Features | Tips for Studying Books

Friday, 30 September 2016


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!

Features | More Reads For Halloween!

Monday, 26 September 2016

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

The Moonlight Dreamers | Siobhan Curham | Review

Sunday, 25 September 2016

(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. 

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

Saturday, 24 September 2016

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 bloggersbookshelf@gmail.com or drop us a tweet @blog_bookshelf!

An Evening with Justin Cronin

Friday, 23 September 2016

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. 

Snow White | Matt Phelan | Review

Monday, 19 September 2016

*Image and book provided by NetGalley.

Summary:

A graphic novel version of the classic Snow White story set in 1930's Depression Era New York City. 

Review:

There isn't a lot of dialogue in this book and the base story is very familiar so I'm going to focus on the artwork. Phelan is incredibly talented. The copy I received was all shaded work, no real color, with the promise that the full book would be published in color, but I'm not sure I'd want to read it then. The whole story works so well with the film noir styling. It's already so beautiful that I hope the final, full color version of the book uses muted colors at most. 

I'm not normally one for retelling of classic fairy tales (The Lunar Chronicles being the exception) but this was such an engaging retelling. The Depression Era setting is well thought out and integrated. The use of a ticker machine instead of a magic mirror and the "glass coffin" are so perfect for the setting and the story. 

I'm a little hesitant to recommend the final book since I'm not sure how full color will affect the overall feel of the book, but, fingers crossed, it'll still be just as beautiful and heart-warming.  

Features | Back to School Books

Friday, 16 September 2016


For a lot of people September is either pretty great or pretty terrible, depending on how you feel about school. Whether you're someone who wants to celebrate going back to class, someone who longs to experience a more exciting school life, or someone like me who isn't going back to school at all but is still feeling those September vibes, there are plenty of campus based novels to channel that back to school spirit. Here are five of them. 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A tense read about a group of Classics students at a prestigious New England college, The Secret History is not quite a murder mystery, as the murderer's identity is never in question, but a literary story that will probably make you glad your educational experience hasn't been quite like this one.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is often described as a great feminist YA novel. When Frankie discovers that her new boyfriend is part of an all-male secret society at their boarding school, she is not impressed. And since she can't be part of the society, she hatches a plan to teach the boys a lesson instead.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

The title of Anna and the French Kiss probably tells you everything you need to know. This is a love story set in an American boarding school in Paris. If YA romance is your thing then you'll probably love it, but be warned it may make you wish you were attending a French boarding school too.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I know pretty much everyone has read Rainbow Rowell's novel about an introverted fangirl starting college for the first time, but for me personally Cath's reaction to her new situation is the most relatable thing I've ever read. I wish I had had this to read when I first started university.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

And finally, I won't tell you what this one is about because I'm pretty sure you already know, but I just couldn't talk about books set in school without mentioning Harry Potter. 'Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.'

Good luck for this year if you're starting or have started a new school year! And hey, good luck to the rest of us who aren't too!

Sofia Kahn Is Not Obliged | Ayisha Malik | Review

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

*cover image via GoodReads

"Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?'

Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

— — —

Hands down one of the funniest books I've read in a long time.

Sofia is an utterly irresistible as a heroine. Endearing, sharp and quick off the mark, I'd find anyone hard pressed to not fall in love with her. Despite the obvious Bridget Jones comparisons (30-something woman working in media who’s love life takes center stage of the narrative), I’d argue Sofia is even more of an 'every woman' than Bridget ever was. Driven, confident, and opinionated on the outside (you get the idea within the first few pages that Sofia is a woman who know exactly who she is already, thank you very much), on the inside she's failing and falling and saying stupid stuff an inappropriate times. She messes up a lot and yet, you're still rooting for her right until the very end.

Addressing the massive elephant in the room with the book, I honestly barely noticed. Yes, seeing a Muslim woman portrayed in this way has been flung around the press and Internet as revolutionary, but in reality Sofia’s religion played second fiddle to how well the story played out and how much I was enjoying myself. Malik has struck an eloquently written balance between showcasing Sofia’s religious identity, culture, and family, and letting her 'be Sofia’, a woman writing a dating book whilst also trying to manage her own love life and societal pressures of ‘settling down’ and finding a husband.

If anything I’m mad at myself for thinking that having a Muslim female protagonist was such a revolutionary thing in the first place and utterly sad that more books like this aren’t getting published on the regular.

A 10/10 recommend from me!

Bookish Links #22

Wednesday, 7 September 2016


Welcome to Bookish Links - our monthly list of awesome links from around the web! Here's some of the articles we've been reading and loving lately, don't forget to let us know if you read/write any articles you'd like us to share!

1. To Pre-Order Or Not? - in this article Tiffany talks about why she never pre-orders books. Are you with her on this one, or are you someone who can't resist placing their orders months in advance?

2. Write Like A Grrl - we thoroughly enjoyed reading about Ria's recent adventures at a writing workshop in London over on her personal blog. Have you ever attended an event like this? Let us know in the comments!

3. Re-reads! - Ava shared her thoughts on re-reading and the nine reasons she loves to revisit old favourites. Are you a re-reader?

4. Pointless Reviews?! - Jenny recently wrote a post inspired by the comment "I don't see the point of book reviews, they're irrelevant". What are your thoughts on the matter?

5. Love At First Sight - in this post Anjali talked about the books she purchased thanks to their gorgeous covers. Do you ever buy books based on their covers? We'd love to hear your thoughts!

6. GardenDreamsDecor - if you're looking for a unique bookish gift you may like these garden decorations that caught our eye over on Etsy, where each metal decoration has a tiny book cover inside the centre of the flower!

7. Cliffhangers - we found Ranu's thoughts on cliffhangers to be an interesting read. Which books do you think have the best (or most frustrating) cliffhanger endings?

8. Writing In The Margins - over on her blog, Jillian discussed how she annotates her books. Do you fill the margins of your favourite reads with notes, use highlighters to pick out the best quotes and post it note thoughts for reviews? Let us know in the comments!

9. Changing Tastes - in this post Jamie talks about the change in her relationship with a long-time favourite go-to genre; contemporary YA. Do you go through phases when it comes to favourite genre?

10. Talking Feminism - we really enjoyed this video where Amber chats to popular UK YA author Holly Bourne about Feminism and more. Don't forget to subscribe whilst you're there!

11. Love For YA... - we think YA is an important genre and that's why we wanted to share Laura's post on five reasons why you should read YA! She even includes a list of recommendations - have you read them all yet?

12. & More Love For YA! - our final post of the roundup is another focused on YA! In this article Annika responds to a post shared on the Guardian and discusses why no one is "too old" for YA.

If you've read or written an interesting bookish article you think our readers would enjoy please let us know - it may be featured in a future post!   

The Tower's Alchemist | Alesha L. Escobar | Review

Monday, 5 September 2016

The Tower's Alchemist (The Gray Tower Trilogy Book 1) by [Escobar, Alesha]
*Image from Amazon.

Summary:

In a time and place that mixes World War II with magic, Isabella/Emelie/Noelle is a spy for the SOE and an Apprentice-Level Alchemist who left the Grey Tower, where all people with magic get trained, to help out the war effort. Isabella gets assigned to go behind enemy lines to try to bring into custody Dr. Veit, who has used his knowledge of magic to create a chemical weapon called, simply, The Plague. Naturally, it doesn't go according to plan and she must find a way to destroy the chemical weapon, get out of the war-zone safely, all the while keeping herself out of the hands of Grey Tower Agents and the Black Wolves who wish to use her to get her father.


Review:

This was quite the adventure! I'm not gonna say it was all a fun ride because there was genuine emotional turmoil included, but that just helped to make it such a good book. This world's use and acceptance of the reality of magic was seamless. It never seemed out of place for someone to be able to create symbols and unleash the elements. 

Isabella is a strong and intelligent woman, as someone in her line of work should be. Her tools of the trade mix traditional spy gear with magical gear. She has emerald glasses that let her see in the dark. She has red garnet lipstick that, when kissed, allows her influence over the kisser. A wonderful blend of spy and magic gear.

My favorite part of this book is the entire cast and crew of characters. It's so easy to feel for the people she meets behind the lines, the people who have lost everything, the people who are tired of fighting but continue to do so. It is written in such a way that much of the history of World War II is still there, there's just magic involved as well. The people of Britain are still conserving every ounce of food and cooking with even the most disliked ingredients (liver sandwiches, bleh). The people of France are on strict rations with curfews and are killed on the streets if suspected of any Marquisard activities or sympathies. This book almost brought me to tears through its characters.

All of this and I've barely scratched the surface the Grey Tower vs the Black Wolves! The Order versus "vampires" that drink the blood of wizards to gain their energy. Plus, the hunt for Isabella's father who is believed to be a Drifter, a magician who can travel through time. There is just so much going on in this book, but it is so well balanced that it never feels overwhelming. It never feels like the author is skipping over important details. 

This was a great read. If you like magic-in-the-real-world, or fictional stories set in World War II, or stories about magical forces at war with each other, I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down!

Features | Under-hyped Book Recs

Friday, 2 September 2016


The #UnderHypedReads readathon starts tomorrow so in honour of that, today I am sharing a few of my favourite under-hyped books. For the purposes of this I have defined 'under-hyped' as 'having less that 1,000 ratings on GoodReads.' So although I'm sure you may have heard of a couple of these books in the online book community I think they all still need a little extra love.


Set in the 1980s, in a beautiful, crumbling, old manor house, Campari for Breakfast is a funny and moving coming-of-age story. After the death of her mother, Sue Bowl moves into her aunt's beautiful but somewhat neglected manor and, along with the other varied and eccentric residents, explores her passion for writing, a long-hidden family secret, and the boys who work in the local cafe.


Diving Belles is a collection of short stories about husbands lured to the depths of the sea, houses that watch over their inhabitants, and people turned to stone. The stories are varied but they all share elements of the fantastic and Lucy Wood's beautiful writing and a common thread of Cornish folklore runs through them all.


Sofia Khan is Not Obliged shows us Sofia Khan's diary as she juggles her day job, the expectations of her family, her sister's upcoming wedding, a uniquely bad break-up, her friends' love lives, and her boss's new idea that Sofia should write a book on Muslim dating. Of course, the fake dates for the book swiftly turn into not-so-fake feelings for Sofia to juggle on top of everything else.


In Lorali, Rory, a teenage boy in a seaside town, finds a girl on the beach under the pier. Only after he begins to help her does Rory discover that Lorali is a mermaid and she's missed not only under the sea, but by the sea itself. Then the pirates arrive. Lorali is a really unique story told from the very poetic, alternating perspectives of Lorali, Rory, and The Sea.


The Cornish Coast Murder is a classic, cosy murder mystery. A magistrate is found shot in the head in his own home in the small Cornish village of Boscawen. With seemingly no clues for the police to follow, the local vicar, Reverend Dodd, a big fan of detective novels, soon finds himself involved in the investigation.

What are your favourite under-hyped books that you think deserve more love?