books · shanti

A Question of Fiction: Far From the Tree

Hi Virtually Readers! It’s time for another round of A Question of Fiction, the feature that never quite goes away on this blog. We invite characters on to the blog to answer questions, and it’s usually terrifically fun (yes, really). Today we have Maya, Joaquin, and Grace, three unexpected sibilings, from Robin Benway’s exquisite book Far From the Tree. (and ngl it’s been like a month since I read this and I’m really worried that I’ve forgotten an important detail but I’ll do my best)

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Interviewer: Can you guys tell me a little about your childhood?

Joaquin: Well, Maya and Grace were adopted, because they’re girls, and they’re white, and that makes it easier to be adopted. Sorry, girls, but it’s true. I grew up in a variety of foster homes. That was okay. There are good ones and bad ones.

Interviewer: yeah, I get it.

Grace: You absolutely don’t, but continue.

Interviewer: Um, well, let’s go for something a little lighter. What’s your favourite kind of cake?

Maya: Way to transition out of an awkward topic! But I’ll take the bait. I like chocolate cake, or preferably double chocolate cake. My girlfriend and I will eat it together when we need comfort.

Grace: I like the slightly weird flavours. Redcurrent red velvet, for instance.

Joaquin: I don’t know. I haven’t had a great deal of cake in my life. But one birthday my foster parents got me an icecream cake at the shop, and so I like that, I guess.

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Interviewer: Can you tell me a little more about your family situation?

Grace: Back to this. Okay. So a few months ago, I…I started thinking a lot about my birth mother. What had she been going through when she gave me away? I was talking about it with my parents, and they told me about Maya and Joaquin. We emailed for a bit, then met up to look for our birth mother. We’re a strange set of siblings, and Maya has a little sister of her own, but we’re getting better at it.

Interviewer. Whoa. Okay. And did you find your mother?

Maya *winking*: that would be telling.

Interviewer: So with your family situation… could you tell me, in three or four words, what family means to you?

Grace: It means sacrifice, trust, and love.

Maya: I mostly agree with Grace, but I would add that family also means…I don’t know how to put it. Something sacred, I guess. Something that shouldn’t be broken.

Joaquin: Uncertainty.

Interviewer: Do you think about family differently after meeting each other?

Joaquin: Yeah. I mean, we grew up apart. It’s not like we were instant friends. But we had something in common, and realized we had to fight for it. Of course, it took some fighting each other too…

Grace: Yeah, I mean I’ve always thought of family as something more complex than mere biology, because I was adopted. But meeting these guys has reminded me that being biologically related to someone is it’s own kind of comfort. Of course, you can’t be unadopted. I wish that was possible, sometimes. But our mother, our first mother sacrificed a lot for us to have the lives we have. That’s permanent. And it’s what we have in common. I guess the other thing is that I’m still learning to make sense of that, and I don’t have all the answers, and it’s hard to say it in a straightforward manner. Parenthood, and being part of a family, is a lot more difficult than it seems when you’re young.

Interviewer: Thanks for that, Grace. We’ve talked a bit about how you guys are similar—and looking at you, I can definitely see a family resemblance. But how are the three of you different?

Maya: Well, if we exclude the obvious stuff—I’m a lesbian, Joaquin is a boy, we all have different dads—I would say that I’m a lot more rebellious than Grace and Joaquin.

Grace: But you own it. You’re like a calm rebel.

Maya: it’s because I have so much to hide.

Grace: Yeah. We all have our secrets, I guess. I like classical music, because I’m more cultured than these swines.

Joaquin, laughing : Ri-ight. I hate oranges. They really tease me about it.

Interviewer: Well, thanks for the interview! I  had a good time.

Grace: Yeah, so did we.

Have you guys read Far from the Tree? What did you think of this? And are there any books which write really poignantly about family that you’ve read?

 

books · features · shanti

The Bookish Planet: Europe to Americans

Hi Virtually Readers! Welcome back to another Bookish Planet. Today’s guide features Europe. Yes, all of Europe. It might seem like a big place than you can’t generlise with a travel guide under a thousand words, but you’re wrong. If you’re an American, especially an American under the age of twenty, it’s very easy to see all the important bits of Europe AND find yourself within the space of, say, a single summer. This guide will introduce you to the Europe that Americans know. Also, shoutout to Marie @Drizzle and Hurricane Books, who is not only a lovely person but also inspired and gave me feedback on this post. 

Featured in: Girl at Sea, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, Just One Day, The Girl’s Guide to Summer, Wanderlost, Heist Society, Anna and the French Kiss, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Love and Gelato. 

Description: Europe is always sunny. This is because, if you’re a sensible YA character, you will only visit it in summer. You will only be able to travel to the places that people have heard of: Paris and Amsterdam are in, Darby and Abruzzo are out. You will be amazed at all the history, the people, the effective public transport, and of course the food. If you’re not eating gelato on every second page (if you’re in Italy) or croissants and baguettes (in France), or paella (in Spain), you’re probably not in Europe. There is no such thing as obscure region specialities, because people in the US won’t belive you if you ate something they haven’t heard of. And if you can’t see an iconic sight, like the Eiffel Tower or the bridges of Venice, then you are probably not doing a good enough job at being in romantic places; try harder. There will be iconic places everywhere; well, as long as you go where the rest of the tourists go. Occasionally you’ll feel obliged to eat at a small and slightly grimy café, just to prove that you went off the beaten path sometimes; but you’ll be much more comfortable in the places where you’re surrounded by other foreigners. The important parts of a country—the parts where you can find yourself AND fall in love—are not determined by the people that live there, but by your travel guide (like this one, and I’ll quickly list them for you: Sagrada Familia, Eiffel Tower, [sunny beach in South France with sunbathers], the Colosseum, Big Ben (if you count the UK as part of Europe, and you’re an American Anglophile, so you do), the temple to Athena whose name you can’t remember in Athens, the canals and bridges of Venice. Alternately, read any of the books listed above and you’ll find all the other important sights.). Oh, and you’re not really go into any of these countries because they don’t feature in any movies you’ve ever watched about Europe, so therefore must not exist: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova, Kosovo. Basically the Balkans and the Baltic.)

People: Yeah, the people are a really appealing part of Europe. If you’re a young, you’re sure to meet people in two categories: 1, grumpy old people who suck at English, hate tourists, and make you feel like you’re seeing the real Europe; and 2, attractive and cool young people of whatever gender you find attractive who know local secrets (ooh, exciting), enjoy drinking because the drinking age in Europe is 18 or younger, and will somehow have enough money to accompany you on part of your travels. There are other people in Europe, but if you meet people who deviate from the national norm (Muslim Danes, Italian speaking Swiss, black Spanish), you’ll be in the minority, and again you might not really be in Europe, because as we know, all Europeans are white, except for the ones who are really really tanned. But, just be warned, you might fall in love with one of these Europeans, and the one you fall in love with will definitely speak English and there won’t be any issues with, say, your parents or their parents that will stop this romance from being the only one that will ever matter. 

History: Ugh. History. Do I even need to cover this? You probably know it all already. The Germans caused WWII and are sorry, don’t worry, they’re cool now; they occupied France (was there something called the Maignot line that didn’t work?) and then there was Russia for a while, just all over everything, ugh, and Germany was split, and then some wall fell, how fun, and the Cold War happened and then at some point there were rich cities in Italy that paid Leonardo Da Vinci to make stuff. Oh, and there were Crusades, how fun right? And there were dark ages, oh my goodness, America never had Dark Ages because Christopher Columbus escaped from them and started America, good for him. There’s lots of history, you’re going to be soaking it in all day, you’re a total expert. 

Where to Stay: You might have to stay in one or two youth hostels. Sorry about that! But it’s a great location to meet other young people who are having a fun time. Mostly though you have a lot of cash and not much explanation of where it comes from, so you get to stay in swanky hotel rooms in perfect locations with little to no supervision. And if you’re lucky you’ll get to be in a swanky bus or a boat that is somehow available to you. If you make friends with the locals* you can maybe stay with them and experience ‘authentic cuisine’, which will probably be a three course meal. There are places to stay everywhere in Europe as long as you only go where other tourists go.

*the English speaking, inexplicably good looking locals

Dangers: There might be some people who will try to rip you off. But you have a ridiculous amount of money for an eighteen year old without a job, so that shouldn’t trouble you. Otherwise, there are pickpockets, but, despite this being your first trip, you’re far too savvy a traveler to let them bother you. 

So, was this painfully true? Do you think Europe is romanticized? Tell me in the comments! 

blogging · Uncategorized

Mini reviews + a reading challenge (!)

HI Virtually readers! After 19 days away from home in warm south india (we went to 6 states + more passing through by train), we’re home. Hopefully this means that I can dedicate more time to blogging. I really need to go and read people’s blog posts and stuff, but I had a really nice break nevertheless. PLUS I read 13 books, which was obviously fabulous. So I’m going to review a few that I don’t think I’ll give a full review today and also talk about this reading challenge I’m going to do this year.

The Fault in Our Stars

This was actually my 3rd or 4th reread, I can’t remember. ( The last one was on a wobbly whale-watching boat in Sri Lanka, fun fact).  I’ve previously said I think this book is overrated. While I disagree that it’s ‘the best book I’ve ever read ❤ ❤ <3’ like I’ve heard some people say, I did enjoy it. So here are some of my thoughts.

  • Hazel had a really distinct voice, which I really liked.
  • Building on that, I really liked Hazel’s tone (i.e. her attitude to the story) and the book’s mood (the kind of emotions it portrays, I guess)
  • John Green/ this book really seems to ‘get’ how teenagers work, or at least how I work.
  • I felt like it was realistic: the horribleness of cancer certainly wasn’t romanticised.
  • TFIOS explored the question ‘do we need a legacy’; Augustus’ obsession with doing something great was really thoughtfully explored.
  • I generally enjoyed all the references to philosophy and literature etc.
  • The ending is really great
  • So are the secondary characters, like Hazel and Augustus’ friend Isaac and Hazel’s mother and Peter Van Houten.

However, I still feel like TFiOS is overly focused on romantic love, and it’s not (to me at least) one of the best books ever.

Characters: 5/5

Plot: 3/5

Setting: 3/5

Themes & writing style: 4/5

Total: 3/5

Peter Pan

I wanted to read this classic after being in a Peter Pan play last year. If I had to summarise it in a sentence, I’d say: Boy takes girl to imaginary island and stuff happens. So in case you can’t tell, it was confusing. The plot didn’t really know what was going on? I have a longer review (because I reviewed all the of 13 books I read LIKE A BOSS), but here are some thoughts.

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  • The Crocodile: Neverland, of course, has a crocodile. At one point he swallowed a clock (at another point he swallowed Hook’s hand, fun fact) and so a) whenever Hook hears ticking he panics and b) whenever someone wants to know the time, they hang out near the crocodile until it strikes the hour, then go back and tell everybody the time.
  • Tinker Bell: gets so jealous of Nancy, because they both like Peter. Peter is very nonplussed by all this.
  • Political correctness: was not very present. Then again, it was published in 1902, and the entire book was pretty mocking of a lot of other things, so I could deal with it. But Nancy was basically there to be a housewife. The boys had all the adventures by themselves, and it basically was not an empowering-women story. On the other hand, in the end the boys all grow up and become boring while Nancy and her daughters get to go back to Neverland. Also there was this whole passage about Red Indians vs Palefaces, which didn’t make much sense.
  • After acting in Peter and the Starcatchers, reading Peter and the Starcatchers, and reading Peter Pan, I should probably watch the movie.

Plot: 2/5

Characters: 3/5

Setting: 4/5

Theme/Writing: 4/5

Total: 3/5

Also, I might post more photos from my holiday (we went to this really cool fort, for example), but if not here’s this photo of me in a bookshop in Bangalore:

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I’m also announcing that I’m doing the Ivyclad Bingo! 2017 reading challenge hosted by Rain@ Ivyclad Ideas. It looks really fun, and also doable (except maybe the over 500 pages one). Today I made a chart so I can keep track of it. If you’re interested in joining (which you totally should), go over to her blog!

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I should rotate this, but I’m not in the mood frankly

Are there any good books I should read? Which posts have I missed? What have you been up to recently? What are your feelings about TFiOS? TELL ME THE THINGS

 

books · features · Shar

Book Page Art

On Valentines day, Shanti, a friend, and I, did some crafts. I made a Daughter of Smoke and Bone bookmark (which I currently can’t find- it’s probably been swallowed by the bookmark monster) and I made this bookish art. Later it occurred to me that other members of the blookunity may be DYING to do something with all those book pages they don’t want, and I knew a how-to guide was in order. Since this was an afterthought, some of the photos aren’t very accurate because I had already, say written the quote. Also, this kind of how to guid is super-flexible to a LOT of adaptation.

Book Page Art

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This is what I did with Passage To India

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Materials:

craft materials

  • An unwanted book page or two (I used one from a destroyed  well-loved Harry Potter 5 that had already fallen out. I think we have two copies of that book… On the other side I used a piece of Passage To India, which I got for free and probably won’t read again. I tried to quell the feelings of guilt.)If you live in places with good second hand/thrift/op shops, they often sell books for super cheap. The only problem is they’re often the sort nobody would want to read, so they’re perfect for art like this.
  • Paper glue (i.e, a glue stick)
  • PVA glue (the white stuff that comes in a bottle) (optional)
  • A base- a piece of card, say, or paper that you can stick the page to. I used a chunk of cardboard that had washed up in my room.
  • A paintbrush(optional)
  • Some kind of embellishment, such as a heart (Get in the Valentine’s spirit, right?) (optional)
  • A favourite quote from a book (if it’s the book you’re ripping up, that’s good) (optional)
  • Pens for writing aforementioned quote (guess what? optional too)
  • Miscellaneous pieces of paper/card (like what I used for the brackets surrounding my quote)

Steps:

  1. Get the book page, the base and the paper glue. Rip pieces from the book page one by one and glue them in their relative position (I recommend starting from the corner and making your way out.) You can rip the page up first, then glue it, but doing it one-by-one helps you to know where to put each piece. For a different look you could cut the book page into pieces instead. Personally, I prefer the rougher edges, but just do whatever you prefer.
  2. Mix the PVA glue with a little bit of water in a small bowl, then paint this mixture over the base. This will help any miscellaneous pieces to stick and give your creation a pleasant shiny appearance.
  3. Read or take bookish photographs while you wait for your glaze to dry. If you want you could make embellishments to glue on the page or find some really awesome quote.DSC02838DSC02848
  4. It’s time to be creative! Stick embellishments on top of the ripped-out page, or write an amazing quote and glue that on. Stick stickers! Write some bookish message like ‘read’ or ‘my book ate my homework’ or ‘#1 Library fan’
  5. If you’re sure you’re done, you can paint another layer of glaze on top of all the interesting things you just stuck to help them stay stuck and again, give a nice shiny ‘finished’ appearance.
  6. Clean up. (I know, it’s terrible). Rinse out your paintbrush (because trust me, you don’t want dried glue on it next time you want to paint something.), put lids on pens, put your pieces of paper away.
  7. Decide where to display your amazing bookish creation. (Which I still haven’t done, actually)

Could you bear to rip a book page up? (I felt guilty too. But I was still pleased with the  result). Do you think you’re going to try this? What’s your favourite bookish quote? What did you do on Valentine’s day?

book review

‘Tis the Season of Rereading: The Host

Okay, I’ll admit it. I read the Host (for the third time back in September) Still I think my review fits in quite well with what we’re trying to do with ‘Tis the Season of Rereading. As a side note, The Season of Rereading (aka school holidays) are almost finished. So this is either the last or second last post. Do you have any feedback?

-Shanti

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.

I’ve read Twilight. I don’t think it was the worst book ever, responsible for the degeneration of the nations youth, but it wasn’t fabulous. It’s easy to see why it appealed to so many people however- and why so many people disliked it. The thing is, I liked the Host. This is my third time rereading it. It was fun- the love triangle was a complex one, the premise was very well executed and I really loved how the deeper themes of identity, family and belonging were woven into the story. It wasn’t perfect- but it was perfectly enjoyable. Stephenie Meyer gets a lot of bad rap, but maybe it’s time to rethink that.
You’ve probably seen the Host around. But in case you haven’t, here is the premise: Earth has been invaded by a species of peaceful aliens, who use human bodies to live inside (Hosts, as it were) This particular soul, Wanderer, is placed in a body who resists her, and then floods her mind with images of the people she loves. Because the soul is essentially human, she starts to feel love for them too. Over the next 600 pages the consequences of that love are explored.  This whole idea was done very well- it’s pretty long and I wasn’t often bored. There are many elements to  the plot, all quite complex ones, that I could really appreciate.
This book is marketed as ‘the only love triangle to feature two bodies. This is true, I guess- there are two bodies, but as is emphasised over and over, it is the body, Melanie, who loves Jared, and Wanda is affected too, but doesn’t love him for herself, not really. The complexity of relationships when a body belongs to two ‘people’ is really interesting, and it was something I really enjoyed seeing. I liked the characters. Wanda is anti violence, meek and compassionate, and Melanie is not. It is really their relationship that is central to this novel, rather than the relationships with Jared, Jamie, Jeb or (j)Ian. All of those characters were complex too, though. I really liked how the outpost and the relationships in it kept evolving as Wanda was accepted. I also loved how complex she was- she feels the very real betrayal of her own kind, but understands the appeal of humanity as well.
Of course, you have to wonder who you are when you share a body. I could actually see some parallels to the Fifth Wave, What’s Left of Me and One in that respect here. Wanda struggles, because only some of her memories are her own, and she doesn’t know what that means. As she develops into a fully fleshed character, her struggle-and Melanie’s struggle-for individuality s very clear. And The Host also deals with the idea of family. Jamie and Jared are Melanie’s family. But who is Wanderer’s family. As Wanda makes friends, she begins to realise that family goes far deeper than blood. It was slightly clichéd, but I liked that anyway. Another theme, connected to the other two, was belonging. Do you belong among your own kind? Who is your own kind? Is it possible to belong in a stolen body? I appreciated the exploration of these themes, and really relished how the ending solidified it all. Wanda is a character easy to empathise with, and the struggles that she went through were a big part of that.
The main thing that I didn’t like about the host was the pacing. It’s a huge book, and it took me the better part of a long weekend to read. But the pacing was off. It would rush through the important weeks while Wanda/Melanie was accepted. It dragged through the getting lost in the desert. It sped through earth shaking kisses, then spent pages describing a soccer game. The worldbuilding was interspersed throughout. I don’t like info dumps, but for a first time reader, the first hundred pages could be really confusing. I also found that some of the descriptions could get repetitive. The internal and external dialogue was excellent, but some of the narration was quite boring.
The Host is a very interesting book, and I liked it. It bears rereading well, with a good plot and good characters and a good story. Sometimes, authors deserve a second chance.

Have you read the Host? What do you think of rereading books with a bad reputation? tell me in the comments!

books

YA Psychologist

What is your bookish problem? If you’re a bookworm, you have probably encountered a lot of heartache for a lot of reasons. So today, I’m here to help diagnose you and offer you some counselling.

-Shanti

psychologist

Patient # 1: TBR sufferer

Patient: I don’t know what to do. My TBR is trying to kill me. I have so many books– books I bought, books I have from the library, audiobooks, ebooks, and arcs and I don’t know what to read, least of all what to read next. I want to read all of the books, but there are too many. I can’t survive this. *weeps*

Psychologist: TBR’s are terrible, I know. But you need to come to terms with the fact that, no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to read all of the books you want to. Once you internalise that fact, you can start to think about which books you really want to read. Is there something that you’ve heard a lot about, and own already? Is there a book that sounds so you you must feast your brain on it? Read those books, enjoy them (hopefully) and try not to panic. Panicking prevents reading from being fun.

 

Patient # 2: The Book Planner

Patient: I’m helpless. I spend all my time obsessing over books and making charts of when they come out and I have a spreadsheet of where and when I’m going to buy them and all the interviews the author ever gave and I need to check all the hashtags for the books every day. This takes up all my time, and now even my book reading friends think I’m weird.

Psychologist: It’s great that you love books so much. Still, planning around all the release dates can be very stressful. I recommend that you have a set amount of time for organising books, and then don’t go over that amount. You don’t really need to do very much, it’s the publishers job to monitor the release dates and everything. Give yourself a certain number of books, the ones which you’re most excited for, and preorder them, or ask your library to preorder them. That way, they’ll come when they come and you’ll be ready for it.

 

Patient # 3 : The Bookterneter

Patient: I love books and I love reading. But recently I’ve found that I spend more time on bookstagram and bookter and booklr and goodreads and booktube and book blogs than I do actually reading. As well as not reading, all this time means that I get really jealous of other peoples books when I hear so much about them, and I keep getting halfway through a book then stopping, because I’ve heard of another I want to read. I just love all the community around books online, and I don’t want to just leave it, but I still want to spend more time reading. How can I not be so distracted?
Psychologist: Well, first off, it’s people like you, who get people excited about books, who are really important to publishers. You are helping the whole book community by spending time online, but the reading books is still the uniting factor. If you struggle this much with being distracted (which is okay! It happens to the best of us!) then turn your wifi or data off– or outright shut down your device– for an amount of time you set yourself, which should be just for reading. And then you can come back to the internet and share your love or hate about the book.

Patient # 4: The book-ripped-my-heart-out-and-I-can’t-recoverer

Patient: I read this book. I read it six weeks ago. It was the end of a series. I had been anticipating it since I read the previous book, and I was so happy to have it in my hands. I read it, fast, and I loved it, but at the end there was a horrible plot twist and something bad happened to my favourite character. I left the world of the book when I closed it’s pages, but the story has been haunting me. I often find myself sobbing, because I’m thinking about the book. I can’t read, because the only story I can think about is that one. *bursts into tears*

Psychologist: It’s okay, it’s okay. Well actually, it isn’t. I can’t tell you that it’s just a book, because it isn’t just a book to you, is it? The book was a home to you, a place of refuge, a place of belonging, and you can’t just read another book while you’re still attached to this one. That said, sometimes the pages of another book is the best place to find recovery. So I suggest that you write a list of what you loved about the book you read. Then you can use that information to inform your next step. You could write fanfiction. You could make a tumblr account entirely dedicated to the book. You could reread the series. You could read another book that shares some of the things you loved about this one. There are so many options on the road to recovery.
Have you ever experienced any of these? What are your main bookish problems, and do you tell the people around you about them? Tell me in the comments!