notes at the ready.

But ... meh.

I can practically hear the English Lit students about to stone my windows, so I guess I'm going to have to justify myself. Here goes:

#1 ~The reading style is super, super awkward.

I genuinely can't think of another aspect of life in which we read like an organised literature class, and this is probably for good reason. Where else would you carry a book to read only in a certain setting with certain other people, read in tiny short bursts, and then get wrenched from the page to discuss constantly, at the whim of somebody else? Where else would we be expected to form a critic's-level opinion immediately after finishing, and be able to present it to others?

It has to be this way, of course - English Lit requires you to get a lot more information out of a book than you would reading for pleasure, and having to come up with opinions on the fly does help in high-pressure exam situations. But I'm not built for reading a book over a series of weeks or even months: I find myself forgetting details, not to mention the fact that it makes getting immersed in a setting or burrowing into a character's head incredibly difficult. And trying to keep it all in my head long enough to get a handle on over-reaching themes?

Forget it.

#2 ~ The pressure makes relaxation pretty much impossible

If you ask a reader why they enjoy reading, most of us will say something along the lines of 'it's relaxing'. I mean, I don't know how true this is - sobbing over character death is the very definition of stressful - but opening a book does tend to give me a feeling of calm.

Apparently, when I'm being marked on my efforts, that feeling pretty much flies out the window.

I was working on one of my set texts today, and quite frankly even reaching for it gave me a sense of dread. I try to keep the stress out of my mind as much as possible, but I often catch myself worrying that I haven't interpreted something the best way, that my notes aren't detailed enough to be helpful during revision, and then I remember that these quotes I'm analysing are all going to have to be memorised by exam time.


Granted, this pressure isn't an absolutely necessary part of the studying process, but I am one of the worst people I know when it comes to self-expectation and stress. And, no matter what I do, it's always worst in English Lit.

#3 ~ I don't get to choose what I read

What do you mean I can't DNF this book? Not even if I throw it at my teacher's head?

*throws hands up in derision*

#4 ~ I worry about disappointing my teachers

I want to be clear that my feelings about English Lit are not down to bad teaching of any description. My teachers are awesome.

The thing is that when an amazing teacher is presenting something to a class, they are doing it in an absolutely amazing manner. Their arms are moving around everywhere, they know exactly how to explain a complicated concept so that it makes sense to a bunch of hormonal teenagers, and I know that if I went up there and tried it, I'd be falling flat on my face.

It's a fact of life in a wheelchair (and life as an incredibly conscientious if seething student) that I end up in the front row pretty much all of the time - in most classrooms, that's almost directly under the teacher's nose. And I don't know about you, but if I was one of these incredible teachers, I'd be pretty downtrodden by someone right in front of me looking like they wanted to jump out of the window. Especially if they were the kind of person for which jumping is an interesting exercise to begin with.

So I have to look engaged, which I absolutely, desperately want to be. It's just that swallowing stress about whether or not I'm going to remember any of a lesson is an involved enough process without having to plaster a smile on my face as well.

#5 ~ Listening to other students' opinions can suck

This is, unfortunately, one of my incredibly anti-social "ugh, people" moments. I'm sorry. And if you're in my Lit class, you probably know what I mean.

It's not that I dislike listening to other people's opinions in general. Class discussions are, if nothing else, an excellent way to steal great interpretations of text. But - and this is true of every lesson I have, not just English Lit - any classroom will always be filled with its fair share of Those People.

And Those People, in my considerable experience, really really don't like being told how to interpret anything. In order to get out their deep and intense frustration, they use class discussions to do what it is they do best: disagree with everything everyone else says.

If you are one of Those People, then fine. I completely understand that English Lit is as much about coming up with your own theories as it is learning the more established ones, but teachers tell us the most common interpretations of a book to HELP us. From a purely theoretical viewpoint, if you're going to take a poem written from the point of view of a controlling (and eventually murderous) husband and argue that the wife's death is her own fault because you think it's been taught in a biased way, I'm gonna be cross. Particularly if you use the phrase "she deserved it".

What do you mean, that was an oddly specific theoretical example? Just don't look at it too closely! I've got to go now, anyway.

In the comments: How do you guys feel about English Lit.? Do you feel similarly, or am I going to have to deal with an angry literature fan? Why do you think you feel the way you do?
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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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