Sunday, April 28, 2013

Reflect & Renew: April 2013


Hello readers! Say hi to Reflect and Renew which you will be seeing around here at the end of each month. Inspired by Monthly Rewind at the Perpetual Page Turner. Enjoy! :)



REVIEWS:

BOOKS NEXT UP ON MY TBR LIST:
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
Dreamland by Sarah Dessen
Dualed by Elise Chapman
Ten Things We Did (And Probably Shouldn't Have) by Sarah Mlynowski
Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt
Wither by Lauren DeStefano


MOST MEMORABLE EVENTS:
My school's food fair - yay, go yummy stir fry!
Making some awesome clay buttons at pottery class
Finally finishing a crossword for the very first time by myself! I deserve a pat on the back, don't you think?


MOST PLAYED SONG:
Long Distance Call - Phoenix

MADE
Some really good tuna egg salad. You should really try it. So good, especially with saltines!


THINGS I CAN'T WAIT FOR IN MAY:
Warmer weather!
To finally finish all the books I currently have started/in my possession
To get out of my reading slump - I have to!



That's all, see you next month! :)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce #1
Published by Delacorte Press; January 1, 2009
Paperback, 385 pages
Borrowed from library

Flavia de Luce 11 is an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. In the summer of 1950, a series of inexplicable events strikes her home, Buckshaw, a decaying English mansion. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.

"I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life."

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is jailed for murder. He tells Flavia an astounding story of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, a stolen priceless object, and a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school tower thirty years before. Flavia ties tie two distant deaths together, examines new suspects, and follows the search to the King of England himself.


- Description from Goodreads.com



I really wanted to like this book more than I did. I enjoy mysteries a lot, and what could be better than an intelligent 11 year old in Britain acting as detective? At first sight, nothing but as soon as I delved into this book, it just felt...off. I didn't feel a connection to Flavia or any of the characters, and the story wasn't particularly eventful. It was, simply put, a very bland story.

Flavia, to me, was very fake and had no real substance. She felt superficial and as the book went on, I didn't feel as though she had any real emotion. She was very solid and logical - all numbers and scientific facts. Another thing that bugged me was the sheer intelligence of this girl. Yes, I can accept that anybody capable of solving a mystery as complex as this is is supposed to be very smart, but with Flavia, it's hard to believe. She seems more like a very wise adult than an eleven year old. She's incredibly good with her words, she's quick on her feet, and is able to teach herself chemistry by the age of eleven. Uh, well, when I was eleven, I was still laughing at the amazing process in which a baby is born. The first person perspective did nothing to help Flavia's character. It just made it feel even more fake and superficial than it already was. In all, it just felt a bit hard to swallow.

The story itself is dull and tedious to read through. I absolutely wanted nothing less than to read through all the large paragraphs of detail upon detail upon detail. And furthermore, I found the setting completely lacking. The mystery aspect is reasonable - I can see how this crime might play out but it's dull. Oh my, is it dull! The book is simply page after page of tiring logic and who wants to read that? There's no wow factor and unlike a good mystery, the book failed to involve me and capture my attention. There was no WHODUNNIT because well, there were no whos that could have done it. Anyone with brains and who is willing to spend the five minutes to guess would have  surmised the culprit by the end. It's so obvious I'm surprised I didn't get it.

While I enjoyed the concept of The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, I didn't find it well executed. The story is dull and Flavia is hard to relate to. I might pick up the next book to see if it gets any better but chances are, I'm going to skip the others.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The African Trilogy #1
Published by Anchor Canada; April 21, 2009
Paperback, 209 pages
Bought

Things Fall Apart tells two overlapping, intertwining stories, both of which center around Okonkwo, a “strong man” of an Ibo village in Nigeria. The first of these stories traces Okonkwo's fall from grace with the tribal world in which he lives, and in its classical purity of line and economical beauty it provides us with a powerful fable about the immemorial conflict between the individual and society.

The second story, which is as modern as the first is ancient, and which elevates the book to a tragic plane, concerns the clash of cultures and the destruction of Okonkwo's world through the arrival of aggressive, proselytizing European missionaries. These twin dramas are perfectly harmonized, and they are modulated by an awareness capable of encompassing at once the life of nature, human history, and the mysterious compulsions of the soul.

Things Fall Apart is the most illuminating and permanent monument we have to the modern African experience as seen from within.


- Description from Goodreads.com




Remember when I reviewed Brave New World a few months ago? If you remember THAT, maybe you'll recall me saying that Brave New World was a book I read for school. After finishing that a while back, my class started reading Things Fall Apart (ex. Part 2 of our novel study). It took me a long time to finish this, let me tell you. Here's why:

This book tells the story of Okonkwo, who is a very respected man in the village, Umuofia in Nigeria. He's very strong and has anger issues so when the White Christian missionaries come and contaminate the people of his village, he gets angry. And he does certain things that leads to his falling apart, which is essentially the theme of this book. Long story short, it's a book about someone's falling apart.

There's really no way to review this book since it's really a timeline of what goes on in Okonkwo's life. There's nothing particularly spectacular about this book and so if you're a reader that likes FAST, or action-paced, you probably won't like this book much. The plot isn't very solid, and the story tends to fast forward through moments which may lead to confusion. That being said, I don't think the book is written to be fast or action-paced. It's not really a book for your enjoyment, it's one more for your knowledge and understanding, told through the eyes of very well-respected man of the village.

The biggest problem I had with this book is that I did not feel, being raised in a Western society, that I had the means to understand it. That has nothing to do with the differences in the cultures, it's just simply that I have no background or knowledge about Nigerians and this book didn't do much to help that fact. There are still so many things that confuse me. The Nigerian words were quite confusing to. I respect the author's decision to include them (and thank God for the glossary!) but as a reader, it was a hassle. With some of the more religious and cultural terms, the definitions did not help me to understand the book much.

Now that I have gotten that out, I'll tell you what I did like. I loved the detail and description in this book and I think Part 1 was amazing for that. It was direct and straightforward, and it provided a great foundation of understanding for the rest of the novel (which was lacklustre). I think, had it not been for Part 1, I honestly don't think I would have continued. It's only a shame that I didn't find the rest as enjoyable as Part 1.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Blind Date

Hi guys! Now I know I try to stay away from blogging about my personal life, but I just had to tell you! I went on a blind date! Yes, I know, how exciting right? I just LOVE the surprise factor in a blind date - you have no clue what you're getting yourself into! The adrenaline and the fun! So anyway I checked out some of the options I had and picked the one I thought that I would have the most fun with. It was a fail. Unfortunately, the timing was wrong and I was just so exhausted from everything else, I had no interest in pursuing it further. Which is a shame because if I had, it might have been an amazing experience! I highly recommend going on blind dates - it's a great way to find out some qualities you might be looking for...in a book!

Yes, blind dates with books! I think they're just about the best thing ever! Tons of pictures of these fun blind dates have been circulating around tumblr. I'll give you a quick description of what book blind dates are if you don't know. Book blind dates take place in libraries - usually there's a shelf dedicated to this. The books that are picked for these blind dates are wrapped in paper so you can't see the title or anything. When picking the book you want, you're merely going off of the little blurb the librarian has left you on the wrapping paper.


*Both of these pictures were taken off tumblr.* 

After seeing these things on tumblr, I immediately wished that my library would do this! Because seriously, how fun would that be? And my wish did indeed come true! The next time I went to the library, there was this shelf filled with ten to twelve wrapped books. By the time I had got there, there were only a couple left - none of them sounding like YA novels (to be honest, I think they were all adult novels!). I took the one that sounded the most intriguing. Then, I went home and started unwrapping it...guess what book it was? Before I Fall Asleep by S.J. Watson. I had never heard of S.J. or this book prior to the blind date and after finding it on Goodreads, I was pretty sure I was going to "ride this blind date out" and see how it was. That never happened. 

It's just, for me, I'm a very picky reader. I may find a book interesting but the timing has to be spot on. And unfortunately, Before I Fall Asleep entered the scene at a bad time. There's no doubt in my mind that I would have liked it had I finished it, but the mere size of it was intimidating! It's not particularly big but for a plot so straightforward and simple (or so it seems...), I thought it would be hard for me to really get into it. So we parted!

Don't get me wrong, although I didn't stick with the whole experience, I think, overall, blind dates with books at libraries are so much fun! I think whoever thought of this first should get a medal. Honest. So next time you go to a library and see they have this set up, give it a shot! There's nothing to be afraid of...unlike an actual blind date! Hopefully, you find your new perfect book match! :) Good luck!

Friday, April 12, 2013

3 Ways Blogging Can Benefit You

In the past few years, blogging has been on the rise. With millions of people being able to access the Internet in just a click, sharing your thoughts and your life through social media sites has been very popular. Sites like Twitter and Tumblr allow you to express yourself – something some people may not be able to do in their day to day life. This has become so big that nearly everyone that has Internet access is a participant in at least one social media site – be it Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter. A 2011-2012 report released by the World Economic Forum states that 82% of the world population that has Internet access is a participant in at least one social media or social network site. A large percentage of that are people who have either a blog or a microblog such as a Blogger-hosted website, or Twitter, and even more people read blogs.


One major reason why people drift towards blogging is that they have no limits as to what they can talk about. They can talk about books, or food, or even movies. Along with the freedom to blog about absolutely everything they want, there are also many benefits to blogging. Firstly, you can improve your writing skills. By constantly updating your blog, you can hone your skills which will benefit you when writing reports or essays. Secondly, your creativity will increase. When blogging, you want to make sure your material is fresh to gain readers. Having to come up with new ideas all the time that will set you apart from everyone else, your creativity will increase. Finally, you will get to meet new people. Through comments, or new readers, it’s almost guaranteed you’ll find new people to chat with about your passions.


One of the major benefits of blogging is that it can help with your writing. Even though blogging is a very casual form of writing, you still need to be in possession of basic writing skills to get your point across. You need to learn how to write with proper sentence structure, proper grammar, and sentences that get straight to the point. Learning this and putting it into effect can help you when making presentations or writing reports. If you’re an aspiring author, then blogging will help you get into the practice of writing on a regular schedule. Most bloggers schedule their posts in the same way an author might schedule how many words they write each day. Getting into the habit of writing regularly is a good way to make sure you get your word count for each day. As you write more and more, you’re getting more practice. Just like with everything else you do, the more practice you get, the better you become.


Blogging also helps to increase your creativity. When you are a blogger, you constantly have to think of new material to feed your readers. The more you practice thinking outside of the box and thinking outside of what you have done already, the more creative you will become. In the blogging community, it is guaranteed that someone else will have the same idea or theme as you. In order to set yourself apart, you have to think of a unique way to distinguish yourself from the rest and often, the best way to do that is with a good blog layout and design. Though some bloggers may choose to get a graphic designer to make a blog design for them, some may choose to do it entirely on their own. Either way, a lot of creativity and experimenting has to be exerted on the blogger’s part. Without any guidance, a graphic designer can’t do the job either. Becoming more creative is very beneficial to your brain’s well-being. Without constantly exercising your mental abilities, your brain wills lowly deteriorate. By exerting your creativity while blogging, you are also exercising your brain and making it more stimulated and fit.


With so many blogs out there nowadays, it’s very likely you’ll meet someone new as you blog. Anyone can comment on anything, and if you give your readers the option to do so, they can even contact you. It’s one of the major reasons why businesses opt for a blog. It is great publicity as anyone with Internet access can easily find your blog. It’s not impossible for people blogging for their own leisure to meet new people either – in fact, it’s the opposite. There is sure to be dozens of other blogs out in the Internet that have the same theme as you do. With some commenting and communicating, you may just find your new best friend!


Blogging certainly is a great way to share your passions, but as you can see, there are many other benefits to blogging. You can improve your writing skills by writing more frequently on your blog, while also boosting your creativity and meeting new people and gaining publicity. Believe it or not, there are dozens of other benefits to blogging and all you need to do to discover them is to start a blog!

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Okay, so let me just explain myself here. Recently I had to write an essay for school since, well, we're studying essays. Since I'm so dedicated to my blogging, I decided to my essay on how blogging benefits you. This is my final copy. Now, I'm not expecting feedback or anything. I posted this because I thought it might spark a fun discussion. How has blogging benefited you? For me, I think the best way in which blogging has helped me is with my writing. I have improved SO MUCH. Seriously, just flip back to my older review and compare it to some of my more recent ones. Oh my gosh, I CRINGE. Thankfully, I'm way better now. Improved writing would certainly help in the many years of writing reports and assignments I still have left.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Published by St. Martin's Press; February 26, 2013
Hardcover, 325
Borrowed from library

"Bono met his wife in high school," Park says.
"So did Jerry Lee Lewis," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be," she says, "we’re sixteen."
"What about Romeo and Juliet?"
"Shallow, confused, then dead."
''I love you," Park says.
"Wherefore art thou," Eleanor answers.
"I’m not kidding," he says.
"You should be."

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.


- Description from Goodreads.com



Describing this book is hard. Really hard. Because Eleanor & Park is way more than just your average story of friendship and love. It's way more than your average story about broken teens searching to be repaired. It's way more than the words I'm typing now. I don't think it's the best book ever, or that it lives up to all the five-star reviews and hype that it gets, but I certainly agree with anyone who says that Rainbow Rowell is a damn good writer. The words just flow so naturally in this book, and I feel like in order to do justice to how well-written this book was, I'd have to match Rainbow's fluidity. Which I obviously can't. But I'll try.

The thing I liked the most about this book was that it wasn't a love story. No, it's a story about  people finding love. And I love Rainbow for writing it in the most organic, natural way ever. I loved seeing how their relationship progressed. In no way did it feel fake or plastic. On the contrary, it felt so real that Eleanor and Park seemed to pop up from the book. They tugged at my heart and tugged and tugged until I had to cry. Because there is so much going against these two. It's as if the universe just totally does not want them together when for some odd reason, they are meant to be. At times, the problems Eleanor was facing seemed too overpowering and a bit flimsy. I'm not saying that it's impossible for someone to go through everything Eleanor was going through all at once. I just think that it was a bit overdone. 

I'll try to leave this short and sweet because I seriously think you should read this book to figure out for yourself how good this book is. But before I leave you I'd just like to say, if you are a crier, this book will make you BAWL. I'm no crier, but I was practically on the verge of tears the entire time. Eleanor and Park fit so perfectly together that whenever they're not together, it's the most aggravating thing ever. But at the end, you'll love Rainbow for making you feel so much. :)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers; March 13, 2012
Hardcover, 338 pages
Borrowed from library 

It all begins with a stupid question:

Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.


- Description from Goodreads.com



If ever anyone asks me these questions, I will automatically direct you to this book. 

1. Why do you read books like S.A.S.S.? 
2. Why do you pore over travel guides when you aren't going anywhere?
3. Why do you want to travel?

Once you read this book, I promise you, all your questions will be answered. Because once you read this book, you will fall in love with travelling. You will yearn to travel. How can you not? After reading this book? If anyone on this planet Earth has accomplished this, they should phone me immediately. Because I think you may need to reread it.

For me, this book was paradise. I loved the pictures Kirsten was able to create and everything was so well written. The little drawings inside were absolutely fantastic and made the book come together in such a nice way. This book was almost as good as going to all the places in actuality. Yes, almost. There are so many awesome aspects of this book, but for me, the absolute best part was seeing Kirsten's own experiences and passions reflect in her story. Not only did that help me get an insider's look at backpacking, I also got to get to know Kirsten in a nice, subtle way. Though I'm certainly no psychic, I can almost guarantee you that this book will be picked up once again in the future.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Iceland 2013: Part 2

* To check out Part 1, click this link
**All pictures below include captions. Please note that not all pictures were taken by me. To differentiate between mine and ones taken off of Google, I have concocted a handy dandy system. Captions that are italicized are ones from Google, and captions that are not are mine and mine only. Enjoy!

Picking up from where I left off last time, I had an exhausting second day in Iceland, but it was so much fun! The third day was just as amazing and exhausting. Here's what we did:

Iceland has a great and expansive tourist industry. Everything is very tourist friendly, and there are so many great tours to choose from. I remember my trip to the tour desk and just gaping at the massive amounts of pamphlets there were. Tours are something most tourists do at least once on their trip to Iceland. Though it's always a bit inconvenient to be stuck with a tour group, given how big and empty some parts of Iceland can be, it's a good option to go with a tour. For the third day, we took the Golden Circle tour which stops at three famed sites.

The first site we visited was the geyser park. Most of the geysers are dormant and just bubble from time to time, but there is one geyser standing in the center of the park that actually does spray water into the air. It's quite active, exploding every four to six minutes.

An overview of the geyser park. The water here is 80-100 degrees Celsius, so be sure not to stick your hand in the geysers!

Closeup of a geyser. 

I didn't even know the geyser was going to burst. Totally didn't expect the picture to be so good. I just quickly whipped out my camera and pressed the button. Hmm. What say you?

Then, afterwards, I headed to the souvenir shop/restaurant to get some food and guess what I saw? Some crazy Icelandic souvenirs. Ahem. Souvenir, actually. The rest was all woollen sweaters and such.

Heck yeah, a can of fresh mountain air. Isn't that something?

Once we had finished browsing around Geyser Park, we headed off to the waterfall, Gullfoss. It is so damn huge. Seriously. But wait, the place it's located is even huger. The path leading to as close to the waterfall as you can get is so steep and loooong.

Damn, and we're not even finished the path.

The entirety of Gullfoss.

And then, we headed for our next stop. Before I move on though, can I just share one photo? I just adore this. I don't know why...I think I'm developing an obsession with large machines.

I love this so much.

This is somewhat of an irrelevant photo but I just couldn't help taking it. I think this is the greatest way to raise awareness for men's cancer, and so cute!

Our bus is looking fiiiine.

Okay, well then afterwards, we headed to the national park in Iceland, which is also a UNESCO site. Want to know why? I'll tell you: the ├×ingvellir is the only place in the world you can actually see the tectonic plates. Both the North American and the Eurasian are visible. Unfortunately, I had no idea what a tectonic plate would look like so I only have the picture of the North American.

The rough, jagged rock is most likely the tectonic plate.

The other cool thing about the park is the giant pond/lake. It's a gorgeous blue and also very shimmery, due to the coins thrown in there. Legend has it, if you see your coin fall all the way down, your wish will come true. I did see my coin fall down...the second time. Does that count? Otherwise, that's twenty cents down the drain.

I can just imagine a mermaid living here. It's so shimmery.

Since it's a tour, we were on a tight schedule and could only stay a couple of minutes. Thank goodness, because if we were late, we wouldn't have been able to embark on the hunt for the Northern Lights. The tour started at 7 and lasted all the way to 3 in the morning. There's really no set timeline, it's just whenever the lights show up - given that they do. If they don't, no need to worry, you get a second tour free! Valid until two years after your first tour. 

We chased the lights for a long time. At first, we stayed at a cute little restaurant but then we quickly found out that that wasn't such a prime spot to stay so we zoomed to a park. Nope, that didn't work either so the guides decided to drive us home. However, there was some broadcast that the lights were in fact on, soooo, we drove further west to another park. And? We saw them! They were absolutely gorgeous, and it's such a shame I couldn't take a picture. My camera isn't that great. 

This is the closest to what we saw. Sometimes, you can see other colors.

One important thing I learned (besides the fact that you should NEVER use flash to take a photo of the lights) is that they always appear more vibrant in pictures. It's something to do with how long our eyes collect data. We observe things in milliseconds, but in order to get the full impact of the lights, you need to view them in seconds. Unfortunately, our eyes do not have settings we can manipulate so we have to count on the camera to take the pretty pictures. 

Once the show was over, the guides drove us back to our hotel. The next day, and our final day, was spent sleeping in and relaxing before the flight back home. Fast forward a few days, and here I am: typing this out.

I highly enjoyed my short trip to Iceland, and I honestly think it's a great destination for everyone. Seriously. This is absolutely one of the most gorgeous places ever, and you'll adore it. :)

Before I leave you though, there's just one more thing I'd like to share. Something to keep in mind when you do visit Iceland. ;)

Yup, don't eff with Iceland!