Sunday, September 14, 2014

Twenty Questions (Round 3)

Well, I enjoyed doing round one and two of this so much that I decided to do the third round. If you want to see the first twenty, you can find it here. And you can find the second twenty here.

Just like the last rounds, these questions came from 101 Books. You can find the original questions here.

Well, let's just get into then, shall we?

  1. What’s the worst non-fiction book you’ve ever read? I like to read a lot of useless trivia books. I can't recall the name of this particular one, but it clearly hadn't don't its research, because practically every "fact" was wrong.
  2. Least favorite genre of fiction? "Costume dramas" (think Downton Abbey, etc), Paranormal Romance, Adult Horror
  3. What’s your favorite punctuation? " "
  4. What character from fiction do you most identify with? Oh that's a really hard one. Matilda from "Matilda" and Shizuku from "Whisper of the Heart".
  5. More attractive: Yoda or Gollum? Gonna have to go with the green dude.
  6. Excited about the new Star Wars films…yes or no? No. I have a terrible feeling they're gonna end up like the fourth Indiana Jones. 
  7. Is it okay to use a coupon on a first date? No.
  8. Clipping fingernails/toenails in public places…poor etiquette? Very much yes. Why would you even do that?
  9. Your dream job? No idea. Whatever makes me happy. 
  10. What’s the fewest amount of pages you’ve read before quitting a book? I've never not finished a book. I always push through even if I don't like it or find it boring. I just can't not finish.
  11. Fastest you’ve ever driven a car? Not entirely sure.
  12. What is your hobbit name (find it here at the hobbit name generator)? Belladonna Bulge of Hobbiton.  I suppose it has a certain classy flair.
  13. Food/drink you dislike that most people like? Onions. 
  14. Most amount of physical pain you’ve ever experienced? My gallbladder attacked me. That was pretty bad.
  15. Who inspired you to become a reader? I think I answered this question in my last twenty.
  16. What’s the last movie you watched in a theatre? Honestly it's been so long I don't remember. It might have been Pain and Gain.
  17. More terrible way to die? Cruise ship wreck or plane crash? Depends on the impact. Cruise ship wreck would most likely result in drowning- which would be pretty bad, but a plane crash could leave you deserted somewhere with (most likely) some pretty serious injuries. Have you ever read Alive? That true story about survivors of a plane crash who were left stranded in the Andes. One guy hiked all the way down to find help. Some cannibalism happened. Yeah, that would be pretty bad.
  18. French fries or chocolate? Depends on my mood.
  19. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Night owl. Let's put it this way. I'm usually just shutting off as the morning people start up.
  20. How did you find 101 Books? Google. I was looking for interesting content ideas, and came across the twenty questions.

Well, there we go. The third and final instalment to the twenty questions series (is it really a series?). I hope you all enjoyed them, and had a fun time answering the questions yourselves. Until next time!

Sunday, September 7, 2014


First paragraph: "I would like to call forth Ms. Winters. Please state your full name and occupation."

   Amazon /

Halls of Ivy by Roland Nunez is the first book in the series of the same name.


Cheyenne Winters is a Student Affairs professional. Her job is to aid university students during their time at college. In order to achieve her PhD, she has come to Sun Valley University in Florida to carry out an ethnographic study on its students. For four months she will watch, listen and discover everything about her assigned students- those in Dr. Garcia's class. Twenty-one students, one big secret.

Because Sun Valley has had a rash of suicides. Lynn Sawyer is the detective in charge of the case, but it isn't going well. Cheyenne is hoping to do better. The day she arrives is the day of the third suicide. As she gets to know the campus and its students better, she discovers darker aspects. There are rumours that the victims were forced into suicide. Rumours of a cult. The university claims they were a result of depression. But in a school full of thousands of students, gossip is everywhere. The longer Cheyenne stays, the more obsessed she becomes with helping the students she has become close to. 


The story begins in January, when Cheyenne arrives, and is told through a series of flashbacks to the start of the school year in August, continuing to the end of the year in May. The writing is interspersed with biographies of the twenty-one students Cheyenne is studying, and told from many different points of view. With so many different peoples voices, it can dissolve into mindless chatter sometimes, and gets quite confused. Especially as a lot of the characters are irrelevant to the plot.

The story starts off as a jumbled mass of events, with no clear direction. There is a thin thread of plot we have to go on- the mystery of the suicides- but it's not really addressed much. Instead the book focuses on random events, occasionally recounting those surrounding the suicides. 

Now and then, the story will mention problems that a lot of students encounter when going to university for the first time. Money, workload, peer pressure, problems assimilating, identity, depression, but each topic is only glanced over, so can seem quite superficial. Depression, in particular, is a large part of this book, but it's never really addressed. Not the symptoms (bar a couple), not the dangers and not 'treatments'. It's depression without the depression. It's more like depression from somebody else's point of view. 

This book is an enormous jigsaw puzzle. I almost felt the need to create mind maps to process all the information we are bombarded with. A lot of this turns out to be irrelevant, but as this is supposedly a mystery, you never know what could be integral. Turns out practically. It was like doing a 3000 piece puzzle without the box. I just had to try to make connections, find pieces that fit together, and hope that everything would become clear by the end. Continuing the puzzle metaphor, the big picture in this case is rather like an endless sky of blue (all the exact same blue) with one piece devoted to a red balloon. All the other 2999 pieces that you tried to fit into place are just background noise. Static that has no relevance. 

The story is stretched thin, and the book drags because of it. Most of the time it felt like absolutely nothing was happening. One of the main reasons for this is that the book is too focused on aspects of university life. I appreciate an author setting the scene, but I don't need all the details about the administration, etc that goes into this fictional university. It adds nothing, and bogs down the story. 

There is no real conclusion to this story. In fact, there's not much of an ending at all. The 'culprit' is found, but the story trails off. It feels like the writer wrote the entire series as one big story, then chopped it up into individual books of the desired length. That is not how good writing works. The ending was safe and unexciting. 300 pages of 'clues' led to about five for the 'big reveal'. 

I expected an increase in pace at some point during this story, I expected payoff, I expected more that I got. I trudged through it. There is so much information thrown at you that it becomes a chore to try and process. When you get to the end and find you didn't need the majority of it, it's like a slap to the face. Why should I put this much effort into reading a book, if the book isn't going to put effort into itself. If this is supposed to be a thriller it does not achieve that. There is no pace, and everything is bogged down by inconsequential details. A thriller, by definition, should thrill. 

Some students are mentioned and never heard from again. For one student in particular, I felt this was a huge oversight. Whether or not their fate will be revisited in the next book is irrelevant. If you want your readers to care about the characters, don't ignore their stories. Don't leave an ambiguous comment that reveals nothing about their ending. 

I can see what this book was trying to accomplish, but (in my opinion) it failed. If it was trying to describe university life it went overboard. Yes, university has its problems, as do the students- anybody could tell you that, but the story puts heavy focus on depression and corruption without ever really focusing on the good aspects of university life. I'm sure there are universities that have corruption within them, but that is not the majority. Not to mention that for a book that focuses on depression, it doesn't really go into it. Some students are depressed. Here's a couple symptoms. Now I can just say 'depressed' and that's enough, right? No. If you are going to touch on hard issues like depression, suicide and rape you need to do them right. It has to be more than a glancing comment. You need to invest time into them. All of them. Don't just say that 'rape is bad and it hurts people', actually go deeper. You cannot include topics like that on a superficial level and expect it to work. 

For a book whose main character cares so strongly for the students, this book tells us surprisingly little about them. Yes I know there is a second book, but what's my incentive to read that if I don't care about the characters? 'Oh, so and so has a problem. Isn't that bad? Shouldn't we do something? We should do something.' And that's it. It's never revisited. We have no idea what happens to the student. Whether or not they got the help they needed is as ambiguous as everything else in this book.  This book does exactly what it claims the 'corrupt officials' of its story does- not care about its students. 

The characters weren't so bad, but they are nothing special, and certainly nothing that could save this book for me. I got nothing out of this story. I wish I could say that I did. I diligently followed what little plot there was, connected the dots- all that jazz- and I got nothing out of it but a weak, slapdash ending that was supposed to shock me into a realization that i just didn't care about. The best bit about this book was when it finished.

Perhaps this just wasn't my story, but the whole thing had me apathetic till the end. There may be redeeming features, but they're overpowered by everything else. Everyone is different, and I'm sure someone will enjoy this book, but it's not me. 

Disclaimer: I received this book in a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Friday I'm In Love

First paragraph: "Some great romances worth the telling are never told, their lovers slipping silently between life's timeworn cracks only to be pitched with yesterday's trash. As owner of a small estate-sale business, I'd witnessed evidence over the years of various couples' love lives. So I'd learned to sift through piles of forgotten memories. Learned to appreciate a second look...and perhaps ease my pain."

      Amazon /

"Forever Friday: A Novel" by Timothy Lewis is a love story.


In the summer of 2006, Adam Colby is supervising one of his estate sales in Houston, Texas. The old house belonged to the Alexanders- a couple who have both passed away. Whilst perusing the contents during his day, he flicks through an old photograph album, and finds six decades worth of postcards- each with a poem written by Gabe Alexander to his wife, Huck. 

As Adam reads each one, he finds himself enchanted by their seemingly 'perfect love'. Unhappily divorced two years ago, he wonders how the Alexander's kept the spark in their marriage when his went so disastrously. The more he reads the more he wants to know, and sets off contacting people from the Alexander's past in order to discover more about them. His main interest is Yevette- the daughter of the Alexander's housekeeper. If he can find out the formula for the 'perfect marriage', perhaps he has a second chance at love.

Meanwhile, in 1926, Gabe and Huck Alexander meet for the first time. The rest is history.

Switching between point of views, we see the story told from Adam, Yevette, Gabe and Huck's perspective. The story is told through a series of flashbacks to Huck and Gabe's first meeting in 1926,  and beyond, following their love story and that of the postcards- sent every Friday for sixty years. 


This story was inspired by the lives of the author's great-uncle and aunt, and shares many similarities. At their estate sale, he discovered sixty years of postcards poems from his great-uncle to his great-aunt, and it was that which sparked the concept for this book.

In this story, each poem connects to an event in Gabe and Huck's life at the time. We don't get to see all of them, but almost every chapter starts with one of the poems- relating it to events in the chapter as they would have related to events in the Alexander's lives. They span from 1926 to the mid-80s when Gabe died. 

You have two stories here- Adam's and the Alexander's. The latter is the focus of the book, and most of it is spent in the past with them. We also get flashbacks to 2004, when Huck is in a nursing home with dementia, and still believes that Gabe is sending her postcards. He promises her one final postcard, and there is a small mystery about what is says- revealed at the end. 

From the very start you know the framework of the ending. You have the story of two lovers who lived full lives and are both deceased. But as the years fly by, the inevitability of it, mixed with the uncertainty of the 'how' creates a sense of dread and sadness. A bitterness that must seep through the sweet.

The Alexander's love starts off as a heady, rosy-tinted whirlwind romance. As the honeymoon faze fades, a more realistic relationship does develop. They quarrel, they bicker and they fight, but they never allow themselves to lose their love. Huck is definitely the less mature of the two, occasionally throwing tantrums if she doesn't get her way, but there is absolutely nothing superficial about their relationship.

Obviously, Huck and Gabe's story is the focus, and it shines through. Adam's story, however, I found quite predictable, and I didn't really get anything much out of it. However, as I said, this if the story of Gabe and Huck, and that's it. The story of two people who meet and fall in love. The simplicity of the concept creates a kind of magic to the words. It is a very moving story. We may know the basics of how the story ends, but as the old proverb goes- it is the journey that matters, not the destination, and that is the mantra of this story.

There are some possible supernatural elements. Perhaps an angel, or maybe just a drifter whose words inspired a young girl's heart. It doesn't matter who he was, what matters is what he meant to Huck, and what she believed he was. It was the hope he sparked in her that emanated throughout this book. 

The characters are, well Gabe and Huck are the two who stand out, as they should. Their absolute adoration for each other shines through the pages, and make this story. The other characters are almost superfluous. With one exception. A character by the name of Mister Jack, who I will say no more on lest I spoil it.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book- far more that I thought I would. This is more than the usual love story. It is a story of hope. Of two people who consciously choose to never let their love slide, and that love is undeniable. While the situations may be romanticised (and therefore not entirely realistic) there is no doubt of the characters devotion to one another. It radiates. It is the lifeblood of this book. Yes, it can be a little sappy at times, and very cheesy, but oh well. 

I believe this book is sometimes labelled "Christian fiction". Personally, I don't really like that as a label, because it tells you nothing about the book other than some form of God may be in it. Fiction is a diverse genre, and is not a clear enough description of a books genre. To me, describing a book as "Christian fiction" is like describing a book as "Chick Lit". Yes, we all know what that mostly means, but it is not a label that I think works. Anyway, I am not a religious person myself, so what did I think of the religious factors in this story. Well, they're not preachy- which is always my biggest worry. Rather, some of the characters are religious, and their actions and words will represent that. There may also be an 'angel', but it's left ambiguous. So, for me it wasn't really a big deal. 

This is a feel-good book (for the most part), but was more profound than I expected it to be. I flew through the pages, as the years flew by the Alexander's. A great love story with a deeper meaning.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from Blogging for Books. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Twenty Questions (Round 2)

Well, I enjoyed doing round one of this so much that I decided to do a second round. If you want to see the first twenty, you can find it here.

Just like the last round, these questions came from 101 Books. You can find the original questions here.

Well, let's just get into then, shall we?

  1. Will Dicaprio’s performance as Gatsby be better than Redford’s? He's Leonardo DiCaprio. Of course it will be.
  2. Narnia or Middle Earth? Oh, this is a hard one. I think I'd have to go with Middle Earth though. Narnia seems like it would get bland pretty quickly.
  3. Hemingway or Joyce? Hemingway
  4. Favorite font? Well that really depends on what I'm using it for. For example, this blog is written with Georgia, but here's another font I like: IM Fell DW Pica- Look at this fancy font. Bubbles. Cheese on toast. Onomatopoeia.  
  5. What’s your ideal book length for reading? 200-250 pages (But I'm not picky).
  6. You have to go a year without a book (all forms) or a week without food. Which one do you choose and why? I'd go a week without food. Difficult, but manageable. It's only a week. I can't do a whole YEAR without reading! That's just crazy talk.
  7. Best concert you’ve ever been to? Hmmm, I'm not a huge concert fan. I'm pretty short, so I tend to get the short end of the stick (no pun intended) in a crowd. 
  8. Star Wars or Star Trek? Star Wars. 
  9. Best compliment you ever received from a teacher/professor? "Are you thinking about going into writing?"
  10. What’s your one piece of writing advice? (don’t be shy!) Find your style. Don't try to write like someone else, because that's going to get you nowhere. Find your groove, and rock it.
  11. Mountain reading or beach reading? Well, beach reading is more likely to happen in my life. But then you have the sun in your eyes, sand everywhere, the book can get wet, etc. Reading inside next to a fire, while snow falls outside your window and you have a hot drink next to you just sounds fantastic, doesn't it?
  12. What’s one novel you think is awesome that everyone else thinks is bad? Oh no. I could give you an example of books I didn't like that everyone else did, but the other way around? This is a hard one because it's so subjective. Okay, so I looked up so many books for this question, trying to find one that was not only hated, by poorly rated as well. And this is my answer: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Apparently that didn't do too hot. 
  13. Conversely, what’s one novel you think is bad that everyone else thinks is awesome? The Loop by Nicholas Evans. One of the most boring books I've ever read. It has 4 stars on Goodreads. Four!
  14. Amazon: Good or bad? Mostly good. (This is 101 Books answer, but I have nothing to add).
  15. Most famous author you’ve ever met? I've met Eoin Colfer. And yes I have his autograph. It was pretty awesome.
  16. What percentage of books on your bookshelf have you actually read (estimate)? A pitiful amount. 50% or less maybe? The problem is for every book I read, I buy at least five more. Curse you charity shops and your affordable literature!
  17. Favorite reading beverage? Don't really have one. If the book mentions a particular drink in nice detail, I might crave it, but otherwise just whatever I'm already drinking. 
  18. A hypothetical: Print and digital books are no more and audio books are the only form of literature remaining. One catch: All the audio books are read by Gilbert Gottfried (who has indeed recorded an audio version of 50 Shades of Grey). Are you done with literature? Sorry Gilbert, but probably yes. Maybe every so often I would forget how terrible it sounds and try another, only to be unpleasantly reminded. For me, narrators of audiobooks are a big part of whether or not I'll enjoy it. I'm extraordinarily picky when it comes to narrators, which is generally why I prefer to just read the book myself.
  19. One novel every teenager must read? Alice in Wonderland. You're never too old to imagine. 
  20. Who inspired you to become an avid reader? I'm not sure. I think I was just in an environment with lots of readers. I have a large family, and many of them are avid readers. Probably my parents though. They bought my sister and me the Biff and Chip books (The Magic Key series, that's what they were) and it was through those that I learnt to read. I suppose the passion for reading would've come from me.

And there you have it. Another 20 questions delving into my psyche, or something. I hope you enjoyed this quick-ish post. Next week should be a review, now that another assessment is out of the way. See you all then, cheerio!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Prudence and the Crow (August 2014)

Well it's that time of the month again, and a lovely brown package awaited me as I descended the stairs.

If you'd like a little more information about Prudence and the Crow, you can check out my first review (where I go into a little more detail) or their website. You can find out more details, such as prices, etc, from either of those sources, but for now, let's get into Prudence and the Crow, mark August 2014.

I won't be showing all the packaging details anymore, and if you want to see photos of how the box comes packaged, etc, you can look up my previous review via the link above. I'll be starting this review after opening my box.

Well, mostly. But I have to stop and share the amazing stamps that were on the outside of my box. I believe the bottom two are (on the right) Alice in Wonderland, and (on the left) The Wizard of Oz. 

When I came down the stairs on Thursday (the 14th) I did not expect to find my box awaiting an audience with me. The boxes only ship out on the 13th, so my postman must have seriously put on his skates!

This was what I saw upon opening my box. Let's just go through it one thing at a time, eh?

First up: let's go through the sundries.

Top left we have the personalised library card that comes with every box. Top right some Prudence and the Crow movie tickets that come with many boxes, and on the bottom we have the tasty treats I got this month. Again treats come with every box, but exactly what you get changes.

Next up, something new and amazing- a Summer Mix Tape with 16 songs covering a wide variety of genres.


My favourite songs from the bunch were these:

"Is This Love" by Aiden Grimshaw

"It Doesn't Matter Anymore" by Buddy Holly

and "Teignmouth" by Patrick Wolf

Thanks Prudence and Crow for introducing me to some awesome new music. Anyway, on with the show. Time for the piece de resistance- the book itself. This month it came with a lovely "picnic feeling" cover.

The material is fantastic. Soft and smooth, and so very fitting for the book itself:


Well, I'm very excited to read about some fabulous jaunts along the Thames, a la "Wind in the Willows" ambience. The perfect accompaniment to the British Summer. I'll have to find a lovely willow tree to sit beneath as I read this. 

So that's the lot. I'm very happy with my box (as always) and can't wait for the next. I love the mystery. Never knowing what I'm going to get. Is it September yet?

I'll leave you all with this quote from my box (courtesy of The Wizard of Oz):

Words to live by, I think.