Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top 10 Books of 2014

2014 was a really great reading year for me; I read a lot of great books and read more than I have in a long time. Since 2014 is over I wanted to look back at all of the books I’ve read this year and pick out the ones that I enjoyed the most. And here they are! The top ten books that I read in 2014:

Synopsis: Kestral a general’s daughter and lives in a beautiful estate that used to belong to the conquered Herrani nobility. Kestral has two paths in life; join the military and please her father or marry and live the restrictive live of a noblewoman, yet she’s not sure she wants either option. When Kestral surprises herself by purchasing an enslaved Herrani boy she begins to question the roles people are expected to play in her society.

Why it’s on my list: One of the things that annoys me most about Young Adult books is when heroines are portrayed as overly violent and aggressive in order to make them seem strong. The Winner’s Curse, thankfully, does not have that kind of heroine. Kestral relies on her intelligence and cunning to see her out of tricky situations and while she is encouraged to develop her martial skills, she has no love for or finesse with weapons. The writing in this book is also very strong and manages to be modern without being so modern that it detracts from the regency-like historical setting. This story is a good blend of plot and romance too. Overall The Winner’s Curse manages to be engaging without resorting to clichés, and for that reason I found it to be one of the best Young Adult fantasy books I read this year.

Synopsis: It’s Lincoln’s job to monitor company emails and catch employees who are abusing their IT privileges, but he has a problem; reading the personal emails between two colleagues (who he hasn’t met) is the best part of his job. He’s supposed to give them a warning, but then the emails will stop and he’s become so invested in their lives, he might even be falling in love.

Why it’s on my list: I read Fangirl and (listened to) Landline also by Rainbow Rowell and both of those were great books. Attachments is my favourite of the three as I found the characters to be the most relatable since Beth and Jennifer (like me) are in their late twenties, work in an office and send too many personal emails. Much of this book is written in email correspondence between the two women and their writing is funny and addictive. The book lightly addresses the moral dilemmas of getting to know someone from their private correspondence, but it is primarily a cute and funny romance. I had a few little issues with the conclusion of the book but for the most part I loved this story and already want to reread it.

Synopsis: Todd comes from a world where all the women are dead and men can hear each other’s thoughts. He is days away from becoming a man when unexpected events send him fleeing into the wilderness where he will discover the truth about the world he lives in.

Why it’s on my list: I couldn’t put this book down. Todd’s voice took a little getting used to, but once I had I was hooked on his story of discovery and was flying through the pages. The setting of this book is part western, part dystopian future. It’s hard to talk about the plot without spoiling it, but the concept of the Noise, the thoughts of the animals and men in the book, is very unique. I love how it’s depicted on the page too; in wobbly, chaotic fonts which are different for each character. I have the rest of the series sitting on my shelf and I’m looking forward to reading them soon and continuing with Todd’s journey.

Synopsis: The Lord Ruler conquered the Final Empire a thousand years ago and forced most of the population into slave labour. A group of thieves with a rare ability to internally burn metals to achieve a range of different abilities are plotting to overthrow the Lord Ruler. A young street urchin named Vin is unexpectedly swept along with events that may change the Final Empire forever.

Why it’s on my list: I’ve heard a lot of good things about Brandon Sanderson’s writing and The Final Empire, Book One in the Mistborn trilogy, did not disappoint. The book is fast paced for an epic fantasy and has a great cast of characters. The magic of burning metals, known as allomancy, is really unique and allows for awesome action and fight scenes. The book has several twists and turns to keep things interesting too. I’ve heard the rest of the series is just as good and I will be getting to those as soon as I can.

Synopsis: Two best friends, Victor and Eli, are exploring the possibility of extraordinary humans when their discoveries have horrible consequences. Years later, Victor breaks out of prison in order to seek revenge upon his old friend.

Why it’s on my list: This book is an interesting twist on superheroes with superb (haha) plotting. The story switches between the present where newly escaped Victor is digging up a grave with the help of a young girl named Sydney, and the past, when he and Eli are researching extraordinary people. The book aims to show a morally grey depiction of superheros and their motives and does this very well. I really admire Victoria Schwab’s writing which is gripping and elegant (she’s also really funny on Twitter – you should go follow her!). I’m looking forward to reading more of her work, particular the upcoming release A Darker Shade of Magic.

Synopsis: There has always been something strange about Ava Lavender’s family; her grandmother talks to ghosts, her mother has an unnaturally acute sense of smell and Ava was born with wings. Ava tells the story of her family and the strange ways that they have all been touched by love.

Why it’s on my list: This is a beautiful book. Leslye Walton’s writing is so touching and lovely and haunting. The story is character focused and is less about plot and is more of an exploration of the ways in which people are marked by one another. The book can be described as magical realism, so when characters are changed emotionally in some way by their experiences, it is manifested physically in the story, such as turning into a bird or literally fading away. The whimsical, fairy tale tone makes it easy to accept the magic realism elements and enjoy the story. I highly recommend this book. It is a short and beautiful read which you are likely to remember for a long time after finishing it.

Synopsis: Princess Elisa is born with a Godstone in her navel that signifies her important destiny. She isn’t too comfortable with her supposed destiny and would rather study scripture and eat pastries. When Elisa is married off to a foreign King she begins a journey that will uncover the mystery of the Godstone and reveal her inner strength.

Why it’s on my list: This is one of the best examples of Young Adult fantasy that I have read. Elisa is a very likeable and relatable character; she is compassionate and brave, despite having issues with her self-confidence and a tendency to comfort herself with baked goods. The story has adventure, romance and action, making it very easy to read. It is also very well written and surprised me several times. I’ve heard that the rest of the trilogy is just as strong, if not stronger than the first book, and I’m excited to continue on with Elisa’s story.

Synopsis: James Halliday, the creator of the virtual reality world the OASIS, has died and promised that whoever can solve the clues hidden inside the OASIS will inherit his vast riches. Wade, a young boy living in near poverty, is the first to solve a clue and kick-starts a race to claim the hidden prize.

Why it’s on my list: This book is a must read for any gamer. Not only does the story largely take place inside a video game, it is full of references to gamer culture. James Halliday’s obsession with 1980s culture has been embraced by Wade’s generation who have cultivated an expansive knowledge of 80s games, movies and TV shows in order to help them find Halliday’s prize. At times this book reads like an exploration of obscure 80s references which won’t appeal to everyone, but for the most part the book is driven the exciting treasure hunt plot set in a dystopian future. I’m not a huge fan of the 80s (being a child of the 90s) but I still loved this book and found it difficult to put down.

Synopsis: Paige is a member of a criminal gang in futuristic London with a rare clairvoyant ability to touch other peoples’ dreamscapes. Clairvoyants are hunted and captured by the Scion government because of their dangerous abilities. The story follows Paige as she uncovers the mysteries behind Scion and her clairvoyant powers.

Why it’s on my list: The Bone Season is so different from anything else I've read in a long time. I think it is best described as paranormal science fiction. The book is set in a future version of London, yet the clairvoyant aspects of the book take inspiration from 19th century spiritualism including spirit mediums, tarot card readings and séances. The two ideas blend really well together and create a unique and intriguing setting. The first half of the book continued to surprise me with the complexity of the world Samantha Shannon has created and the remainder of the book was filled with action. I have high hopes for the rest of the series which continues with The Mine Order early in 2015.

Synopsis: A dual narrative following debutant author Darcy Patel’s introduction to the world of Young Adult book publishing and the paranormal romance she has written about a young girl who can cross over into the afterlife.  

Why it’s on my list: I loved this book. It’s the first book that I’ve loved enough to sit down and write a review for (which you can read here). As a reader and writer of young adult fiction, the subject matter of this book is very close to my heart. You don’t need to be a writer to appreciate this book though. Both Darcy and her heroine’s story are compelling and fast paced and I would recommended the book to any fan of Young Adult fiction. This was one of those books that I dreaded finishing but couldn’t stop reading. It is without a doubt my favourite book of 2014.

I hope you enjoyed my list of the top books I read in 2014. I’ve love to hear what your favourites this year were :-)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Crochet Chameleons

My latest crochet addiction has been crocheting chameleons.

I've made four in total. The green one was my first attempt, followed by the multi-coloured purple one, then finally the two smaller, mirror image chameleons (although not actually mirror image because I gave one of them the wrong coloured head spike, oops).

The pattern I used is by Ami Amour and is available on the Amigurumi website. I was admiring this pattern for a long time before I decided to buy it. The pattern is obviously super cute, but I was also intrigued by the construction of the pac-man like mouth. The pattern comes with easy to follow instructions, with plenty of photos to show you how to create the open mouth. It was a lot simpler than I was expecting, but it is difficult to create a ninety degree angle. The mouths of my lizards don't bend a great deal; it's the top lip that forms the angle instead.

While the pattern is easy enough to make, I did find it took a while to sew all the pieces together in a way that I was happy with. In particular the legs need to be sewn on strongly to give the chameleon enough support to stand. As you can probably tell from the pictures, this didn't always work out for me - these poor lizards are not very good at staying on their feet! 

I had a lot of fun making these and they make a nice addition to my amigurumi collection. The pink and mint green ones live on my computer screen now (although they are regularly being knocked off by my cat when she decides to stand in front of my screen - which is often at the moment. Grrr.)

For the first time in a long time I'm not sure what to crochet next... I need some crochet inspiration! Let me know if you've seen any cute patterns lately because I'd love to give something new a try :-)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Book Review: Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I'd like to try something different on my blog today; a book review!

Image from Good Reads
This last year I’ve become completely addicted to Booktube. If you haven’t heard of Booktube, it’s a community of vloggers on Youtube that discuss all things about books. It’s a fantastic way to find book recommendations and you can often hear about upcoming books as many Booktubers get their hands on advanced reader copies (ARCs  - I learnt this term from Booktube!). I first heard about Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld from Kat from Katytastic. As soon as I heard that it was a novel about writing I knew I wanted to read it as soon as it came out. 

Afterworlds is about seventeen-year-old Darcy Patel who writes a novel in the thirty days of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month - which is happening right now) and is lucky enough to get a publishing deal. This book is two stories in one. It follows Darcy as she prepares for publication, while in alternate chapters we get to read the paranormal romance that she has written. Darcy moves to New York and becomes involved in the Young Adult (or YA) book community. 

Darcy’s novel, which forms that other half of the Afterworlds, is about a young girl named Lizzie who discovers that she can crossover to the afterlife when she is caught in a terrorist attack. Lizzie meets a boy, an ancient reaper (called a psychopomp), they form a connection, and Lizzie begins learning about her new abilities and her relationship with the afterworld.

Of the two stories I definitely preferred Darcy’s. Lizzie’s story is engaging and intriguing, but there wasn’t enough of it for me to become fully invested in the world. The book's biggest strength is the connection between the two narratives. In the contemporary chapters of Afterworlds we watch Darcy struggle as she makes decisions about her story and her characters, then we get to read how she resolves them in the following chapters. There are also many instances where aspects from Darcy’s life, like her sister’s expressions or her editor’s recommendations, find their way into her story. The banter between Darcy and the other authors she meets are some of the most engaging parts of the book for me. Scott Westerfeld has said (in this podcast) that some of the characters are based on his real life author friends; one of them is strongly reminiscent of John Green, author of A Fault in Our Stars and well-known Youtuber. I found that the alternating points of view between the two different stories gave the book a great pace – I flew through it in a couple of days and it isn’t a short book. 

When I first heard about this book I was expecting to see Darcy’s story develop as a narrative over time, however the Afterworlds in the book is clearly the completed, published version of Darcy’s story. In reading it I had to remind myself a few times that Darcy's story is actually written by Scott Westerfeld, a successful and experienced YA author. Darcy’s experience isn't a typical publishing experience either; it’s unlikely that many people could write a first draft during Nanowrimo that would attract the attention of an agent and result in a $300,000, two book contract. If I sound a little jealous, it’s because I am :P That said, the book also explores the effort and time taken to rewrite a manuscript and get it ready for publication. Things aren't a walk in the park for Darcy by any means.

Afterworlds definitely has a few insights into the process of writing YA, but it is not a book about how to write. It is a book about writers and writing, coming of age and self-discovery. I enjoyed reading this immensely and would recommended it to anyone who is a fan of reading YA books. The story is gripping, well-paced and the characters were believable enough that I wanted to google them to see how their careers were doing. This book is highly, highly recommended.

One a sidenote, the book trailers for Afterworlds are worth watching (I didn’t know book trailers were a thing until this year!). The standard one gives a nice overall impression of what the book is like (although you might get the impression that there are zombies in this book from the trailer. There are no zombies). The other trailer shows various YA authors "attacking" the book for misrepresenting the YA community. It's hilarious and features loads of well-known authors, including John Green.  Definitely worth a look if you’re interested! 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Crochet Catch Up

Soooooo it's been a long time since I've written a blog post... an embarrassingly long time... 

While I haven't been blogging, I've definitely been crocheting. To get back into it I wanted to catch you up on all the crochet I've been doing over the past few months. 

And here they are!

The first amigurimi I made was the pink bear and white bunny. I had been admiring the Cutie Bears pattern by Ami Amore for a while and finally decided to buy it earlier this year. I really love the proportions of this bear with its oversized head! I will be making some more of these as they are very quick to make and provide instant cuteness. It's also a really easy pattern to modify. I made a bunny with the pattern by changing the ears. I made four identical bunnies for Easter this year (three to give away and one for meeee!).

The second of these projects I made were the kangaroos. I made these for my cousins' kids when I visited them during my holiday to England back in June. The pattern is Katy and Kelvin kangaroo which I bought here. The pattern includes a baby kangaroo that sits in the pouch but sadly I ran out of time to make them. I ended up making five of kangaroos, one of which I was rushing to finish in the airport before going home! 

The next project was the crochet burger or as my friend named him, Junkfood Tuesday. The cool thing about this ami is its seamlessness. No sewing required! I made this with a friend who was learning how to crochet. It was a tough project to start with but it was great for teaching the basics of making amigurimi as it included lots of different techniques. The pattern is available for free too :-)

Directly after making the burger I made the slightly creepy looking ghost creature. This ami is a Japanese tree spirit from the movie Princess Mononoke. This crochet version has more cute and less creepy than the ones in the movie though. I made this for a friend who came to my house and was so allergic to my cat that I felt I needed to make it up to her with crochet. He now lives underneath a mushroom shaped lamp at my friend's house where I'm sure he is very happy. The pattern is free from Amigurumei.

The next project I made was a cherry blossom garland for my friend's hens party. I made this in a day and was really happy with how it turned out. I used two different patterns to make the flowers. Sadly I didn't note them down, but they were both free patterns that I found online. One day I will make one of these garlands for myself; it just looked so pretty hanging on my calendar!

The last ami I made was the blue triceratops. I made this for my little brother's birthday. He's currently going through a Jurassic Park phase and I couldn't resist crocheting him a dinosaur. The triceratops was my favourite dinosaur as a kid so picking a dinosaur was an easy decision. (Does anyone else remember the Land Before Time movies with the baby triceratops? So cute!). The pattern is by Awkward Soul on Etsy.

And that's everything I have crocheted since my last post... almost! I do have another project to share once I have taken some nice pictures.

Hopefully this marks the end of my blogging drought. I'm planning to blog a lot more regularly with more crochet and also trying something different with a few book reviews. (I have recently become addicted to watching book reviews on YouTube and I'm inspired to give book reviewing a go!)

Fingers crossed that I will be back soon with another post!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Crochet Pony

Have you ever found a crochet pattern that you couldn't stop making? I have! Ever since a preview of this pattern was posted I knew that I was going to make a few of them. The pattern in question is the crochet pony from All About Ami

My first pony.

Stephanie from All About Ami designed the pattern to celebrate Chinese New Year as 2014 is year of the horse!

My second pony.
I've found two other free amigurumi patterns released for Chinese New Year if you're interested:
  1. Horse Amigurumi by Little Things Blogged; and
  2. Xiao MaEr Giddy by Ohana Craft.
I took these pictures close to Valentine's Day.

What makes Stephanie's pattern so unique is the crocheted mane. Most crochet or knitted horses have manes made from strands of yarn. I much prefer the solid, puffy manes in this pattern as the other kind can end up looking a little threadbare. 

Ponies four and five.

The design has so many cute details; the tiny curl of the mane, the pot belly, the curled eye lashes, the curved hooves and the adorable flame shaped tail. I'm sure you can see why I'm completely smitten with this pattern!

So far I have made five ponies. After making the first two ponies I learned a few things that make the design work a little better for me. 

Firstly I cut out round 4 when crocheting the head as I found it was making the piece too pointy. I like the look of the slightly rounder head better and found that I kept squishing the muzzles of my first pony in to achieve this shape. 
Pony number five, my smallest pony.
The second tip I've found is to use white yarn (or the same colour as the body) to sew the mane to the head. With my first pony I used the tail of the mane to attach it and the stitches ended up being visible. Using white yarn seems to help with this.

Pony family.
I'd also suggest using a thicker yarn or a bigger hook when crocheting the mane. The manes on a few of my ponies are a little small. The manes definitely look cuter when they are bigger and have a nice, pronounced curl at the front. 

I'm not ready to stop making this pattern yet. At least one more pony and then I'll stop... Maybe. There are just so many possible colour combinations!

The whole family!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Crocheted Crochet Hook Case

Last year I bought a set of Clover Amour crochet hooks as a Christmas present to myself. These hooks seem to be a favourite among crochet bloggers and I read some very positive reviews before I bought them. I'm really glad I decided to try them because they are AMAZING! Not only are they the most comfortable hooks I've ever used, they are just so cheerful! Looking at them in this picture is enough to make me happy!  

Even for someone who's lucky enough not to get bad cramping from crocheting, the ergonomic handles make such a difference.  I actually think they make me crochet faster! As I'm sure you can tell by now, I'm really happy with these hooks. The set that I bought didn't come with a case so one of the first things I crocheted after getting them was a suitably pretty hook case.

The pattern I used is from an Etsy seller named Living In Amethyst

The pattern from Living In Amethyst is the prettiest one I found. It features a lace cover in a contrasting colour to the body of the hook case which makes it both sturdy and pretty. There are some nice free patterns out there which are similar, like this one which uses similar construction and this one which also has contrasting colours.

The pattern isn't written for crochet hooks with ergonomic handles unfortunately and I had to make quite a few alterations to make the pattern work for what I wanted. It also didn't help that I wanted to use finer yarn that what the pattern called for. I made a ten hook case instead of the pattern's twelve or eighteen hook design. I also added an extra row to each of the hook pockets to make sure that the hooks fit inside. 

The hardest part of the pattern to adjust was the lace cover. It was probably me (definitely me), but I found that I couldn't make the lace cover work... I ended up taking the basic lace stitch and making up the rest. My case came out a little wonky as a result (although it was less wonky than my first attempt where I followed the pattern). I really like the idea of a lace overlay, although if I was to make this again I'd use a different lace pattern (or use the correct ply yarn!). This one is pretty, but my stitches were too tight and the result isn't lacy enough to show the contrasting colour underneath... 

My case definitely doesn't have the same polish and finish as the pattern I used. Looking back at the pictures on Etsy, mine really does look wonky haha.  Still it should keep my lovely new hooks nice and safe :-)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crochet Doily and Mandala

Over the holidays I decided to crochet some doilies. There are lots of patterns for vintage, traditional looking doilies on the internet. While these are nice, the modern colourful doilies are a lot more fun! Here are my doilies:

The light blue one is a more traditional style doily crocheted in cotton thread. It was a lot easier to make than it looks! The pattern I used is available on YouTube and the video demonstrates how to crochet each row. I made another one of these in cream four ply yarn and gave it away as a Christmas present. 

Here is the second doily I made. This style is also called a mandala. It was so much fun to make! It took me just over an hour and I was excited every time I added another colour in. It probably helped that I was using lovely wool that I had just bought. It's called Naturally Loyal; here's a link to the site. (I bought a few skeins of this yarn in different colours and I highly recommend it so far!) The bright pink in this mandala is such a nice colour. It makes me happy every time a look at it :-)

This mandala design comes from the blog Made in K-town. It's another free pattern so you should definitely give this a try! It's a great way to use up leftover bits of yarn too.

The mandala now lives on my bedroom wall. I'd like to make a few more of these and hang them up together. I'd also like to try a different design, like these from the blog A Creative Being. She also has some free mandala patterns on her website :-)