The Beauty & The Beast Book Tag

I'm HAPPY. You want to know why?
Well, firstly, I'm doing a tag, courtesy of the brilliant Soudha from Of Stacks and Cups, and secondly, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST!

Hey. You knew I was a musical nerd. Don't act surprised that I like Disney.


Be Our Guest

(5 characters you'd invite to your dream dinner party)
Ella from Gemina: Oh my gosh ... Ella is possibly my favourite character. Ever. She's a fifteen year old hacker who manages to hold her own in a intergalactic version of the Russian mafia (and handle a pistol suprisingly well) from a wheelchair and surrounded by a candy shell of "I'm going to protect my daughter / sister /cousin because she can't do anything for herself".

I need some advice from her on dealing with life.

Alice from Alice Jones: The Impossible Clue: So, I was considering inviting Alice's Broadway-auditioning, drama-queen twin sister Della to this dinner party, but a) I figured her histrionics might be a little irritating, and b) I'm pretty sure the Ella / Della thing might have got confusing pretty quickly.

Alice, however, is smart enough to derail business espionage in the tech sector (and dammit, we all know that's the most cutthroat sector of business espionage) using just the power of her own brain and a bicycle. She sounds like a fascinating dinner guest ... although I might have to be careful not to reveal Ella's - uh - upbringing to her. I'm not sure an investigation would set the kind of mood I'm looking for in this party.

Jo from These Shallow Graves: All I'm going to say is that being a 1920s undercover detective when you're both female and from one of the most uptight, reputation-oriented families in New York, requires an awful lot of badassery.

I can imagine it also makes you the kind of person who has a lot of anecdotes to tell at parties.

Jasmine from Something In Between: I relate to Jasmine on a level so deep that it borders on psychic connection. I mean, overachiever. Constantly tired. Pressure.

I ... I'm also kinda broken. Can you tell?

Anyway, I feel like I need to talk to Jasmine. We'd get on ... comparing revision notes, asking for tips on how to break exam stress, complaining about bad teachers. I mean, it would be utterly mind-numbing for my other guests, but they're interesting people. I'm sure they can entertain themselves.

Lucas from The First Third: Lucas is hilarious. And just because I refuse to call him Sticks doesn't mean he's going to lose his outrageous powers of humour overnight. He seems to be an expert in having CP in the modern world - I was thinking maybe we could exchange survival tips? And probably laugh while we're at it?

Belle

(A character whose dreams of adventure inspire you)
What's A Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne
So, I don't know if a quest to get into Cambridge university counts as a dream for adventure to most (read: normal) people, but it inspired me, okay? You've no idea how reassuring it is to read about a character like Lottie managing to achieve her Oxbridge dreams while actually having a life and fighting for the things she cares about.

And, of course, there's the whole "I'm going to call out anything sexist whatsoever for a whole month and do you know what I'm going to use a klaxon to do it" thing. That is an adventure, for sure - and inspiring doesn't even cover it.

The Beast / Prince

(A character who went through an unexpected transformation)
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
This was not a good character transformation.

Cath went from being a kickass, independent baker who argued with the Cheshire cat about whether tuna has any place in cake to a selfish whiner whose only motivations were to do with a love interest. And it made me so sad. I mean, I know this was an origin story for the Queen of Hearts. I knew she was going to have to become an antihero eventually. But this was not the way to do it.

On the plus side? This book wins the award for being the only one ever to make me dislike an unsympethetic character more after hearing their backstory. So ... I guess it had that going for it?

The Enchanted Rose

(A book with a terrible curse at the heart of the story)
Sorry. It appears I'm fresh out of curses? If any of you guys have any suggestions, please let me know.

Tale as Old as Time

(A classic romance story that you love)
Flambards by K.M. Peyton
It's been a long time since I read this, but it remains one of my favourite classics - because a) horses, b) very early aeroplanes, and c) actually readable prose! (I ... don't get along with Regency novel - a lot of people love them, and fair enough, but to me it just feels like reading a brick.)

What makes the romance in this one is the characters. I absolutely adore Christina, and am more than a little bit in love with Will; if you guys think being a misfit in today's era is difficult, then geez. Try it in pre-WWI Britain, when being a girl means you should fall in love with the correct guy (or else) and being a boy means that you do what your father tells you. Even if said father happens to be an alcoholic obsessed with horses, and you're terrified of them.

I ... I just love it, okay?

The Dance

(Your favourite romantic scene from any book)
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
If you've read this book, then I mean the scene. You know the one I'm talking about. There were forests and fire and kisses ... *tries and fails to remain coherent*

*swoons reluctantly*

The Last Petal

(A book character who managed to break a terrible curse)
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Oh, I absolutely adore this series. It's gorgeous. American! Protagonist! Hilariously! Attempts! To! Negotiate! British! Life! WHILE TRYING TO HUNT DOWN A SERIAL KILLER WHO IS PROBABLY A GHOST!

No, you calm down.

And - wow - if there was ever a character to break a terrible curse, it's Rory. I mean, it took her a few chapters to get her head around the fact that the British Isles and the United Kingdom aren't the same thing, and work out how she's supposed to survive a game of hockey with a bunch of public schoolgirls who've been attacking anyone who gets on the wrong side of their stick since they were five ... but she's also kind of kickass.

Beauty and the Beast

(Your bookish OTP)
Waking in Time by Angie Stanton
I think I must have a thing about couples in which one of the participants is called Will? Or couples in which that very same participant is from the early twentieth century? Honestly, though, I think it's mostly about my love of culture clash between book characters. GAH. They were both struggling to adjust to accidental time travel and making faux pas that also happened to be incredibly cute.

Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Kate @ The Magic Violinist (because she's as obsessed with musicals - and Emma Watson - as I am)
Eve @ The Twist in the Taile (because she's the blogger I think of when I think "music")

Cee Arr @ Diary of a Reading Addict and Alyssa @ I Am a Writer, Hear Me Roar (for commenting on 99% of my posts lately and being EPIC cheerleaders)

If anyone else fancies stealing the tag, I'm not one to stop you. BE MY GUEST.


***
In the comments: Do you guys have any suggestions for books revolving around curses? Or some more dinner party guests? Who would you invite?
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The Lazy Blogger's Guide to Title Graphics

So, it turns out that title graphics are kind of important.

If you're not sure what I'm talking about, then forgive me. I should explain. A title graphic (in my mental dictionary, anyway) is the picture on the top of a blog post with the title written across it. The picture just at the top of your screen right now, in fact. They matter because they literally go everywhere. If your blog's hooked up to Bloglovin', then the first picture in the post will automatically be attached to its title and your blog name, and show up in people's update feeds. If you attach them to your tweets, then you'll get on average 313% more engagement, according to Twitter. If you have a picture-displaying homepage, like mine, then title graphics are the very first thing that someone sees about your blog.

You want them to see good things. Right?

And I know that anything picture-related that isn't just slapping an appropriate GIF near some text is time consuming. I know you're busy trying to juggle everything else that comes with trying to keep a blog afloat. Me too. But in all honesty, it doesn't have to be as gargantuan a task as you might think.

You just need to know the right shortcuts.
Image reads: Shortcut #1

DON'T TAKE ANY PICTURES

I have absolutely nothing against blog photography, but you'll probably know as well as I do that it takes forever. Between placing everything in the exact right place, waiting for the light to be perfect and then taking shots from at least a dozen different angles, only half of which are anywhere near comfortable, a decent photoshoot has been known to take hours - and this is all very well when you need to update your Instagram feed or feature a specific book (or lipstick, or video game ...) on your blog. But 99% of the images you need for a title graphic are just going to be backgrounds. Is it really worth your time to slave over taking them yourself?

Then where - I hear you cry - am I supposed to find my images? I don't want to violate any copyright!
It can be tough - unless you want to go ahead and remix old images you took for other purposes - but knowing where to look is the key. There are a lot of websites out there which specialise in Creative Commons Zero images - this is a type of copyright which basically means the creator has waived all their rights in relation to it, so you can use it in any way you like, personally or commercially, without giving credit, provided that you don't imply the photographer is endorsing your blog / work. My favourite of these websites has to be Unsplash. Their contributors are all incredibly talented, and they specialise in high-resolution photos, so the detail is perfect for big images. PicMonkey, the free photo editor, also has a bunch of textures and overlays built into it that you can use for backgrounds or extra detail. (The denimy background of the image just above this bit of text is from their 'Paper Scraps' section, and they have a whole collection of buttons available to use too.)

Lastly, when looking for pretty patterns or pictures to put in the back of your title graphic, remember that they don't have to be relevant to the post you're writing. I went through a phase when every single graphic I made had to have something to do with books or blogging ... this was problematic not only because it's hard to find a wide variety of decent photos like this, but because it was cluttering everything up - something interesting but uncomplicated, like marble or concrete or ... I don't know, a tablecloth, tends to work a lot better if you want to be able to actually read the text.
Text Reads: Shortcut #2

EDITING TRICKS

Once you've found an image, you'll need to upload it into your photo editor of choice in order to mess around with it (uh, I mean create the perfect background) and then add some text. These are some things to think about in order to make your image sing really easily:
  • What dimensions do I need for this graphic? I know, it seems like the kind of step that you ought to be able to skip if you're being lazy, but it's honestly really important if you want to make something that looks good - not to mention that it's one of the easiest things to decide in the world. You don't need to know the exact pixel width of the blog template you're putting it on, for instance, because your blogging platform will probably scale it up or down accordingly anyway. Your options are:
    • wider than it is tall (as is best for most blogs and webpages), 
    • taller than it is wide (as is best for Pinterest and probably Bloglovin), or 
    • square (a good all-around dimension if you want to use the graphic in a lot of different places.
  • (And please, for the love of love, remember to crop your background image as needed. It's no use thinking "ok, this is what I require" and then making the exact opposite because you're just following its dimensions. Seems stupid, but ... guess who's done it?)
  • Can I use more than one font here? I will admit that it's a tiny bit more time consuming to separate out lines of a title so that the key words are in one font and the less important ones in another, but it takes maybe two minutes more than slapping the whole thing into one textbox on top of an image - and the advantages are numerous. You get more size control. It's easier to change the shape of the various lines to fit around any features on your background (like the laptop on the title graphic for this page). But the other thing is that it just looks nicer. It might be something about having my eyes drawn to the key words, or liking the variety, but I always find myself clicking more on posts with more than one type of text in their title graphic.
  • Have I got too many colours going on? Colour is great, sure. It's pretty and without it, your graphics would look kind of ... dull. But they clash big time if you're not careful - not to mention that 'less is more' is cliche for a reason! I like to use mostly monochrome plus the odd one or two highlight colours, but then I am the kind of person that appreciates grey. Finding whatever works for you saves a lot of time because you create a formula for yourself; that formula is a downright incredible shortcut for professional looking title graphics.
  • Am I done? Here's a hint, bro. You probably are. Less is more with these things (hush, I knoonce you've got the title written out, looking nice, you probably won't need much more. And it's much quicker to call it quits early rather than spending ages fiddling with filters and effects, then realising that it looked better to start with, anyway.
Image Reads: Shortcut #3

PRACTICE

I know, this sounds counter-intuitive. You're trying to save time, goshdammit, and can't I understand that?

Shush, peasants. I know exactly what's best for you and I'm your overlord anyway, so a) you should be smart enough to listen, and b) it's not like you even have any choice. After about eighteen months of this 'making graphics' lark, I can do one I'd consider decent in about ten to fifteen minutes. Sometimes way less, if I've got a specific design in mind. And I have invested a bunch of time in reading tutorials and working out how to use PicMonkey and just making lots of graphics, but I never sat down and intended to. I've just learnt odds and ends from hanging about in the bloggersphere.
I'd say that now I have the design speed, I've more than made up for my time learning the ropes. And to be honest, it's got to the point now where I kinda love it. I look forward to starting a new post because I get to be creative and make pretty things. (Plus, for some reason it requires less brainpower than typing. I like to use the time I spend designing to mentally brainstorm the post I'm about to write.)

Also? I have by no means finished learning. There's so much I want to be able to do, so many people whose blogs I look at and want to emulate (if only a tiny bit because I fancy inspiration, not copying.) I honestly believe that every time I learn, I make my blog a little bit better.

That's awesome.

***
In the comments: Do you guys like designing graphics for your blog? Or ... is it kinda dull? Tell me what you found useful here, and if you've got any questions, please. Ask away.
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Wrapping Up February & March

I'm just going to come clean right now and say that I don't know what I'm doing here (probably as evidenced by the fact that I'm posting March wrap up almost a week and a half into April, but I digress). I've never written a wrap-up post before, because ... I guess I didn't want to talk about what I was doing month to month? Despite the fact that, usually, you guys can barely shut me up? But lately, since I've been posting reviews on Goodreads instead of my blog lately, I figured it might be nice to do a roundup so you can have a peek at what I've been reading in the last few months.

Plus, you know, yak about myself and what I've been seeing online lately and my plans for world domination and ... basically anything I fancy.

Welcome to the madhouse, my friends.

Books

Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff ★★★★★ full review

Oh. This one. LOVED IT SO MUCH, YOU GUYS. Because I got more amazing formatting and the psychotic Artificial Intelligence I'd been missing since I finished Illuminae, and even more amazing characters! (In fact ... I think I might have loved them more. It's nothing personal, Kady and Ezra, but Gemina has a badass wheelchair-using hacker and what's basically a sci-fi Mafia.)

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Septys ★★★☆☆ full review
Ek, the constant head-hopping irritated me, but I'd definitely still recommend this one. It tells a fantastically important story, a tragedy that is only silent because it was drowned out in the utterly desperate clamour of tragedy that was World War II. Its characters are vivid and diverse; their stories are ones we don't hear enough. So I'm going to encourage you guys to read this anyway.

Waking in Time by Angie Stanton ★★★★★ full review
SO FRICKING CUTE.

I mean, a time travel novel is a tricky thing to pull off. The premise - a girl accidentally time travelling and experiencing university life through the decades - was just mindblowing, but the execution could have let it down. Spoiler = it didn't. The plot intertwined with history beautifully, and I don't think I've ever read anything as shippable in my life.

All About Mia by Lisa Williamson ★★★★☆ full review
So ... was not expecting to love this one - I thought I wasn't going to understand or empathise with the main character, since she's so different to me. But it turns out I was being judgemental, because wow. This was probably one of the best portrayals of family dynamics I've read, well, ever, and ALSO THERE WAS DEBATING. FEMINIST DEBATING.

*swoon*
The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald ★★★★☆
So, there are no full reviews for the next three books because when I'm given a choice between reviewing a book and reading a new one, I go with the standard bookworms' choice. #noregrets. But this one was most DEFINITELY amazing - possibly the best MG I've read in a fair while. It was the sweetest thing, and so inspiring for younger kids to read. I mean - overcoming bullies! Subverting popularity complexes! GENUINE FRIENDSHIPS! And, to top it all off, some pretty darn good disability rep, which I can prove with a kickass quote:

‘Was he born in a wheelchair?’ she’d asked as if he wasn’t right in front of her. ‘No,’ I’d answered helpfully, ‘he wasn’t. I think you’ll find that nobody is born in a wheelchair. You get a wheelchair if you need one, after you’re born.’

Yes to shooting down patronising idiots with this amount of style. Plus utterly delicious apple tarts.

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co., #3) ★★★☆☆
I do love this series - and whoop, good ending there, I'm not quite sure what to do with myself - but maybe it's getting a little old? The same characters (which I know and love, of course), fighting slightly different ghosts in the same way? Don't get me wrong, I was hooked, and the author did a particularly good job of making me feel what the main character was, (So much angst guys, so much angst) but ... meh?

Oh, I feel so bad. Because I did enjoy this. But I guess it was kind of a guilty pleasure?

Asking For It by Kate Harding ★★★★★
I've just finished this, so my thoughts are still swirling round my head slightly, but I'll do my best. Much awesome. I mean, this essay was kind of readable? Not only that, but it was fascinating, and as someone who likes to think they know their stuff about rape culture, I was overjoyed to read new angles and arguments.

I'm not going to say that 'if you're a feminist, you should read this', because everyone who thinks that women - not to mention all the non-female rape victims out there - are human beings, whether or not they identify as feminists or not, should. It's one of those books that has the potential to make society better, and I really hope it does.

The Bloggersphere

This one made me squeal in excitement when I saw it pop up on Bloglovin'. I mean ... discussion posts are downright impossible to come up with when you don't know what you're doing (and wow, I really don't know what I'm doing), but this really was helpful. Not to mention, since it's Cait's writing, downright hilarious.

My Writing Process by Kate @ The Magic Violinist
I'll be honest, this post is mostly awesome because of the GIFs and a music playlist stuffed full of Broadway. And no, I am not ashamed. Being able to read about the angst in another (very successful) author's writing process made me feel a lot better about my own dysfunctional relationship with words, let me tell you.

#AskAmber - Fear, Publishing and Potatoes by Amber @ Mile Long Bookshelf
Okay, fine. In that I'm still fangirling slightly about the fact that Amber was lovely enough to answer my question in this post, I may be slightly biased. But hush. I always find Q&A posts fascinating, a) because I'm nosy, and b) because it's really interesting to see just how much of someone's life you don't normally find out about from their blog, even if you've read every post they've ever written.

Also ... potatoes.

TBR


Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
I'm not sure I've ever heard more about a single book from Twitter than this one. At the end of last year (not to mention, let's be honest, the beginning of this one), I could not log in to Twitter once without seeing this book somewhere. That, ladies, gentlemen and others, is good marketing. And it won. I'm just kind of fascinated to see whether all the hype is worth it - or whether the two-star reviews on Goodreads are right.

Wish me luck. *scurries off to flag down the anticipation train*

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Maybe I'm in a mood for poetry at the moment. Maybe I saw this had become available at the library and reserved it on impulse. Who even knows anymore?

Anyway, I'm not sure I've ranted about it online yet, but I became utterly obsessed with Sarah Crossan's One when I read it about a year ago, and ... I don't know. I guess I'm in the mood for more gross sobbing.

Violent Ends by Shaun Hutchinson
Seventeen different authors. Seventeen different viewpoints. You're intrigued already - don't shake your head, I know you are - and I haven't even told you that's it about trying to correlate what you already know about a person with the fact that they just brought a gun into school ... and killed six of your classmates.

I'm excited because a) murder is kind of exciting (horrible too, I know, but exciting), and b) as a maybe-sort-of-aspiring-writer, I can't wait to read so many different styles and takes on the same or similar situations. BECAUSE THIS IS THE KIND OF THING THAT I FIND FASCINATING, GOSHDAMMIT.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Subverting the stereotypes that beauty pageant contestants (not to mention women who care about their appearance) can't be intelligent? With satire? And a Lord of the Flies-style, trapped-on-an-island melting pot filled with a dozen different girls with different upbringings?

Yes, please.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
So ... I don't know if it's definitely a good idea to take recommendations on literary entertainment from your English teacher (she is, after all, the one who makes every page in my Poetry Anthology look like the pen section of WH Smith's exploded over it, and if that's not the definition of un-relaxing reading I don't know what is), but I can't say it's a bad one exactly. Especially since the idea of a dystopia that gives women no power or education whatsoever sounds fascinating in a terrible sort of way.

***
In the comments: Did you guys enjoy this post? Or were parts of it kind of boring? Please let me know! I want to get used to this whole 'wrap-up' thing.
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What I've Missed About Reading

It appears that, in true Lara style, I wrote a whole post about my blogging plans and how I was generally going to get more organised over the next year, particularly by posting more often ... and then went AWOL for a month and a half.

Oopsie.

Sorry for my absence, guys - exam season kind of kicked my butt and I basically lost the ability to read anything except revision guides, write anything except flashcards, or commit to anything except long study sessions in the library. But now ... now it is time for a comeback.

Are you READY, punks? Because I really, really have missed you.

In fact, I am willing to write a whole post about how I have missed the whole book blogging/ bookworm community - in fact, no. I'm willing to write a whole post about just how much I've missed the simple act of reading.

#1 - TALKING ABOUT BOOKS

I've had my head in various books for the whole time I've been away, but the thing is that when people ask "So what are you reading at the moment?", they aren't really expecting me to wax lyrical about the Organisation chapter of my Biology Revision Guide. However I try to phrase it, I can't quite make indicator species sound like main characters, the digestive system into a setting, or the fact that active transport requires energy a decent plot twist.

(BTW, if anyone understood that incredibly geeky paragraph, could they actually write this book? The section set in the small intestine might be a tiny bit gruesome, but ... you'd definitely have me as a reader.)

I've honestly been spending most of my time lately logging on to Twitter and inwardly crying because I'VE MISSED SO MUCH. Half the books people are raving about? I completely missed their release days! *sighs*

I guess I'm just going to have to get stuck in. *settles down to scroll through months of blog archives*

#2 - ESCAPING FROM THE DULL, DULL WORLD

It turns out that life is kind of boring when you don't have fictional people's lives to escape into.

I mean, there are so many cool things that I don't have in my everyday existence - where are all the cute relationships who create banter with fandom references? Where're all my kickass grandmas and my time travelling teenagers and my private islands?

WHERE ARE ALL THE FASCINATING MURDERERS?

Oh. Maybe ... maybe I shouldn't be inviting murderers to enter my life. You're still fascinating, murderers, but please stay on the other side of the paper, where you can't reach my vital organs with your stabby knives.

It's probably a good job that I've managed to get over my self-created reading slump as soon as I have, or I might have gone looking for intrigue in somewhere dangerous. You know, like an organised crime ring.

See, people - reading saves lives! And does anyone have any books about organised crime rings to recommend?

#3 - BEING IN CONTROL OF MY GOODREADS GOAL

Before my exams decided to sneak up on me to steal away all my free time, creativity and knowledge of life outside of a textbook I was actually having a pretty productive reading period. I am naturally bitter about that, but since they have returned all those things to me (minus a few weeks of my life), I've decided not to press charges.

However. My Goodreads goal is now slowly spiralling out of reach, and since I failed last year's so spectacularly, this is worrying. But, fingers crossed, I'll get there; and if getting there means reminding myself that Goodreads goals are arbitrary numbers that don't define anything about my life, then so be it.

#4 - BEING IN CONTROL OF MY TBR

You know the theory that even the smallest TBR can grow astronomically big without any interaction from the person that's supposed to be making it? Yeah, that. I swear they've been breeding.

I can only tackle them so quickly, peeps, and honestly the sheer speed of multiplication is starting to scare me. Do I need to seperate them at night or something? Are they like gremlins, and I've just been getting them wet by accident? If anyone could give any tips on properly caring for them, that would be most appreciated?

But in all seriousness, I think I have a problem somehow linked with Goodreads and the sheer inviting nature of its "Want to Read" button. They should decorate it in more dangerous colours, or something.

#5 - BEING IN CONTROL OF ANYTHING, BASICALLY

*Smiles for an unreasonable amount of time in a near-futile effort to try and convince you I've ever been in control of anything in my life.*

*Fails*

#6 - HAVING AN EXCUSE NOT TO TALK TO THE MUGGLES

Say what you like about books (or actually, don't, because I might spit in your face if you're overly mean) but they are excellent mechanisms for avoiding conversation. If someone can't see your mouth due to the large volume in front of it, they don't tend to expect interesting words to come out. This comes in really handy when you're bored by people generally, or are worried you'll reveal your murder plans if you get talking for too long.

Come on, I can't be the only one.

For whatever reason, revision guides don't have the same effect. Maybe they make the people around me think I need to escape? I mean, I was studying the Implications of Research into Antisocial Personality Disorder at some point - the look on my face must have been pretty torturous.

But does that excuse people talking to me on a regular basis? Ugh.

#7 - THE WHOLE BOOKWORM IDENTITY

I guess there must have been a reason why I decided to become obsessed with books in the first place.

Obviously, there's the books. The whole words-stimulating-imagination thing is pretty darn cool. But ... there's also the whole community surrounding them. The enthusiastic conversations I can have at the library with perfect strangers who are about to check out my favourite book. The people who don't give me a weird side eye when I squeak at the new cover on the display table at Waterstones. The people on the internet (yeah, that's you lovelies) who can look at a Tweet that is basically just incoherent moaning and know I'm complaining about the first Percy Jackson movie.

Again.

I am glad I'm back because I get to hang out with my bookish friends again. I get to put on my proud bookworm cloak and join the army hiding behind a cave of books. And even just writing this post is putting a smile on my face.

So, I do actually have a point. Basically, don't ostracise yourself from this wonderful community just because you're in a busy life season or a reading slump. We won't judge you because your TBR is growing out of control and you can't even remember the exact last time you sat down and cracked a spine. We're all busy sometimes, and you're still one of us.

Come join the party.

***
In the comments: What do you guys miss the most when you don't have time to read? Is your TBR quite as out of control as mine is? And what else do you love about being a bookworm?
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The Keeper of Portals Review (In A LIST! How EXCITING!)

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

So ... V.S. Nelson's The Keeper of Portals releases tomorrow.

Yeah. Up until a few months ago, I didn't know what it was either - but I now know, ladies and gentlemen. It is a fantasy-adventure story about a pair of teenagers who discover not only that the world and everything within it is controlled by Keepers - from the Keeper of Buttons to the Keeper of Causality - but also that these Keepers are being kidnapped.

Which could result in, you know, the entire world crumbling in on itself.
It turned out that I rather enjoyed this, but I'm guessing you might want to know about my opinion in more detail, being the demanding little things that you are, so I made you a list review. Please enjoy it.

Things I enjoyed and would like to cheer about:
  • Isabel. ISABEL. I have so much love for her and her particular brand of 16th century sassiness - she's so brave and smart and incredible.
  • Also loads of girl power on Isabel's part. Huzzah.
  • It took me a while to warm to Martin, but once I did, I saw the truth. He is a cheeky, protective little cinnamon roll and I love him for it.
  • The whole book was just delightfully, unashamedly weird, as all good portal fantasy should be, and - although it took me a while to adjust - I ended up loving that uniqueness.
  • I JUST SHIP MARTIN + ISABEL SO HARD. Misabel? Isartin? I don't have a ship name, but at this point I don't particularly care. (As for whether or not I have canon, well. You'll have to find out.)
  • That ENDING. It HURT. In a frankly amazing way, of course.

Things I did not like so much, thank you:
  • It seemed to take forever to get going. The first two or three chapters seemed to be solely made up of Martin's internal monologue, and WOW it dragged. 
  • Obviously I don't want to say too much, but there were some magical powers involved. I've nothing against magic in general, and mostly it was fine? It just got overly convenient at times ... as you can imagine, I rolled my eyes a little.
  • Martin and Isabel were supposed to be about fifteen. They did not read like fifteen year olds. I don't know exactly why? Maybe it's because the plot and it's lovely wackiness feeling more middle grade? But at times I got confused and had to remind myself of their age.

In summary - don't go into this book expecting a full-blown YA fantasy, because that's not what it is. You'll be disappointed. But if you enjoy MG-style, wacky fantasy with historical elements, squeeworthy (and squeaky clean) will-they-won't-they romance, and kickass, loyal characters, you're in the right place.

If you would like a synopsis, here is one of those. Never say I'm not generous.
Everything in the universe is maintained by its own keeper, from the most insignificant insect to time itself. When 15 year-old Martin moves into a stately home that’s dangerously overhanging a cliff, he meets the Keeper of Portals and learns of the mysterious door at the end of his bedroom.
    One morning, Martin wakes to discover the Keeper of Portals is missing and the door at the end of his bedroom is open. Martin steps through the door to find himself in the 17th century where he meets Isabel, the house’s maid. Upon discovering two imprisoned keepers, Martin and Isabel gain the ability to control time and travel through portals. 
    After being attacked by hordes of brainwashed villagers, Martin and Isabel learn that the master of the house has a devious plan, one the keepers are powerless to stop. Martin and Isabel must jump between the present day and the 17th century in order to hide from the twisted master, avoiding past versions of themselves, as powerful keepers thwart them at every turn. But as items from the future begin to bleed into the past and the present day is plagued by malfunctioning portals, Martin and Isabel’s only option is to confront the master – the Keeper of Questions.
(via Goodreads)

In the comments: Do you like a list-based review, or do you prefer more traditional ones? Does this book sound like your sort of thing? Why or why not?
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5 Ways I Plan to Improve My Blog In 2017

First of all, I would just like to thank everyone for your amazing support with Disability Diaries last week. It meant the world to me to write those posts and have those discussions, and the fact that people were out there retweeting and contributing and actually listening to what we all had to say ... it blew my mind. I think I speak on behalf of Ely, Cee Arr, Angel, Jolien and Dina when I say that you guys were (and still are, of course) utterly amazing.

It was also, as you can probably imagine, a ridiculously busy week. Between homework and music practice and finding the time to chat with you guys on the internet, I don't think I've had a moment to sit and think about my blogging direction since the New Year.

So that's what I'm going to do today. Here you go:

#1 ~ STREAMLINE MY TAGS
Hey - tags?

You've probably never bothered to scroll down far enough on any of my post to get to the tag wasteland, but do it. Do it now.

The amount of tags there that are absolutely useless because they only contain one post ... it hurts me. It's just a painful mass of links that tangle up everyone's brains - especially mine. I've been putting off pruning the whole jungle because the thought of going through every single post I've ever written to fix its tags makes me want to turn my brain inside out just a tiny bit.

But it really is bugging me.

#2 ~ ACTUALLY PUT REVIEWS ON GOODREADS
Yes, Tom Hanks. Really.

I'm doing my first category-based Reading Challenge this year (courtesy of Sorry, I'm Booked) and it has a rule that you have to review the three books you read per month for the challenge. And, therefore, I plan to review not only those, but EVERY SINGLE BOOK I read this year.

Good luck, me.

As I've found that a) I like to write itty bitty tiny reviews which don't always fill up an entire blog post, b) reviews don't actually get enjoyed as much as my other blog posts (based on the stats, anyway), and c) I'm sick of having a Goodreads account that resembles a town abandoned after nuclear disaster, I decided I'd post those reviews there.

I'm not going to completely abandon on-the-blog reviews - in fact, I've got some lovely ones lined up for you in the next couple of weeks - but they will become a rare species. You know, like pandas. Or ... unicorns.

#3 ~ GET BACK INTO TWITTER CHATS
When I took part in the Teen Bloggers' Chat yesterday, my main intention was to make sure that the blogging community at large knew that I was still alive and hadn't just zombified myself for Disability Diaries before returning to my silent grave.

Hush. I'm tired. It's not that long for a metaphor.

Anyway, yakking on Twitter is a very fun (and also very productive/ networky) thing to do, so I need to get around to doing it more. Come join me, if you fancy! 7PM UK Time? Next Sunday? It's on teen voice and opinion and all that kinds of awesome.

You'll be there. *nods with completely hollow confidence*

#4 ~ SCHEDULE MORE POSTS
I don't just say this to myself every year, I say this to myself every week. And I always believe it. Come Saturday, I'm always excited about two whole free days and I think 'hey! I can get two or three posts written and scheduled, no problem!"

Then Monday rolls around, and - well. There's a reason this post is going up exactly ten seconds before my bedtime.

It's as if I'm physically incapable of writing anything unless I am facing a near-impossible deadline, and this is not fun. It might just be the way I work, but if so ... it is not my favourite attribute. Right now, I'm so tired I am typing the wrong words and barely noticing.

This needs to stop.

#5 ~ ACTUALLY COMMENT ON PEOPLE'S BLOGS FOR ONCE
Gosh, am I terrible at commenting.

I'll read maybe two or three blog posts a day, and a lot of them are amazing. I'll get to the end of the post, think something along the lines of "wow, that was good" ... and then CLOSE THE WINDOW WITHOUT COMMENTING.

And I know how terrible this is. I know how much I appreciate comments on my own blog and the people who genuinely care enough to leave them, especially regularly (you guys are beautiful and I love you. Thank you for all your support and gorgeousness), so it's really bad that I love posts and then the blogging geniuses behind them don't get to hear about it.

I guess I just need to get into the habit? But WOW. Someone hit me with a hammer until I hit reply next time, okay?

***
In the comments: Do you have any blogging goals for yourself this year? Why are they important for you? Do you think you'll actually end up meeting them?
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My Disability Diaries TBR

Have you been enjoying Disability Diaries?
There's been some downright awesome stuff going on, from discussions to rants to whatever it is I wrote last Saturday, but the recommendations are my absolute favourite right now. Literally just scrolling through the #DisabilityDiaries2017 hashtag has almost doubled the size of my TBR.

And, because I'm at least a little bit evil - uh, I mean ... because it's super important for everyone to read as many different representations of different disabilities as possible, I've made this post.

Because you want to grow your TBR at a ridiculous rate too, right?

RIGHT?

Highly Illogical Behaviour by John Corey Whatley

I'd heard of this one a couple of times before DD week, and frankly I was more than a little skeptical about it. The premise involves an MC trying to "cure" another MC of his agoraphobia - which sounds like a recipe for harmful representation to me.

But, according to Gerri @ Coralling Books, it's actually a surprisingly good interpretation, and I'm just fascinated to see how the author manages to turn what looks like a toxic stereotype into ... well, not a toxic stereotype. Also, I know very little about agoraphobia, and this needs to change. Between this book and the next one, I'm hoping I might get at least a basic view of it from a couple of different angles.

(Nice segway there, Lara. Real subtle.)

Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornell

I've seen all kinds of rave reviews about this book over the last week, but I think the honour of convincing me to read it goes to Casey @ AdoptABookAus - apparently it involves a girl with agoraphobia and OCD who meets a guy? But his mere presence doesn't miraculously cure her?

Yes please and thank you. Count me in.

The really eye-opening mental health-related books I've read have been heartbreaking most of the time *cough* All The Bright Places *cough*, but that's because they told the truth, rather than wrapping up these issues in a blanket of "you'll-fall-in-love-and-it'll-all-be-okay". Whether or not I end up sobbing, it sounds like I'll have heard the truth from this book.

And that is kind of the point of Disability Diaries - to promote books that are honest about mental illness and disability and everything in between?

The Season of You and Me by Robin Constantine

This one comes from my lovely fellow co-host Angel (the linked post is her DD TBR, so have a look if you're looking for even more recs), and GAH I AM SO EXCITED TO READ IT. After the hella controversial Me Before You, which I read and became pretty upset by last week, I'm desperate for a book with a paraplegic character that a) doesn't perpetrate harmful stereotypes about disability being a worse fate than death, b) doesn't make me bawl my eyes out, and c) doesn't use my concern about representation and emotional investment against each other to make me feel ridiculously conflicted.

According to Goodreads, it's a fun summery read. I'm hoping it wasn't lying - although we all know I cry at everything, so I'm not about to put away the tissues.

Just. In. Case.

The Memory Wall by Lev A.C. Rosen

Another of my co-hosts, Jolien (who, I'd just like to point out, is just as lovely) wrote an absolutely gorgeous piece on dementia last Monday. I've been pretty busy this week with everything that's been going on, so I only just got round to reading it, and wow did it make me think.

This is one of the books Jolien mentioned, and other than the fact that I now have a minor obsession with learning AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE about dementia through literature, the premise really caught my attention. It's about a young boy who escapes his mother's slow loss of memory by playing a fantasy video game ... except he's convinced that she's playing with him from her nursing home. And refuses to believe that she's got dementia in the first place.

It sounds amazing (although I'm guessing I'll need the tissues for this one too) and also cover love. I can't wait to get around to it.

***
In the comments: Has Disability Diaries added any books to your TBR? Which ones? What's exciting you about it?
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Disability Rep Done Good | The First Third by Will Kostakis

This is disability representation done right, people.

The entire time I read it, I was kind of delirious at the fact that somebody had finally represented ME. In an actual book. My disability was being described and, while I'm not 100% like that character, I could identify with them far more strongly than I'd ever identified with any character before. I was so overjoyed it was getting to the point that I laughed - and then cried - most of my way through the book.

There were probably a dozen or more tiny things that made it awesome, and despite having read it almost cover to cover twice, I probably won't be able to recognise and describe all of them. I guess I'll just do some?

Right. So. The disability representation in The First Third comes in the form of Lucas - A.K.A. Sticks - an eighteen-year-old joker and wingman to the long-suffering Greek-Australian protagonist, Bill. He's a hilarious person, he genuinely cares about Bill, and he has Cerebral Palsy, so walks with crutches. When a sidekick character like Lucas is disabled, it's easy for their inclusion to just feel like tokenism, like a joke. It's easy for them to be an afterthought - and that afterthought hurts.

(Sorry. When I get excited, it appears that I use a lot of italics.)

REASONS WHY LUCAS DID NOT FEEL LIKE AN AFTERTHOUGHT (OR, THE PARTS OF THIS BOOK THAT I LIKED THE MOST)
  • His disability didn't define him, but neither was it ignored. Constant little references were slipped into the text enough to make it feel like CP was an integral part of Lucas' (and through extension, Bill's) life, but none of them felt like the author was yelling "HE'S GOT A DISABILITY, REMEMBER?". That takes a lot of subtlety and no doubt some very good editing, but it's so so so necessary if you want to write disabled characters truthfully. Please take note, and remember that the MC was in a particularly stressful situation he wanted to get away from, not just being heartless:
          "Faster," I barked. He rested on his crutches for a second. "Difficult."
  • There's this huge, utterly lovely discussion about dating with a disability (and as a gay person, for that matter), and it was somehow absolutely vital, insightful, and funny all at the same time. I don't want to say too much - because spoilers, amiright? - but it made my heart happy.
          "Says the able-bodied hetero kid." Sticks said. "If you think you have to jump through hoops to find someone - then my hoops are spinning. And they're on fire."
  •  It was really refreshing to see a physically disabled character who wasn't in a wheelchair? There's nothing wrong with wheelchairs - an awful lot of disabled people (including me) use them, and they deserve to be represented too, but there's this frankly useless stereotype in the world that disability always equals wheelchair. And this subverted it! A tiny bit! HUZZAH!
          (I think a lot of this also has to do with the fact that Lucas is based on an actual person, rather             than just being a cookie-cutter of a disabled person, but I'll leave Will to explain that in his                   interview in a bit.)
  • HARDCORE (CANON) SHIP INVOLVING A DISABLED PERSON.
  • The process of growing up with a disability is described at the beginning, and the little details just made that description. The way mini-Lucas explains CP to fellow four-year-olds by saying his "legs won't listen" (I tell small children a similar thing when they get inquisitive). The whole "rebrand" he goes through in early teenage years, initiating the nickname Sticks and shortening the phrase Cerebral Palsy to CP (I didn't have the self-confidence to choose an ironic nickname, but I definitely gave up the long name.) This, ladies and gentlemen, is an able-bodied author who has DONE THEIR FREAKING RESEARCH.
  • I was also oddly comforted by how okay Bill was with the little things of being a special needs friend. 
          Shush. It's a term now. I invented it.

          It might surprise you how much time I spend worrying about how much my friends do for me,             even though they always look at me like I'm crazy when I bring it up (thanks for being                         amazing, you lovely people). But ... seeing how matter-of-fact Bill is most of the time about                 walking a bit slower, or handing Lucas his sticks - and knowing, as you'll see in the interview,             that the author speaks from a position of knowledge on this - just set my mind at ease like                   nothing really has before.

In summary, this book is a testament to disability representation at its finest: and it shows that, while #ownvoices are ridiculously important and we just don't have enough of them in disability lit, able-bodied authors can write really decent portrayals. Beautiful portrayals, in fact.

Not all of them do, but that's a topic for another day. Wednesday's post, in fact.
Now, I'm guessing you guys want to peer into the brain which put this together, right? Well, today's your lucky day, because I have an interview lined up for you. Thank you for agreeing to do this, Will - I'm certainly fascinated by what you have to say!


What made you want to write about a disabled character like Lucas?
In my first year of university, I met someone. We were both seated and we spoke for what felt like hours. The conversation was lively, and my sides hurt from laughing so hard. We clicked. This was back when Facebook first launched and I was genuinely excited to make a new Facebook friend. He went to leave, and walked away with his crutches. As he did, I realised he had cerebral palsy. 

My first thought was, 'Oh, lucky I'm not friends with him, that'd be really inconvenient.'

And then I heard that first thought. I was deeply ashamed. That was my first thought meeting someone with cerebral palsy? I immediately acted to correct it, we became Facebook friends, and now, he's one of my closest friends. And every time we hang out, I'm reminded that had I listened to that prejudiced first thought, I would have missed out on one of the best relationships in my life.

The reason for writing Lucas was two-fold. First, I wanted to capture that relationship, and second, I wanted to make sure that nobody who read The First Third ever had that same first thought.

What was the hardest part of that process?
The hardest part was capturing the reality of being a gay teen with cerebral palsy, without making him read like Oscarbait. His arc has tragic beats, most in the novel do, but I didn't want it to overwhelm. On the flip-side, I didn't want to reduce him to comic relief.

It was a delicate knife edge to tread, and I overcame it by thinking about him less like he was the protagonist's sidekick, and more like his friendship with Bill was the central character. They are two halves of one whole.

What did you do to make sure that you represented CP in an accurate way?
I started by making sure Lucas was a clear character, with a distinct voice. I didn't want his disability to be a plot point, but I wanted it to inform who he was. Much like I didn't want him to "just happen to be gay", I didn't want him to "just happen to have CP". There are two parts to representation - incorporation and exploration. While I think incorporation is admirable, it's that second part that writers should strive towards. It's the exploration of identity, it's the details that make it feel real and less tokenistic. That means research, beyond my own personal experience with my friend, asking questions and listening.

How did your publisher react to Lucas' involvement in The First Third?
Lucas was the best-realised character in the early drafts. From the first pages they read, Penguin Random House Australia embraced him. While his disability was never an issue, his arc was a point of contention. The First Third is about teens taking their first awkward steps into adulthood, and for Lucas, that's acting on his sexual desires.

First, I was asked if the scene was essential. Did it have to be through an app? (Keep in mind this is before Tinder sort of normalised dating apps for straight people.) Did it have to be with a stranger? Yes, Lucas is coming to terms with what it means to be gay and disabled. He has been taught by previous interactions, and an ablest culture, that he cannot be desirable and disabled, so inviting someone over via an app allows him to disguise his disability.

The first time they read the scene, my publisher was its champion. But still, there was trepidation. I understood why. As a touring author without an international name, the local education market is important to me. ‘Difficult’ content begets difficulties, like not being shelved in school libraries and not being invited to speak. They were hypothetical difficulties at that stage, sure, but compromises were still made to reduce the risk of them becoming my reality.

I say compromises — Lucas was aged up to 18, and the scene occurred in his bedroom instead of a hotel room — but these changes didn’t compromise my vision. The scene had changed slightly, but its meaning remained intact, and it was now likely to get into more schools, where more gay kids, more disabled kids and more kids with friends and classmates like Lucas, could read it. 

To make doubly sure we would not encounter roadblocks, we did our research. We sought out similar scenes written about heterosexual teens, often younger, in books that had made school reading lists, and used them as guides. The thinking was, and still is, what makes sexual content appropriate has absolutely nothing to do with the genders of the parties involved. Still, I was overly cautious. If I could gently imply, I gently implied.

By the time the novel was published, and Lucas was embraced, the trepidation was forgotten.

Were you worried about how Lucas would be received by readers?
Reading is a subjective exercise. As readers, we bring our contexts and histories to everything we read. As a writer, I always worry about how everything - from the characters to the punctuation choice on page 65 - will be received by readers. I do what I can on my end to minimise errors and missteps. I won't publish a book I don't 100% believe in.

But I am also aware that believing in a book is subjective too.

If I wrote a harmful representation, I would want it to be received poorly. Identifying issues allows them to be corrected. Nowadays, publishing processes are so much more flexible, and by extension, the contents of stories are more fluid, than they have ever been. What was once literally set in stone can be changed, bettered based on feedback and consultation.

At the end of the day, my worries as an author are not the issue. The impact of being called out for poor representation on me as a writer is nothing compared to the impact of that poor representation on an affected reader.

If a story alarms you, don't be afraid to reach out to a writer. And the inverse is true too. If a story speaks to you, let an author know. It means a lot to know you got it right.

Do you have any tips for writers who want to represent disabled characters, but aren't confident in doing so?
Build confidence the same way you build confidence in all other avenues of life: work on it. Show people, listen to feedback. Listen, listen, listen. Write some more.
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Why Do We Need Disability Diaries?

Today is the day people. DISABILITY DIARIES IS GO.
If you've somehow managed to miss my endless fangirling about its existence in the last few months, then a) you're incredibly talented at avoiding the internet, and b) you're going to need to know a bit about it, aren't you?

Basically, you're in store for a week-long extravaganza of reviews, interviews, discussions, TBRs ... pretty much any kind of post you can imagine, all related to promoting decent representations of disability in literature, especially YA.

If you want to make sure you don't miss a single post - which you don't, right? - make sure you follow me and my fellow mods, Angel, Cee Arr, Dina, Ely and Jolien on Twitter, and keep an eye on the #DisabilityDiaries2017 hashtag: we've got a load of other people contributing, so it's the best way to keep on top of everything.

But ... why do we need an event like this? Why do we need Disability Diaries?

I've attempted to explain why disability representation is so important generally in a guest post at Chasing Faerytales, and also expressed my anger at harmful representation in this little rant here. But today I'm going to answer that question in a new way.

I need to tell you the story of The Woman.
Not Irene Adler. This particular woman was probably a pretty normal person: about my Mum's age, chatty, pretty nice on the face of it. I'd never met her before; I was at a party where one of my Dad's friends lived, and I didn't really know anyone. But she proceeded to be someone I'll never forget.

And not in a good way.

This is the conversation we had. I've removed the boring bits, like me saying "Hi, I'm Lara", but the first words written were basically the first words out of her mouth:

Her: So, do you go to school?

Me: Uh ... yeah. I go to [local Secondary], which is a mainstream school.

Thankfully, I resisted the urge to add "and I'm in the top set, you pig". Would have been entertaining to see her face, though.

Her: Can you tell me a bit about ... why you're in the chair?

I wasn't exactly keen to tell a perfect stranger what's actually private medical information, but I figured my commitment to making sure people are educated about disability still stood, so I told her. Through only ever-so-slightly gritted teeth, I explained that cerebral palsy was a condition that affected my nervous system, that it caused lower-body spasms, and ... well, some other stuff too. I don't remember all of it.

Her: Do you take any medication? Like, to help with the spasms and things?

Me: No, there isn't any, really. I've taken pain meds after operations, but mostly it's just a physio programme, and -

Her: Oh, you should!

Me: What?

Her: I think medication would really help you.

Me: Oh, well I'm constantly in contact with my doctors, and they - we - never really thought that medication would be useful.

Her: Oh, no, no, no! I'm a nurse, and there are a lot of supplements ...

And then she was off. Listing medications and herbal things and - by the end, the only way I could get her to stop was by thanking her and saying I'd bear them in mind. So she got to wander off and think she'd done her daily good deed for a poor disabled girl, and I was left with the feeling that my feelings, opinions and knowledge had been completely ignored.

It hurt.
I came to two conclusions while I sat there, a little bit shell-shocked. 1) The Woman was almost definitely really drunk, and 2) she hadn't actually meant to be offensive.

At no point had she tried to be rude to me, or bully me, or hurl slurs at me, or anything like that. She just fell victim to her own near-complete lack of knowledge about disabled people and how to interact with us - and honestly that's quite sad. As far as I can tell, she was trying her best to be nice.

But solely because the world doesn't contain enough education on disability, she ended up alienating me, treating me like I was stupid, and completely denying me any right to make my own choices. Just because no-one had ever told her how to avoid that.

And that's why we need Disability Diaries.
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