Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Amusements 14

Another week has begun, but Once Upon a Bookcase's LGBTQ YA Month has just finished. I've loved reading the reviews but I found Jo's review of Weetzie Bat really interesting as it's a book I have mixed feelings about too. I think that essentially it's too whimsical for my taste but I do like the language and there are some great lines. I also really liked this guest post by Jane Eagland, on Changing the Sexuality of Characters on Editor's Request, which provides some insight into the way that some editors might see works with LGBTQ characters.

Natassia at Literary Escapism wrote about some bookstore renovations that displeased her.

What I'd Like To See More of in YA..., the first in a new series at Fluttering Butterflies, made me realise that although I'm not a fan of playing, or watching sport, I quite like reading YA in which sport plays a major role in the main character's life. How odd!

Two new reading challenges you might be interested in: the Beat the Heat Readathon and the Gallagher Girls by Ally Carter Read-a-thon (check out my review of the first in the series here).

Andrew at The Pewter Wolf re-read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I wonder what I'd think of that series if I read it again now.

I think it's about time that Speak is awarded the title of Most Controversial YA Book Ever. I almost missed this latest round of controversy but for The Broke and the Bookish's round-up. I haven't even read it yet and all this annoys me.

Raimy gave audiobooks a try and is not convinced. I also find it quite difficult to remember what happened unless I go back a bit. I only listen to audiobooks on the move, which usually means on trains, but I still prefer paper books because there are fewer interruptions from tunnels and noisy fellow passengers.

Now I'm off to go to bed and hopefully get some more reading in tomorrow!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Latitude Festival 2013

If you've noticed things being a bit quiet around here, it's a) because I was settling into my new job and b) because I was getting ready for Latitude! I'd been looking at the lineups for years, pretty much since the festival first started, but none of my friends were interested. When my boyfriend suggested we go this year I was thrilled, and after we bought the tickets I spent the next couple of months looking forward to it with a mixture of excitement and nervousness.


Latitude was the first properly organised weekend festival that I've been to. The last time I went to a festival was in 2008, the doomed ZOO8, a festival so badly run that they paid Mark Ronson with a wheelbarrow of cash from the bar, and all the security and most of the attendees had walked off by the end of Sunday. I went to Wireless for one day in 2007 but that hardly counts as it's in London and there's no camping!

Anyway, I was pretty impressed by Latitude. There was plenty of room for camping, easy to find toilets, drinking water taps and sinks to do washing up in, just like at a permanent campsite. At no point did the toilet paper run out. The hand sanitiser dispensers were empty a couple of times, but were refilled by the next time I wanted to use them.

The programme for the weekend's events costs £10, pretty standard for a festival programme, but where other festivals just give you a sheet of A4 folded up inside a plastic wallet, Latitude gives you a book.

As well as maps and important info about the site and health and safety, and a chart for each day so that you can easily see what's on where and when, there is an almost (allowing for last-minute changes) full list of acts, complete with descriptions. This is fantastic because even though there were a few acts that we knew we wanted to see before we got there, we had plenty of time left over to fill. Every morning, before the arena opened, we had a read through that day's listings in the programme and decided what we wanted to see.

Just before the coach driver pulled out of the parking space on the Embankment, he said 'There's not much traffic, so we should be there in about two and a half hours'  and doomed us all. Thanks to an accident on the M25 and a diversion through Essex, we arrived at Latitude SEVEN HOURS LATER.

We hurried to put up our tent and put some sunscreen on, and made our way to the Literary Arena for the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, who we'd seen quite recently at one of their London shows. The jokes we'd heard before were still funny the second time around (especially a certain spreadsheet pun, which my boyfriend applauded again) and there were a couple of new bits. We stayed put for the Picador Literary Death Match: Love Edition, which was an entertaining blend of silly and serious. Four writers read from or talked about their work, four judges gave their opinions, and in the end a game of Play Your Cards Right decided the winner.

After that we went to bed, because SEVEN HOUR COACH RIDE.


We started the day at 7:30 because our tent was too hot to sleep in any longer. We drank orange juice, chewed cereal bars, read the programme for ideas and then walked to the Outdoor Theatre for And Remember...We Care: Dr Who and the Latitudes, which was basically three actors arguing about Doctor Who whilst playing different characters. If it sounds silly, that's because it was. I especially enjoyed giggling at the conga line at the end during a song about Davros.

Then we wandered around for a bit and looked at all the pretty arty decorations in The Faraway Forest (one of the wooded areas), had lunch, sat in the Poetry Arena for a while (I'm not sure who was performing as the schedule was changed), and then went to the Cabaret Arena to see Austentatious, an hour-long improvised comedy loosely in the style of Jane Austen. I laughed so much I nearly cried. Twice. They perform at least once a month in London so it'll be very tempting to go see them again!

Then we headed back to the Poetry Arena to listen to some more poetry (what else were you expecting?) and await Carol Ann Duffy, who I was very excited about seeing because I studied The World's Wife for A Level and still remember most of the poems! She was as excellent as expected and the tent got rather full.

Then we had dinner, went back to our tent to apply more sunscreen, and returned to the arena to see Bloc Party's headline set at the Obelisk Arena, the mesmerising Dead Poets back in Poetry, and finally Pappy's in the Literary Arena. At this point I was so tired that I fell asleep and missed about half of the show, so when it had finished, we went back to the tent.


On Saturday morning we decided that we'd done too much walking during the previous two days, as my feet now had two blisters each and my back hurt too. So we bundled sunscreen and extra layers of clothing into our bags and resolved not to go back to the tent until we wanted to sleep. This was an brilliant strategy, as it also meant we got to see more shows!

It was a colder morning, so we woke up later (though not late enough for my liking!), and only made it to the Comedy Arena in time to see Dylan Moran. It was a good show, despite the bursts of rain. After that we bought some more plasters for my feet, had lunch and wandered around a bit before deciding to go to the Literary Arena early for the British Library Presents: Propaganda talk, in the hope that we'd be able to grab one of the big cushions scattered near the front. When we got there, I lay down on the floor and promptly fell asleep. I did say I was tired, right? I did manage to wake up in time for the Propaganda talk, which took the form of a very entertaining and at times quite heated debate. There was nothing in it that I personally found world changing, but several of my friends have said that the Propaganda exhibition is well worth checking out so I must remember to do that before it closes!

Then we had ten minutes to get over to the Obelisk for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs anyway but they were definitely the musical highlight of the festival. Okay, I only saw four musical performances. But I overheard lots of people agreeing with me!

Then we had dinner and spent a lot of time trying to find the 3D glasses for Kraftwerk's show. We grabbed two of the last few pairs, and it seemed like they didn't have enough, but it was fine in the end as lots of people decided it wasn't their thing about three tracks in and left. To be honest, Kraftwerk don't make my kind of music, and the 3D show was underwhelming - there were a few neat tricks but overall it was too repetitive to hold my interest.

We ended the day with Robin Ince's Dirty Book Club, a literary and comedy variety show. We did wish that Robin Ince did a bit more reading from his 'dirty book' collection, but despite this the cast managed to keep us entertained until it was time to go back to the tent and sleep.


I woke up and desperately wanted to go back to sleep, but a) it was too hot and b) we had lots to see! We had lunch and then went to the Literary Arena, where we caught the tail end of Grace Dugdale's talk. It wasn't in the programme but was really interesting, and if we'd had any idea it was happening we would have arrived in time to listen to it from the start. It was followed by David Schneider's Is the Internet Making Us More Stupider?, a funny look at internet addiction.

I took this photo in the lunch queue. Aren't they lovely? I want them.

Then we rushed over to the Comedy Arena in the hope that if we got there an hour and a quarter before Eddie Izzard was due to be on, we might actually get to see his performance. We didn't get inside but we did get to sit on the grass in front of the big screen that displayed each performance. Before Eddie Izzard we saw Katherine Ryan, who was really good, and Marcel Lucont, who was not quite as good (and difficult to hear sometimes) but still laugh-out-loud funny for much of his set. Finally, Eddie Izzard, possible future Mayor of London/MP came on and was pretty much universally adored by the crowd, especially when he mentioned his political ambitions at the end!

We had dinner and caught the end of The One Hour Plays, which was a bit confusing to start watching mid-way through but we enjoyed the word games. When they finished, we headed over to watch Foals, a band that we'd both heard of but hadn't heard before. I probably would have enjoyed their set more if I'd known the songs, but I wasn't overjoyed by their performance, and we left early to avoid getting swept up in the mass exodus at the end.

There wasn't much left going at this point, so I flicked through the programme and took a gamble on the Cabaret Arena, where the two acts we saw were plagued with technical difficulties, especially Idiots of Ants, who didn't really recover from the microphone issues at the start of their set. But the final act, Ben Target, was brilliant and surreal - we thought that maybe the problems with the music were just part of his show!

Finally, we wandered through the parts of the site that we hadn't visited before, took some photos, and went back to the tent.

So would I go again?

Yes, depending on the line-up! I had so much fun, and although I looked forward to getting home and having a shower (there are showers at Latitude, but we were too busy to use them!), I was really sad that it was all over.

I hope I've given you a good overview of the festival as well as tiny reviews of all the acts we liked. If there's anything you'd like to know, please leave me a comment!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Monday Amusements 13

Currently reading this but not sure I'm in the mood for it - might be a bit too literary for the moment.

This week's Monday Amusements is mostly about pretty things. I have seen a lot of beautiful bookish stuff online recently.

Such as the Literary Gift Company's line of alphabet mugs. And Storiarts Book Scarves (via Ashe). This edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. All the book necklaces in the Etsy world. The TBR book jar. Harry Potter heels (via @cjredwine).

And oh gosh, this stunning bookshop.

I've also been loving lists. Starting with 'Diversify Your YA: Six Books With Minority Main Characters', at xojane. I'd already heard of most of these but seeing the enthusiasm of other readers moves them higher on my to-acquire list.

Here's a meta-list: The 10 Best Top 100 Book Lists.

A really interesting list from Rookie magazine: Compare and Contrast: Books we love about emulation, imitation, and replication.

Combining a list with prettiness: I loved the image collages in this top ten YA standalones list (via E Lockhart).

15 Young Adult Books Every Adult Should Read (via @simonschuster). As if my wishlist wasn't long enough already.

A fantastic best of UKYA list from So Many Books, So Little Time.

Rather Be Reading has one of the most gorgeous blog designs that I've seen. I loved their recent post, 'Being Married to a Reader: Gazing Lovingly at… Books'. My boyfriend is a reader (and also a writer) and it is one of the best things ever, having grown up in a family of non-or very casual-readers.

Lucy, Queen of Contemporary, has just launched her UKYA fortnight (via @cloverness).

I loved this review of Cold Comfort Farm by Bev of My Reader's Block, which perfectly summed up all the wonderful things about it. You can read my review, from 2011, here.

Have you written or read any great book lists recently?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Book Review: Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City, by Kirsten Miller

One day, Ananka Fishbein looks out of her book-filled apartment and notices two weird things. One is a strange creature, covered in dirt. The second is a large hole in the ground that appears to contain a room. The creature disappears quickly, but she investigates the hole and discovers a passageway that leads deep underground. Ananka is interrupted by two city workers, and although she gets away, the hole is filled in, and the passage buried. She can't get her new discovery out of her head, nor can she ignore the tiny, blonde and  dangerous Kiki Strike, a girl she's only just noticed at school. Kiki may have always been there, or may have just arrived. Ananka struggles to understand what's going on as she is recruited into The Irregulars, a group of former Girl Scouts about to embark on the biggest adventure of their young lives.

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City has a great concept. I first read about it at Leaving Shangri-La, and fell in love immediately with the idea of renegade Girl Scouts exploring an underground city beneath New York. However, I did find it a little slow going for at least the first half of the book. Ananka has to do a lot of waiting, and I longed for it to be pacier. Ultimately, the pay-off is a lot of fun but I feel that I will enjoy future books in this series more, having already gotten through all the build-up.

Ananka, Kiki, DeeDee, Oona, Betty, and Luz, are almost your stock girl-gang stereotypes. There's a bookish narrator, an enigmatic ringleader and martial artist, a chemist, a forger, a costumier, and an inventor. Still, I loved the dynamics and drama in their friendships. A lot of the tension comes from Kiki's mysterious nature, which the other girls find both fascinating and aggravating. Oona and Luz are probably the most developed of the other characters, in terms of home life and backstory, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of them and to discovering the details of DeeDee and Betty's lives.

One of the quirks of this book is that every chapter ends with an unconventionally educational little section about such things as hidden cities, lying and self-defence. I absolutely loved these lists, especially the hidden cities one, and spent hours looking them up on the internet!

The Shadow City itself doesn't get that much page time in the end, and I was a little sad about that, but the scenes set there were fantastic. I loved all the action, with rats and explosions and maps! The blurb for the second book, Kiki Strike: The Empress's Tomb, suggests that it will be revisited, so I will have to track down a copy soon!

All in all, I thought that although Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City takes a while to get going, it was still an intriguing and enormously fun start to a series, and I will definitely read the second book to see where it goes. I think it would make a great film, though you'd need a pretty big budget for the Shadow City!

Monday, July 01, 2013

Monday Amusements 12

Today's library selections and renewals, Instagrammed.

Hello all! I'm afraid this Monday's amusements list is a short one, as I've been ill and unable to use my computer as much as usual for the past couple of weeks. On the bright side, I have managed to do a fair bit of reading, and finished five books in June, so expect more reviews soon! Hurrah, that rhymes.

Why are we here? Who is this for? What are we going to do?, is an excellent post by Day Al-Mohamed at Disability in Kidlit (via @susieday)

Jim at YA Yeah Yeah is celebrating his favourite books so far this year AND his 500th post, with a giveaway! 

We all should know this, but I think it bears repeating: Why Book Bloggers are Important, at A Day Dreamer's World.

I've heard of a few of the books on this list from The Guardian, In translation: nine authors pick their favourite children's fiction, but others are new to me and really intriguing.

Finally, the Once Upon a Bookcase LGBTQ YA Month schedule has been posted, and it looks AMAZING.

Book Review: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

Warning: this book is the third in a trilogy and therefore will inevitably contain spoilers for the first two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

District 12 is no more and Katniss and her family are now living underground in District 13, which is preparing for war with the Capitol. Everyone is expecting her to live up to the name she was given, and act as the figurehead for the revolution, the Mockingjay. But Katniss is as distrustful as ever, and with everything she's been through, it is a role she reluctantly accepts...

I'd been avoiding spoilers ever since Mockingjay came out but I managed, nonetheless, to get the impression that it was a controversial ending to the trilogy. Some people love it, others hate it, and still more think that it was okay, but would have preferred things to go differently. I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew what I wanted to see more of, and prepared myself to be disappointed.

I wasn't. I really liked it. I thought that it made sense, and stayed true to what the author wanted to get out of the story. I don't think that the Hunger Games are reality television taken to its most drastic extreme. I think that they are a more honest and direct version of what happens in real life. The Hunger Games are war in miniature. In our world, politicians, kings, and whatever else we call them, entertain themselves and gain glory by waging wars on each others' territories, largely by making other people's children fight each other. In my opinion, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay tell a story that is essentially anti-war, and the most effective way to persuade people of the horrors of war is to show us the havoc that it wreaks upon the minds and lives of those that fight it. Therefore, what I wanted and expected was to see more of the victors. I wanted to find out in more detail how being in the Hunger Games had affected them, and I did. I wasn't that concerned about the 'love triangle' or even what happens at the end of the war, but as it turns out I approved of those endings completely.

Some readers think that Katniss isn't as 'strong' in Mockingjay, but I never saw her as weak. She has been changed by everything she's been through, but that's realistic! If she just continuously kicked butt all the time it wouldn't be as exciting and interesting, and I think she became a more rounded character in this book. She thinks more carefully before she acts, and gets better at listening to other people. However, I don't think that she has essentially changed all that much.

I really liked that we got to see a lot of political intrigue. Seeing how District 13 produced their propaganda went some way towards explaining how the Capitol kept control for so long.

My most major criticism would have to be that, as with the other two books, the pacing isn't very even. I hink that this is even more obvious in Mockingjay, where it speeds up so much towards the end that I found it a bit difficult to remember everything that was going on. and to keep track of the passage of time. I also found the earlier chapters a bit disjointed, thanks to the lengthy mental tangents Katniss went off on. I could see the purpose of these sections, but they (especially the one about 'The Hanging Tree') could have been shorter and more neatly written.

There are two things that I'm not sure about. The first is the speed of the final events. I felt that everything whizzed by, some action scenes were missing, and I wanted to know more about the political mechanics, but on the other hand, I don't think that the book was ever going to go into great detail on that, because it's narrated by Katniss, whose interest in politics is minimal. The other is the epilogue. I feel like the chapter before would have made a good ending on its own, but the epilogue does revisit an imporant issue from book one, although I'm not quite happy with the way it turned out.

What did you think?


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