books · discussions · features · shanti

How I Use Goodreads Shelves

Good day, Virtually Readers! Today, I’m going to take you through how I use goodreads shelves. It’s a totally random post, but people were interested. Thank you for being interested, everyone! I do so like goodreads, though, especially when you can see how your reading tastes have changed. I have a very haphazard shelving process because I’ve developed it over the years, so this is basically like revealing the inner workings of my brain. Feel free to friend me on goodreads, by the way-my profile is set to private automatically, but say you came from the blog and I’ll accept your request.

Continue reading “How I Use Goodreads Shelves”

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blogging · books · shanti · Shar

The THIRD BLOGOVERSARY aka what is this

Hi Virtually Readers! Life is crazy sometimes and we have been blogging for three years. That’s 16.8% of our lives. It’s almost unbelievable that three years ago two girls sat by a laptop and signed up for wordpress and started to write about books.  But, obviously, we’re very happy to be here. As you may notice, we have a new design! Isn’t it pretty? We’re still working through a few kinks, but Shar did this a few weeks ago and I supported her and offered somewhat helpful advice along the way.We are going to have a giveaway at some point during this year, but our lives are just a bit busy right now, so that won’t be for a while.

Continue reading “The THIRD BLOGOVERSARY aka what is this”

blogging · not books · Shar

Mysterious Search Terms

Hi Virtually Readers! Cait, a most wonderful blogger, ‘replies’ to her search terms in her monthly recaps. Shanti and I have always found this most amusing, so today I’m going to reply to some of the search terms that lead people to our own blog. Also, our blogoversary is in two days (!!!) (yes, we won’t shut up about it. This only happens once a year, after all). So this seemed a fitting thing to do? We have more celebrations planned for next week. Some deliberate misunderstanding, and a great deal of gentle mocking, is going to go down.

Continue reading “Mysterious Search Terms”

books · discussions · Shar

Books I read this year + stats

Hi Virtually Readers! What have you guys been up to? The other day, just for fun, I was counting all the books I’ve read this year (I keep track on calendars I make for myself) and decided to analyse them a bit. Fun fact: I took stats at school last year, and it was my least favourite class. However, plugging numbers into a program that makes pie graphs is pretty easy. So today I’ll show you each fancy chart, then talk about it.

(disclaimer: I made these with Infogram, but I ended up taking screenshots of the charts because I couldn’t work out how to get the images. Technology is hard, yo)

stats post graphics

Books read by month

screen-shot-2017-08-10-at-9-02-44-am-e1502338536711.pngThe most interesting thing about this graph, I think, is the variation. You can see I read the most books in January, June and July (although august isn’t over; I read 4 books in the first 5 days of August but haven’t finished any since). Why? In January, June, and July, I’ve had holidays. In between, I still read, but I was also studying my butt off trying to finish high school, so I had far less time on my hands.

Books read by genre

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Last year I would have told you I read the most contemporary, which is still true, because they’re fluffy and easy to get through and generally shorter than genres like fantasy or historical. But I also have read a lot of fantasy this year. Curiously, Sci-fi and dystopia are my favourite genres (they often overlap so I put them as one), but I read far less than in other genres. Also, I only had one historical fiction book, although books like Passenger, Wayfarer and A Great and Terrible Beauty would classify as both historical fiction and fantasy. I put them under fantasy; the one ‘pure’ historical fiction book was Black Dove, White Raven. I want to read more historical. Also, look how many classics, adult books and nonfiction I read! #proud.

Books I read by gender of author

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This isn’t that surprising, considering that probably the majority of YA authors are women, but maybe I should read a few more books by men to branch out a bit? The ‘both’ included Illuminae, Gemina, and two short story anthologies.

Books I read by series

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I’ve finished so many series this year! Considering I read the most contemporaries and those are generally standalones, you’d think this wasn’t the case, but I’ve read a lot of books that are in series this year. (ACOL, Dreams of Gods and Monsters, Lara Jean trilogy, HP, The Lunar Chronicles, Black Heart, the last two Raven Cycle books, The Winner’s Trilogy, Passenger… you get the idea)

Books I read by reread or read for the first time

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I really enjoy rereading, and just over a quarter of the books I read were re-reads. (Rereading all of Harry Potter and The Lunar Chronicles definitely helped). I think this is about how much re-reading I want to be doing; it’s good to try new books but also return to old favourites.

Books I read by publication date

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I felt like I read a lot of new releases this year. But I think it’s okay that I’ve also read lots of books that were published earlier than this. (This includes 7 HP books, the Lunar Chronicles, and all the classics and adult books and nonfiction I read as well). I love shiny new releases, and I think this year has had a lot of good books, but I’m glad that I haven’t based my choice of reading material on the publication date alone just to keep up with other bloggers.

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This was so much fun to analyse! Thankfully, it involved no t-tests, p-values, or chi-squares (if you know what these are, you get bonus points). Also, these are probably not that accurate because for a few books I guessed release dates and didn’t bother with looking anything up, and also just assumed about the author’s gender sometimes. But whatever. This was mainly a fun exercise, not a precise one.

What do you think of these stats? Which genre do you read the most/least? Do you read more recent releases or backlist books? 

book review · books · Shar · Uncategorized

Review: Want

I *claim* to be a fan of the sic-fi genre. I’ve said before that it’s my favourite. But it has come to my attention that I read far more contemporary and fantasy than sci-fi, which is shameful. So as soon as I heard about Want and realised it was sci-fi/dystopian then I knew I had to read it. So I did. want-by-cindy-pon

Title: Want

Author: Cindy Pon

Genre: YA Sci-fi

Themes: deception, pollution, climate change, activism, friendship, rich people are literally bubble heads.

My blurb: In futuristic Taipei, there are two types of people. The ultra-rich yous protect themselves from the terrible pollution with oxygen suits and money, while the meis die young, suffering from all the environmental degradation and their poverty. After someone Zhou loves is murdered trying to bring in new environment laws, he and his friends decide they’ve got to do something to get back at the corporation who is responsible. But their plan is risky and the first thing they need is a lot of money. Zhou’s actions are about to get him into a game of deception and risk where he might lose sight of the end goal…

There were a lot of good things about this book, but first I have to complain about something important. Namely, the writing style. I haven’t read anything by Cindy Pon before, but the way this book was written really affected my perception of the story. The book required a lot of worldbuilding because of its dystopian nature, but instead of showing aspects of the world of pollution and global warming and poverty inequality, it was totally told. Especially at the start of the book, the writing had what felt like paragraphs spouting information that wasn’t always that relevant, though it did help paint the scene. At other times Jason (that’s his code name—we never learn his real first name, which is weird) comes up with information that you wish he’d announced earlier, like ‘oh I was not sick now because I had the flu when I was 10’ or ‘this person said X important thing to me the other day’ instead of actually showing it happening. This made it feel like the things being narrated didn’t happen.

The writing was also occasionally confusing, especially during action scenes, and there was a big reveal at the end that wasn’t made to feel that big. The book opens on an action scene, then goes back to ‘two months earlier’ to explain what’s going on. After that, though, there is no explanation of the time gaps, even though it becomes evident that weeks or months have passed with only a few days or events having been described. Generally, something about the writing style really made me feel disconnected from Jason and the other characters, even though it was a first person narration, which normally is easier for me to connect to.

However, there were some good things about this book. Firstly, I really liked how it was set in Taiwan, because I’ve never read any other books set there (and the author was born there) and my ex really good friend is Taiwanese. I liked the descriptions of food and although it made the future look bleak, it wasn’t hopeless either.

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I also liked how it dealt with wealth inequality, something that’s rapidly becoming a bigger problem and environmental degradation. I personally believe both of these are going to be big problems in the future and I don’t get why more dystopias don’t tackle them. Like I don’t think the US is going to become a monarchy that likes to play games to amuse the prince and help him find a wife. But growing commercialism, the ethics of surveillance without consent, bio-warfare and deadly viruses, and poverty and climate change are all things that are already problems now and will be in the future. I liked how this book touched on all of these.

Also, I just generally love sci-fi and dystopia, not gonna lie.

 

I really liked the love interest character! I liked how she wasn’t only petite and subservient, but she wasn’t just the Stronge Female CharacterTM archetype. She was a combination of all of them. Jason’s ‘gang’ and all the minor charcters were really interesting.

The plot was intense and usually interesting. I liked how I thought the plot was going to centre around all of Jason’s deceptions getting him into trouble and be something where nothing would happen if everybody was honest, but it wasn’t.

Overall, I liked the idea of this book, and it definitely tackled some good topics, but failed to execute them well enough to make me like it.

Characters: 3/5

Writing: 1/5

Setting: 4/5

Plot: 4/5

Total: 3/5

Have you heard of this? What other books have you read set in South east/East Asia? (I need recommendations) Is there a genre you claim to love, but never read? What have you read which has a really great concept but not as good writing?

blogging · shanti · Shar

Blogoversary| Ask Us Questions

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Hi Virtually Readers! Our 3rd blogversary is next week! That’s kind of hard to believe and pretty exciting. One thing we thought we’d do to celebrate is get you guys to ask us questions which we’ll answer next week.

About what? Anything, really. Blogging tips (because we’re *totally* experts), how we write posts, what we do when we’re not reading or blogging, why we started this blog, how to be as fabulous as we are…. anything. (If we don’t like the question, though, we won’t answer it. So just consider that before you ask what I’ve named my left little toe.)

All you have to do is enter your questions into this google form here. If it’s not working, please tell us and I’ll try to fix it.

books · discussions · features · shanti

Setting in Stone 1: A Place for a Story

Hey Virtually Readers! You may not remember, but way back in June I published a excellent popular post about setting and how non Western European or North American settings are discriminated against. You guys were really into the post—yay!—which got me thinking more about setting, and so I have decided to commence a new discussion series called Setting in Stone. Shar thinks the name is stupid, but I’m ignoring her. I’m very good at that. I don’t know how long this series is going to go on for—I have about 10 posts planned, and will write as the inspiration strikes, but this first one is going to be about how setting informs story.

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Setting is a vital part of the story. It sets limitations for the characters and plot, informs mood and atmosphere, and usually shapes the climax.

How is setting a limit, and why is that a good thing? If a book is set in a small town, it means that the characters are focused on how to get out or how to stay. If a story is set in a city, then the isolation and opportunity will again pull characters in two directions. To some extent, yes, this is a trope, but that’s how settings limit character mindsets.

By the Chekov’s gun principle, a setting also limits plot. If a certain shop is mentioned, it must become significant in some way. If a lake is part of the setting, then something has to happen at the lake. Obviously, an author can make her setting fit her story—in fact, she should make the setting fit the story—but geographical limitations also apply. There can’t be a lake in the middle of a story set in the desert. There can’t be a tornado in a story set in a rainforest. These rules of geography have to dictate how the story unfolds within a setting. In magical realism, perhaps, all bets are off; but still this is a general rule.

Why are so many cute, summery books set in beachside towns during the summer? Because sunshine and beaches makes the reader think of cute fluffy things. Similarly, creepy books are often set in forests or winter time, like Megan Miranda’s Vengeance. These Broken Stars, a space opera with a romance and a mystery, is on a lush but empty planet, conveying an atmosphere of beauty and eeriness, while the harsher, more brutal Illuminae consists of the barren metal walls of spaceships. The connotations of various settings are quickly formed, and, along with writing style and content, contribute to the ‘mood’ of a novel. A forest can mean magic or horror. A cozy college dorm is more like a place for falling in love with someone you didn’t expect.

Finally, setting aids the story by informing character choices towards the climax. For example, in Rebel of the Sands, the climax involves a character raiding a train and discovering a (non-metaphorical) power. If the book had had the same Western vibe but been set in, say, a mountainous region, the climax would have been different, both in details (e.g. sand is everywhere, trains wouldn’t have existed) and in broad terms (how the characters escaped and how they felt).

The effect the setting has on the narrative is impossible to quantify and certainly variable between books. Swallows and Amazons, a classic children’s book set in the Lake District of England, revolves around the lake. The story would be utterly different if set in Iowa. However, while stories set in generic small towns or big cities do depend on their settings, it may not make much difference whether the setting is Portland or London, Derbyshire or Queensland.

It’s safe to say that setting is pretty important, even if it’s not immediately obvious how. Over the next few weeks I’m going to try to show different aspects of the interaction between setting and story, and it’s going to be awesome.

What’s one story where you feel like the setting had a big influence? Are you excited for this series? tell me your thoughts in the comments!

books · features · Shar

The Bookish Planet: Magical Forests

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s time for another Bookish Planet, your guide to literary locales. Today, inspired by my love of Into the Woods (seriously, Into the Woods is ridiculously good and you should watch/listen to it if you at all get the chance), I’m giving a brief introduction to an excellent setting for books, the Magical Forest. The Magical Forest is known for having trees and magic. Basically it’s like its name. All sorts of dodgy and wonderful stuff can happen inside. bookish planet

 

Description: You’ll know you’re in a magical forest when there are trees and there is magic. It’s not too hard to work out. You may also find magical beings, like fairies or witches; plot creators, like trolls or evil queens; magic sources; magic portals; swords; unsolved mysteries; fairy tales; and, most dangerous of all, potions. You may be in the Magical Forest because you’re participating in a plot, or else perhaps an innocent bystander who thought it would be a nice place for a holiday. Either way, you’ll probably end up in a story. The forest is, in a word, atmospheric; there are shafts of light filtering through ancient trees, thick undergrowth, old paths, beautiful maidens and so on. Within your literary explorations, you’re probably more likely to find a Magical Forest in European based fantasy books, but it can be part of other traditions too. The best things about Magical Forests is that they can be anywhere where there are both trees and magic, an easy criteria to fill in fantasy stories. There are always new places to explore; you can never fully know the Magical Forest, and that is one of the most enchanting reasons to visit. Continue reading “The Bookish Planet: Magical Forests”

book review · shanti

The Sandcastle Empire is easily destroyed

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s a Tuesday on a Shanti week which means it’s time for a review. How exciting! Sadly the review is not for a book I enjoyed. A few weeks ago, I read The Sandcastle Empire by Kayla Olson, and I must admit that I was decieved by the title. I thought it was fantasy, because if I see the word ’empire’ I automatically assume it’s fantasy. However, this book, with a cover as green as Divergent serum, is decidedly dystopian. Anyway, fascinating insights into my mind aside, this novel was so surface level, and that was it’s main problem. It begins as an escape narrative, becomes a mystery, then is an action-thriller until the end. There is a lot of interesting things going on, but Olson, unfortunately, didn’t really explore them, so while the reading experience was fairly enjoyable, I totally failed to care.

32051724When all hope is gone, how do you survive?

Before the war, Eden’s life was easy—air conditioning, ice cream, long days at the beach. Then the revolution happened, and everything changed.

Now a powerful group called the Wolfpack controls the earth and its resources. Eden has lost everything to them. They killed her family and her friends, destroyed her home, and imprisoned her. But Eden refuses to die by their hands. She knows the coordinates to the only neutral ground left in the world, a place called Sanctuary Island, and she is desperate to escape to its shores.

Eden finally reaches the island and meets others resistant to the Wolves—but the solace is short-lived when one of Eden’s new friends goes missing. Braving the jungle in search of their lost ally, they quickly discover Sanctuary is filled with lethal traps and an enemy they never expected.

This island might be deadlier than the world Eden left behind, but surviving it is the only thing that stands between her and freedom.
The presence of class as compulsion for rebellion is an interesting idea, as was allusion to climate change and Kiribati as beginning the apocalypse that fueled said (evilish) rebellion, and new technology albeit ridden with NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE but whatevs. Olson fails utterly to explore these ideas, really letting herself down. Her protagonist, Eden doesn’t engage with these issues or contemplate her relative privilege in the least. She has no awareness that her lifestyle led to a planet where Kiribatians died in swarms and Wolves took over. I wished that the climate change and class aspects had been explored more.
The narrative of learning to trust again was also intriguing, and utterly ignored and rushed. Hope has been consistently betrayed by those close to her, so no wonder she has trust issues. The romance is not-quite instalove, but ridiculous. Deaths and violence are barely questioned. Olson could have turned this into part of the story, in her own style it would read something like Chapter 79. Once I was a girl who would have been shocked by the blood on her hands but now I am something else isn’t it sad. She may even have written something like that, but it was so forgettable that it’s fallen out of my memory. The choppy ‘deep thoughts’ chapters irked me completely. And though most of the characters were teenagers, adults still had the power (and Lowan’s resistance position made ZERO SENSE), which seems like Olson wasn’t able to fully commit to her ‘teenagers saving the world narrative’. This resulted in a ‘worst of both worlds (adults with power, teens with unrealistic influence) scenario which made little to no sense. The rapid shift in the characters goals was disorienting, and I never got a feel for anyone other than Alexa (and her redemption arc could have been way better. Another disappointment). The fast ending, which the protagonist barely played a role in, didn’t work for me at all.
In the world of the Wolf Pack, a sandcastle empire, there were so many opportunities to explore power and privilege and evil and Olson more or less missed them all (even though the social forces are so relevant to today). The story is superficially enjoyable, but by divorcing the musings to random choppy chapters, the story collapses and crumbles like sand into the sea.

Have you read this book? Are you able to enjoy stories which don’t talk about the issues they allude to? What’s your favourite book which features climate change? tell me in the comments!

blogging · shanti · Shar

New Blog

What is this? A new blog! What are you doing, Shar and Shanti? Don’t you like this blog?

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Fear not, mortals. We’re not moving. However, Shanti and I have both been wanting to have a blog dedicated to things other than books for a while now. Daylight Differentials is going to be for our thoughts, opinions, and anything that isn’t bookish. If this interests you, then you should totally go and follow us there or on Bloglovin. 

If you just like our post about YA books, don’t worry, we’re not abandoning Virtually Read. In fact, something low-key exciting is going to happen to it soon. You’ll know all about that when it happens. Daylight Differentials is going to have more sporadic posts. Unlike Virtually Read, we won’t have a posting schedule, so posts will probably be more infrequent (but still quality. Fear not). But if you want to hear about our travels later this year or general thoughts now, you should totally follow us.

Have you ever wanted to start a non-bookish blog?