Friday, 30 September 2016

Features | Tips for Studying Books

Continuing with the 'back to school' theme, today I thought I'd share a few little tips I've picked up over the years for studying books. When I was at school I found studying classic literature really difficult. Yet, for some reason, I chose to continue doing it at university. I wasn't always great at it but from my mistakes I have picked up a few things that might help if you're currently worrying about how you're ever going to understand the books you've been assigned for your English class this year.

1. Watch the film.
If you can find a good, somewhat loyal adaptation of the book you're studying, then by all means watch it! A lot of the time with classics, the language itself can be what's holding you back from understanding the themes and the story. So, if you can find a film or miniseries that accurately follows the story line and themes of the novel, then that could absolutely help you to understand those things, which will probably make the language of the novel seem like less of an obstacle. If you're really struggling then I would even suggest watching the film before you attempt the book, so that you always at least kind of know what's happening in the novel. This is also particularly useful if you're studying a play text because, of course, those things are intended to be seen.

2. Read the book.
I know this one seems obvious but I also know that once you've found that faithful adaptation, the temptation to just watch the movie instead can be pretty great. I know. I've been there. Take it from me, you don't want to show up to a seminar only to discover an hour in that Great Expectations has two alternative endings and the one in the edition of the book that you were supposed to have read uses a different ending than the one that the BBC used in the miniseries you watched last night. Just trust me on this. Read the book.

3. Download the audiobook.
If it's actually taking the time to sit down and concentrate on the novel that is holding you back, then try and find an audiobook. Plenty of the older classics you'll study at school or university are available for free as audiobooks because they're no longer copyrighted. If it wasn't for the free audiobook that I downloaded and listened to on my way to and from lectures, I would never have read North and South.

4. Read the SparkNotes.
Now, again, just like with watching the movie, this should be a supplement and not a replacement. Use websites like SparkNotes for what they were actually intended, read the articles along with the novel or play you're studying and they will definitely help you to understand the text. Just don't be tempted to just read the SparkNotes and have done with it. You will miss things. Remember: supplement, not replacement.

5. Look for discussions online.
Chances are whatever book you're studying, other people have already studied it. Look for discussion videos on YouTube or podcasts about the book. Start with the Crash Course literature videos but if you can't find what you need there, just do a search for the book. Hearing other people's discussions might show you different ways of thinking about the story that you hadn't thought of, or it might reinforce the things you had already noticed. Either way you'll be extremely prepared when it comes to discussing the text in class!

Now, use these tips and get better grades for your english literature assignments than I ever did!

Monday, 26 September 2016

Features | More Reads For Halloween!

I'm sure some of you may be thinking that I should save the Halloween talk for October (and you may be right!), but as it's my favourite holiday I've decided to make the most of it and share a few book recommendations early this year!

This post is a sort-of extension of a post Anastasia shared here last year as well as a list I shared back in 2014. Although the books on the list aren't necessarily 'horror' titles they each have a darkness to them that's perfect for this time of year.

dand then there were none agatha christie

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Moonlight Dreamers | Siobhan Curham | Review

(I received this book for free in exchange for a review. My opinions haven't been affected as a result.)

I first heard about this book, and one of my first thoughts had to be, "What a great title for a book!" I knew Siobhan prior to this book, but I was really excited for this one. Like many UKYA books, I often hear a lot of really positive things about them before I actually manage to get my hands on a copy. This book was no exception, so naturally when Walker were kind enough to send me a copy, I was very eager to read it.

The book features four main characters; Amber, Maali, Sky and Rose. Amber loves excitement, but is bullied at school because she has two dads. But, she's inspired by Oscar Wilde and realises there must be other 'moonlight dreamers' like her in London. She encounters Maali, Sky and Rose by chance and together, as friends, they all go and start pursuing their dreams.

This book is so well written. It has to be said. It's told from the different perspectives of all the characters, but as and when it's appropriate. Certain things happen to certain characters at different points, but you don't just get the perspectives of that character who it's happened to, you get the perspectives of some others as well. It's a well rounded story, showing how stories often become intertwined with one another. 

Siobhan's really nailed the teenage voice in this book too. In my opinion, she's really nailed the teenage voice, perspectives and attitudes, but also the dreams and aspirations. It sounds like an uplifting book, and it really is. It's not, however, an impossible story. You'll be on the edge of your seat experiencing how real the story is and how relatable it is. 

Honestly, I wanted to be friends with the four main characters. I wanted to be part of the Moonlight Dreamers group! You'll be rooting for, worried for and supportive of Maali, Amber, Rose and Sky. A book that will appeal to everyone in my opinion. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Group Collaboration | Team BB's Back to School Reading List

As many have already headed back to school, College or University during September we want to delve into the world of mandatory reading. Love them or loathe them we all had those lists of mandatory books our teachers told us to read and analyse in classes.

But what if you had the chance to choose what you and everyone else in your class got to read?

This year our Blogger's Bookshelf team have compiled a list of books that we feel should be on everyone's to-do list to read at the start of the school year. Check them out below!

Thank you to this month's contributors: Ria, Rachel, Anjali, Erin and Christina at YA Love Magazine

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Next month we're getting in the spooky mood and want to know what are the scariest scenes from your favourite books! If you'd like to get involved just email or drop us a tweet @blog_bookshelf!

Friday, 23 September 2016

An Evening with Justin Cronin

Source - Hachette Publishing NZ
“When I started the Passage, I didn’t know if anyone would even want to publish it – coz publishing hates it when you do something different…and I just jumped the tracks completely.”
Bestselling author of The Passage series, Justin Cronin, was recently in Auckland, and I headed along to the event evening to hear him talk about his latest book, The City of MirrorsIt started with drinks and nibbles, and while I didn’t have an author-meet-buddy with me, I shared a sentence or two with the person next to me (who liked my Harry Potter phone cover).

After a brief introduction from the local librarian (in whose library we were currently sitting), Justin Cronin appeared, and the first thing this Texan said was

“Hey, ya’ll”

You can’t get much more Southern American if you tried.

Instead of launching right into the history of his life or anything about himself, he opened The City of Mirrors, and read an excerpt because “it’s nice to be read to”. One of the things he did comment on before he started reading was how, while the entire series up to this point had been written in third person, he really felt that Fanning’s story, where it all began, needed to be told from Fanning’s perspective. It was this, the beginning of the viral vampire-like world, that he read aloud.

After the reading, it was Q&A time, and, like a most of these sorts of author events, the questions were ones that you would expect – I guess no matter the author, people are still interested in the same things, still want to know what this author does, how this author is different. While I myself didn’t have any questions – I tend to let other people do the talking – I recorded some of the Q&A on my phone and tried my best to condense it down for you guys. These questions are worded to the best of my memory-ability.

Why did you become a writer? Did you always want to be one?

“I became a writer because I forgot to apply to law school … That’s what everyone assumed I’d do, so I just kept trying to avoid it. And I had enough success as a writer to keep on going.”

I love this. Not only is it funny, but I love the idea of avoiding that which people think you’re going to do. Surprise career moves, apparently, are worth it.

Justin Cronin. Photo by me. 
How did the story come to you?

In 2005, when his daughter was 8, they spent 90 days, an hour after school, he would run and she would bike. To pass the time, they told each other stories. 90 days went by, and there was another book that he was supposed to be writing, that he wasn’t really. So he typed up some of the notes that he had on the story he and daughter talked about, and it ended up being 30 pages long.

“And so I decided I’d write the first chapter, just to see how it felt, how it sounded – did it have a voice?” He said that every story needs a voice, otherwise it’s just a bunch of information and facts in order. You need an entry point. “And I wrote the first sentence, and never stopped.”

So did his daughter get any of the royalties? Of course not. “But I get to send her to college … and I bought her a pony.”

What is your work process? What does a day look like for you?

The general day for him begins at 9am and goes until 3pm. Justin explained that the amount of words per day totally depended on where he was in the story. But a general rule for words-per-day was 1,000 (makes my NaNoWriMo’s 1,667 per day seem a tad daunting even after doing it for 3 years). He’d then have word counts and goals he needed to get done for the week, the month, and deadlines to meet.

Of course, those deadlines often came and went and weren’t met, but, he said, in 10 years time, he’s not going to remember whether or not he made the deadlines; he’ll remember that he finished the book.

As you wrote, did you make discoveries along the way into what the story would be?

Cronin outlines extensively, he told us. “I had a very very strong plan going in. I knew who my characters were, and how they were going to end up. I knew the end of the third book long ago, I knew the last sentence of the third book in 2007. Which I had to, I really need to know how something’s going to end. If I don’t know how it ends, it’s not writable yet … There were deviations but mostly I adhered to the plan.”

And his tip for working with a plan? “Don’t get too far away from it, but have a good time.” And that’s how get describes his process.

My signed book, and the free tote bag I received for being in the first 30 people to RSVP. Photos by me.

Is that than, how you describe genre? With your outline?

“I was aware of the tropes*, but I was also doing what you have to do when you work on an established tradition which is put your spin on it.” Cronin said he wasn’t interested in writing a traditional gothic vampire story, but wondered what it would be like if the sort of magical element was taken out of it. What if it was a disease centuries old?

“I never thought of this novel as a horror novel.” If anything, he said, it’s more like a Western than anything else. In terms of mechanisms, getting the characters from this place to that, getting them on the road. “One of the great, enduring motifs of American literature is the encounter with sublime beauty and danger of the American west. And that’s exactly what happens to that group of people when they leave First Coloney.”

When people asked me as I was reading this series about the genre, I never quite knew what to say. But after hearing that Cronin didn’t really know either/wasn’t too bothered about the typical genres, I take comfort in that and my fumbled answers to their seemingly simple question.

“I was always aware of a lot of tropes and genre features operating and that was fun,” he said. There’s a difference between genre and formula fiction. Formula fiction is when the author gets outline from the publisher that something must happened every 10 pages. There are books that formulaic like this, and that’s fine, he says, “but the only people who are going to like that, are people who like that.”

*trope: a significant or recurrent theme; a motif

Is there a movie?

“No,” he said, without the slightest hesitation. “They couldn’t do it. It’s too big.”

And I totally hear him on this one. There is no way you could make a movie out of this book – even just the first one. You couldn’t do it. There are too many characters, too much going on, and you can’t take out a character and still have a functioning, good story. Every character is vital because they’re all connected. They all impact each other, it’s a web.

But (and here’s the good news), it looks like a TV series is a-go. There have been a couple of hiccups along the way, but it’s looking like there’s a TV deal, through Riddley Scott’s company.

Television is incredible at the moment, and everyone has ‘a show’. There are fantastic writers in TV at the moment, as Cronin pointed out, and he’s right. TV is where it is at. There’s just something about a TV show that’s so much better than a movie, especially with the incredible shows that are out there at the moment, and have been popping up for the past couple of years. Fingers crossed that the TV deal for The Passage series goes ahead, because it would be incredible.

Me with Justin Cronin. My photo, taken by the lovely person at the library. 

There’s a character at the end of the book, and if you’ve read it you’ll know (no spoilers, don’t worry), how could easily have further stories. So why is Cronin adamant he’s not going to tell it?

“Because I really want to let something breathe. A great writer said that you should always stop the story before it ends. Let something go past it, and I like that.”

He knew what would happen to all the characters, but not this last one, and so he couldn’t pick. There’s no ending to give him, nor further story to tell.

And that was that. There was talk that he might write some novellas, telling some of the other character’s stories, but for now Cronin wanted to leave this world for a little while, and while that is a little sad, we look forward to future stories from this great author.


It was a great evening, and I really enjoy heading out to events like this. It's fascinating to see and hear about an author's thoughts and processes behind their works. If you have the opportunity to go and hear an author speak on their book/s, do it. It's a lot of fun.