Top Ten Summer Reads 2015

The weather may be dire at the moment, but it’s still summer! For some reason I associate books with seasons, depending on where/when they’re set and how they make me feel. Sometimes I save books for the winter simply because they have either a darker, more ominous cover or a pale blue, icy looking cover – reflecting the darkness and coldness of harsh winters. Likewise, books with covers that are brighter and have a floral design I tend to save for the summer, and books that I know are ‘ChickLit’ I take on holiday with me (because lying in the sun with a heavy 400-page psychological thriller makes me feel uneasy at the thought of it)! I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but who actually follows that rule?!

Here are (in no particular order) my top 10 light reads for the summer time – perfect for reading whilst lounging about in the sun, in the park, or shut away in your bedroom (if it rains nearly as much in your area as it does here).

1 – Ink by Amanda Sun ink-by-amanda-sun

Katie has recently moved to Shizuoka, Japan, to live with her aunt. She is clumsy, socially awkward and is still adjusting to the new culture. She encounters a seemingly dangerous boy, Yuu Tomohiro, and as the spring flowers blossom, so does their relationship. Katie is desperate to find out Tomo’s secret, and finds herself somehow linked to a magical power originally from ancient Japanese mythology. When Katie has the opportunity to move in with her grandparents in Canada, will she leave behind her new friends, Tomo, and the living ink sketches, in order to escape the gang eager to stamp out Tomo’s destiny?

I absolutely loved this book – how the fantastical elements are so smoothly incorporated into Katie’s story. Despite it being a fictional story, it really opened my eyes to Japanese culture and daily life, and there is even a glossary at the back so that you can pick up some of the conversational Japanese used by the characters. I also enjoyed the outdoor descriptions and learning about the tradition of having a picnic under the blossom trees. Finally, the illustrations throughout the book are a lovely accompaniment to the story and really bring the sketches to life for the reader. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy, world culture, and art.

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2 – Meet Me At The Cupcake Café by Jenny Colgan

A typically British summer, a typically awful boyfriend and a typically awkward woman trying to recover from losing her typically boring day job. When her amazing cupcakes save the day, everything turns around and life begins to pick up again. Read this if you enjoy romance and cake (who wouldn’t?)

PaperTowns2009_6A-198x3003 & 4 – Paper Towns by John Green and Life Of Pi by Yan Martel Life-of-Pi

These books are bursting with colour and adventure. The Paper Towns characters are on a mission to find Margo, who has mysteriously disappeared, leaving clues everywhere. Q’s friends are lively and hilarious, each with their own quirks. They are now high school graduates and decide to go on a big journey to retrieve their friend. In Life Of Pi, Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat with a tiger and a zebra, bound for the great unknown. This is a wild and imaginative journey where Pi learns to tame Richard Parker (the tiger) and provide for himself whilst hopelessly traveling in the ocean. I love both Pi’s insightful commentary on his life story and Q’s witty narration. I would recommend these books to readers who have an inner explorer and love escaping to other worlds not too dissimilar from their own. Click here to read my post about Paper Towns.

FangirlWIP5 – Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is perhaps my favourite author to date. I am so excited to read Attachments (which I have been saving until after my exams) and Landline (when it’s out in paperback). Fangirl is quite relevant to me at the moment because, as well as being a huge fangirl, I am also starting university in September like Cath and Wren. This is such a wonderful novel, and I would highly recommend it (along with Rowell’s other books). Click here to read my brief review.

Book-delirium6 – Delirium by Lauren Oliver

Yet another dystopian novel that I love, where each 16 year old has surgery to remove ‘love’ and is forbidden to have particular feelings. Lena realises that she does not want to participate in the government’s scheme, and finds a way to escape and live as a nomad beyond the borders. This is a coming-of-age story about first love and brave acts of rebellion.

161433477 – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

This book is all about family politics and one girl’s experiences of the past few summer holidays spent on a private island. It’s poetic and exciting, and there is a huge plot twist at the end (so make sure you avoid spoilers)! Click here to read my brief review.

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8 – The Other Life by Suzanne Winnacker

In the suburbs of Los Angeles, Sherry’s family are in hiding until the Military tells them it’s safe to come out of their shelter. They have been waiting for 5 years, and their food has now run out, so Sherry and her dad decide to venture out to find food, even though they risk their lives. When Sherry’s dad is captured by mutilated creatures, she has no choice but to run away with Joshua, a hunter who is lurking nearby. How will she find her family again before they die of starvation, and how will she rescue her dad? I have just read this post-apocalyptic novel and although there aren’t many aspects that differ from other current books of this genre, it was a really good read. The action is gripping and exciting, and the characters are all interesting in their own way. I liked that there is a focus on developing the character of each family member so that the reader gets to learn about their personality and what makes them tick. I would recommend it to any fan of dystopian fiction (the cover says that it’s appropriate for fans of The Hunger Games, which I can partially agree with).

9 – The Selection by Kiera Cass 10507293

Potential princesses and pretty dresses – need I say more?

10 – Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur5982448

This book is aimed at younger teenagers, but I enjoyed it all the same because of the heart warming and uplifting story of the young protagonist. The story centres on Aubrey, who is recently orphaned and decides to try and survive by herself during the summer. If you like stories about families and young children finding their way in the world, this book is for you.

Bonus:

Ask The Passengers by A.S. King, Anna And The French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, and Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson are three books that I would love to add to this list… but I haven’t read them yet! They’re just sitting on my shelf, begging to be read this summer.

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Divergent

Film Review: Divergent

By some kind of miracle, I was able to watch Divergent on Friday – the opening day in the UK. Dream come true, right? My two friends and I raced to the cinema with 5 minutes to spare, extremely excited about what we were about to see. First of all, I have to congratulate Veronica Roth. I’m so happy for her, and couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. I know the film is completely independent to the book, but I feel that it was a good representation of the original story, and it was pulled off very well. I had low expectations because I was too let down by The Hunger Games film and didn’t want to be as disappointed; however, I was not at all disappointed this time – I was highly IMPRESSED.

I want to start off with the ‘bad’ things I noticed about the film. I don’t have much criticism, so let me just get it out of the way. It’s not even to do with picking out differences between the film and book, which surprises me.

Music: Most of the time, the music was suitable for the situation, and wasn’t over-dramatic or anything. However, I absolutely hated the music that had singing in it. I found it very intrusive, and it didn’t go at all. Plus, Ellie Goulding was used as the main soundtrack artist, and I can’t stand her voice. It just didn’t work for me, and ruined the film.

Sound: The tone of the film (especially at the beginning with Tris’ voiceovers) was quite calm – either to set the scene or to create tension. But it was hard to hear everything that the characters were saying. I know that acting for film is totally different than acting for theatre because you don’t need to project your voice (as the gaffers pick up the sound from a close proximity to the actors). But some lines were barely audible, and I don’t think it was the cinema’s fault! I wouldn’t say it needed to be a lot louder, they just needed to have slightly raised the volume when the actors were whispering.

The sound wasn’t the only thing that was toned-down, in my opinion. I imagined the Dauntless to be more hardcore, somehow. They were definitely portrayed as badass, kickass people, and the instructors were menacing, but I feel that they needed extra… oomph?

Casting of extras: Your choosing ceremony is supposed to be when you turn 16. When the group is being briefed before the ceremony, I saw that there were lots of fully-grown men, and not enough young-looking people. I guess it didn’t matter too much, because it wasn’t mentioned in the film about the age of the initiates, and they all looked more mature. I guess that’s me being a bit picky.

Injuries: Something I didn’t understand was how the characters recovered so quickly from injury. One minute, they’d be shot in the shoulder, the next they’d be running down the street, with not even a glance at the bullet wound or a wince of pain. And Jeanine! I can’t believe that Tris threw a knife right through her hand, and when it was taken out, she was barely traumatised. I partly blame the actors, who should have done ‘method acting’ to be able to empathise with their characters more (I can’t criticise them too much because they were brilliant, really). I also partly blame whoever was supposed to check the film in post-production for continuity errors.

Veronica Roth: She had a cameo during the zip line scene, but it was too brief! It was too dark to see her face properly – I just recognised her physique and haircut. It’s a shame that she couldn’t have stayed on screen for longer…

Now onto the good stuff, because there’s a lot of it! A little bonus which has nothing to do with the film: I got a free book, which is an exclusive sample of the first 6 chapters of the original novel. I already own Veronica Roth’s masterpiece, but it’s such a nice memento of the special occasion.

Introduction: The introduction was so well thought out and it carefully pulls you into the Divergent world. I believe that if you haven’t read the book, the introduction explains everything so that you don’t need to have done. I loved the slow panning of aerial views of the dystopian Chicago city, complete with Tris’s explanatory voiceovers. The faction system is also described in sufficient detail, providing snapshots of their individual lifestyles.

Characters: They were extremely well portrayed on screen. You could see the personal development in each one. Caleb transforms from a smug, secretive Abnegation brother into a smart, brainwashed Erudite academic (a strong believer in the ‘faction before blood’ motto); Al transforms from a sweet, conscientious lad into a jealous, guilty wreck (it’s a sad, sad situation…); Four transforms from a tough, unforgiving instructor into a sympathetic, sensitive and protective (and totally gorgeous) boyfriend – at first he had no romantic intentions but then you can start to see him smiling to himself, which is so cute; Tris transforms from a shy, indecisive girl into a brave, selfless, independent and headstrong Dauntless initiate. Tris’ development is the most obvious and important, which is what makes her such a fantastic role model. Not only does she realise that she needs to train to survive, but she thrives in the Dauntless compound, and improves more than any other initiate (referring to the scoreboard). There are so many lessons we can learn from her determination, perseverance and feistiness. I also found Jeanine’s character worked well on screen. Her Erudite-coloured eyes and calm approach made her seem more threatening and cold than perhaps being outright aggressive. She has so much power and control, and her Erudite language woven subtly into her dialogue has a scary effect.

Actors: They were so much better than I had expected. Trust me when I say I’ve watched a fair amount of interviews with the cast, crew and author herself! I wasn’t keen on Theo James playing Four, just because he didn’t look like I imagined Four to look in my mind. But in the film, he fitted Four’s persona so well that I not just accept him as the face of Four. Shailene Woodley also wasn’t my first choice. Now I don’t know who I would have preferred in her place! They were both excellent and they deserve a lot of praise for their portrayal of such inspiring characters. Kudos to the casting directors for surprising us all, in a good way. It was great to see some other familiar faces – Miles Teller, Ansel Elgort (my baby) and Kate Winslet, for example.

Relationships: The relationships within the Prior family seem so tense, especially at the beginning of the film. This really added to setting the scene and laying out the family situation for the viewers. In the book, Christina and Will get it on, but here the main focus (understandably) was on ‘Fourtris’. I did notice how Christina and Will become closer all the time, and their growing relationship is definitely implied through the way they interact. I thought this was such a clever way of addressing the situation without dwelling on it and stealing the power couple’s thunder! Four and Tris were adorable. I ship them so much, and the relationship works so nicely in the film, which made me happy. The awesome thing was the development of their relationship. Usually in films, you can immediately tell who’s going to end up with who, and they get together within the first third of the film. But in this case, the crescendo comes at just the right point; there is enough time for them to build up a level of trust, and for Tris to gradually steal Four’s heart through her bravery and strength. The romance doesn’t dominate the film – it’s just kept very real and Dauntless-like.

Pace: The film has great pace; nothing is too rushed or too boring. It’s gripping throughout, and you never know what’s coming next.

World building: As I mentioned, the introduction helps build up an image of the rusty dystopian world in which the factions exist. The landscapes are beautifully shown, and nothing looks too CGI at all. The fence has an air of mystery about it, and the viewer is left to wonder what will happen in the next installment of the trilogy, with reference to it. It’s absolutely believable. The factions are all true to their characteristics described in the novel, and their buildings and costumes help to reflect each one’s nature. The style and colours of the costumes make Veronica Roth’s world come to life on the screen, and I appreciate all the details. I liked the style of the Abnegation houses: simple, grey and low key. Inside the Priors’ home, it’s kind of dark, and nothing has labels. It’s a combination of wood and olive/ grey tones along with dim lighting. I’ve seen a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, so I already knew what a lot of the sets would look like. The ones that I hadn’t seen came as pleasant surprises, and I was so fascinated by the way in which all these fictional places had been created. I particularly liked the jazzy tattoo parlour (and how the tattoos were printed on rather than injected with a needle).

Themes and messages: All of the key ideas and themes from the book were translated beautifully onto the screen. I could spend ages analysing everything, but there’s not really any point because if you’ve read the book then you’ll know that there are important things we can learn from the story and characters. I feel that young people can come away from the film having gained something (inspiration or hope) that they didn’t have before. I think that Divergence itself is explained well in the film, and it’s a significant idea that holds the story together. It doesn’t dominate the plot but the threat of being Divergent crops up at random times, reminding you of the danger Tris is in. It’s mentioned enough times for you to take it seriously, but the film is really more than just Divergence: it’s about friendship, loyalty, uprising, society and all that the factions stand for, plus more.

****

I recommend this film to those obsessed with the Divergent book(s) because it does stay true to the original work. However, maybe it’s not the best idea to read/re-read it just before seeing it, because you’d probably pick up on a lot that has been omitted. But anyway, it’s a really great film and I certainly enjoyed it.

 

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City of Sky and Glass

I was lucky enough to embark on a dream journey around the city of New York, which has always been a place I have longed to visit. Having spent a week there, I got a flavour of the culture and lifestyle, which is completely different to my own. The city is always, always bustling with tourists, business people, dodgy looking men lurking on street corners…

You can’t possibly imagine the scale of all the buildings unless you’re there – you often see whole skyscrapers reflected in other skyscrapers! It felt like London had been given plastic surgery: a bit of alligning the roads into a neat grid of avenues and streets, a bit of scrubbing and polishing, and a lot of pulling here and there – stretching the skin of the buildings as much as is humanly possible!

I enjoyed taking lots of photos of all the famous sites I visited, the food, exciting pop culture things which are practically meaningless to anyone else, and of course, my family. In this small selection of photographs from my adventure, I wanted to capture specifically the futuristic architecture and uniqueness of such an imposing, enormous city. In an attempt to impress you, I present to you the City of Sky and Glass…