Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Ultimate Nerd List 2014


Well, almost. But I did promise that at least one blog this year would be done both properly and on time. And look at that: This one’s a whole day early!

And that kind of defeats the point of it being a blog to ultimately end off the year, but whatever. Let’s just get on with it.

Hallelujah. 2014 has finally ended. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I would make it through a year of minimal reading, maximum stress, and then a struggle to pull together the mess of my life right at the end. Thank goodness I at least made it to my 50-book goal (barely – I just finished book number 50 about twenty minutes ago) so I can pretend I have a shred of dignity left after 2014 stripped me of… well… everything.

Despite its horrific cruelty, 2014 was without a doubt an eventful year and that made my latest list of ‘Best Things Of The Year That Managed Not To Kill Me (Yet)’ very very very difficult to compile. Nevertheless, I hope it’s enjoyable, and here’s to another year of frantic blogging and reading while I try to keep up a vague interest in my last year of schooling.


Books I’ve finished this year: 50 (view my 2014 shelf)

Best Books of the Year:

Book of the year: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Goodreads | my review)

In a word: Phenomenal. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a book that absolutely everybody needs to read, regardless of your taste in books, regardless of your taste in authors, regardless of whether you are even a reader. It’s not even that long. You have no excuses.

Fiction: Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres (Goodreads | my review)

YA Fiction: Don’t Look Back by Jennifer L. Armentrout (Goodreads | my review)

Series: The White Rabbit Chronicles by Gena Showalter 

Sci-Fi: A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, no. 3) by George R. R. Martin (Goodreads)

Worst Book of the year: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messaud (Goodreads)
(I couldn’t even finish it. I don’t not finish books. It was that bad.)

Other notable reads:
The Cider House Rules by John Irving (Goodreads)
Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus (Goodreads | my review)
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (Goodreads)
The Three by Sarah Lotz (Goodreads)


Fangirl Moment of the Year:

This year I was incredibly privileged to be able to travel overseas not once but twice – firstly on my school’s Cultural Tour in April, and then on the Global Young Leaders Coneference in June/July. Both were life-changing experiences, and included several bouts of laughter, tears and squealing, so I think they both count as ‘fangirl’ moments.

Also: Mockingjay: Part One, The Queen of Zombie Hearts, Opposition, and I got to see The Fray live. (I believe these stunted freak-out sessions of note that were largely less-glamorous than my excursions overseas.)

Facepalm Moment of the Year:

You remember those overseas excursions I just mentioned? Well, let’s just say that they provided me with many, many more surfaces to trip over, and a wider, more varied audience to shame myself in front of. But I suppose I should consider myself lucky that I was able to trip in the Colosseum and amuse a bunch of British and American tourists (I’ll do anything for my fans).

Also: The Kim Kardashian Hollywood game, the rise of Iggy Azalia (‘Igloo Azahaha’ as my six-year-old cousin calls her), and new twelve-year-old clothing styles. Mega-Facepalm.

Movies and Music:

Song of the Year: Out of the Woods by Taylor Swift.
Not really my favourite song, but I think it’s really very representative of the feeling of getting through yet another tough year. You know - if you look at it all metaphorically with the woods being 2014. No? Never mind.

Album of the Year: 1989 by Taylor Swift
Life's too short to pretend to hate Taylor Swift.

Lyric of the Year:

“Take off your makeup and put down the camera. Choke on the drama that makes me want to tear up the pictures, the pages you’ve saved creating a life of friends and make-believe.”
- All Time Low, The Girl’s A Straight-Up Hustler

A Note: Ironically, the two most-played songs on my iPod are A Little Party Never Killed Nobody by Fergie, Q-tip and Goonrock, and Happy Endings Are Stories That Haven’t Ended Yet by Mayday Parade. I think that accurately describes the year as a whole and its major bipolarity.

Movie of the Year: Divergent
The Divergent film was as good as the book. Perhaps even slightly better (PERHAPS). I loved it, and I loved the way the director got everything as close to the book as possible, but also made the story watchable, not just readable. It was amazing. 

Movie Scene of the Year:

I can’t think ‘epic’ without thinking ‘Dianna Agron in The Family’. If you haven’t seen the scene where she beats up a bunch of pervy teenage boys with a tennis racquet, I suggest you do so now. It is 50% hilarious, 50% totally disturbing, and 100% inspirational. (YouTube link)

HAPPY NEW YEAR – again. I hope 2015 is entertaining (if not entirely relaxing) and overall enjoyable (if not filled to the brim with stress). Thanks for sticking with this blog for another year!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas and All That Jazz

This is just a mega-quick post to say:

I hope you've all had (and still are having) a very festive season, and thanks to all of you who are still reading my blogs and reviews while you’re on holiday and have nothing to procrastinate for. It warms my heart, really.

This post is also functioning as yet another “Update from Amy”, as I’m driving down to the coast tomorrow and will regrettably be unable to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot while lying in bed. So what that means is this: I will be doing a truckload of reading (and hopefully reach my 50 book goal for the end of the year – fingers crossed) and a lot of writing due to being unable to spend several hours a day scrolling through Tumblr or other useless social media sites. But, due to the fact that I will have to move (i.e. drive to a Wi-Fi hotspot) to be able to post blogs and reviews, I might not be posting reviews and/or blogs very often.

BUT my Ultimate Nerd List is still due on the 31st of December, and no I have not forgotten (again), so maybe it will actually be up on time – or even a little early (who are we kidding? It’ll never be up early. This is me we’re referring to).

Also, seeing as I haven’t done another special Happy Holidays blog, if you’re bored right now you can reread my How To Christmas Socialization from last year. I believe it’s still very relevant…

P.S. If you’re super, ultra bored this Christmas because the family’s left and all you have is soppy Christmas movies and leftover turkey, I recommend reading ‘Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald’ by Therese Anne Fowler. I just finished it yesterday, and it’s a phenomenal (largely fictional) account of Zelda Fitzgerald and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life, narrated from Zelda’s perspective. It gives great insight into the genius and madness behind The Great Gatsby, if you enjoyed that.

P.P.S. If you don’t do the historical novel thing, ‘The Cider House Rules’ by John Irving is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read, and I believe that no matter what kind of books you’re interested in, it’s essential to read.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The Eight Stages of Grief Over the Death of a Fictional Character

Getting attached to fictional characters is an issue that many readers and series-watchers will be far-too-familiar with. Unfortunately, many authors and screenplay writers are possessed by the devil’s minions halfway through a series, and come up with the wonderful and oh-so-original idea of killing off the favourite character, just to see their readers’ or watchers’ reactions. George R. R. Martin and Veronica Roth are two of the most deadly heartbreakers any reader will come across.

This blog was inspired by one particular episode of Downton Abbey, a television series that had never contributed anything to my life and was amusing to watch with my parents (my dad loves it, but has to hold my hand for most of the episodes because evidently the problems of ridiculously rich people in 1900 England stress him out a lot). Given we were watching the Christmas Special, I assumed it would be happy and full of snowy miracles and mistletoe. Um, no. Everything was fine until the last five minutes, and then that damn theme song came on and I just knew. I just knew something bad was going to happen, and I should have just turned off the TV right there but I didn’t.

I cried for about three hours after the credits rolled.

So, for those of you who have never been through this horrific experience, I hope that soon you will understand why your family members cry after Mufasa dies in The Lion King.

Stage One: Sweet Insolence

You can feel the tension building (that faint theme song or leitmotif is playing in the background and everything seems just a little too happy) but you choose to ignore the dread that’s beginning to stir up your stomach. You preoccupy yourself with fantasies about what might happen to your favourite character in the next scene or chapter. This is the part where you’re feeling happiest, and honestly this is the exact part where – if you have any self control – you need to switch off the TV or close your book and spare yourself the heartbreak.

Stage Two: Dread

Something’s beginning to happen, and you can’t deny it any more. You sit up a little straighter in your seat and mentally prepare yourself for the worst. At this point, I usually start biting my nails – awfully clich├ęd, but it proves a marvelous distraction. You might feel a little lightheaded as you sit, riveted, and try to make the plot go faster (it’s sometimes better just to get it over with as quickly as possible, like ripping off a Band-Aid – except that the author/director is guaranteed to draw out the buildup as long as possible).

Stage Three: Shock and Horror

This is it. This is where it happens. The car swerves and the screen goes blank. The narrator cuts off mid-sentence. Within a second, your brain is thrown into oblivion, and for a few moments the image imprints itself onto your memory. There is no going back. Your heart may even just stop for a few tiny moments, and then beat three times as fast as though it’s trying to make up for the lack of a heartbeat in the character’s body.

Stage Four: Denial

Stage four takes place in the few moments when the screen is black, or the scene shifts to a different landscape, or you finally lift your eyes from the page of the book and allow yourself to take one big, shaky breath. You think, This can’t have just happened. No way. This did not just happen. Did that really happen? No. No the author/director would never have done that. He/She couldn’t have done that. It didn’t happen. It couldn’t happen. Nope. Nope nope nope nope nopenopenopenope.
It’s pitiful, really.

Stage Five: Reasoning

This is the worst part. You still haven’t necessarily been given evidence that your favourite character is truly dead. There was no shot of the body, the book was hasn’t said it in so many words yet, so you entertain ideas that maybe, just maybe, they’re going to be okay. Your brain starts to think up other outcomes at top speed. Perhaps the character just blacked out? Maybe it was just a minor car accident. You find yourself praying that the character will be in a coma instead.

Stage Six: Realization

Now there’s really no going back. The shot appears of the lifeless body. The book skips to a funeral scene. Usually some people start crying, or they return to the shock-and-horror phase. Your brain finally clicks that your favourite character is really gone. There will be no more episodes or sequels where they’ll run laughing through purple flowers, unless the author/director is awfully cruel and decides to show a flashback of their character’s beautiful life, just to rub it in. Instead, you’ll have to make do with re-reading/re-watching all the previous episodes/books over and over and over again, all the while sobbing into your ice cream.

Stage Seven: Anger

 You don’t cry now. Not yet. First comes the fury that somebody (the author/director) you put so much trust in would dare to crush your heart with a pestle and mortar and then serve it as garnish on food to the other characters that didn’t deserve to live. You feel like throwing something (I threw a box of pills at the wall in the Downton Abbey Incident) or punching something, and all the while you imagine the face of the author/director as your target. The braver few will even send strongly worded hate mail to editors, explaining why the author was wrong.

Stage Eight: Devestation

After somehow exerting your anger (perhaps by yelling at a certain family member or friend that recommended the series or book to you) you feel emotionally drained. You sink into a hard surface of your preference and allow the grief to wash over you. The scene keeps replaying in your head. Most of us start crying at this point – sobs that cause your other family members that witnessed The Incident to look at us with a raised eyebrow and a touch of concern, before they convince themselves how stupid we’re acting (“You didn’t really believe it was real, did you?” or “Please tell me you’re not seriously upset about something that was made up by a person even more demented than you are...”) and return to their other activities.

Don’t even ask me if there’s a recovery stage – if there is, I haven’t gotten there: it’s been about a decade since The Lion King Incident and I still cry every time I think about it. As far as I know, each fictional character death causes you to turn to another fictional character for comfort, and then they die so it causes a vicious cycle of sorrow that can never be reversed and will one day be used to generate some sort of electricity so that we can watch more TV series where the characters die and this goes on and on and so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

'Eleanor & Park' by Rainbow Rowell

Date finished: 16 December 2014

Rating: 4/5 stars

From the second I started reading Eleanor and Park, I was terrified by the fact that so many people had raved about it. Not that it’s a bad thing that so many people read and enjoy a book; it’s just that after practically half of the world’s population has declared its undying love for something, it will undoubtedly fall short in the minds of those who read it after it’s become “overrated”.

However, I dare say that Eleanor and Park did not disappoint. Too much. I have relatively mixed feelings about this book, and although the good outweigh the bad by quite a bit, I think I’ll start off with a few criticisms before I praise Rowell for her genius, and then yell at her for making me cry.

I have only a few minor issues with the storyline. To begin with, I found that the first hundred-or-so pages were quite difficult to read, and the events seemed a little clouded, as though I was watching the story unfold through a cloud. This quickly resolved, though, and about halfway through the book I was entranced. In fact, when I turned the last page, I was beyond shocked that the story had ended so quickly. Secondly, although I commend Rowell on being one of the few authors able to – finally – write a story about teens in love without the “Insta-Love-In-A-Can” rubbish, I did find that Eleanor and Park’s relationship was just a little random. As in, it seemed to snowball out of almost nothing. Perhaps this is just me totally misunderstanding their beautiful connection and the power of their love or whatever, though, so maybe it’s best to ignore me on this point.

This is the second book of Rainbow Rowell’s that I have read (the first being Fangirl), and I seriously have to commend her on her writing. Everything she writes seems so effortless – reading her books is fun and simple and heartwarming, but she manages to avoid being “fluffy”. I also love her characters, and I love, love, love how Eleanor wasn’t flimsy or ditsy, as are so many female protagonists in the YA Romance genre.

And while, we’re on the topic of Eleanor, let me sing my praises that an author finally – FINALLY – created a female protagonist that didn’t have a “wispy, fragile figure” or “bones like glass”. Eleanor was real, and Rowell made her desirable not in spite of her appearance, but sometimes because of it. Park loves Eleanor and he loves the way she looks, and I thought that was special. (I’m quite sick of male protagonists stating that they would love a woman no matter what she looked like. Quite frankly, it’s often untrue, and I would prefer somebody who loved the way that I looked inside and out over somebody who constantly had to see past my looks to remember why he loved me.)

But Rowell didn’t stop there – she also exposed the nasty part of society that shames women who are overweight, or even just slightly larger than “waiflike”. Eleanor was bullied because of her appearance, but she never turned to diets or starving herself to make herself look like the “pretty” girls. She was just herself – she cried when Park’s mom put makeup on her, for goodness’ sake – and that was truly quite inspirational.

My final comment is on the ending, because that was so not fair. Come on Rowell, I got through 350-odd pages of crying over how perfect Eleanor and Park were just for… well… that? I need closure. I’m actually about to start crying again just thinking about those last few pages. You ripped out my heart, tore it open and danced a sacrificial ritual around it, with fire and blood and everything. I expected you to sew it back up for me, but instead I got a Band-Aid and a used tissue. I demand a sequel.