Thursday, 24 May 2012

Note-Worthy: Leaving On A Jet Plane

J Roberts Photography

So. I got married! It was an amazing, wonderful, lovely, beautiful, perfect day. Now I'm off on my honeymoon to Fiji (yaaaay!). Things will be very quiet around here because I've had zero time and no posts scheduled, but I'll be back (like, really back - with no wedding plans getting in the way!) in two weeks. Tell you all about my beautiful, bookish wedding then (y'know, if you want to hear about it. Or even if you don't.)

Thanks to all the lovely bloggers who have given me their support and encouragement in the past couple of months. You're an amazing bunch.

Love Belle x

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

May and June TV Addict Reading Challenge Links

I've been a very Bad Blogger. I completely forgot to post the linky for May for my own challenge. Whoops! Since it's nearly the end of the month, and I'm going away, I thought I'd get ahead and post the June one... along with May. So post your 2012 TV Addict Reading Challenge links for May and June here!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Mini Review: Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver

I don't really have time to write a proper review right now, but before I go away I wanted to write about how much I loved Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver. It came along at exactly the right time for me. I especially loved the:
  • lovely, lyrical prose and descriptive language.
  • extensive, quirky and adorable cast of characters.
  • unique interpretation of ghosts/the afterlife.
  • gorgeous illustrations.
  • touching and sensitive exploration of grief.
  • magic!
  • story!
  • Bundle.
  • moving and powerful author's note.
I had a couple of minor gripes with certain plot points (I would have liked to know more about Po, for example) but overall Liesl and Po was a beautiful book - the kind that makes me want to tell EVERYONE I KNOW to read it. Now. So what are you waiting for?

Rating: 5/5.

Talking Point: Beach (Honeymoon) Reads

ZOMG, I'm getting married in Two. Sleeps. SQUEEP! I finally sorted out which readings we're having (I'll post them here at a later date) but now I have another dilemma... what do I read on the honeymoon? We'll be in Fiji for two weeks (yay!), so there'll be lots of relaxing beach/pool time in which to read.

It's tricky to decide what to take, though. I don't want anything too heavy (metaphorically or literally), so I'm leaning towards something light and fluffy, which will probably end up being a YA romance... but, uh, would that be weird for a honeymoon? Awk-ward.

Anyway, here are some of the books I have in my TBR pile, would love to hear your thoughts...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Talking Point: Non-Cheesy Wedding Readings

Photo by Sara Alfred

So. I'm getting married in eight sleeps. Squeep! [That's a squee combined with an eep, for those playing at home]. Being my procrastinating, overthinking self, I've left a few things to the last minute. One of these is picking the readings for our ceremony. I've been searching sporadically for months but haven't made a final decision on the one (or two) we want to use. I've trawled books, movies and the whole of the internet, but am finding it difficult because SO many readings are super cheesy and just not right for us as a couple. Throw into the mix the anxiety I've had recently and it's just not happening. But I'm not going to let that hiccup stop me from having a beautiful ceremony that represents me, and my fiance, and our relationship. So it's decidion time. Here are some of the finalists...

From Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
"It was a happy and beautiful bride who came down the old, homespun-carpeted stairs that September noon - the first bride of Green Gables, slender and shining-eyed, in the mist of her maiden veil, with her arms full of roses. Gilbert, waiting for her in the hall below, looked up at her with adoring eyes. She was his at last, this evasive, long-sought Anne, won after years of patient waiting. It was to him she was coming in the sweet surrender of the bride. Was he worthy of her? Could he make her as happy as he hoped? If he failed her - if he could not measure up to her standard of manhood - then, as she held out her hand, their eyes met and all doubt was swept away in a glad certainty. They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life might hold for them, it could never alter that. Their happiness was in each other's keeping and both were unafraid."
Love: The representation of Gilbert's doubts/worries, and the way they disappear when he sees Anne. The last couple of lines are lovely. Plus it's from one of my all-time favourite stories about one of my all-time favourite couples.
Don't love: The reference to "maiden veil" and "sweet surrender". Also, fiance's father's name is Gilbert. Awk-ward.

From Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
"I have for the first time found what I can truly love - I have found you. You are my sympathy - my better self - my good angel; I am bound to you with a strong attachment. I think you good, gifted, lovely: a fervent, a solemn passion is conceived in my heart; it leans to you, draws you to my center and spring of life, wraps my existence about you - and, kindling in pure, powerful flame, fuses you and me in one."
Love: The list-like aspect, and the fact that it comes from another one of my favourite books and one of my favourite literary couples.
Don't love: "Fuses you and me in one." It's romantic, but it doesn't speak to the individuality and independence which I think are important in a relationship.

Blessing for a Marriage by James Dillet Freeman
"May your marriage bring you all the exquisite excitements a marriage should bring, and may life grant you also patience, tolerance, and understanding.
May you always need one another - not so much to fill your emptiness as to help you to know your fullness. A mountain needs a valley to be complete; the valley does not make the mountain less, but more; and the valley is more a valley because it has a mountain towering over it. So let it be with you and you.
May you need one another, but not out of weakness. May you want one another, but not out of lack. May you entice one another, but not compel one another. May you embrace one another, but not out encircle one another. May you succeed in all important ways with one another, and not fail in the little graces. May you look for things to praise, often say, "I love you!" and take no notice of small faults.
If you have quarrels that push you apart, may both of you hope to have good sense enough to take the first step back.
May you enter into the mystery which is the awareness of one another's presence - no more physical than spiritual, warm and near when you are side by side, and warm and near when you are in separate rooms or even distant cities. May you have happiness, and may you find it making one another happy. May you have love, and may you find it loving one another."
Love: That it's focused on well wishes of what a marriage should/could be and is filled with hope as well as realism.
Don't love: The length.  

The Art of Marriage by Wilferd Peterson
"Happiness in marriage is not something that just happens.
A good marriage must be created.
In the art of marriage the little things are the big things...
It is never being too old to hold hands.
It is remembering to say "I love you" at least once a day.
It is never going to sleep angry.
It is at no time taking the other for granted;
the courtship should not end with the honeymoon,
it should continue through all the years.
It is having a mutual sense of values and common objectives.
It is standing together facing the world.
It is forming a circle of love that gathers in the whole family.
It is doing things for each other, not in the attitude
of duty or sacrifice, but in the spirit of joy.
It is speaking words of appreciation
and demonstrating gratitude in thoughtful ways.
It is not looking for perfection in each other.
It is cultivating flexibility, patience,
understanding and a sense of humour.
It is having the capacity to forgive and forget.
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.
It is finding room for the things of the spirit.
It is a common search for the good and the beautiful.
It is establishing a relationship in which the independence is equal,
dependence is mutual and the obligation is reciprocal.
It is not only marrying the right partner, it is being the right partner.
It is discovering what marriage can be, at its best."
Love: It represents exactly what I (we) think marriage is about and is a lovely reminder of what's important.
Don't love: I don't feel a personal/sentimental attachment to it as I do to some others - though obviously that would change if it was in our ceremony! 

Why Marriage, by Dena Acolatse
"Because to the depths of me, I long to love one person with all my heart, my soul, my mind, my body... Because I need a forever friend to trust with the intimacies of me, Who won't hold them against me, Who loves me when I'm unlikable, Who sees the small child in me, and Who looks for the divine potential of me... Because I need to cuddle in the warmth of the night with someone who thanks God for me; with someone I feel blessed to hold... Because marriage means opportunity to grow in love in friendship... Because marriage is a discipline to be added to a list of achievements... Because marriages do not fail, people fail when they enter into marriage expecting another to make them whole... Because, knowing this, I promise myself to take full responsibility for my spiritual, mental and physical wholeness. I create me. I take half of the responsibility for my marriage. Together we create our marriage... Because with this understanding, the possibilities are limitless."
Love: Again, this represents really powerfully what I believe about marriages and relationships. I like the emphasis on individuality, and the way marriage is created, and how it's still hopeful and optimistic whilst being realistic. I also love the term "forever friend."
Don't love: The reference to God/the divine - we're just not religious at all and it doesn't feel right in that sense. 

I wanna Grow Old With You from The Wedding Singer
"I wanna make you smile
Whenever you’re sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
All I wanna do, is grow old with you
I’ll get you medicine when your tummy aches
Build you a fire if the furnace breaks
So, it could be so nice growing old with you,….
I’ll miss you
Kiss you
Give you my coat when you are cold
Need you
Feed you
Even let you hold the remote control.
So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you’ve had too much to drink
Oh I could be the man that grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you."
Love: It's funny, and sweet, and from a movie we both adore. It highlights the beauty in the mundane.
Don't love: The connection with Adam Sandler. I can't stand him (although I love this movie). 

Better Together by Jack Johnson
"There's no combination of words
I could put on the back of a postcard
No song that I could sing
But I can try for your heart
Our dreams, they are made out of real things
Like a, shoebox of photographs
With sepiatone loving
Love is the answer,
At least for most of the questions in my heart
Like why are we here? And where do we go?
And how come it's so hard?
It's not always easy and sometimes life can be deceiving
I'll tell you one thing it's always better when we're together
With only two, Just me and you
Not so many things we got to do
Or places we got to be
We'll sit beneath the mango tree now
I believe in memories
They look so pretty when I sleep
Hey now, and when I wake up,
You look so pretty sleeping next to me
But there is not enough time,
And there is no, no song I could sing
And there is no, combination of words I could say
But I will still tell you one thing
We're better together."
Love: The idea that things are better together. That love is the answer. That "you look so pretty sleeping next to me." Plus we're both Jack Johnson fans.
Don't love: OK, I do kind of love the reference to questions like "why are we here" etc and the way love is the answer, especially because those lyrics spoke to me at a time when I was in a pretty bad place, but at the same time I worry that it will trigger my anxiety when I'll already be in an emotional state.

From The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach
"A soul mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys to fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we're pretending to be. Each unveils the best part of the other. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we're safe in our own paradise. Our soul mate is someone who shares our deepest longings, our sense of direction. When we're two balloons, and together our direction is up, chances are we've found the right person. Our soul mate is the one who makes life come to life."
Love: The reference to the way you can be completely yourself - and loved for yourself - with the right person. The idea that you move forward - up - together.
Don't love: It's terribly unromantic, but I'm not sure I believe in "soul mates" - however the definition of soul mate here is one that I can get behind.

I will be here by Steven Curtis Chapman
"If in the morning when you wake,
If the sun does not appear,
I will be here.
If in the dark we lose sight of love,
Hold my hand and have no fear,
I will be here.
I will be here,
When you feel like being quiet,
When you need to speak your mind I will listen.
Through the winning, losing, and trying we'll be together,
And I will be here.
If in the morning when you wake,
If the future is unclear,
I will be here.
As sure as seasons were made for change,
Our lifetimes were made for years,
I will be here.
I will be here,
And you can cry on my shoulder,
When the mirror tells us we're older.
I will hold you, to watch you grow in beauty,
And tell you all the things you are to me.
We'll be together and I will be here.
I will be true to the promises I've made,
To you and to the one who gave you to me.
I will be here."
Love: It's a beautiful sentiment and represents a lot of what's been going on in my life/relationship in the past couple of years, while containing hope for the future.
Don't love: It's reference to darker times is part of what draws me to it - but again, I'm afraid of triggering my anxiety during the ceremony.

So! There you have it. Just a bit indecisive. I might be a bit nit-picky, but hey, it's my one and only wedding ceremony - I want to get it right! It doesn't help that I've searched wedding readings so many times and I've seen the same ones over and over again so they all start to seem boring and repetitive. So, believe it or not, I'm still open to suggestions - hit me with them, if you've got any!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Top 5 (+2): Reasons I Read

Following on from yesterday's post, I thought I'd take a cue from the awesome commenters (thanks if you've commented!) and focus on why stories are actually wonderful, and what reading in particular brings to my life.


-It expands your horizons. Stories are one of the most effective ways to understand what other people's lives are like. Through reading (or watching) stories, I can envision what it's like to have lived in the American Jazz Age, or go on exchange to France, or be a middle-aged man just trying to do his best, or even what it takes to survive in a world that's fallen apart. This doesn't mean I'm dissatisfied with my own life, but that I'm interested in the world beyond me - which can only be a good thing. Stories help us to to empathise with and care about our fellow humans, making the world a better place. On a more personal level, stories help to shape my ideas of what I do and don't want in my own life. For example: I DO want to travel to Paris and I DON'T want to ever live in a world where the murder of children is a form of entertainment. I DO want to be someone who can save myself, and I DON'T way to be a totally selfish biatch. In this way, stories help you to figure out who you are, what you want and how you can go about getting it. They aren't a distraction from real life - they are about real life.

-It validates your experience. Stories do make you reflect upon your own life and your place in the world - but often, it's not about discovering what's missing or wrong with it, but about what's right. For instance, I read love stories not because my own love life is lacking, but because they are reminders of the importance and power of love, and often reaffirm what's wonderful about my own relationship. I read crime novels because, generally, the bad guys get caught and punished, which reinforces what I feel should happen (even if it doesn't always in real life). I read dystopian novels not because that's the way I want the world to be, but because they are horrific reminder of what humanity should avoid. I read fantasy not because I think the world should be full of unicorns and wizards (although that would be kinda awesome), but because it highlights the true magic in all of us - the power of imagination, of creativity, and of love. All stories, ultimately, are about human experience.

-It connects you with others. This is kinda the same as the point I've already made about how stories validate your experience - but it's also more than that. Because in reaffirming your feelings or beliefs, stories remind you that you're not alone. There are others out there who think or feel exactly as you do. When you can relate to a character, event or even a snatch of dialogue in a book, it's a remarkable revelation. It connects you not only to the fictional characters or universe, but to the very real author who created them. Your heart is touched by somebody you've never even met - somebody who may not even be alive anymore. What could be more magical than that?

-It gives you a way to connect with others. I know, I know, didn't I just cover that? But I wanted to create a separate point for the way stories help you form connections in the real world. Because if we didn't have stories to talk about, what the hell would we do? When you think about it, every conversation contains some kind of story. It's just the way we communicate. In terms of books, TV and movies, frankly, talking about them is often half the fun of consuming them in the first place. It's why we go to movies with the people we love, and watch TV with the Twitterverse. It's why we (or I, at least) blog about books. Because even when you disagree, discussing a particular story with someone can tell you so much about who they are. It helps you to know them, as well as yourself. Plus, there are few things more wonderful than coming across someone who has the same favourite book/TV show/movie as you and feeling a spark of recognition. It's how we find kindred spirits.

-It makes you think. Whether you're ploughing through a literary classic or indulging in the latest YA romance, reading requires brain power. You have to process the language, imagine the action and sometimes even think about the concepts presented to you. Like all the muscles in the body, the brain benefits from exercise - and reading does just that. The same doesn't apply to books and TV quite so much, but the right stories, of course, always give you something to think about.

-It helps you relax. When you're absorbing a story, whether it be via a big screen, small screen or book, chances are you'll be relaxed. Your body is still and your mind is focused. You're in a comfortable position and your breathing slows. Is it any wonder so many people seem to fall asleep within five pages of picking up a book? It's a nice way to unwind.

-It's fun. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Talking Point: Why Do You Love Stories? - I like fictional characters better than real people.

If you've spent more than five seconds on my blog, you'll know that I love stories. It kind of goes without saying. Books are one of my favourite things in the entire world - and I also adore movies, TV shows, muscials, plays... you name it, if it's got a narrative, chances are I'll enjoy it. I have always been this way. I think it's what draws me to writing; the idea of creating my own stories is so incredibly exciting (if slightly daunting).

Aside from a love of stories, there's another thing about me that has always been true: I'm a worrier. I get anxious a lot. But over the past couple of years, for various reasons, that anxiety has transformed from a little yapping dog that's kind of annoying, but easily dismissed, into a ginormous, three-headed beast with fangs as big as a football player and a bite that's most definitely worse than its bark. Why am I telling you this? Well, the thing about this beast is that it makes me question a lot things. Things I love. Things that make me who I am.

Since yesterday, that thing has been stories. Out of nowhere, the thought popped into my mind: "Why do you love stories so much? It must mean there's something wrong with you or something is missing from your life if you have to spend so much time in fictional worlds."

I immediately dismissed this thought as irrational and completely untrue. But while that would have shut up that little yapping dog, the beast is all...

I know, logically, that my affinity for fiction in no way limits my ability to live a full life. I have wonderful relationships, a great job, I travel... I live. And I know I have always loved stories and have never really used them as an escape because I couldn't bear real life - instead, I saw them as gateways to magical worlds. A bit of entertainment. A way to learn and understand more. Mostly, pure fun. It's not like I'm walking around thinking fiction is better than real life or caring more about fictional characters than real people (much)(jokes!)(kinda)(no really). I've never used stories as a substitute for real life. They have always been just stories. Stories that I love, hate, laugh at, cry about... but at the end of the day, I close the book or switch the TV off and get on with, y'know, living.

All of what I've just written makes complete sense to me. But the anxious part of me? It doesn't like logic. It doesn't like rationalising. It just likes to tell me I'm pathetic. The worst part is now I don't want to pick up a book, I don't want to watch TV or a movie... and I don't know what to do with myself. I'm doubting my long-held dream to write my own book. The anxious part of me says, "see, you're so inadequate that you feel the need to create new worlds and new people because you're not enough." Now, once again, I know this isn't true (how insulting to all the amazing authors out there if I thought it was!) but that doesn't stop me from doubting myself.

It hurts. Because I love stories, whether I'm reading them, watching them, or writing them. But right now I can't enjoy them as I usually do -  a feeling which just reinforces the negative cycle that I somehow can't live in the real world. That I'm somehow not enough.

The truth is, I guess I do need stories. Not to survive, but, to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, to make survival worth it. Because stories? They bring joy, and hope, and beauty, and inspiration, and perspective, and empathy, and connection, and understanding, and knowledge, and a thousand other things that are good and wonderful and help give meaning to life.

Now if I can only get that through my own thick head, I might be get somewhere.

Do you think stories are important?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Review: Vulpi by Kate Gordon

Vulpi by Kate Gordon is the follow-up to Thyla, the story of a unique species of shapeshifters running wild in the Tasmanian bush. While Thyla centred around Tessa, a 200-year-old teenager with no memory, Vulpi shifts the focus to brand-new shapeshifter Cat, a minor (and not entirely likable) character from the first book. This was a risk on Gordon's part and, unfortunately, it didn't really pay off. I just wasn't invested in Cat's character or journey, and she didn't do anything in the first part of Vulpi to make me feel otherwise. While other characters said they found her witty, intelligent and, frankly, irresistible (at least three fell in love with her), nothing she said or did actually showed these qualities to the reader, other than the odd mention of literature. Note: referencing the classics does not a smart heroine make (I'm looking at you, Twilight/50 Shades of Grey).

The story itself was OK but, unlike Thyla, it wasn't enough to keep me compulsively turning the pages. The main conflict is around the increasing number of teens being murdered and the mysterious "Solution" the evil Diemans have been talking about. Not uninteresting, but still, this short, easy read took me three. Freaking. Weeks. As I mentioned in my DNF post, this wasn't entirely the book's fault - I've been crazy busy - but I also wasn't particularly compelled to pick it up.

What I did appreciate was the shift from second person narration in Thyla to first person in Vulpi. It just flowed more smoothly and was more consistent. The dialogue was also an improvement on Thyla, with less info dumps at inappropriate times (though there were still a few). However, the way a few characters spoke was still quite jarring to me. The worst offender was the eponymous vulpi, Archie, an English chap whose dialogue just didn't feel authentic. It pulled me out of the story rather than into it. Speaking of Archie - I also didn't really enjoy the insta-love and the, "oh god, swooooon, gasp, shudder, shiver, derrrrrrr" every time he so much as breathed in Cat's direction.

I feel bad for dissing the book because I really, really wanted to like Vulpi. I'm disappointed that I didn't. As I mentioned earlier, I really appreciate Gordon's unique take on the paranormal and the very Australian flavour she weaves into her work. But while I love the concept, I just didn't love the execution.

Rating: 2.5/5

Eye Candy
I imagined a ginger version of Claire Holt as Cat... 

As for Archie, Cat first meets him in vulpi from, and from the description all I could picture from then on was none other than the Fantastic Mr Fox himself...

 Seriously. Sexy, no? No.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Reading Icons: Orson Welles

Yesterday was Orson Welles' birthday. Here's something I learnt about him today: He was just 25 when he created Citizen Kane, the Greatest Movie of All Time. That is simultaneously inspiring and very, very depressing. What am I doing with my life?! Oh, that's right: the Internet.

Ok, he's not reading in this one, I just love this photo/scene.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Talking Point: The Did Not Finish - I can't even...

I like to finish what I start, especially when it comes to reading. I'm one of those crazy people who feels like have to see a book through to the end, even if I'm not enjoying it. I contemplate stopping, but I always thing "What if it gets better? What if I miss something amazing by stopping? At least I can say I've read it. At least I'll get some closure... "

I think I can count the number of books I haven't finished on one hand. Or with one short list:
  • Possession by A.S. Byatt.
  • Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich.
Yep. A sum total of two. There are a couple of other books that I've started reading and couldn't get into, but I intend to go back to them at some stage so I don't count them as official DNFs. They're books that I can see the value in but for whatever reason they weren't working for me at the time. Those two up there? I can safely say I'll never pick them up again.

As you can probably tell from the limited list, it takes a lot for me to abandon a book. I have to really, really hate it. Otherwise, I struggle through. But with an ever-increasing TBR pile, this seems like more and more of a waste of time. So I've decided that I'm going to *try* to be more brutal and DNF books that really aren't worth it. There are two main factors that would make me DNF, judging from the (two) books I've given up in the past:

-Time. If a book takes too long to read, I start to resent it. Even if it's not particularly bad (it's just not particularly good), I start to dislike it, just because I want it to be over already. There are so many books that I want to read, it feels like I'm wasting valuable time if I spend too much on one book that may not be worth it. It's the main reason I gave up on Possession. It was taking waaaay too long and I just didn't care where the story went. It was tedious and felt like a chore - not how reading should feel. So I gave up, and felt relieved (and just a bit guilty). The book I'm reading at the moment, Vulpi by Kate Gordon, is also taking me forever - though the current hectic state of my life means it's not completely the book's fault. Still, Vulpi hasn't really grabbed me enough to make me find the time to read it, if you know what I mean. OK, OK, I'll finish it, because I am interested in how the story turns out, but I can't help but be slightly frustrated with it - as well as myself!

-Characters. I don't believe that all characters need to be likable, but I do think there should be something about them that you can connect with - in the main character, at the very least. If there is not one likable character in the whole story and you can't empathise with any of them, it's just no fun. Especially if there's no indication that they're going to grow or change. This is why I gave up on Elliot Allagash.

So, do you ever DNF a book? What makes you stop reading?