Thursday, 26 September 2013

*given up on thinking of a title*

Hey everyone! I send this to you amidst birthday card making and plans for Great British Bake Off catch-up. It's book reviews - one all right book and one ABSOLUTELY AMAZING ONE - and, uh, yeah. Read The Age of Miracles. That's all I'm saying.

(Well it's not all I'm saying, I've got a whole review here, but let's not be pedants!)

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

We didn't notice it right away. We couldn't feel it.
      We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath skin.
      We were distracted back then by weather and war. We had no interest in the turning of the earth. Bombs continued to explode on the streets of different countries. Hurricanes came and went. Summer ended. A new school year began. The clocks ticked as usual. Seconds beaded into minutes. Minutes grew into hours. And there was nothing to suggest that those hours, too, weren't still pooling into days, each the same fixed length known to every human being. 
      But there were those who would later claim to have recognized the disaster before the rest of us did. These were the night workers, the graveyard shifters, the stockers of shelves, and the loaders of ships, the drivers of big-rig trucks, or else they were the bearers of different burdens: the sleepless and the troubled and the sick. These people were accustomed to waiting out the night. Through bloodshot eyes, a few did detect a certain persistence of darkness on the mornings leading up to the news report, but each mistook it for the private misperception of a lonely, rattled mind.
        On the sixth of October, the experts went public. This, of course, is the day we all remember. There'd been a change, they said, a slowing, and that's what we called it from then on: the slowing

Julia lives a normal life as a pre-teen girl in a Californian suburb - she goes to school, takes piano lessons, and spends lots of time with her best friend Hanna. But then one morning her life - and that of everyone else in the world - changes forever; they wake up to hear on the news that a 'slowing' has been detected. The world's spinning on its axis no longer takes a precise twenty-four hours - imperceptibly at first, the days and nights are becoming longer as the world turns more and more slowly. America, and the whole world, is thrown into panic as the seasons skew, animal behaviour changes and watches, clocks and the 'time of day' become meaningless.  Scientific theories abound as the effects on people of this warping of time are studied, and controversial government measures divide communities, families and friends. But all the while Julia is having to continue with her life as a middle school student, navigating the rocky terrain of friendships, popularity and boys. It is truly the 'age of miracles' now, in the natural phenomenons that have become commonplace and in the more normal, but extraordinary, changes that people go through as they leave their childhoods behind. I realise that that last bit could be taken as me meaning puberty ... that isn't what I mean. Honest.

What can I say about The Age of Miracles? Not only does it have a gorgeous cover - but it was also an utterly engrossing, faultless and all-in-all stunning novel. The premise was, I think you'll agree, fantastic - I mean, have you ever read a book with a vaguely similar idea to that? Didn't think so! - and Julia's voice was relatable, believable ... all the 'able's! The plot was also brilliant - super-interesting and thought-provoking in its speculative-ness, but more than that, flawless in its subtler parts. Sometimes you read novels where the author's like "OOH SHINY EXCITING PREMISE, LET'S IGNORE MY CHARACTER'S DAY-TO-DAY LIFE AND RELATIONSHIPS AND HAVE ALL PLOT POINTS RELATING TO SAID PREMISE"  - but not Karen Thompson Walker. The slowing made for a brilliant, engrossing (and yes I've used both those adjectives already but in a Highly Gushing Review like this one you run out pretty quickly) plot, but lots of the twists were focussed on Julia herself and her friends and family - things that went on outside of the slowing. This, I think, ties into the title, which has a brilliant double meaning ... it was so clever. My titles are always really obvious and/or stupid. I WANNA TITLE LIKE THIS ONE. Finally, and perhaps most hard-hitting, was the beautiful prose. At some points it made me ache ... even reading that short extract I've posted you can see how gorgeous it is, no? Here are some quotes for you. Warning: they may make you FLAIL.

After breakfast, I tried Hanna's cell phone, but it just rang and rang. I knew it was different for her: Hanna's life was noisy with sisters, her house a maze of bunk beds and shared sinks where the washing machine ran perpetually just to keep up with the dresses that piled each night in the laundry basket. It would take two station wagons to carry her family away.
       In my house, I could hear the floors creak.

But doesn't every previous era feel like fiction once it's gone? After a while, certain vestigial sayings are all that remain. Decades after the invention of the automobile, for instance, we continue to warn each other not to put the cart before the horse. So, too, do we still have daydreams and nightmares, and the early-morning clock hours are still known colloquially (if increasingly mysteriously) as the crack of dawn. Similarly, even as they grew apart, my parents never stopped calling each other sweetheart.

It was that time of life. Talents were rising to the surface, weaknesses were beginning to show through, we were finding out what kind of people we would be. Some would turn out beautiful, some funny, some shy. Some would be smart, others smarter. The chubby ones would likely always be chubby. The beloved, I sensed, would be beloved for life. And I worried that loneliness might work that way, too. Maybe loneliness was imprinted in my genes, lying dormant for years but now coming into full bloom.

It's hard to believe that there was a time in this country - not so long ago - when thick almanacs were printed every year and listed, among other facts, the precise clock time of every single sunset a year in advance. I think we lost something else when we lost that crisp rhythm, that general shared belief that we could count on certain things.

One thing that strikes me when I recall that period of time is just how rapidly we adjusted. What had been familiar once became less and less so. How extraordinary it would seem to us eventually that our sun once set as predictably as clockwork. And how miraculous it would soon seem that I was once a happier girl, less lonely and less shy.
       But I guess every bygone era takes on a shade of myth.

Still the slowing went on and on. The days stretched. One by one, the minutes poured in - and even a trickle, as we have come to understand, can eventually add up to a flood.

...

~exhale~

Just ... do yourself a favour, and read this book. That's all I can say.

OK. Next review.

Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special. Her hair flowed like honey and her eyes were blue as music. She grew up bright and beautiful with deft fingers, a quick mind, and a charm that impressed everyone she met. Her parents adored her, her teachers praised her, and her schoolmates admired her many talents. Even the oddly shaped birthmark on her upper arm seemed like a sign of some great destiny.
      This is not her story.
    Unless you count the part where I killed her. 

Alison is confused and disorientated when she comes to in St Luke's hospital, hooked up to a drip in a room where there are no sharp objects. The last she remembers was being carried away as her senses overloaded, screaming and shouting that she killed Tori, the prettiest and most popular girl in her school. No one believes her, of course, and she's not sure she believes herself - because she didn't murder Tori in the conventional sense. One moment they were fighting tooth and nail, and the next she had disintegrated, or at least that's what Alison remembers. Maybe she is crazy, like her mother has always feared, and so she's not surprised when she is moved to a mental institute for teens. But there she meets some extraordinary people, and learns that there is more to what happens than she thought ...

So. Ultraviolet. Hmm. My expectations for this book were mixed. I have read and LOVED RJ Anderson's faery series - that is Knife, Rebel, Arrow and Swift (and seriously, they are SO worth a read) - so I was hoping she would do as well again, BUT a friend who had read this book said it wasn't that great. And what's more I'd just finished The Age of Miracles. Which is a tough act to follow. But anyway, I began Ultraviolet, and I started to really enjoy it. The plot was interesting, making me want to keep reading - but the ending took the paranormal genre to a new, crazy level. I was just sitting there like "what? No." I'm all for upping the tempo as we reach a thrilling climax etc. etc., but it was just ridiculous. And the book had other flaws too. You know how in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon really pulls off Christopher's Aspergers? Alison has a rare condition (not similar to autism, but similarly difficult for an outsider to imagine) and I didn't think that Anderson really knew what she was doing as she tried to get inside Alison's head. And her mother's reaction to it, and her behaviour around her daughter ... not believable. A mother wouldn't be like that. So, on the whole, Ultraviolet was pretty good - but when there are books like The Age of Miracles, books like How Green Was My Valley and The House on the Strand - books like RJ Anderson's Knife series! - you don't have the time, my friends. That is a bookworm's problem. Too many books, and not enough time. ~bows head sadly~

Rating: 6.5/10

Love you, READ THE AGE OF MIRACLES,

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Art Tuesday: What I do during Maths.

Hi guys! How are y'all? I know I said I would post on Saturday and didn't, and I know you were all crying over your keyboards, but blame Duke of Edinburgh! How was it, you ask? Well, it was all right ... to begin with I was in the back of the canoe and Rose was in the front and since the person in the back is meant to steer, it goes without saying we failed spectacularly. When we swapped places we got a lot better, but being at the front kills your arms.

As for camping, well ...

[source]
I'm just waiting for the day when I find that person.

It was just confusing, y'know. As in, "At home I have a bed ... but I'm lying on the hard ground. Hmm. Why is this?" On the whole DofE was good though - we laughed a lot and ate unholy amounts of biscuits. Some of the people in my group were kinda, well, y'know, talking about things that I would rather they didn't share (you know how teenage girls are in a big group after dark) and I was just sitting there like

Get this reference, I will love you forever
but basically, it was all fun and good. (Interesting piece of trivia, I just typed 'food' instead of 'good', which incidentally sums up DofE.)

But anyway, on with Art Tuesday - which for the first time in a month is being posted on a Tuesday! Are you proud of me?! Today I'm posting doodles from last year's Maths jotters, because I thought you guys might like to see what I get up to in the Subject of Doom and Suffering apart from writing poetry (for poems on Death By Maths click here and here).

Aaaaand let the doodles begin!


A few months into the first term - when I'd figured out my teacher was safe on the drawing  front - the doodles began.
As you can see, an animal theme developed.
They were pretty harmless at first ... hehe, mole ^_^
A butterfly ...
... and a giraffe. Cute, right?
But it didn't take long for Maths to get too much for me. That evening ^^ was a bad one.
My pictures took on a darker theme.
Not all of them, that is ...
.... but some of them. Yeah. I don't even know what this is, BUT SOMETIMES I WISH ONE OF THEM WOULD ROLL INTO MY CLASS ROZ-STYLE (get that reference) AND INCINERATE THE BLACKBOARD, TEXTBOOKS AND BASICALLY EVERYTHING SHORT OF THE ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS.
Maths lead me to be morbid, friends.
Not always ...
... sometimes they're things like badger cubs! ^_^ ^_^
An elephant that my friend ruined with his callous biro-clutching hand.
A PAGE SPLATTERED BY MY TEARS OF BLOOD! (Well, nosebleed. But close enough!)
A snake ...
... and another snake eating itself. Much as I sometimes have the urge to do in that classroom.
Well ... what would you expect from me, really? I mean, come on. This song. And ... well, all the songs. There are so many ... honestly. Sometimes my love is too deep to even fangirl properly.
I think my teacher used the word ambiguous to describe a number ... or something. I do not pretend to know. 
A somewhat deformed squirrel.
Yay, pretty flowers! :D
... a man-eating hippopotamus on the rampage. Please note the strewn limbs, pool of blood and the gleam of madness in its eyes.
A melancholy camel - for the days when you don't have the strength for man-eating hippos.
One of my favourite ever drawings - the Evil Crow Overlord. He is pretty cool, no?
I tried to draw him from the front holding a gun, but as you can see it looked more like a mouth organ before I was even half way so I gave up.
Poor cat. But in maths ... who wouldn't?
Thought you lot might enjoy this one - the (tragically unfinished) cover of my jotter. This schoolboy (note his uniform) is my male alter ego. Please observe his throat wound, cracked face, tears of blood and the fact he is being consumed by hellfire.
For quite a while my friend Niamh - SHOUT-OUT IF YOU'RE READING THIS! - sat and acted as a hand model for me. Cause, y'know, you can't copy your own right hand. So all my teacher saw when he looked over was her sitting with her hand in a dramatic claw and me sketching frenetically.
~nods~
We all draw these in class, don't we? Extra points if you can spot the Maths textbook that is being swept away in there.
My *ahem* extremely insightful cartoon into body image/perception of beauty.
It's not the best picture I know, but they're ballerinas ... can we see what's going on here?
The house from Up. Cause, why not.
I'm sure you'll believe me when I say I got a lot of revision done that lesson ...
... as for that lesson, well, I think I broke the record for how many expressions one can construct in an hour. *ahem* almost. Hehehe I was using one of those eight-colour clicky pens :D
An apt title, I thought.
Wailing to the sky as he cradles his dead lover.
She started as an opera singer but became an angry protester ... maybe a Suffragette? But probably not considering she's wearing a strapless ballgown ...
Hands are not my strong point so her arm just kinda ... tapered off.
^Sucks to be him ... but that's Maths for you.
And that, friends, was a little snapshot in what I do during class. I hope you liked it! Love you,

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

I know, I know ...

Hi everyone. So. Yes. I know. It has been three weeks since Art Tuesday last graced your screens on a Tuesday. (I did post one last week, but it was a day late. And the week before there was none. In fact, the last Art-Tuesday-on-a-Tuesday was this card tutorial.) I'd like to tell you that the reason I didn't post last night was that I was initiating world peace, changing gun legislations - heck, even doing my homework - but in truth I spend yesterday evening watching the Great British Bake-off (do any of you watch it? DO YOU?! :D ) and reading Out of the Easy, which is SO UTTERLY FANTASTIC AND YOU SHOULD READ IT AND BETWEEN SHADES OF GREY AND OH MY GOODNESS ALL THE CAP LOCKS IN THE WORLD CANNOT EXPRESS THIS BOOK. 

But anyway. 

The plan was to whip out an eloquent and charmingly crafted apology and then give you a beautiful Art Tuesday post ... but my camera's acting up.

IT'S TRUE HONEST THIS IS NOT A CASE OF THE DOG ATE MY HOMEWORK. 

... So, the point is, no art for you lot. I know, boohoo, it's very sad. But although the void it leaves is, some may say, unfillable, I have got two book reviews to, uh, fill it with. One of these books was pretty darned good - and the other was absolutely AMAZING. 

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini


It's so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That's above and beyond everything else, and it's not a mental complaint - it's a physical thing, like it's physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don't come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain like normal people's words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet. 

Craig Gilner thinks he's got it all worked out. When he was very young he wanted to be a mapmaker, but he's set those childish dreams aside and is now focussed on what matters - getting into Manhattan Executive Pre-Professional  High School where he can work his way to the perfect grades, then the perfect Ivy League school, and then the perfect well-paid job - and hopefully finding the perfect girl along the way. But the pressure gets too much for him; his schoolwork slips and he is afflicted by what he calls the Tentacles - the parts of his life that are always reaching to try and upseat him. He starts taking the drugs that his best friend Aaron is always offering him and it gets to the point where he often can't eat or sleep - instead he just wastes time thinking about the Tentacles in a futile thought process he calls the Cycling, and slowly his life spirals out of control - until one night he almost commits suicide. He is admitted to a psychiatric ward full of others with mental illnesses - some like his own, some very, very different - and there he meets some truly extraordinary people with truly extraordinary stories. Gradually Craig is able to confront the things that worry and frighten him and he finds his way onto the path out of depression ... but how he gets there is, well, kind of a funny story.

It's Kind of a Funny Story is a very good novel. It has a relatable main character, with a lot of other great characters thrown in there too - and it was believable. Vizzini spent some time in a psychiatric hospital, so it wasn't like I'm-writing-about-mental-illness-with-no-idea-what-I'm-talking-about - he actually had firsthand experience. In terms of plot, it was also good - not an insane amount happens, but that's OK. Not an insane amount happens in life, always, does it? Overall, I would definitely recommend this novel. It's a very interesting account of depression and humanity, and I think that for us teenagers it's a great read - because I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling major pressure and stress for exams and schoolwork, and that is what causes Craig to slip downhill in the first place. The ending was slightly disappointing, but that is probably more to do with my views than anything else (and yes I realise that sounds cryptic but spoilers, so you'll have to read the book if you want to know what I mean). 

Rating: 8/10 

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier


The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me that shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. Nearer to me, too, each object had the same hard quality, the very grass turning to single blades, springing from a younger, harsher soil than the soil I knew. 

Richard Young is staying - gratis - in Kilmarth, the Cornwall country house of his university friend Professor Magnus Lane. He has a week of happy solitude before his wife Vita and  his stepsons arrive from New York - but there is one condition. Magnus, who is a professor of biophysics in London, has developed a drug that keys into the brain's ancestral roots and allows the user to experience time-travel - and he wants Richard to test it out for him. Convinced that the drug cannot work, or that it is merely hallucinogenic, Richard takes it - and is plunged back six centuries, to a Cornwall very different from the one he knows. He finds there a sort of alter-ego, a man named Roger who is a steward to one of the highest-up men in the village, and on the 'trips' he takes he is able to view events through him. Unseen, unacknowledged, he finds himself immersed in fourteenth-century Tywardreath, his interest piqued by the people he sees there: Roger's master, Henry Champernoune, and his adulterous wife Joanna; the monks of the Priory, and the Prior himself; the disreputable Otto Bodrugan, who is mistrusted by many for his position in the recent civil war; the cruel Oliver Carminowe; and his beautiful, fiery wife Isolda. Soon the lives of these long-dead people are more real to Richard than his own - he finds himself compelled to take trips, and he is dreading his wife's arrival because he doesn't want to share his knowledge with her - especially since she harbours a dislike for the flamboyant, unthinking Magnus. In his 'other world' events reach fever pitch as they spiral out of control in his own, and so the story reaches a thrilling climax ...

This novel .... my goodness. I think that it is widely accepted that Daphne du Maurier is a genius (any of you who have read Rebecca will know this to be true), and ... well. She is a genius. 

...

DISCLAIMER: this review probably won't make much sense. I'm too ... gushy.

So basically, The House on the Strand was utterly fantastic. The premise = brilliant. It's no secret that I am a BIG fan of historical fiction, which this is in part - and time travel? Count me in! The characters are also great - Dick was a relatable, believable narrator, and the characters of Magnus and Vita (and his relationships with them) were very interesting and well-developed. Likewise the cast of characters from the fourteenth century were very real and exciting - and I loved the intrigue of their stories and their criss-crossing relationships. At first I was a little bit confused with all the names - remembering who was married to who, who was having an affair with who, who had which children, who was whose cousin - but I soon got my head around it, and my copy had a helpful family tree at the back which made things easier. Overall this was a faultless, brilliant novel with great characters and a super plot, and I suggest that you get off the internet RIGHT NOW and read it. 

That is all.

Rating: 9.5/10 (not gonna lie here).

Bye til Saturday (if I manage to write and schedule that post, which let's face it I'm not super at), and sorry again for my failures on the Art Tuesday front! There may be one next week, but no promises because my weekend is being snatched away by the looming form of a canoe at the merciless hands of Duke of Edinburgh. If you don't know what I'm talking about, COUNT YOURSELF LUCKY.

Love you,