WHAT I READ: April 2014

I should just accept that four books is a reasonable number of books to read in a month, and anything more would be nothing short of a miracle. This blog post is kind of all over the place, and I don’t know how much anybody else will get out of this. It’s mostly just ramblings and stories, but I’m posting for posterity. These are the books I read in April.

Books Books

HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN by JK Rowling

I started reading Harry Potter when I was 10 or 11, which is comparatively later than many of my peers. Or at least, it felt that way. In primary school, we had this reading rewards program where they encouraged us to read books by completing reading-based activities, and if we completed a certain number of activities within a month or whatever, we got a voucher for one Pizza Hut buffet. Which was more relevant when Pizza Hut buffets actually existed and were delicious.

But anyway, one of the activities was to pick one page out of whatever novel you were reading, and read it out loud to the class. One boy in my class was super into Harry Potter, and I was like “haha what a nerd”, but I think that was mostly because he used to bully me a bunch and so everything he liked was horrible because he was just the worst. Except that he chose to read out a page describing a really exciting Quidditch match (I forget which one) and I went from being slumped over my desk in a bored stupor to sitting up straight and thinking “oh no…this is great and I must read all the Harry Potter books I can immediately”.

I think this was also during Book Week, when we have to dress up as a book character and walk or “parade” around, because what is cuter than small children in costume? But the best part about Book Week was the book fair in the library, which was the only time I could buy my own books, so I always looked forward to it. That year I searched frantically for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but all they had was Prizoner of Azkaban — the adult paperback version, no less! Why on earth would you buy anything with a cover marketed to adults to sell at a children’s book fair?! HOW COULD A GREYSCALE HIPPOGRIFF APPEAL TO A YOUNG AUDIENCE??? Maybe there was a batch mistake. I bought it anyway, because I was that desperate to start reading the series.

Anyway, that is why Prisoner of Azkaban was the first Harry Potter book I ever read, and why it is the only one with a drastically different cover. It is still my favourite Harry Potter book. Time travel! Dementors! Sir Cadogan! What’s not to love?

THE SPELL BOOK OF LISTEN TAYLOR by Jaclyn Moriarty

Jaclyn Moriarty is one of my favourite writers, but hardly anyone I know has heard of her. She used to keep a blog that I loved reading, but then she stopped updating it. She also wrote the Ashbury/Brookfield series, which I adore, and a standalone called I Have A Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes. More recently, she’s written The Colours of Madeline Trilogy, but I haven’t read any of those books yet.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor is a reimagining of I Have A Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes, but with more focus on the teenager (Listen Taylor). The plot itself is the same though, I think.

Here is what The Spell Book is about:

  • infidelity
  • families
  • a snow storm in Sydney
  • the Zing Family Secret
  • teenage girls
  • magic (a little)

This is a good book. I like it.

MONSTERS OF MEN by Patrick Ness

In my final year of high school, one of my major projects was to write a short thesis or a creative writing piece for an Extension English class. My English teacher made a point to tell us that using creative spacing or differently sized fonts was not the ideal way to convey emotion to the reader. That we should just use our words instead. Or something like that.

I have a feeling my English teacher would have rolled her eyes at the changes in both fonts and sizes in the Chaos Walking trilogy, but I think it works. It feels a little heavy-handed at times, but I mean, how else are you supposed to make an explosion land without using an all-caps, 30pt BOOM?

But yes, I finally read the last instalment of the Chaos Walking trilogy. I liked it. There was a lot of Miaka! Tamahome!-esque yelling from the two main characters —which I will never not roll my eyes at — but the romance wasn’t too unbearable, and it was actually a decent plot device, so good work Patrick Ness. You write good series.

THE TEN THOUSAND FOLLAR TAN LINE by Rob Thomas

Another novel that takes me back to high school; one of our English modules was on crime fiction, and my English teacher1 said that it was her favourite genre to read, because formulaic mysteries are the best mysteries. I privately disagreed, because where was the fun in reading if you knew how the story was structured, and particularly if you had to study that structure for a whole year (or term? I honestly forget how the school year is set out)?

But then again, some of my favourite television shows — House, Veronica Mars, Castle — have all had protagonists who were the hard-boiled detective reimagined, so I mean, maybe she had a point.

Reading The Ten Thousand Dollar Tan Line was exactly like watching an episode of Veronica Mars. It helped that I had recently seen the film, which leaves off where the novel starts. It reminded me of how much I loved the show, and because of the medium, it didn’t include any unnecessary cameos or fanservice (looking at you, The Veronica Mars Movie feat James Franco), and it was just a nice, easy read. Not enough to get me back into the crime fiction genre, but enough to rekindle my appreciation for it.

I also started reading some Harry Potter fanfiction, and I’ve been using the Pocket Fiction app on my iPad to do so. It basically downloads the stories from a server (Fanfiction.net is the default, but you can add other ones) and the app turns them into e-book files, breaks them into chapters, and makes them available offline. Back in the day, I just read my fanfiction from a computer browser, so this is crazy luxurious to me. Portable fanfiction? That’s nuts!

a different one, I took three different English classes in high school so I could read a bunch and still be credited for it.

UNIQLO wishlist

The first time I went to a UNIQLO, it was in San Francisco. It was a small shop with two levels, and I was very impressed by their Heattech line. The second time I went was in New York, at their Times Square location. It was loud, crowded, and gave me a panic attack. But they had a wider range of clothes, so maybe it was worth it?

(No.)

UNIQLO recently opened their first Australia store in Melbourne, any it seems everyone is abuzz. Being stuck and sick in Sydney, I found myself browsing their website longingly. And then I made a collage.

I'm so fashion forward | Uniqlo wishlist

I didn’t realise how monochromatic my choices were until I had laid it all out like that. But we’re heading into Winter, I’ve managed to catch an awful cold, and I have no time for colours. Besides, black is slimming and will hide all the sad burrito weight I’ve put on.

Here’s a little breakdown of my wishlist:

1. SPRZ NY Short Sleeve Big T-shirt: I need more t-shirts, but specifically, I need more baggy ones. This one looks sufficiently baggy, and this piece is part of UNIQLO’s MoMa collaboration, so how could I not want this.

2. Ultra Stretch Cargo Trousers: I have basically been living in leggings for the past few months, because I can only stand to wear stretchy pants, because of all that aforementioned burrito-weight. I like these because they are stretchy, but also made of thicker material. Also: dem pockets.

3. Wool Blended Pea Coat: I have thin, cotton-blend coats, but it’s too cold for those. I have a big, wool-lined, waterproof coat that often makes me look like the abominable snowman. I need a coat that is both warm and makes me look put-together. And so: this pea coat.

4. Denim Leggings Trousers: I used to be staunchly against wearing leggings as pants, but then times changed. Wear whatever you want, I say! I advise at least trying to cover up your crotch area with a long shirt or something. But whatever makes you comfortable and doesn’t offend people! Who cares! And UNIQLO have labelled these trousers, so it’s like they’re giving us the okay to wear these as, y’know, trousers (Also: more stretchy pants because burritos, etc.)

5. Heattech Knittted Tights (Baroque): These look adorable, and it’s time to introduce some new hosiery to my Winter wardrobe.

6. Heattech Tights: See above. And because it’s Heattech, I assume it is way warmer than all my other tights.

I hear UNIQLO will have a Sydney location sometime next year, but that is not soon enough! And I mean, Melbourne also has a MUJI store. Where is our MUJI store? I would like pretty stationery please. Maybe the answer is to move to Melbourne.

WHAT I READ: March 2014

March was not a good month for books. Like I mentioned at the end of February, The Ask and the Answer left me shaken, and on the lookout for more lighthearted books. I thought my answer to that would be “Paddle Your Own Canoe” by Ron Swanson Nick Offerman, but 30 or so pages later, I found that it wasn’t appealing to me at all — so I stopped reading it [queue gasp here].

I don’t generally like leaving books unfinished, but I found it kind of preachy and boring, and I simply could not go on. Turns out that while I enjoy watching Ron Swanson do his thing in Parks and Recreation, I can’t read an entire autobiography written by his real-life counterpart. Shame.

In the end, I didn’t get around to finishing as many books as I would have liked anyway, but here are the things I did read.

March BooksMarch Books

HOW TO LIVE SAFELY IN A SCIENCE FICTIONAL UNIVERSE by Charles Yu
I picked this up the day after I finished reading The Ask and the Answer. Some of the text in the book is in a different font to signify Noise, so when I flicked through the next book in the series (with intent to purchase and read it), I saw the Noise font and immediately felt super sad. Because I had actually been emotionally scarred by The Walking Chaos series. I couldn’t bring myself to read the book quite yet.

So I sent a shoutout on Twitter for books that were guaranteed to make me laugh.

Interestingly, several people independently recommended sci-fi/fantasy novels written by English men, which is how I found myself in the sci-fi/fantasy section. I had meant to choose a Discworld novel (by the excellent Terry Pratchett), but the available selection didn’t appeal to me, and I had flashbacks of not enjoying The Colour of Magic, so I passed.

Then I saw How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and I know they say never to judge a book by its cover, but I totally do all the time. And this cover appealed to be on several levels. But mostly aesthetically. It’s a pretty novel. And I’d recalled a positive review given by Priscilla of The Readables1, so bam, purchase made.

This is not a comical book. It is in no way light-hearted. Do not be fooled by the cartoon guns and the dog. A time machine repairman shoots himself-from-the-future, but it is not in a hilarious slapstick way.

This book is about time travel in a science fictional universe. It is about the comfort of mathematics, a boy/man’s relationship with his father, it is about family, it is about wanting, it is about regret. This made me feel so many things, because of its subject matter, but also because it reminded me of the major writing project I did in high school for English Extension 2. If I were as thoughtful and articulate as Charles Yu when I was seventeen.

This book did not make me happy, but I’m glad I read it anyway.

EQUAL RITES by Terry Pratchett
As I mentioned before, I wanted to read a Discworld book, but was having a hell of a time trying to choose one. After the above bookshop debacle, I met up with Kyri and he recommended Equal Rites. “A wizard accidentally passes on his wizard powers to a girl, and she has to navigate her way through the all-male wizard university” were words he said that I paraphrased just now.

I have read two Terry Pratchett novels — The Colour of Magic, and Good Omens — but I really only finished one of them (Good Omens, I suspect because of Gaiman). I found that while I enjoy Pratchett’s voice, there are times when my mind drifts so far during some parts of his books that when I come back to the story, I find that I have no idea what is going on. And no amount of backtracking will make me less confused, because my brains starts wandering AGAIN.

I have come to the conclusion that Terry Pratchett’s books are cursed.

HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE by JK Rowling
and
HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS by JK Rowling

There are several reasons I chose to start re-reading the Harry Potter series.
1. Harry Potter was the first book that made me really appreciate storytelling as a means of communication, and it was my first serious fandom, so I have a lot of sentimental attachment to it.
2. A bunch of Potter-y articles by Ella Ceron were popping up around the beginning of the month that made me think a lot about the series properly for the first time in ages.
3. Equal Rites is all about wizards and witches! Combined with the above reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about Harry and Ron and Hermione and Hogwarts. It had been a while and I was jonesing.
4. I needed to fall back into a fictional world, and what better world to fall into than one I was already intimate with?

So yeah, I read two Harry Potter books this month, and I’m not entirely sure they should count. Ideally, I would have read books that were brand new to me, that made me think about storytelling in a different way, or introduced me to new ideas. But then again, I am a huge believer that all reading is re-reading, so my return to Hogwarts is totally justifiable.2

I’m planning to finally finish the Walking Chaos series in April, so maybe that’ll get me back to reading. Or make me horribly depressed. WHO KNOWS?!


1 but I can’t find it, maybe it doesn’t exist. maybe I made it up in my mind. maybe I am living in a science fictional universe HELP.
2 also, my copy of Chamber of Secrets may or may not have scans of handwritten letters to JK Rowling from young readers who loved the books in the back of it, and I may or may not have cried a little when I read them. It may or may not have been 3am at the time.

 

REVIEW: Revlon Parfumerie

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Scented nail polishes aren’t exactly a new concept, and Revlon has had a scented range of nail polishes out for a long while now. However, they’ve recently released a new Parfumerie collection, and it looks to be a little fancier than their previous scented polishes.. They’ve even dressed the bottles up to look like tiny, colourful perfume bottles, and offer twenty-four shades/scents that are grouped into Fruits & Forals, Sweets & Spices, and Freshes.

They go for around $15.95 in Australia, but last time I was at Target, they were having a 2-for-1 deal, so of course I had to go for it. The first one that caught my eye was Espresso, a basic black that promised to represent my beverage of choice. I had a hard time picking a second, because the scents that appealed were paired with colours that didn’t. Eventually I settled on Bourdeaux, a deep wine red in two coats.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of scented nail polishes, they are formulated to give off a scent once dried. I don’t have that much experience with scented polishes, but I find that Revlon’s is slightly scented even when wet, which makes putting them on a less unpleasant experience, aromatically. Espresso smells a little like coffee, and Bourdeaux smells heavy and sweet.

The polish doesn’t take too long to dry, and once it does you can smell it immediately. It’s kind of like a long-wearing perfume for your nails, but it’s hardly noticeable until your fingers are right up in your face. Because then you can smell it a lot. Which is fine if you’re doing something like brushing hair out of your eyes, but confusing when you’re eating finger foods. For instance, say you’re eating spicy broadbeans at your desk*, and suddenly your nostrils get assaulted by a heavy, sweet perfume. Your nose is like “great smell!” but your tongue is like “are you eating beans or drinking perfume? I DON’T KNOW!” and then your spicy broadbeans are ruined forever.

But not so ruined that you stop snacking at your desk.

The scent does eventually disappear over time though. I’d say you get about three days of solid scent before it fades away into something you’d barely be able to smell if you pressed your fingernails to your nose. The colour is quite long-wearing, considering the fact that you can’t use a top coat (it would interfere with the scent, you see). It can go over a week without chipping, though I did notice a little bit of wear around the cuticles and a little at the tips as well. This doesn’t annoy me that much, but apparently it’s an issue for some people.

That being said, the formula of the Parfumerie polishes are not amazing — at least not the ones that I purchased. I find them to be a little thin and too streaky for my liking. It took me around three coats to get the nail polish to something I’d find acceptable. Thankfully, the colours are really nice, and I do enjoy the novelty of the scents. The bottles are pretty cute too, so all in all, I think they are a nice addition to my nail polish collection.

Go check them out if you’re into fancy-looking nail polishes, I guess. Especially if they’re being offered at a two-for-one deal.

* In case there’s any confusion, the spicy broadbeans are dry, and you are shovelling them with abandon into your mouth with your hands. Maybe if you ate them with a spoon, the nose/tongue dysfunction could have been avoided.

This post is about Pocketbook

A few weeks ago, I joined Pocketbook. I’d been looking for an easy way to manage my finances, and my first thought was: “is there an app for that?”. It turns out there is — quite a few — but Pocketbook is the only one recommended by Kochie, so obviously it was the one I chose to commit to (it’s also Australian, which is nice).

I was a bit apprehensive about logging into my bank account through the app, but that’s the only way you can really take advantage of what Pocketbook has to offer. They say that it’s through a secure server, and I haven’t been robbed yet, so I say it’s pretty safe. From there, you can see all the transactions you’ve made in the past four weeks, set up your bills, and set a weekly budget for yourself. One of my favourite features of Pocketbook is the ability to categorise each of your expenses, so you can see what you’re spending your money on. This works particularly well if you prefer plastic over paper for your daily expenses.*

The main thing I use (or try to use) Pocketbook for is budgeting. I can’t remember doing this, but at some point I set my weekly spend limit to $200. This was dependent on the amount of income I had that fortnight, and as it turned out, was not realistic in terms of what I actually needed to spend my money on that week. The week I signed up for Pocketbook, I coincidentally had a lot of big expenses that I had to pay off, so I was constantly going over my set budget.

Every morning, Pocketbook sends a reminder through your phone notifications and/or email telling you how much you are allowed to spend until the end of the week, dependent on the budget you set. They also tell you when you’re about to go over your limit. It turns out, this is a very annoying feature if you are constantly going over your limit because you set savings goals that are misaligned with your spending habits. And it makes you feel really, really guilty!

But probably if you’re good with money, this wouldn’t be a problem.

I have since put my spending cap on “auto”, which means that the app will set my weekly budget depending on how much I have in my account that week, and it works a little better than a hard budget.

I think more responsible people would use Pocketbook for managing their personal or household budgets, or saving money or something. I just use it for a more in-depth look at how I like to waste spend my money every week; this way, I can chastise myself in more specific ways. But who knows, maybe in the future I’ll be using Pocketbook to reach my savings goals as well.

*I’d always thought I was more of a cash person, but recent transactions prove otherwise. See: Pocketbook is teaching me things about myself! [the machines grow stronger. they are more knowledgeable. the end is nigh].

This post serves as an entry to Pocketbook’s Valentines Day competition, to win a tiny amount of cash. That is how bad my finances are at the moment. If you’re interested, it’s still open for a few more days.

WHAT I READ: January 2014

Reading took a bit of a backseat for me last year; I didn’t read very many new books that I loved, and that in turn made me want to read less. However, the end of December saw a deluge of excellent book recommendations, which allowed me to start January 2014 off strong, book-wise. There are a number of great books I can’t wait to get to on my reading list, but here are the books I read in January.


This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong

I read John Dies at the End in December 2012, and had vaguely heard of a sequel in the works. But I had completely forgotten about the entire series until I saw This Book is Full of Spiders on display during the Christmas rush. Judging from the last book, I knew the plot could get a  little dark (and violent!), and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to read something like that at the time. I read the first page to gage what kind of story it was (it had been a while since my last Wong novel), and I immediately found myself hooked.

It rides off the zombie apocalypse genre, except that there aren’t technically any zombies – but there are a lot of supernatural absurdities. The author is also a writer for Cracked (my favourite time-suck website), and wrote this excellent piece on suicide which I only read recently (he also writes about other things that are not suicide).

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

This seems to be the book everyone was talking about in 2013. I was hesitant about reading it, because last year was riddled with me picking up non-fiction books, finding them too boring to hold my attention, and then never reading them again. But when Hayley G Hoover announced that she was picking Lean In as her first book of the Answerly book club, I thought “eh, why not – people have been raving about it, and I might as well see why”. I’m glad I finally picked it up, because I found it incredibly engaging and thought-provoking.

Essentially, we need more women in power, bit the realities of the workplace today, as well as the way society has conditioned women to think and behave prevents that. Sheryl Sandberg is an incredibly accomplished business woman in the world of tech; she has worked for World Bank, Google and Facebook, and she draws on her extensive experience, as well as the experience of other women, colleagues, and statistics to discuss the reality for women in the workplace.

Lean In starts an important conversation about women and you should read it! All of you!

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

I’m a bit late to the zombie party, but I only realised how much I enjoyed the idea of a war against living corpses after reading This Book is Full of Spiders. People have been recommending this book to me for years, so when my hunger for zombie novels was whetted after finishing Spiders, my immediate reaction was to pick up a copy of World War Z and start reading it as soon as possible.

It is just as great as everyone said it was. The narrative is told through a series of interviews from survivors of the Zombie War, and some of them could be read as stand-alone vignettes, but together they paint a vivid image of a modern world, not too different from our own, having to deal with the outbreak of a zombie virus. It explores the theme on both a political and personal level, and it does it excellently.

After finishing the book, I read a few one-star reviews on Goodreads that complained about it not being a real novel because of it’s structure, and there being a lack of character development. While there is some validity to their concerns, I hardly think that those make it a bad book. I would argue that WWZ is more of a commentary about war and the power of fear, and the book’s structure only lends to that purpose.

I recently picked up Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (another oft-recommended author/book), and so far it’s enjoyable. My friend Des also recommended the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness and Jam by Yahtzee Crowshaw, which I hope to pick up while still riding the zombie/apocalypse high that I am currently on.

Got any book recommendations? Let’s make 2014 the Year I Read A Lot More!