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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2014 Book Wrap-Up (Part 2/4)

(11) If I Stay by Gayle Forman

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Series: If I Stay (book 1)

My rating: **

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: a girl who has a tragic accident followed by an out-of-body experience, where she must decide whether she wants to die or wake up to a world where her family are dead.

Pros: the narration flips between the past and present to create variation; the family of the protagonist is described in a lot of detail; one of the key themes is music and the conflict between genres, which is something different and interesting.

Cons: it is not the most exciting plot and the ending does not evoke any particular emotions; it does not live up to the expectations.

Would recommend to: fans of The Fault In Our Stars and Thirteen Reasons Why

(12) Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Series: Stand-alone

My rating: *****

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: a first-year college student who writes fanfic for a series similar to Harry Potter, and has a twin sister who could not be more different.

Pros: it’s so relatable! So many feels! Rainbow Rowell is an incredible writer!

Cons: nothing – this book is perfect.

Would recommend to: All teenage fangirls

(13) Horde by Ann Aguirre

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Series: the Razorland trilogy (book 3)

My rating: ****

Genre: Dystopian

What it’s about: A group of hunters trying to kill the remaining horde of zombie-like creatures in different settlements, in order to create peace.

Pros: It follows on from Outpost really well; there are so many action scenes; I like that Deuce finally figures out that she can be a Huntress and a girl at the same time; this book has the best epilogue I have ever read -it’s adorable and makes you feel very satisfied.

Cons: The narrative spans over a long period of time, so it cuts out days or weeks, which ruins the flow at times; I was a bit disappointed that the Freaks could speak and communicate in the end; it was very long and some of the battles could have been cut out?

Would recommend to: Someone who likes a lot of action

(14) Promised by Caragh O’Briencar

Series: Birthmarked trilogy (book 3)

My rating: ***

Genre: Dystopian

What it’s about: A young woman leading a group of nomads to a walled city for refuge, who faces imprisonment and DNA experimentation against her will as a sacrifice.

Pros: as Gaia brings the group back to where she grew up, it links all three books of the trilogy together nicely.

Cons: the start feels a bit disjointed from the end of Prized; the relationship between the protagonists doen’t seem as swoonworthy as in other YA novels – even though Gaia accepted the proposal, I wasn’t convinced that she was truly in love (and with the right character!) and I ended up not caring too much.

Would recommend to: Someone who wants to finish the Birthmarked trilogy (just for a sense of peace)!

(15) Every Day by David Levithan

evrSeries: Stand-alone

My rating: ****

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: A genderless presence waking up every day inside a different person’s body, who falls in love and tries to have a relationship in their many states of being.

Pros: it’s such an original idea, and it manages to answer all your questions and doubts about the process by the end; there are so many interesting characters’ lives we get a glimpse of throughout the book; there are lots of profound statements and messages in the writing.

Would recommend to: Younger teens with a sense of adventure

(16) Escape From Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

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Series: Stand-alone

My rating: ****

Genre: Non-fiction

What it’s about: A true story of the only prisoner to have escaped a camp in North Korea, and how he lived before and after his incredible escape.

Pros: this is a brilliant insight into the totalitariansim of North Korea; the story is gripping and harrowing.

Would recommend to: Someone who likes inspiring stories from other cultures.

(17) The Death Of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell bee

Series: Stand-alone

My rating: ***

Genre: Mystery

What it’s about: Two sisters living home alone who, having buried their parents in the garden, are faced with demands from a man owed money from their parents, and a kind neighbour who tries to protect and raise them.

Pros: it’s a heart-warming story with narration shared between two very different personalities; the general idea is completely unique; the inclusion of setting and context is consistent.

Cons: the subject matter is sometimes too graphic; some passages are a little boring.

Would recommend to: Someone looking for something completely different.

(18) The One by Kiera Cassone

Series: The Selection (book 3)

My rating: ****

Genre: Dystopian

What it’s about: A girl in the running to become the next princess, who must decide whether her heart belongs to the prince, or to a boy she has always loved.

Pros: this book is so much better than The Elite and was a really nice ending to America’s Selection story; look at the cover – it’s stunning; America finally makes her mind up about who she wants to be with.

Cons: the sub-plot about the rebels is irritating and is never explored deeply enough; the protagonist makes friends with the enemy but then something bad happens to the ex-enemy…

Would recommend to: Someone who likes modern-day princesses

(19) We Were Liars by E. Lockhart lie

Series: Stand-alone

My rating: *****

Genre: Contemporary

What it’s about: A wealthy family who own a private island and holiday there together every year, even though the tension rises as each sister demands to be left with the most riches in their father’s will.

Pros: the writing style is at times poetic, and always engaging; having family politics as the subtext makes for a more intriguing plot.

Cons: the author sneakily creates a huge plot twist at the end which messes with your mind!

(20) Looking For Alaska by John Green

lfaSeries: Stand-alone

My rating: ***

Genre: just YA

What it’s about: a group of unlikely friends at a mixed boarding school, who enjoy pulling large-scale pranks, and end up trying to solve a mystery about the death of their close companion.

Pros: all the characters are quirky in their own way; there are lots of passages that made me laugh out loud – I’ve never laughed so much whilst reading a book (John Green is quite the story-teller); the book is extremely quotable!

Cons: it reveals bad habits to younger readers.

Would recommend to: Someone who likes mysteries, and possibly someone who’s been to a boarding school because they could relate.

My rating system:

* means it’s really bad ** means it’s not that great *** means it’s mediocre **** means it’s really good ***** means it’s amazing

Note: let’s be honest, I have no idea what a ‘Contemporary’ novel even is…

Paper Towns

Having been a Nerdfighter for (what I believe to be) a while, now, I thought I should further establish my faith by delving into more of John Green’s books. I felt that TFiOS had become mainstream, so I’d need to read more in order to not be a common fangirl. After research and blurb-reading, I came to the conclusion that Looking For Alaska and Paper Towns would be the books for me. An Abundance Of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (and Let It Snow) don’t seem like my kind of thing, and they aren’t as popular among Nerdfighteria (from what I have gathered).

I recently read LFA. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. It actually made me laugh out loud a lot, especially towards the end during the prank scene. In fact, I couldn’t stop laughing, and I realised that never before had a book made me laugh that much. The characters were loveable and I really engaged with the story.

This weekend, I read Paper Towns. This has to be my favourite of John’s books that I have read so far. I also laughed at times in this book because John is great at creating comedy. I want to touch on some things that I did and didn’t like. First, the negatives…

Although the story is completely different to LFA, I felt that some aspects were similar. For example, the spunky female protagonist (who disappears), the male protagonist who lacks confidence but builds on it throughout, the cocky yet hilarious best friend of the male protagonist, the element of jokes and pranks which characters play on each other, sexual reference, the idea of leaving an old life behind and starting afresh… The list could go on. To me, it was just a typical John Green book, which isn’t a bad thing, but it was a bit too predictable/samey.

Next, there were 3 references to cancer. One on the first page, one in page 109, and if I’m not mistaken, one on page 201. Considering John wrote TFiOS, and had connections with Esther Earle, AND he continues to inspire many (including myself) to this day, it surprises me that jokes and lighthearted comments about cancer cropped up here. I know that technically Quentin is narrating, but I’m sure John could have thought of something else.

It may just be me, but I got confused at times because of all the different characters. I had to flip back to check who was dating who and what the situation was between friendship groups etc. Too many emotional girls and drunk Seniors.

On top of this, I found the ending a little disappointing. I’m happy that Q and Margo were reunited, but what happened next? Where did Lacey, Ben and Radar go? How did they all get home? How did Ruthie and her mum react on the phone to Margo? I feel that more time could have been taken to pace the ending; I would have read on for another few pages!

Finally, I don’t know if this is just a mistake on the UK cover, but throughout the book, Q’s surname is Jacobsen, but on the blurb, it is spelled Jacobson. It’s a shame to have such an obvious printing error ruining the cover!

Now, into the positives. At first, I didn’t understand the title, because ‘paper towns’ was mentioned once near the beginning. But then it became a recurring theme, and it made sense. I now think it’s a great title, and there is an element of education in the novel, to explain the idea behind it.

John is excellent at creating characters and making them 3D. He is especially talented at writing females, and making them come alive. Just like Alaska, Margo is sassy and confident and smart. Also, in Paper Towns, Q and Margo’s parents have a purpose. Q’s mum is a psychologist, and this adds interest to the Jacobsen household. The parents also comment on Margo’s parents and allow Q to curse. Margo’s parents are made out to be awful, self centered people who don’t know how to show love and care for Margo. (I just wish Ruthie featured more, as she was a delightful character.)

I found the story gripping and fascinating at the same time. I felt like I was on a fun journey with Q and his friends. I think the road trip was one of my favourite parts. The good thing is that the themes and motifs are carried throughout the novel, and the ideas are expanded too (eg. string, maps, friendship etc). Although LFA was extremely quotable, and this was not, Paper Towns was full of witty narrative and dialogue that flowed well (sorry to use the forbidden phrase).

In conclusion, I would recommend Paper Towns as a first John Green read, if you choose to jump on the teenage girl bandwagon. I probably won’t read it again, as there are other books that I am desperate to return to, but it will sit nicely on my bookshelf between TFiOS and LFA for now.

Questions (if you’ve read this far, congratulations): Which of John Green’s books have you read or are you planning on reading? What do you think of his writing style and storytelling?

DFTBA and happy reading! 🙂

Professional Fangirling

A 5-step guide to becoming the ultimate fangirl

  1. Choose a fandom
  • A fandom is a collective group of people who form an obsessive community where they can share an interest in a specific topic. Find something you’re fanatical about – for example, a TV show, book, film, actor or sports team.
  • Make sure you know the name of the fandom you belong to. Some popular examples are: Whovians (Doctor Who fans), Directioners (One Direction fans) and Danosaurs (danisnotonfire fans).
  1. Know the basics
  • Shipping: When you fantasise about two people or characters being in a romantic or platonic relationship and want them to be together, regardless of their gender or whether they are fictional or not. For example, if you ‘ship’ characters Four and Tris from the Divergent series, you could refer to the couple as Fourtris.
  • OTP: One true pairing. This is your favourite combination of characters from a fandom, your ultimate ‘ship’. It’s possible to have a number of OTPs, depending on how many fandoms you belong to. In the YouTube community, my personal OTP is Troyler (Troye Sivan and Tyler Oakley).
  • Feels: shorthand for the word ‘feelings’, and used to describe an intense emotional response, such as sadness, excitement or awe. For example, “OMG, the ending to The Fault In Our Stars gave me so many feels!” Grab a box of tissues and get ready to embark on a rollercoaster ride of emotion as you grieve the death of your favourite character, or squeal in delight as your OTP becomes ‘canon’.
  • Canon: An idea, belief or aspect of a story that is true to the original work. When it deviates from the plot but is accepted by the fangirl, the term used is ‘headcanon’ because it’s canon in their head. For example, in Harry Potter, it’s canon that Harry marries Ginny, but in your headcanon, Harry could end up with Ron!
  1. Interact and contribute
  • Tumblr: The number one place to find like-minded people and scroll for hours through the endless content your fandom has to offer. Create your own GIFs of Honey Boo Boo drinking her go-go juice or write a reflection of the moment when Alex Gaskarth made eye contact with you at the All Time Low concert for a split second.
  • YouTube: Watch the highlights of a sports match you missed, an interview with cast members from an upcoming film, a videogame un-boxing, or a book haul vlog. Whatever your interests, there will always be related videos for you to view. Or why not create your own videos? All you need is a camera and something to talk about.
  • Twitter: Be the first to know what’s going on in your fandom by following fellow fangirls, and let your idols know how much you admire them by retweeting and “favouriting” their every post. Use the relevant hashtags to immerse yourself in conversations about trending topics. Twitter is a simple means of entering various competitions for winning ARCs, merchandise, and VIP tickets to exclusive events… And don’t forget to wish your favourite band’s lead singer’s girlfriend’s cat a happy birthday!
  • Facebook: Click “like” on all the pages related to your fandom. This will generate a more interesting news feed, full of news updates, exciting release dates, memes and competitions to enter.
  1. Share your passion
  • For the artists: Try drawing your favourite characters from a memorable scene, compile a montage of quotes or screenshots, or create an alternative movie poster or book cover. You can use any media, but if it’s not done on the computer, take a photo of your work or scan it in so that you can upload it to a website dedicated to like deviantart.com, which specialises in displaying fan art.
  • For the musicians: Create your own soundtrack for a TV show, book or film, based on the themes, characters and setting. Think about how the lyrics could relate to your interpretation of the storyline. You could put the songs in a playlist on YouTube for others to enjoy, or burn the playlist onto a CD to give as a personalised gift to a friend who belongs to the same fandom.
  • For the writers: Start up a blog and dedicate it to spreading love for your fandom. Make sure you promote your blog to generate a wider audience by including the link to each new post on your social media accounts. You can take inspiration from pagetopremiere.com – a brilliant website which targets fandoms of popular book-to-film adaptations. If you’re into creative writing, try writing fanfic. You can come up with alternative endings to storylines or devise a cheeky narrative between your OTP. Don’t be afraid to be a bit unorthodox – you are the writer and your headcanons are valid. Read examples on fanfiction.net for ideas.
  • For the adventurous: After spending hours locked in your bedroom on your laptop or phone, you may want to go on an adventure! Book tickets for events like meet-ups and conventions to be surrounded by fangirls just like you. Check band websites for tour dates and CD signing events, and authors may have book-signing tours, so check out their websites, too. If comics and cosplay are your thing, head to Comic-Con, whereas Katsucon is for those who are into Japanese culture. If you love YouTubers, some big events for your calendar include: Summer In The City, Vidcon, DigiFest and Playlist Live.
  1. Be proud
  • Merchandise: Whether it’s Manchester United’s new season football shirt, an Adventure Time poster, a Fall Out Boy wristband or a mockingjay pin, make sure you get kitted out with awesome merchandise from your fandom. A visit to Pulp and Afflecks Palace is definitely worth your time. Alternatively, you can browse through websites like distrctlines.com, dftba.com and hottopic.com. I recommend cafepress.co.uk because, as well as choosing from an array of unique designs, you can create your own, which is really cool.
  • Show off about your fandom and be proud to belong to the community. How about singing the school song in Elvish next time, or resolving an argument with a game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock”?

Remember – stay safe while on the internet, and don’t give out any personal details/arrange to meet up with strangers, even if you both think you’re Jacksgap’s number one fan. Have fun exploring your fandom, and DFTBA!

Glossary of fandom jargon:

GIF – graphic interchange format, a compressed file format used for pictures.

Vlog – video blog

ARC – advance reader’s copy (of a book)

Meme – an image or video, typically humourous in nature, which is spread around the internet using a variety of captions

Fanfic – shorthand for “fanfiction”, meaning a fictional story based on the original work, written by a dedicated fan

Cosplay – shorthand for “costume play”, an activity in which participants wear the costumes of fictional characters and create a subculture based on role play

DFTBA – “don’t forget to be awesome”, the slogan of the Nerdfighter fandom

To look up definitions of more words in pop culture, use urbandictionary.com.