Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Land of Dragor Book One / The Gift of Charms by Julia Suzuki // Review

Luckily for Julia Suzuki, who kindly offered me a free transcript of her new dragon-themed children's book The Gift of Charms for review back in August; I really enjoyed it. Unluckily for Julia, it is now November. Sorry about that, if you're reading. I got around to it eventually!

HOW CUTE WAS THIS BOOK. The Gift of Charms covers the coming of age of the main character Yoshiko, through everything from learning how to "make flames," friends, and take to the skies. You or your child will learn a little, although nothing too complex, about dragon history and the dragon clans (separated by their colour and abilities) which exist within Dragor. Adorable, right? Within a few chapters I was actually envious that I was never read stories about dragons as a child. Saying that, I don't think at all that this book should be read to a child, as much as by a child. I think the language, vocabulary and writing style in this book is such that it could be read independently as a child's first full-length book; if they are at an age to take this step. The cover illustration is completely charming and something I think a little girl or boy would be very proud to own.

Having grown up watching films like Eragon, TV shows like Game of Thrones (though that's more of a recent development), and playing games like Spyro, the appeal of dragons to my generation seems almost limitless. I have a feeling books like this and those to follow in The Land of Dragor series are going to stir up those same feelings of admiration in the next generation of children - especially with the possibility of dragsaurs (evil hybrid dinosaurs and dragons) cropping up later in the series. Suzuki and the publishers insist that the book exists for people "of all ages" to read, and whilst I as a seventeen year old girl vastly apprieciated the opportunity to read such a lovely nostalgia-inducing story, I maintain that it should and probably will be predominantly read by children around eight and ten years old. Yoshiko himself at the beginning of the book is "ten winters old".

My thanks go out to Julia for giving me the opportunity to review a book like this among all my gruelling college texts.

Rating for those my age: 2 stars
Rating for children: 3 1/2 stars

Friday, 12 September 2014

A Different Day

So I see all of these YouTubers vlogging their days when they do something different - something that they don't do daily - and whilst I too, love vlogging, my camera is about 200 years old so I'm just gonna write about today. *SHOCK! HORROR!*

Steve is someone I met at NCS, who I try to maintain regular contact with. However, spending time together can sometimes be difficult as he lives in Alvaston and I live near Alfreton. Our usual meet-up point is Derby, where we play pool and go for a bite to eat, but even Derby is almost an hour away for me to get to by bus (not to mention expensive). In light of this, Steve decided that he would catch a couple of buses to Alfreton, so that I wouldn't have to travel! It turned out to be a nice little adventure.

 We were going to eat where my family usually has dinner, in a cute little cafĂ© that's been there, like, forever, but instead he decided he'd like to go to a pub. We prefered the look of the Blue Bell Inn to the others nearby it, so that's where we picked. Being 17, almost 18, and underage to drink, I did feel a bit like a fish out of water for a while, and I was also a bit worried people might mistake us for a couple, but once we sat down the atmosphere was lovely - everybody in there was laughing at the smoke alarm that kept going off recurrently (due to checks) after we'd ordered our burgers, and the old guy who shouted out, "EVERYBODY OUT!!!" each time it happened. That said, I'm sure Steve would have been happier with a Kopparberg in hand, if he hadn't have forgotten his ID. Our burgers came to us after a reasonable wait; although they certainly gave us time to chat; and luckily, they weren't anywhere near burnt. The meal, consisting of two main courses, a starter to share, and two Coca Colas, came to the respectable total of £13 - around the same amount as it would take to feed one person at TGI Friday's, Steve mentioned. We both agreed we enjoyed our meal, the atmosphere, and the decor, and I thought to myself that I really should travel around a bit more and eat in new places.

We were going to toddle off to the Snooker Club near my house, but suddenly I had the urge to go bowling (probably because we always play pool and I wanted to do something a little different) so we walked down the street to Genesis, where I used to have offsite P.E lessons. We pretty much had the place to ourselves. We played a couple of games, which also cost £13 overall. I seemed to get worse throughout the game - I was better at first when the guy running the place (who seemed very nice and happy to chat) was helping me out. I won the first set, but Steve thrashed me on the second. 

After that, I felt a bit drained; not so much physically as emotionally. I suddenly didn't want to talk, even though he'd done nothing wrong, and all I wanted to do was relax at home. I wonder if anyone else sometimes feels that way. We got a bus into my village, because I didn't want to leave straight away when he'd made so much effort to come out. We had a little walk through the park and got him a drink before I took him to the bus stop.

That was a couple of hours ago, and I'm still feeling rather drained and unhappy - even though I shouldn't because I really enjoyed the new experiences! I just really need college to start back up, to take my mind off things. Sorry about the kinda sad ending guys! As always, thanks for reading :*

Meaghan xoxox

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

\\ My August Favourites 2014! //

Can you believe we've reached the end of Summer and I'll soon be back at college? Oh, my. But still, in the holidays I've had a lot of time to rediscover some old loves and find some new ones!

Rediscovering Old Loves
1) First on this list is my old scrapbook! For those of you who don't know, I've kept a scrapbook since I was 11 - although for some years it was lost at my Grandma's after she did some "moving around" at her place. However, I continued to keep all of my gig tickets, cinema tickets, any newspaper cuttings with me in, any event pamphlets, cute little notes from family members... anything like that... so that when it was eventually found again I wouldn't have missed anything. It was found this week and I was so excited to top it up again! I'm yet to find a few gig tickets that have gone walkies but I'm sure they'll show up sometime. Scrapbooks are a great way to ensure you remember all those happy moments when you need a pick-me-up. My scrapbook is called 'A Few Of My Favourite Things' and you can find it with the ISBN: 978-1-84510-775-8. I'll be sure to upload some cute photos once there's enough light in my home to take pictures...

2) Second in Old Loves is/are pizza bagels! I had a miserable time at my old secondary school, but the one thing I can commend it for is the mistake they made with my 'free school dinners'. I never applied for free school dinners, nor do I know whether I was even eligible for them, but for some reason every day they would put a small amount of money onto my 'fingerprint' account. Maybe there was a mix-up or something. But still, it wasn't doing anybody any harm so I used to buy my favourite snack - a pizza bagel - at break-time every day, and sometimes snacks for my friends/ex-boyfriend with the leftover money. I haven't been a secondary school student for well over a year, and unfortunately pizza bagels were a luxury I had to live without when I went up to college. Until now! My dad buys me bagels from the co-op every week, and I add tomato puree and a bit of cheese... stick 'em in the oven at Gas Mark 7 for 6 minutes and there you have it - your very own (orgasmic) pizza bagel.

3) The final thing in my Old Loves category is Doctor Who! Peter Capaldi, the 12th Doctor, and Series 8 hit our screens in August and I have to say, I loved it! In places the effects have been a little shabby and Capaldi doesn't crack a smile very often (at all) but I am loving the underlying plot of Heaven/paradise this year. I also feel like, now such a huge personality like Matt Smith has left, that there's finally room for Clara to come into her own. Instead of just being Eleven's companion, it's like she's can finally able to be independent and make her own life choices. Also, I'm very intrigued by the characters of Mr. Pink and Missy. Mr. Pink has killed someone who wasn't a soldier - but who? Could Missy really be the TARDIS in human form (rumours of this first sparked when she called the Doctor her "boyfriend")? And why are only certain, specific members of the newly dead taken to Heaven - why not all of the deceased characters? I guess we'll just have to find out...

Newly-Discovered Favourites
1) Number one in my newly-discovered favourites is another popular TV show... but this time American... Breaking Bad. When Jayson (my best friend) sat me down to watch the pilot episode over a year ago, I never imagined I'd get to liking it this much. I started watching from Series 1 Episode 2 in August, and I'm now nearing the middle of Series 2. It's so hard to watch a program like this without it being spoiled by those who've already seen it though! I think what I like most about it is the unique storyline - I mean, here in the UK we have the NHS, so we could never produce a show like Breaking Bad. But, my, has America made a good job of it. I now see what all the hype about Aaron Paul's acting was about.

2) Second on this list is gigs galore! What I mean by this is the amount of gigs I've been able to get tickets for lately, or just the ones that are coming up soon. I get to see the Lee Evans Monsters tour with a few of my best friends this weekend - let's hope we don't get lost in Nottingham... but that's not even the best part! I also have tickets to see Asking Alexandria (with some very special guests) in October for Jayson's birthday, not to mention that my dad's bought me tickets for the You Me At Six and All Time Low co-headline tour for my own birthday! It doesn't stop there... this Friday I may even be getting tickets for A Day To Remember's All Signs Point To Britain Tour!!! If that's possible it will be the best gig I've ever been to. I am beyond excited for all of them.

3) Third is Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, which was undoubtedly the highlight of my family's holiday in Norfolk; yet somewhere I'd never heard of before. I've been to a lot of zoos and things like that, but Thrigby Hall was so laidback and relaxing. My dad got to fufill his dream of being up and close with tigers and all kinds of leopards - thanks to the amazing walkways they've put through the centre. All wildlife centres should have those walkways. Red pandas were allowed to roam free in the trees without an enclosure which allowed visitors to see firsthand the animals' sense of happiness and freedom. We also discovered our love of Lar Gibbons there, which are monkeys that have a hilarious 'duet' with their families around midday. Hopefully, I can get a video up of that at some point. I had the best time.

4) A couple of films I really enjoyed in the cinema this month were Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy. I went into Dawn with relatively low expectations. Its predecessor, Rise, being one of my favourite films, I thought there was no way they could top it. But they did! The emotion in Dawn is so powerful. There's twists and turns everywhere and it really hits you. You really care about these characters. They become real. In contrast, at the cinema watching Guardians, I was so aware I was watching a movie. But that didn't matter because it was hilarious. And the soundtrack was so different. Both films are well worth a watch. Watch Dawn when you're feeling philosophical, and save Guardians for when you need a laugh.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The One You Love by Paul Pilkington (#1 in the Emma Holden series) // Review

"Days before their wedding, Emma Holden's fiance has gone missing. Not only has Dan disappeared without a trace, his brother is found beaten and left for dead. Suspicion for the attempted murder falls on Dan - but Emma refuses to believe his guilt. When crime scene photos get splashed across the pages of the London tabloids, Emma knows that someone is following her. Watching her. It is an old, familiar feeling. A long hidden family secret seems to unite Emma's troubled past with her dangerous present. As time runs out, Emma's trust in her family, her friends and Dan, faces an ultimate test."

The One You Love began as an e-book, but sold so successfully (even hitting the number one spot) that it has since been published in paperback this year by Hodder and Stoughton, who were kind enough to send me a copy as part of Goodreads First Reads. I am not contractually required, nor have I been asked, to write a review, but it feels good to repay them in some way and I can assure you that my opinions in this post are 100% honest.

The drama begins almost instantaneously in this book; there's certainly no dilly-dallying! Whilst this can be great for some readers, I thought the fact that Dan's disappearance was introduced so quickly made the storyline a bit less conceivable. Maybe this is personal - I just felt that I needed maybe a few more pages to fall into the story and connect with the characters. Of course, it's great for people who like a story to start right away. Reading further on, there isn't a dull moment. The book is written in third person, which I seem to be able to tolerate more now than I did when I was younger. Emma is the main character, of course, and is usually present within each chapter, but there are some chapters dedicated to other characters and their suspicious behaviour. Sometimes, you don't even know who the person is yet - so the bigger picture is hard to piece together at first, but it all comes together well in the end.

One thing I liked about The One You Love is that Pilkington reveals important information evenly throughout the book, which is why I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who commutes regularly, maybe by train. Even if your journey only lasts twenty minutes, you'll definitely get to a part where you learn something new, or more evidence comes to light. I was definitely inclined to finish the book quickly and I probably would have finished in one sitting if I didn't have things to get on with. Instead, it took me two sittings, and I definitely enjoyed the read. You can tell the storyline has been well thought out. There are so many layers to it that, by the end, you realise you had no chance of ever realising it went so deep - and you'll be kicking yourself when you finally realise who the kidnapper is!

Rating: 3 stars
Perfect for travelling!

A big thank you goes to Hodder and Stoughton! And to my readers, you can find me on Goodreads here:

Vanished by Tim Weaver (#3 in the David Raker series) // Review

"For millions of Londoners, the morning of the 16th December is just like any other. But not for Sam Wren. An hour after leaving home, he gets on to a Tube train - and never gets off again. No witnesses. No trace of him on security cameras. Six months later, he's still missing. Sam's wife hires David Raker to track him down, but in this case the secrets go deeper than anyone imagined. For, as Raker starts to suspect that even the police are lying to him, someone is watching."

Vanished, the third book in the David Raker series, was given to me as a Christmas present from my mum, who (bless her) doesn't really know much about my taste in books. So, after unwrapping the book from the paper and having a skim through the blurb, it was placed on my bookshelf - an anomaly against my otherwise Young Adult collection - for some time. One day, when I finally decided to read it, I actually found myself enjoying it. Now I'm a little bit more grateful that my mum doesn't really know which books I'll enjoy best, because I end up with ones I wouldn't normally read. David Raker is an ex-journalist turned private detective; a man who has lost his wife to cancer, dedicated to finding the missing. But it all comes at a cost. Sam is a man that many believed to be 'squeaky clean', but could he have been wrapped up in something much darker than anyone expected? As Raker hunts him down and gets deeper and deeper into the case, everything becomes more and more unclear until soon enough.. Raker may be hunting a murderer.

From the start, the storyline sucks you in. Where is Sam? How did he get off the train? Why did he leave his wife? Unfortunately for us, Weaver, a master of pacing and misdirection, denies us the answers for hundreds of pages. Every unexpected event is closely related with another; so much so that I probably can't reveal any more about the plot than I already have, without bringing the entire thing down. The search leads Raker (and you) everywhere, to places and characters you'd never expect. I think that would prove true for long-term Tim Weaver fans who have read the previous David Raker books, too. Vanished was my first Tim Weaver read, but I didn't feel that it hindered me in any way. It can be read as a stand-alone. I would very much recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading from crime/mystery/thriller genres, or if you just fancy something different and jam-packed with tension. You don't have to be Chief of Police to understand what's going on, either. It's easy enough to get your head around even if you're new to the genre - but at the same time, you don't feel like you're losing brain cells as you're reading it. But be warned... the action continues until the very last page...

Rating: 4 stars
A great read! The only thing it lacks is star quality and hype.

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Monday, 11 August 2014

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini // Review

~Not spoiler-free~

I was looking through the books in Waterstones with some friends when Jack (whose blog you can find here) recommended me this book. He said it was one of his favourites and I had heard him talk about how sad he was to hear about the author's untimely death. It seemed like an intriguing story, it was most different from what I usually read, and there was only one copy left on the shelves. At the sight of all the other books on offer, I hesitated for a moment, but ended up adding it to my collection. All I knew upon opening the first page was that it's about depression and suicide, but by the end I recognised just how significant this book is. Not only does it teach the reader important life lessons which include hanging around with people who bring out the best in you - it also is influential in terms of changing the mindset of people who may  previously have been guilty of ignoring or not wanting to understand the effects of depression.

Something I really admire about Vizzini's writing is the way he is able to apply simple words and phrases to such complex feelings: an 'Anchor' is something you enjoy, which keeps you grounded for as long as possible, in contrast a 'Tentacle' is something which depresses you but you must endure (schoolwork etc). Craig's depression becomes evident when he's accepted into a prestigious school; one he's worked towards for all of his life. However, when he finally starts the term he realises that all the work is too much for him. After his medication is discontinued, he begins to sink lower and lower until he hits rock bottom: contemplating suicide. At the start of the book I emphasised and identified with Craig in some way - even respected him a little for being so responsible and saving his own life - but I didn't really connect with him because at this point the reader only sees him when he's miserable or horny, and not much else.

However, when his almost-suicide-attempt leads to his admittance to a psychiatric ward, we see a change in Craig. His personality begins to shine through thanks to all the eccentric and troubled patients he meets there. This is definitely my favourite part of the book because we get to see him discover new friends and his Anchor but we also see his life take a turn for the better when he decides he doesn't want to go back to school, but instead pursue a career in art. Importantly, It's Kind of a Funny Story is a semi-autobiographical novel detailing Vizzini's own teenage experience of being hospitalised. At the end of the novel, it seems like Craig's life is back on track. The same was true for Ned Vizzini after his stay, until he unexpectedly committed suicide in 2013. Not only was this Craig's story, it was Ned's. For me, it was a bittersweet tale of a salvaged life which would later be lost again. 

It's Kind of a Funny Story is unparalleled in terms of its success in the understanding and acceptance of depression. No doubt, it will have taught parents a lot about their teenage sons and daughters; but it was able to teach me something different. And that was that you should never make another living person your Anchor. Find strength within yourself, because other people are unpredictable and hobbies are stable and familiar. RIP, Ned Vizzini.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro // Review

"As children, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy spend their childhood at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they grow into young adults, they find that they have to come to terms with the strength of the love they feel for each other, while preparing themselves for the haunting reality that awaits them. Never Let Me Go is an unforgettable story of love, friendship, and the fragility of life."

Whilst Never Let Me Go was sometimes ethically intriguing, I found it slow and hard to get into. I'll be honest, there were moments when I really had to force myself to pick the book back up - yet despite my best efforts I feel like I got nothing out of it. The plot is "haunting" in spirit. The subject of the book is more terrifying than the book actually is. 

At times there wasn't as much dialogue as I'd like, especially between Kathy and Tommy; whose relationship deserved to be established and explored a lot more than it ever was in this book. The film makes more of a "thing" out of the awkwardness and sexual tension between the characters, which is probably why I prefer it. However, the film does lead you to believe that Kathy and Tommy spent more time together than they were actually written to have. Another annoying thing about the film is that Kathy is portrayed as a virginal, shy type, whereas, in the books she has many fleeting relationships which, again, are never properly explored by the author.

As for "an unforgettable story of love," I'd argue against it. If it weren't for the film, I don't think this story would have touched me at all. The clones were very unsure about how to express themselves, and so there were periods when their relationships seemed forced and lacking in emotion. If Tommy had never said to Kath, "we loved each other all our lives," then you may not have realised that was ever the case. It was not made abundantly clear. Even when they do eventually (SPOILER ALERT) become a couple, there's a complete lack of romance - Tommy never pushes Kathy's hair behind her ear or anything like that which you would expect of two people who had longed to be with each other for so long - no, even then it was just, "sometimes, we had sex." And yes, that is an exact quote, which I believe is said more than once. 

Before I say this, I'm going to point out that this is the first Kazuo Ishiguro book I've read, and you'll have to forgive me for making this assumption if it's untrue, but it seems to me that his talent does not extend to creating complex loving relationships. It's all very minimalist and he's not really a big believer in description. I don't think we're ever told what the clones look like, although I'm not sure whether this is to emphasise their unimportance in the eyes of society. Ishiguro did not make me feel.

Rating: 3 stars

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