The Art of Togetherness

So, I recently took up nail art as part of my fundraising efforts (if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, you could read this post). Nail art is pretty much my new favourite thing though. I love the intricacy of it, and the way it makes your fingernails look iced – almost good enough to eat.

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An early attempt at something vaguely hipster-y

And the reason this slightly random topic is getting a blog post is this: every single nail I’ve ever painted – ever – is kind of messed up. I make mistakes all the time – I swear, it is impossible to make straight lines on that kind of scale! But most people have ten finger nails. The smudge on the little finger, or the chip at the base of the thumb aren’t the main focus; it’s the total, the summation of the ten tiny paintings, together. The art is not in one single nail, because I don’t think any of them could stand up to that kind of scrutiny. The art is in the togetherness.

[You can always trust an English Lit student to run with the weirdest metaphors – I’m not even sorry.]

This whole thing got me thinking about community – whether that’s family, housemates, colleagues, church or ‘squad’. I think every time, there’s something really beautiful about togetherness. We really really weren’t made to be alone.

There are an absolute tonne of books that deal with community, but today I wanted to point out some of my favourites.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis 

This applies to all of the books, but my particular favourite scene is in The Horse and His Boy, where we get a glimpse of a peace-time Narnian community. I love the way that everyone knows everybody, and there’s a real sense of inclusion and all round ‘getting along’.

The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare

Is this not everyone’s favourite, though? I am so in love with the Clave community: the way that although there are differences and personality clashes, there’s this fierce loyalty among the shadowhunters.

The Bible

Maybe slightly different to the other books on this list, but for real! The Bible is full of community – even in the Trinity (the doctrine of one God, three persons), there’s a real model of harmony and putting other people first. In the early church, we see the new Christians selling their belongings to provide for less well-off members of their community. (Acts 4:34)

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

I think this is maybe an obvious pick – there’s such a heavy  emphasis in this series on friendship, and not going it alone. My favourite example of this is Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom: his friend Sam his there with him until the end. There is such intense loyalty and selflessness in this story – gah. It’s great.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

This pick is maybe a little more obscure than the others, but I’d highly recommend it! I wrote a review here, if you’re interested. My favourite thing about the community in this book is the glaring differences in upbringing, culture and circumstance of each of the women. They each have their own stories, but they have a web of support as a group of friends.

Is this really cheesy? I find a lot of books (especially post-Romantic period?) have this really focus on individuality, and being strong enough to defeat the odds in your own strength. To my mind, that’s neither practical nor practicable – I think a need for community is not a weakness; but a strength!

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”

-Howard Zinn

I want to hear your thoughts! What are your favourite books about community?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

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Why I read YA

Recently, I was having a chat with some friends from university, and – inevitably, as I am a literature student – the topic of books came up. They asked me what I was reading, and the dialogue went a little like this:

Me: Oh, it’s called ‘The Heart Goes Last’ – it’s a Dystopian.

Friend: *scrunches up face, unimpressed* Dystopian?

Me: I mean…it’s not YA. It’s a Margaret Atwood book.

Friend: Oh, I see. That’s alright then.

Just to clarify, I’m not at all cross about this; it just made me think. Because although I wasn’t reading a Young Adult book at the time, I do read YA – and I read it in copious amounts.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are some very repetitive genre tropes – especially in the Dystopian branch – and yes, sometimes there are aspects in the books that can be a little…well, juvenile. But if you ask me, YA has a lot going for it.

For starters, Young Adult books are making reading cool. People everywhere are going crazy for books like The Hunger Games and Divergent – and so what if they’re a little overrated? People are reading, and I think that’s awesome. Books are powerful, and if it takes a hype-fuelled craze to get people hooked, then so be it. I think reading is so important for every generation, and YA is acting as ‘gateway literature’ for thousands of young people. That’s not why I read it, though.

Another great thing about YA is that it doesn’t tend to take itself too seriously. Novels under this literary umbrella thrive in the fantastical, science-fiction realms, and they aren’t afraid to hurl their readers right into the depths of human imagination. These books are unashamedly adventuring and they are doing it fabulously. (It probably helps that I personally have very little time for scientific explanations – this may not be a good thing for other people.)  Look at Cinder for example: futuristic, sci fi fairy-tale retellings? I am all over that. So yes, I love the sheer creativity and freedom of imagination in YA novels.But again, that’s not my reason for reading them.

There are a lot of other good things about YA novels. They’re accessibly written – none of this elitist literature today, thank you very much.

Does he really think big emotions come from big words?

(Sneaky Hemingway quote.)

But seriously, books are for everyone.

I also love that YA books can be really thoughtful: Dystopians especially get people who might not usually take an interest in politics (okay, me. I’m talking about me) to think more critically about government, and what a healthy political system actually looks like.

Lastly, YA books are inspiring. I’m not talking about great literary achievements or anything like that – although I don’t rule that out. What I mean is, YA literature features over and over again young people stepping out to make a difference, taking action and being important. It highlights youth as game-changers, decision-makers and world-shapers, and I think that’s so so important! It kicks apathy’s butt and shows our young people examples of people they can relate to who are growing in independence and strength, and while they are fallible and don’t always make the right choices, they are absolutely never useless. I think that’s a pretty important message to get out there.

Having said that, that’s not the reason I read YA.

Can I be real with you? When I pick up a Young Adult book, I find it really easy to jump right into the stories. They’re not too fussy or wordy or self-impressed, and they’re fun. I read YA because I like it, and you know what? I don’t really feel like I need to justify that.

 

Thanks for reading and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Month in Books: February/March 2016

This year I’ve been reading (if that’s the right word?) so many audiobooks. I honestly can’t get enough of them – how great is it to have a random voice reading you stories while you bake/paint your nails/practice being an artisan/partake in general fun activities? It’s ideal.

But this post isn’t just for rambling about audiobooks; here’s what I read in February!

The Autobiography of Jack the Ripper – James Carnac – 4 stars This is allegedly an old document written by a man who claims to have been Jack the Ripper. It’s intense, deeply disturbing, and really quite scary. It is also well written and very quick to read. I have no idea if it is legitimate.

That’s…actually all I completed in February. Hey, it’s a short month. I did decide that was a bit meagre though, so here’s March as well.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – Samuel Taylor Coleridge – 4 stars I’ve been studying Gothic poetry, and this was the only one I felt was long enough to warrant a mention here. I did enjoy it – visually, it was very intense, and the story was vivid and unusual. It does kind of ruin things when you have to study them though.

The Yellow Wallpaper – Charlotte Perkins Gilman – 5 stars This is a Gothic short story that deals with the way people used to treat mental illness. It’s powerful and more than a little bit scary! I thought it was really wonderfully handled, though.

Confess – Colleen Hoover – 4 stars This is a contemporary romance (I think), set in the States. I’ve heard a lot about Ms. Hoover, and although none of her books jumped out to me as particularly exciting, I decided to give this one a chance. It was a real page-turner, and it was a good story…I’m just not sure that it was especially memorable. I may have just chosen the wrong book, but I may not be a Colleen Hoover person.

How to Live on 24 Hours a Day – Arnold Bennett – 3 stars This is a nonfiction self-help kind of book. The writer argues that although we have lots of help with how to live on the amount of money we get, no one is looking at how we can best use our time. He made a lot of very interesting points that definitely made me think, but the condescending and superior tone it was all written in made it a bit of a test of patience for me.

Ring for Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse – 4 stars This was my first Jeeves story, and I loved it! I realise it’s the tenth book in the series, and is the only book that doesn’t feature one of the main characters, so it was maybe not the best one to start with…but I still really enjoyed it. It was funny and sweet, and was set in a period of British modern history that I found I know very little about.

Humility – Andrew Murray – 5 stars This is a Christian non-fiction book that argues for the absolute necessity of humility. It was well written, thoroughly explained, and very helpful!

The Three Strangers – Thomas Hardy – 3 stars This is a Victorian short story. To be honest, I read it because I wanted to be able to say I’d read something by Thomas Hardy. It’s…well…maybe his novels are better?

Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones – 5 stars I’m obsessed. This is a fantasy novel, which I actually don’t read that often, but this is just my favourite thing. I love the sheer creativity of it, and the humour, and the way it doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love Sophie’s no-nonsense nature, and Howl has already made it onto my list of characters I’m pretty much in love with. I know this is getting a bit gushy, but the books I tried to pick up after this just couldn’t quite compare. So, naturally, I had to read the rest of the trilogy:

Castle in the Air – Diana Wynne Jones – 5 stars This isn’t as good as the first one. It is, however, still wonderful. I think Diana made a really good choice to take a step away from the main characters in the first book, and although they are heavily involved in the plot, focussing on some new characters made the story new and refreshing.

Guess which book will be first in my April wrap-up?

So that’s all I read in February and March. How many of these books have you read, and do you agree with my ratings? And what are your thoughts on audiobooks?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Review: Flawed – Cecelia Ahern

Thank you to Harper Collins and Netgalley for letting me have a copy!

Flawed – Cecelia Ahern – 4 stars

Flawed

I picked this up out of love for Cecelia Ahern. I couldn’t get enough of Love, Rosie (I reviewed it here), and I was really excited to read her take on YA.

This story is set in a Dystopian society, where moral perfection is encouraged and enforced by ‘The Guild’. If these people catch the slightest hint of weakness or defectiveness of character, they march you off to court and physically brand you as punishment. Those who are branded – or ‘Flawed’ – are ostracised from society and are forced to live under an oppressive and separate set of rules.

I have mixed feelings about a lot of things in this book, but I want to be completely fair: once I got into the story, I couldn’t put it down. This book is pacy and intriguing, with an interesting protagonist.

It might have been the first couple of chapters that gave me doubts. It wasn’t that they were uninteresting, it was just that they reminded me so much of Divergent that I struggled to see this as an original story.

Once I got to know some of the characters, however, I pretty much managed to get over my inhibitions. It’s a thoughtful story, and although there’s not a lot of ‘letting the reader decide what they think is right’, the concept is strong.

I liked Celestine as a protagonist. She was shy and rule-abiding to a fault, and we got to see some real character growth throughout the story. I also loved that she was mixed race – I always think we need more diversity in YA! We have an awful lot of white western girls represented, and I think we can even out that ratio (And no, Cinder doesn’t count. She’s from the moon.)

I also loved the parents and the family dynamic. In fact, I thought all the relationships in the book were dealt with well…except for Celestine’s romance with Art. Art was written off as weak and unsupportive, as a quitter, although I’m fairly sure he disguised himself to see Celestine at her trial, barged into the courtroom and publicly stood up to his father. I’d have said that was fairly good reason to stick around?

Overall, there were a lot of really lovely things about this book. It was mature enough to be shocking, and tastefully dealt with so as to be accessible. I enjoyed it, and will probably read the next book. That said – there was something a little unmemorable about it, too. It wasn’t at all bad, I just found it a little lacking in that special spark – that intangible something that slips a story under your skin, and sets it apart from everything else in its genre.

I gave this book 4 stars, and I really think a lot of people will enjoy it.

If you’ve read it too, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Clockwork Princess and Poetry #4

A while ago, I started a series of posts that explored Clockwork Princess (the third book in Cassandra Clare’s Young Adult urban fantasy trilogy ‘The Infernal Devices’), picking out all of the wonderful poetry references, and pointing you in the direction of their sources. I’m sure there’s a much simpler and quicker way to do this, but I’ve been enjoying myself, and I hope you do too!

That said, here is the fourth instalment of ‘Clockwork Princess and Poetry’:

Confessions, Book IV – Saint Augustine This isn’t a poem, but it was so close to the novel, and so beautifully crafted, that I couldn’t leave it out.

For I wondered that others, subject to death, did live, since he whom I loved, as if he should never die, was dead; and I wondered yet more that myself, who was to him a second self, could live, he being dead.

Catullus 101 – Gaius Valerius Catullus This is a beautiful Latin elegiac poem, written for the poet’s dead brother. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching; it’s only short, so I advise you to go and read the whole thing.

atque in pepetuum, frater, ave atque vale

(And forever, brother, hail and fairwell)

The Old Astronomer – Sarah Williams This line is one of my favourites in all of literature, ever:

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady – Alexander Pope I’m not the biggest Pope fan, but I do like some of the stuff in this poem.

Poets themselves must fall, like those they sung,

Deaf the prais’d ear, and mute the tuneful tongue.

No Worse, There is None – Gerard Manley Hopkins This little project has been my first introduction to Hopkins, and I’m really liking his work! This sonnet is sad, but powerful.

Oh, the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap

And that’s all for today – let me know what you thought of these poems!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Book Characters I’m Secretly in Love With

Hello lovely bloggers! It’s been a while – but I promise there are very valid, work-and-Chile related reasons for my absence. I hope everyone is doing well and I’m looking forward to catching up with everyone’s blogs! (Oh – and happy Easter!)

I wanted to kick off my return with a little something I think everyone – or at least, everyone who reads – can relate to: you know those literary characters that you aren’t exactly in love with…but if they walked out of those pages and proposed, you would totally say yes. Here’s my list – but please let me know I’m not alone! Who’d be on yours?

  1. Edmund Pevensie of The Chronicles of Narnia (C.S. Lewis)

I understand that this may seem strange – betraying your family for turkish delight is never really okay. In Edmund’s defense, he really grows up after ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, and does end up quite a great human. Everyone loves a redemption story!

     2. Howl ‘Pendragon’ of Howl’s Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones)

I’ve just binge-read this trilogy, and I am a little bit obsessed. Howl is obviously very showy and spontaneous, but hey – never a dull moment!

    3. Will Herondale of The Infernal Devices (Cassandra Clare)

If you’ve read this trilogy, you’ll understand. If everyone could just be 19th-century gentlemen, that’d be great.

    4. Charles Bingley of Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)

I think I’ve said this before here, but I’m not a huge Darcy fan. I just think Bingley is super sweet, constant, and, overall, the drama-free option.

    5. Todd Hewitt of The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness)

While his spelling’s not great, his heart is…? Sorry, that’s a bit too cheesy, even for me. Todd does a lot of growing through this trilogy too (by the way – if you’ve not read the Chaos Walking books, what are you doing? Go!) and the thoughtful, ethical person he grows up to be is…well, it’s cool.

So that’s my top five! Do you agree with any of mine, or does your list look completely different?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Clockwork Princess and Poetry #3

Here’s the third part of my series of posts outlining all the poetry mentioned and quoted in Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess. Onwards!

The Unquiet Grave Again, I couldn’t find the exact variation that Bridget sings, but this one’s close! I’m actually really enjoying reading the full versions of Bridget’s songs – they’re fantastic stories, and really accessible reading.

I’ll do as much for my true love

As any young man may;

I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave

For a twelvemonth and a day.

If the Past Year Were Offered Me Again – Augusta Lady Gregory This one’s nice and short! A really pretty love poem.

Ah! Could I bear those happy hours to miss

When love began, unthought of and unspoke

Riddles Wisely Expounded This is another of Bridget’s songs, and it belongs to a story where a knight tests his admirer’s wit. There are many variations, but here’s the one from the book:

“Oh, what is brighter than the light?

What is darker than the night?

What is keener than an axe?

What is softer than melting wax?

Truth is brighter than the light,

Falsehood darker than the night.

Revenge is keener than an axe,

And love is softer than melting wax.

Tamerlane – Edgar Allan Poe This one’s an epic poem, which means it’s a bit long. Lovely, though!

I have no words – alas! – to tell

The loveliness of loving well!

Barbara Allen Here’s another ballad that isn’t exactly the same as the one quoted in the novel, but bears some similarity.

O mother, mother, make my bed

O make it saft and narrow:

My love has died for me today,

I’ll die for him tomorrow.

And that’s all for today!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Clockwork Princess and Poetry #2

Here’s the second instalment of this little series: I’m going through Cassandra Clare’s ‘Clockwork Princess’ and picking out all the lovely poetry.

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens I’m fully aware that this isn’t a poem, but I just couldn’t miss out this line!

“Estella, to the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil.”

Troilus and Cressida – William Shakespeare Again, not a poem, but a kind of poetry nonetheless.

For to be wise and love

Exceeds man’s might.

Laus Veneris – Algernon Charles Swinburne This is a very long and very creepy poem.

For til the thunder in the trumpet be,

Soul may divide from body, but not we

One from another; I hold thee with my hand,

I let mine eyes have all their will of thee

Paradise Lost – John Milton This poem crops up so much throughout the books! It’s a phenomenally lengthy poetic retelling of the creation and the fall, and I really enjoy reading it in small doses.

Abashed the Devil stood,

And felt how awful goodness is.

In Memoriam A.H.H. – Lord Alfred Tennyson This poem has already been quoted, but I like it a lot! Here’s another excerpt:

Let Love clasp Grief lest both be drown’d,

Let darkness keep her raven gloss:

Ah, sweeter to be drunk with loss,

To dance with death, to beat the ground.

And that’s all for this post! What do you think of Cassandra Clare’s taste in poetry? Is this the sort of thing you would normally read?

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!

~Dani

Month in Books: August 2015

And we’re just about caught up! Here’s my reading wrap-up for August.

75 Uplifting Poems for Christians – AJ Barlow – 5 stars I loved this! It’s an accessible, thoughtful collection of lovely poetry. I wrote a review here!

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back – Todd Burpo – 5 stars This is an autobiographical account of a father whose three year old son nearly dies, and then returns to consciousness with wild tales of heaven that are spookily accurate to Biblical prophecies. It’s a quick read, but a moving one. Fab book!

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself – Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert – 5 stars This is such a great resource, and it does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s really challenging, but also very practical and hopeful. It’s quite heavy on allegories, which I found very helpful!

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain – 4 stars It took me a while to get into this, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down! This book is sweet and funny and action-packed and all the things I could want from it.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy – Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke A. Allen – 4 stars I bought this because I loved Noelle Stevenson’s ‘Nimona’, and I was hoping this would be a similar thing. It is a very good comic, and I enjoyed the whole six pages that I bought for 99p. Not impressed. I can buy the whole of Sense and Sensibility for half that price.

Paper Towns – John Green – 4 stars I think I would have enjoyed this more if it was my first John Green book. I had to read it in order to go and see the new movie though – I wrote a post about that here!

The Wrath and the Dawn – Renee Ahdieh – 5 stars I am SO in love with this book, and it physically hurts me that the sequel is so far away. It’s a YA romance, beautifully written, and in a gorgeous Arabian setting. I wrote a review here!

Sabriel – Garth Nix – 5 stars This is another YA book, although this one was written a bit longer ago! It’s a crazy fantasy adventure that is just so much fun to read – it’s creative and scary and wonderful. It’s the first book in the Abhorsen trilogy, and – I know this sounds weird – I don’t think I’ll be reading any of the other books. It feels a bit like Philip Pullmans Dark Materials books – I loved the first one, but I’m sensing the later books will be a lot darker and will spoil the series for me.

The Heir – Kiera Cass – 4 stars Oh look, more YA. This one is the fourth book in The Selection series which is a full-on Princess romance sort of deal. I kind of liked it. Here’s my review!

Selp Helf – Miranda Sings – 5 stars I received this book as a gift from an aunt who knows how much I love Miranda Sings. For those of you don’t know, she’s a comedy character on YouTube, and I think she’s brilliant. This book was, of course, a masterpiece, and I read the whole thing in one sitting.

Manga Classics: The Scarlet Letter – Stacy King – 5 stars This is a manga adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel, and I thought it was fantastic! It was my first time reading actual manga, but I wrote a review anyway.

Manga Messiah – Hidenori Kumai – 5 stars This is a slightly more amateur-friendly manga book, but I still loved it! It’s the story of Jesus….but manga. I thought it was clever, creative, and just great in general.

God’s Eagles, Athletes and Pilgrims – Haide Sanchez – 5 stars This is a book of weekly devotions, and I loved it! My review is here.

Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari – 5 stars Written by the famous comedian, this book is a non-fiction book that explores…well, modern romance. It focuses on USA, France, Japan and Argentina, and just studies the way romance has changed. It was actually really interesting, and I loved the chatty way all the research was presented. There are a lot of anecdotes that make the whole book more interesting. I really enjoyed it!

Apologies for the slightly longer post – some months you just have to keep reading, you know?

If you’ve read any of these books, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day.

~Dani

Clockwork Princess and Poetry #1

If you’ve been around for a while, you may remember that time I trawled through Clockwork Angel (Cassandra Clare) and collected all the poetry into a post…or five. It took a while, but it was fun! Or, at least, I thought it was fun. So we’re doing it again! I know that Clockwork Prince would be the next logical choice, but I can’t find it, so we’re moving on.

In Memoriam A.H.H. – Alfred Lord Tennyson I love this poem! Cassandra quotes so much Tennyson, and I honestly can’t blame her. This poem is really long, but lovely.

We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.

British Folk Rhyme This is a cute little traditional poem! I like how it sounds when you read it out loud.

Marry on Monday for health,

Tuesday for wealth,

Wednesday the best day of all,

Thursday for crosses,

Friday for losses, and

Saturday for no luck at all.

The Conqueror Worm – Edgar Allan Poe I think this is a great poem! It’s dark and weird and creepy, but then again it is Poe.

Sit in a theatre, to see
   A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully   
   The music of the spheres.
Carrion Comfort – Gerard Manley Hopkins I find this poem so unsettling, but it’s a really interesting one. Worth a read!
Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
The Kitchie Boy This is a very old, traditional ballad. I couldn’t find the exact version that Bridget sings in the book; there are a lot of variations out there! This one is very similar, though, and it’s a lovely story!
She’s far awa frae me, lady
She’s far awa frae me
That has my heart a-keeping fast,
And my love still she’ll be.
And that’s all for now! Which poem is your favourite?
Thanks for reading, and have a lovely day!
~Dani