5 Gift Ideas for the Bookworm in your life

Featured5 Gift Ideas for the Bookworm in your life

With the 25th of December looming closer and closer, panic can start to arise about the perfect gifts to give to loved ones. And while trying to find a gift for a bookworm can appear pretty easy at first (they just want books, don’t they?), it may seem less so if you are trying to “think out of the box” and surprise them with a more something more unique and thoughtful. Do not fear, for this year I have taken it upon myself to provide some inspiration (I’m hoping this will allow me to apply for the position of Santa’s helper next year).

1. Book Purse

Not forgetting my manners, I begin with ladies first.

Every girl, at one point or another, has complained about her clothes not having enough pockets, resulting in the need to carry around bags and purses of various sizes – I have personally always looked for bags that can fit my books, otherwise, what is the point of them?

And while having your purse-gift fulfill this criteria is worthy of all my admiration, why not step out of the comfort of a store-brought bag and get one that your bookish lady will love even more? What about getting her a book that is the bag?

You need not look farther than Bookarelli on Etsy – Jo makes the most amazing bags from your favourite book covers. There is a wide selection to pick from, or you could get in contact with her and request a custom order. It’s no secret that Etsy is a golden mine when it comes to amazing, unique gifts; add handmade to the list and the recipient is bound to love it.

2. Candles

What are a bookworm’s go-tos when preparing to settle down for a reading session? Comfy seating, cozy blankets, a cup of tea – and candles. They rarely get left out of the list of essentials; not only do they help fill the room with amazing smells, but they can also affect the mood. You wouldn’t channel the badassness of Katniss Everdeen if you were reading something like Edgar Allan Poe.

Candle scents named after characters are amazing for helping channel that character’s attitude, without risking another reading marathon (because you were looking for that one quote that perfectly captures their personality), helping you get through any school reading, by reminding you about your favourite books, as well as doing what candles do best, and making your space feel comforting.

I have been obsessed with such candles since I discovered TheFrangranceLibrary – on Etsy, you guessed it! Their Harry Potter collection is to die for – and their most extensive. They have been branching out however, and there are several fandoms to choose from now.

3. Clothes

Do you have a more safe, fail-proof approach when it comes to gifts? Then you will probably be familiar with this one. But because advising you to buy a fandom t-shirt is too vague and not at all helpful, there are a few, more specific ideas that might do the trick!

I think that scarves are underrated and underappreciated when it comes to being gifted. Gifting scarves allows for various ways to be creative: you can get one with books or book covers, or with the person’s favourite book quotes. In either case, it is not constraining to one fandom, which means that you can’t go wrong if you don’t quite know what they’re into.

A gift that we all hate as children, but ends up becoming one of our favourites as adults is socks! Socks are essential to bringing that cozy feeling during reading sessions, which is what makes them a great gift for book enthusiast. And there are many styles to choose from, making it a fun experience when buying them, too – they can be fandom themed, or have quotes on them, or simply call someone out for being a book nerd. I love the ones that have “shh, I’m reading” on their soles. However, I have to confess that my all time favourite socks (even more than the ones with unicorns, yes!) are art ones – with various famous works of art and artists.

4. Literary inspired makeup

I have a slightly complicated relationship with makeup – my oily skin type, as well as having hooded eyes, can make it hard sometimes for me to wear too much makeup or recreate looks that I have seen online. However, I do love it (it’s just unfortunate that I can’t use it to its full potential), and lately I have been even more in love with it, because it now appeals to my inner fangirl and bookworm, too.

I have been loving Storybook Cosmetics since their beginning – they started off with a Harry Potter eyeshadow palette, in the shape of a book titled “Wizardry and Witchcraft”, and have continued to expand their amazing makeup collection ever since. They now have several eyeshadow palettes from various fandoms, liquid lipsticks, and amazing brushes (the rose-shaped ones inspired by Beauty and the Beast are my favourite). They make for some amazing gifts!

5. Jewellery

Finishing off with another simple, flexible idea. Jewellery can come in many shapes and sizes – there are earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings – and many ways to personalise them, but there are a few ideas that I love.

I don’t wear earrings often, but if I had tiny versions of my favourite books as earrings, I would wear them all the time! This can be used for necklaces as well – I cannot imagine any bookworm not loving the opportunity to wear their favourite book around their neck all the time. You can take a more general approach if you don’t happen to know what books they love, and simply go for a plain book cover instead, or a book stack. This can also work for guys, too – book cufflinks, anyone? A great way to make a suit stand out!

You know what really grinds my gears, even during the festive season? People who use your and you’re wrong. Sometimes I wish I had a pair of those cute word earrings with these two words – it would make correcting people so much easier. If you have a grammar nazi you need to buy gifts for, get them some of those. But they are not limited to words which are often used wrong, nor only to earrings – I have seen lovely rings with the names of famous couples, which can be an amazing gift for your significant other (you each get one half of your favourite OTP) or best friends (because sharing OTP rings is much more awesome than sharing “best friend”).

 

 

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12 Best Classic Christmas Movies

12 Best Classic Christmas Movies

December is here! My favourite month, it is a time of mulled wine, good cheer and lots of gift-giving. However, it could not be the most wonderful time of the year without a good Christmas movie to get one in the festive mood. Despite being blessed with new ones every year (not to mention all the Christmas specials most TV shows run), you just cannot beat the classics. Below is a compilation of all my favourite classic Christmas movies, to make it easier to get in the mood for the holidays!

  1. The Nightmare before Christmas

A blend of spooky and heartwarming, The Nightmare Before Christmas is the perfect transition movie between Halloween and Christmas.

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Being described as “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in reverse”, watching Jack Skellington, famous for his scary feats at Halloween, marvelling at the discovery of Christmas and trying to create his own version of the holiday will inevitably rub off on you.  Every song in this musical masterpiece will get you singing along, and you will not be able to look away from the wonderfully strange characters that inhabit Halloweentown.

Tim Burton’s animated movie is the perfect choice to kick off December with.

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2. The Holiday

With the holidays being on everyone’s mind, The Holiday is a great pick to help make the days until then better.

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The two female protagonists, played by Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, are bound to end up being relatable, especially since they are dual in nature: from their rocky relationships and subsequent desire to get as far away as possible, to the struggles of Diaz’s character of adjusting to the weather and customs (especially driving on the opposite side of the road) of England, while Winslet’s character revels in the luxury of Los Angeles. The clichéic “you will find love where you least expect it” trope works well within the setting of the Christmas holidays, adding to the feel-good nature of the movie.

3. Deck the Halls!

A movie all about preparing for Christmas (and being able to have your house seen from space), Deck the Halls is great for all those who are considered to be a bit extra in their preparations for the holidays.

The unfolding rivalry between Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito’s characters, Steve and Buddy, begun due to Steven losing his status as “the Christmas guy” around town because Buddy’s Christmas lights have made him well-known among his neighbours (how relatable though? I would be angry, too, if someone stole my status as the most festive person in town), makes a strong point of how traditions should not get in the way of the true meaning of Christmas, of coming together and embracing each other’s differences. It also provides an abundance of comedic opportunities.

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It might have negative reviews online, but this festive comedy is one I greatly enjoy. Worst case scenario, it works well as a background movie while wrapping presents or decorating the house.

4. Jack Frost

A heartwarming movie about the importance of second chances and family, Jack Frost is yet another classic that centers around the meaning of Christmas.

First of all, how cool is it to be called Jack Frost? I was pretty young when I saw this movie for the first time, and this was my first impression – Jack Frost is a pretty sweet name to have. I also loved the idea of having a snowman as a best friend, but here it’s even better – having your father come back as a snowman. As a child, I liked the idea that you could get more time with your parents for Christmas – I could not imagine the holiday season without them.

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Having grown up, my impressions have not changed much from my initial ones. However, I now realise that it was not only Charlie, the protagonist of the movie, that is given a second chance to spend time with his father and come to terms with his death, but it is his father that benefits from this – he gets a second chance to be there for his son, when he wasn’t before he died. He gets to teach him all the valuable life lessons he was too busy to teach him while alive, due to his efforts of bringing his band to success.

More than a family movie about second chances, it is also about friendship. As the movie progresses, we see Charlie constantly clashing with Rory Buck, the neighbourhood bully. Towards the end of the movie, however, when Charlie and Jack are in trouble and in need of help, who should lend a hand but Rory himself? By the end, the two become very good friends.

5. Arthur Christmas

Talking about cool names and the importance of family, Arthur Christmas has got all this and more.

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The animated movie starts off by showing us the Christmas family hard at work on Christmas Eve, in their modern, technologically advanced sleigh-ship, the S-1: Malcom, the current Santa Claus on his 70th mission, is more of a symbolic leading figure now, while his eldest son, Steve, is the one who runs the show with military precision. Arthur, his younger, clumsy, brother, is in charge of responding to Christmas letters, which he does with a lot of passion.

Despite completing the mission of delivering presents, there is one girl who has been missed – an elf named Bryony finds the undelivered present. Arthur is the only one interested in trying to deliver the present before Christmas day, and with the help of his grandfather and his old sleigh, and a stowaway Bryony, they set off on their mission, which proves to be highly amusing and entertaining.

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The culmination of the movie sees the members of the Christmas family coming together to help Arthur out, leaving aside their egos and pride and embracing Arthur’s untainted Christmas spirit.

It’s a movie I don’t think I will ever get tired of – and it brings my family together, just like it happens in the movie, only mine gathers around the TV rather than in an attempt to get a missing present to its rightful owner.

6. the Home Alone series

Here are some movies that do the opposite – separate a family. However, the Home Alone series proves that distance does make the heart grow fonder, and this separation is what puts the idea of family into perspective, especially with the holidays as its backdrop.

I think it’s impossible not to know these classics (especially the first two), since they are always shown on TV during the month of December. Everyone is familiar with the youngest of the McCallister family, Kevin, and his eventful days just before Christmas, either defending his home from burglars (in Home Alone) or trying to survive in the Big Apple (in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York). It’s no wonder it is the highest grossing Christmas movie of all time in the States.

However, I feel like the third and fourth movies that I feel do not get as much love as they deserve. (There is also a fifth movie that was released in 2012, but I have never seen it so I cannot state my opinion on it). I blame it on the focus changing from Kevin to Alex Pruitt in HOME ALONe 3. It also has more of a spy theme, but that’s what makes it so amazing. The danger that Alex is in feels more real, and much bigger, than it did in the previous two movies. There are four hitmen working for a North Korean organisation that want to steal Alex’s remote-controlled car because it hides a very important chip. A little kid who is left alone because he has chickenpox has to handle these very serious and extremely dangerous people!

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As for the fourth movie, we are once again following the adventures of Kevin – yet the main cast is different, which is not a very pleasant surprise, I must admit. There are many other changes that have happened in the characters’ lives, such as Kevin’s parents divorcing and his father moving in with his rich girlfriend. Kevin is invited to spend Christmas with them. There he meets once again with his old nemesis, one of the burglars from the first two movies. The movie follows Kevin’s adventures trying to defend Natalie’s house from him. The references to late 90’s, early 2000 culture is what really gets to me, and makes me appreciate this movie.

7. The Polar Express

This is my personal favourite Christmas movie EVER. It’s already a tradition in my family to watch it each year on Christmas day. We know all the songs off by heart and always sing along – we might even be able to recite the script. Despite the countless times we have re-watched it, The Polar Express has not lost its charm.

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It is a heartwarming movie about the spirit of Christmas and our belief in it (not to mention, the belief in Santa Claus, who is, after all, the embodiment of the Christmas spirit). The protagonist, whose name is never revealed, boards the Polar Express with an air of scepticism. On his journey to the North Pole, he gets to befriend a girl with an unwaveringly strong belief in Christmas, a know-it-all (who honestly always gets on my nerves) and Billy, the boy who never gets a visit from Santa, and seems to have less faith in Christmas than the protagonist. Billy is the only character whose name we know, showing the importance of his character arch – his confidence slowly increases as he builds friendships with the other children on the train, and the result of his adventures is a newfound belief in Christmas. This is also reflected in the development of the protagonist (who is ambiguously listed as “hero boy” on the Internet, but I have always wondered if he is worth that title).

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But beside the heartwarming story, the soundtrack of this movie is what truly makes it so amazing – the best songs being “Hot Chocolate” and “When Christmas Comes to Town”, which you will find me humming throughout the year.

8. Miracle on 34th Street

When thinking about a newfound faith in Christmas and Santa Claus, I feel like people naturally come to think of Miracle on 34th Street.

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The movie can be a seen as a commentary on the way Christmas has become a commercial holiday, and its subsequent effects – Kris Kringe brings in substantial sales for Cole’s, and the rivalry between the store and Shopper’s Express is what gets Kringe jailed and leads to the trial where the existence of Santa is to be judged.

However, it cannot be denied that the charm of the movie is seeing Susan, who was raised to believe that Santa is a made up concept, slowly grow to believe in him, after the movie’s climax, when her Christmas wishes come true – getting a father, a new house, and (so it is implied) a brother.

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9. Nativity!

When I was in primary school, the nativity play was among the biggest events of the academic calendar. The memories of the rehearsals, the costumes, and the performances (where something inevitably ended up going wrong) are all stirred up by Nativity!, one of the most British Christmas films I have seen.

The movie follows the attempts of Paul (played by none other than BBC’s Sherlock faithful companion, Dr. Watson) to win against one of his former friends, Gordon Shakespeare (who runs a private school) in putting on the best nativity play. In an attempt to put him off, Paul tells Shakespeare that his school’s play will be turned into a Hollywood movie, since his ex-girlfriend works in the industry. This lie ends up getting out of hand when it gets out to the press, and Paul has to try and make it a reality while simultaneously trying to put on a play with his pupils, which sadly aren’t as talented as Shakespeare’s. His assistant, the childish Mr Poppy, ends up being a great help, creating a nativity play that showcases the pupils’ various talents and quirks. The media attention means the play is acted out in the town’s cathedral – not only does the play end up being a success, but Paul, his ex-girlfriend, and Shakespeare are all reunited, also.

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All’s well that ends well, but this time, it’s with a sprinkle of Britishness and a touch of Christmas.

10. Love Actually

If we are to judge nativity plays, I think the consensus would be that the one in Love Actually wins, with its lobsters and octopus.

With the numerous plots, this movie has something for everyone: There’s Hugh Grant dancing through 10 Downing Street, Alan Rickman almost being caught buying a gift for his mistress because Rowan Atkinson is taking his sweet time over-wrapping the present, Martin Freeman being a professional body extra for sex scenes, Thomas Brodie-Sangster learning to play the drums to impress his first love, Keira Knightely being stuck between two guys, Colin Firth declaring his love for his housekeeper in Portuguese, Kris Marshall going to America to get laid thanks to his British accent, and Bill Nightly releasing a Christmas hit which sucks and then declaring his love for his manager.

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Despite all these entangled narratives with various interlinked individuals, they all examine the complexity of love, and reveal the various appearances it can take.

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11. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

From love we move swiftly on to hate.

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In the town of Whosville, all its enjoy celebrating Christmas, with the exception of the Grinch, who lives isolated from them, on a mountain overlooking the town. The Whos do not much care for him, a sentiment which is returned by the Grinch. However, Cindy Lou feels that the Whos are wrong in being concerned only about presents and festivities, feeling they are missing the point of Christmas. The generously spirited child takes a strange liking to the Grinch, attempting to include him in the community of Whoseville. He takes advantage of this in an attempt to sabotage Christmas for the Whos and crush their festive spirit. When all else fails, he steals their presents, yet this turns out to teach the Whos the real meaning of Christmas – time spent with family and friends. This ends up teaching the Grinch the same lesson, who eventually reconciles with the Whos and joins them in Whoseville.

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And so the movie goes from hate to love, while commenting on how people have lost sight of the real meaning of Christmas thanks to our consumer mindset. What a classic!

12. Elf

Leaving the best till last, there cannot be a list of Christmas movies that does not include Elf.

The movie is just brilliant – who wouldn’t want to be adopted by Santa Claus and live in the North Pole with elves? However, that isn’t the only dysfunctional family Buddy is part of, because after he finds out that he is in fact from New York and goes to meet his real father, he wakes up in another family where he doesn’t quite fit in.

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As the movie progresses, Buddy slowly wins over his family, who help restore the Christmas spirit of people so that Santa’s sleigh (which has crashed in Central Park) can fly again. Buddy also ends up finding love and starting his own family, who are shown to visit Santa at the North Pole. Buddy has finally found somewhere he truly belongs.

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First Impression – Life is Strange: Before the Storm

First Impression – Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Summer is now officially over, and as we turn over a new page in the calendar, there are several things to be excited about now that it’s September, the most important of them being the release of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, which came out on Thursday. This was also followed by the release of the whole soundtrack for the game by Daughter on Friday. It was a glorious end to summer, and start of autumn.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Before the Storm takes place three years prior to the events in the first game, Life is Strange (2015), and focuses on Chloe Price. Chloe’s father has died, and her best friend has stopped keeping in contact with her.

When I finally managed to calm down after opening up the game, and actually started playing, the game flew by so fast! I was done with episode one in what seemed like a heartbeat (although the game sure made my heart race).

I am still not over it, and so, to prolong this post-“Before the Storm” dreamy state, here are my first impressions of Episode 1!

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What I liked about it:

  • The soundtrack: it was one of the first things we got to experience before the actual release of the game; the trailer  featured one of Daughter’s songs, and the announcement that they were going to heavily feature on the soundtrack brought me a lot of joy. I am a HUGE fan of Daughter and to know that they are going to work on MY FAVOURITE video game was just a dream come true. How amazing! The songs are beautiful and so emotive; they go really well together with the action of the game. I am also really glad that Life is Strange fans get to fall in love with the band too.
  • Animation: now, Life is Strange is not perfect, and animation is where the game lacks (when characters cry it just looks like their skin is slightly damp – where are the tears?) Before the Storm is an improvement on the quality of the animation, especially when it comes to facial expressions. It makes everything seem much more natural and therefore really improves the player’s experience. They still need to work on the tears, but they do look better than in the original game.

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  • Backtalk challenges: I was really worried, before playing the game, about Chloe’s fiery attitude and the way she does not mince her words. She could get in some very serious trouble in this game, and this time, there was no Max to turn back time and fix it. But Deck Nine have managed to dispel all my worries, by turning her verbal confrontations into challenges. They are very well done – you have to pay attention to the words the other person uses and use them to your advantage. If you successfully talk back to them several times, you win. The challenges are surprisingly enjoyable, even for someone like me, who never has the courage to talk back to people. They also bring out Chloe’s talent with words.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons game: all nerds rejoice! How amazing is this completely unexpected surprise from Deck Nine, that you can actually get involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign? Even those who don’t play D&D, or have no idea what that is (a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game) should give it a try. It’s immensely fun, and I loved seeing Chloe go from wanting to dismiss it as a nerd thing to getting really into it and earning the respect of the other players.
  • Chloe’s sexuality: Even though, in the original Life is Strange game, the Dontnod team tiptoed around the actual sexuality of the characters, merely giving hints, Deck Nine seem to have heard the fans and have taken a different approach, by simply letting Chloe be herself, not hindering her thoughts and feelings towards those around her, regardless of their nature – simply letting them be, without additional comment or the need to draw attention to them. This is a very authentic approach towards Chloe, which characterises the whole episode. The result is an amazingly honest, raw side of Chloe that we have only been able to glimpse in Life is Strange.
  • Chloe and Rachel: just as with Life is Strange, where, despite the mystery of the storm and Max’s rewinding powers of time, the core of the game inevitably becomes the relationship between herself and her long-time best friend, Chloe, the same happens in this game. In episode 1 we get a first glimpse of the “friendship…but more” between Chloe and Rachel. Still trying to come to terms with her father’s death, as well as having to deal with an increasingly absent best friend, it is not hard to see why the charming Rachel Amber ended up having such an impact on Chloe, and becoming her “angel”. We also get to see a side of Chloe we have never seen before, the “useless lesbian”, as it has been deemed online – her awkwardness when interacting with Rachel is very relatable.

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  • Nathan Prescott: Nathan greatly annoyed me in Life is Strange. He was arrogant and entitled, a bully and a creep who ended up being guilty of Rachel’s death. He was a very flat character – other than being the student antagonist of the game, there was not much to him. Before the Storm does a great job of turning him to a more rounded, complex character, showing us the origin of his asshole behaviour. While it could be considered clichéic that he becomes a bully because he was bullied, alongside the implication that his father pressured him into the football squad (for which he was mostly bullied) to uphold the family name, it does all make sense. It does not undo his wrongs, but it does make him three-dimensional as a character.
  • Secondary characters: Stephanie, Samantha and Mikey are amazing side characters, and I am glad that Deck Nine has not focused solely on the characters we all knew from Life is Strange, but has also added new dynamic, relatable secondary characters. They play an important part in the choices you make throughout the game, depending on the impression they leave on you.
  • Max Caufield: Being the main character in Life is Strange, it was pretty easy (and expected, even) to side with her, especially when it came to her time away from Chloe – there were times when Chloe ‘s anger at Max seemed a bit too much, and we never understood the full extent of the things that had happened (or better said, had not happened) during the time the girls had not spoken. But that was because, after all, we only had Max’s side of the story. Now we get to experience those years after Max has left for Portland from Chloe’s point of view. And what a difference this makes! Chloe is trying so hard to hold on to her friendship with Max, and all she gets in return is silence. I am aware that we don’t actually know how it was like for Max in Portland, but is it really hard to reply to a text once in a while to let your best friend know you haven’t forgotten about her? We really get a chance to adjust our ideas about Max in Before the Storm.

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  • “dickhole”: what a lovely mashup of “dickhead” and “asshole”. Chloe truly has a way with words.
  • Chloe’s wardrobe: This is the additional feature no one thought they needed but is in fact pretty enjoyable. Playing dress up with Chloe is really fun – her wardrobe is a blend of “don’t care” and hipster, which, for someone who’s wardrobe is on the other side of the spectrum, is just fascinating.

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What I didn’t like about it:

  • “This action will have consequences”: The message first appears when you decide to steal the $200 from the shitty dude who overcharged for Firewall t-shirts. It keeps coming up throughout the episode, which is to be expected, since this is in the game description. However, we never really get to experience any of those consequences, at least in this episode. After a while, it’s pretty easy to just see the message as a feeble threat, laugh in its face, and go about doing whatever you feel like it without the pressure of actual consequences. It allows for a more relaxed environment that in Life is Strange, where your actions caught up with you much faster than here, but it also creates a sense of annoyance, since they start seeming unnecessary.
  • PC controls: Deck Nine has made several changes when it comes to game controls – instead of the using the arrow keys to move, you now use the WASD keys. And while you still need to left click on object to be able to select it, you now need to also press the WASD keys to interact with it, which is much more complicated at first glance than the simple “drag the mouse” that Life is Strange used. However, the use of the WASD keys is overall better, it’s much easier to navigate the game once you get used to it. This is initial dislike is mostly a personal thing, as I was simply used to the controls for Life is Strange. However, I was really not a fan of the fact that you cannot use the touchpad on a laptop in the game, you must have a mouse plugged in – a touchpad was fine in Life is Strange, would it have been so hard to do it here, too? Especially since you need the mouse much less.
  • Texting: I have never minded the inability to send text messages in the Life is Strange games….until now. I understand that Chloe is supposed to be a rebel and doesn’t want her mum to cramp up her style, but the fact that you cannot answer her text messages kind of annoys me. All Joyce wants is to know Chloe is safe, would it have hurt the game devs to have Chloe send an “I’m ok” message to her mum?

I really look forward to the release of the second episode!

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Summer Well – and why it’s my favourite summer weekend

Summer Well – and why it’s my favourite summer weekend

It’s been over two weeks since my favourite music festival in Romania finished.

Yet I am still scrolling through my photo gallery, re-living that glorious weekend, with tickets for next year already brought, eagerly awaiting next August.

Summer Well’s tagline, “a festival like a holiday”, is the best way to sum up the festival. It manages to combine the relaxation of lazy Sunday with the hype of club. Two things that sound like they would never go well together are combined to form a delicious cocktail of an experience, something I have only found at Summer Well.

Even before stepping foot on the grounds of the Stirbey Domain, where the festival has been hosted for seven years now, you’re already a new person. The giddy excitement of the festival goers queueing in front of the entrance is a contagious, transformative sight. With glittery faces, neon colours, sheer tops and colourful hair, it’s hard not to catch the excitement of the mass of people who share the same love as you for this festival. And once you’re actually inside the Domain, it’s like you’re entering a bubble of good music, delicious food, and great atmosphere. It’s hard to believe the busy city of Bucharest is only half an hour away from this place.

This year Summer Well outdid itself and gave us an extra evening of our favourite festival. Usually beginning on the second Saturday of August, this year proved to be an exception, because on Friday, Summer Well started with a Night Picnic. The highlight of the evening was a full hour of the Bucharest Symphony Orchestra playing covers of songs from the 11 artists that were to perform over the weekend. There were picnic blankets scattered all across the grass in front of the stage, gathered around the small tables with homely decorations. The food court, organised in the style of a food festival, was opened ahead of the festival weekend, too. Night Picnic gave us a taste of the artists that were soon to step on stage, as well as proving to be the most opportune time to explore the Domain ahead of the busy weekend.

It was a very cosy evening, even with the huge turnout.

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On Saturday, things got into full swing. Oh Wonder were the first up on stage, and they drew in quite the crowd! They were one of the acts I had been very excited to see at Summer Well, and were better than I could have imagined. Their presence on stage was only matched by Glass Animals – they sang beautifully, they danced around, and what I loved the most, they interacted with the crowd. One of the most memorable moments happened between songs, when Josephine said she had been learning Romanian ahead of the festival, and knew how to say “buna” (hello) and “la revedere” (goodbye), Anthony commenting that it sounded like she was ordering a salad!

HONNE followed this amazing opening duo, who likewise blew me away.I surely missed them last year, when they had to cancel last-minute, but they truly made it up to Summer Well lovers with their performance. They sang all the favourites, and left everyone humming “Warm on a cold night” even after they had left the stage.

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Sunday was the highlight of the festival. Nothing But Thieves, Birdy, and Glass Animals were all to hit the stage, and people were excited. It was even more crowded than it had been the previous two days, yet it only added to the atmosphere.

It was such a lovely feeling to see what a diverse crowd Nothing But Thieves gathered, and it truly made me realise that music does bring us all together – when you’re focused on the band and their songs, it doesn’t matter who the people dancing along beside you are, what’s important is your shared love for the same music. The band have an amazing presence on stage, Conor was captivating to watch. I didn’t want their act to end!

 

They were followed by an emotional show from Birdy. She has such an emotive voice and a very captivating presence on stage, even from behind her (very pretty) piano. I managed to keep my eyes dry, but the same can’t be said for most of the crowd. Birdy kept the audience on their toes, switching between upbeat and soulful songs. Despite the rain that made its appearance halfway through her act, all her fans sang along as loud as ever.

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My favourites, however, were Glass Animals – I had been looking forward to seeing them ever since the lineup was announced! And I wasn’t the only one – a sea of pineapples rose above the crowd in anticipation of the band. They put on quite a show – from the gigantic, gold pineapple they brough on stage, to Dave Bayley getting off it to sing among the crowd. It was wild from the beginning to the end! I lost my voice from all the singing/shouting along, and despite being crammed between all the other Glass Animals fans, I danced my heart out. They were my favourite thing about Summer Well 2017.

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Other than the amazing lineup, Summer Well has earned a place in my heart thanks to the multitude of things you can get up to while you’re cooling off from all the musical hype. One of its biggest sponsors, Orange had its famous tent and pool lounging area set up as per tradition, with VR experiences, charging stations for phones, and a temporary tattoo station. It also offered festival goers an outdoor cinema experience. There was also a zip line, allowing for a higher view of the festival. For the more adventurous, there was paddle boarding, and for those who wanted a moment of calm, there was yoga. And if you wanted to get away from the crowd but not away from the music, there was a DJ stage that allowed you to do just that.

There is always something for everyone at Summer Well.

This year, besides all the music fans, the festival was also attended by a lama, a pony and a peacock! Other friendly animals included a light up flamingo and a giant cat.

Summer Well puts on exhibition various pieces by a different artist each year, and this year, they included a giant swing and an even bigger slide.

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And let’s not forget that Summer Well also doubles up as a mini food festival thanks to their continuously expanding food court and drink stands. (They offer so much choice that I have never eaten the same thing twice, and I still find myself wanting to try new food stands every year). I tried shaved ice for the first time ever, and I was very impressed with it. And although I am not a big fan of energy drinks, Red Bull had some amazing cocktails, and I ended up drinking more energy drinks than I have had in my whole life.

There’s a lot to do and take in while at Summer Well. A leisurely stroll around the Stirbey Domain offers some amazing sights, such as the Stirbey castle and its church. And after all that walking, the lounge areas, where you can take a moment and rest your feet, are a welcoming sight.

I cannot wait to see what’s in store for the next edition of Summer Well!

 

Book Review – “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Book Review – “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Having fallen in love with Elizabeth Gilbert after reading Eat, Pray, Love (as I imagine many of her fans have), I was really looking forward to reading Big Magic. There’s something about the conversational tone that she seems to always adopt in her books that really creates a sense of closeness between you as a reader and Gilbert herself. It feels like the two of you are engaged in a private conversation. Big Magic is the same.

The thing is, though, I’m not one for motivational/inspiring/guiding books. They put me on edge. They seem to point out one way to do things, and if I’m not already planning on doing them in the same manner, they create a sense of failure. Self-help books such as Big Magic never really seem to do the trick for me, so I proceeded with caution.

Big Magic has a very promising start.

The book opens with a section about fear and the way it holds you back, eventually getting to the idea that only courage will allow you to be more creative. It’s not anything ground-breaking, but I consider it a very good opening to a self-help book; we can never be reminded too often to try and let go of our fears. Gilbert accompanies this motivational message with a personal example, something which she consistently does throughout the book. In this case, she talks about her friend who, after years of not practicing, decides to pick up figure ice skating again. While talking about this, Gilbert stresses both the simplicity of the action – her friend didn’t aim to get competitive again, nor did she completely change her lifestyle to accommodate this new pursuit, she simply enjoyed the sport and wanted to practice it – while also emphasising the impact this creative pursuit had on her friend – it brought her a lot of joy, which she did not get from other activities in her life.

Now, with the reader all fired up, wanting to gain the same pleasure from their own brave, creative pursuits, Gilbert does a U-turn. She talks about creativity as something bigger than us, mentioning the “external daemon of creativity”, which the ancient Greeks and Romans believed lived in your walls and helped you with your work – the message being, you are not a genius, you have a genius. She also talks about ideas floating around, searching for a human that will put them into practice.  While I have a hard time getting behind her former belief in a creative genius, I do like the latter. It encourages you to hold on to the moments of inspiration you experience, and try to turn them into something solid as soon as you get the chance, otherwise they might float away. I have heard a similar idea from a Creative Writing teacher of mine – she told her students that if we don’t turn our ideas into a story, if we let them hang in the air, someone else will think of those same ideas and they will use them instead. So if you have a great idea, don’t let it go. Gilbert states that “Done is better than perfect.”

There are a lot of great lessons to take away from Big Magic.

The most important one, that runs across the whole book, is to cut yourself some slack. Perfectionism holds you back. It’s something that I have had to come to terms with as well – we all want to make sure that everything we do is perfect, so that we won’t get badly judged by others. However, most of the time, it turns out that the person judging you the harshest is yourself. This usually applies the most in the case of anything creative, and Big Magic really brought home the relief that it’s fine for creative work to have rough edges. Gilbert stresses the importance of keeping at it, working daily at your craft, and letting your inspiration and creativity do its thing. Persistence brings about the idea of learning to stop procrastinating, since there will never be a perfect time for putting your ideas into action – Gilbert insists that you have to make the time for your creative pursuit.

She also reassures us that we do not have to worry about having a “big idea” as soon as possible, to put it into motion as quickly as can be. We can take our time. It’s important to continue being actively creative and curious. Gilbert uses an example from her own life, telling us how a simple desire to have a garden turned into a new novel – as her interest in flowers grew, and she did more research about them, the idea for a new story appeared, and turned into her new novel. You never know when inspiration may hit you.

I absolutely appreciate that Gilbert talks down the “suffering artist” myth. I personally haven’t seen it done before, and I feel like people really need to understand that creativity does not need to come from pain and suffering, and romanticising the negative things in your life does not mean you are making art, nor does it necessarily help you in healing/overcoming them.

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There is something which really, really irritated me. At one point in Big Magic, Gilbert says you don’t have to quit your job to write, or be creative. It will do your craft no good to put the pressure of making it pay the bills on it. She points out that it can be reassuring to know you are being creative only for the sake of it, for yourself. This, however, does not mean that you are not allowed to dedicate all your time to your creativity. Talking about this, Gilbert gives herself as an example, telling us how she kept her day job for years, never wanting to let the responsibility of having to make her writing pay the bills tamper with her creativity. That’s all good, but she adopts a tone that I feel is different to the one she used until this point. She becomes preachy.

She continues the next section by saying how you shouldn’t pursue a degree in the arts to be creative. She is very against creative related higher education, painting a very false, very negative picture of it, saying it only results in debt while having no benefits. As an English Literature student, and someone who has loved all the Creative Writing courses and workshops I have attended in my lifetime, this almost made me give up on the book. (I never stop hallway through books, but this infuriated me so much I did consider it).  Pursuing higher education in the arts is a very rewarding experience that feeds into everything you do – and it will make a very noticeable difference. You become exposed to so many different styles of art (writing, literature, painting, drawing, sculpting…you name it) that will then allow you to figure out your personal taste and style. Sure, you don’t need a degree in the arts to be creative – curiosity, passion and perseverance are all you need to succeed in your pursuit, but it doesn’t mean it’s not helpful. And, first of all, a degree paves the way for your future, so if you want to study the arts and work in that domain after you graduate, go ahead. I salute you, I am doing the same.

Yes, this bit made me really mad. It does not take away from all the good bits, however. I just needed to step away from the book for a while, and accept that opinions differ from one person to another. The book can be a very easy read. It’s not split into long chapters, but rather into sections, which are further spilt into subsections. It makes it really easy to stop reading at any point during the book, and continue later on. Moreover, Gilbert’s writing style is very conversational – easy going and comforting. This makes all the important messages in the book stand out. They are very complex, yet told to you with such ease, it’s really easy to take it. And it’s all very motivational, without seeming to be trying too hard.

 

20 lessons “Harry Potter” has taught me

20 lessons “Harry Potter” has taught me

Harry Potter has recently celebrated 20 years since it first made our lives more magical. I wasn’t born then, but that’s even better for me, because the world was already in love with “The Boy Who Lived” by the time I came about, a year later. And boy, has my life been better because of him. Here’s 20 things that I have learnt from these life-changing books.

1.It’s important to say things properly.

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Ron might have thought Hermione was being an insufferable know-it-all when she corrected him in Potions, but then again, he never ended up like Harry, who arrived in Knockturn Alley rather than Diagon Alley because he failed to say it properly when using Floo powder. So, Hermione was right all along (but then, she does have a tendency to be, doesn’t she?). Pronouncing/Saying things properly doesn’t only matter in academic situations, though. Not only can it stop you from making a fool of yourself (“your vs you’re” piss anyone else off?) but it can actually help you make some friends – people appreciate it when you pronounce (and write) their name correctly (trust me, I would know).

2. Never judge a book by its cover.

No, I won’t use Snape for this example. While he did have a redeeming moment towards the end of the series, his behaviour towards his students was always atrocious, therefore the “cruel teacher” impression that he gives off from the start is correct. I will, however, use Hagrid. My first impression of him didn’t last long, but I was pretty terrified of his character the first time I encountered him in the books. Having a giant knock down your door is pretty scary. However, Hagrid soon turned into one of my favourite characters. He has such a big, loving heart, and a soft soul – how could you not love him? I have been proven wrong about first impression numerous times in my life, similarly to the way I was proven wrong about Hagrid. There’s more to a person than meets the eye, we always have to give them a chance to show us who they really are before we judge them.

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3. There are many shades of courage.

I had a big crisis when as I progressed through the first book. I loved the trio so much, but the bravery that gets you into Gryffindor just wasn’t something that I could identify with. It made me really sad, and for a while it felt inadequate for me to share the brave adventures of these characters. But as I read on through the series, I was shown that bravery was not just fighting Voldemort. Neville standing up to his friends (who does, coincidentally, end up fighting Voldemort, too) was the first glimpse of that. However, the most significant form of bravery for me was Ron joining Harry in following the spiders.

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I have a phobia when it comes to insects, so Ron’s reluctance was very relatable. However, the fact that he still went with Harry, despite his discomfort, was what impressed me and then stuck with me. And even Hermione, whom I loved right from the moment she asked about Neville’s toad on the train, showed her bravery in a similar. We all know this famous scene:

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Hermione never went against the rules in the beginning, yet by the end of Philosopher’s Stone, she did just that, to help her friends. There’s a quote that I love, which always reminds me of the different ways people can be brave: “When you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave”.

4. We make our own choices.

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Neil Gaiman’s quote brings me nicely to this “lesson”. Dumbledore’s wise words about choices defining who we are baffled me for a long time (I was young, guys, the only choices I had to make at that time were if I should read one more chapter or go to bed). As I’ve grown older however, I have realised (and also seen) how the decisions you make in life are what defines your character, rather than your talents or your mere words. It’s your actions that speak for you, not what you say. So, like the idea behind Gaiman’s quote, that choosing to be brave is what makes you brave, rather than saying you are brave/ being in Gryffindor, it’s what you do that builds your character. (I can only call myself a blogger as long as I blog – I used to call myself one a few years ago when I had given up on my previous blog, but even I knew it wasn’t true). And your actions can only be decided by you (which is why they build character; you get me). Therefore, we always have a choice in life (and oh boy, life is filled with choices, from pretty insignificant to life changing).

5. There is always hope.

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I was really close to getting Dumbledore’s famous quote painted on my wall (time to gasp at the originality). I used to be really optimistic as a child, and never thought things could go too badly, whatever the situation. As I’ve grown older, that optimism has started to fade, but more often than not, a bad situation will have a positive outcome and a glimmer of that lost optimism would come back. It’s pretty easy to get so worked up and overwhelmed by the negative things that are going on in our lives, that we forget things have a way of working out. Even when everyone though all was lost after Harry “died”, that wasn’t really the case. An even better example is Harry’s unwavering belief in Dumbledore and his own purpose in Deathly Hallows. I now want that quote on my wall more than ever before, for all the times it has perfectly applied to my life. Thanks Dumbledore.

6. Things have a way of working out.

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I feel like the whole series is an example of this, from things like Harry burning Professor Quill’s face with his hands, to him being able to save Fleur’s sister in the Triwizard tournament, to the trio’s escape on the back of a dragon from Gringotts. And honestly, if even being dead worked out for Harry in the end, surely whatever we’re stressing about is bound to end up better than we’re fearing.

7. We can get over fear.

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And there’s a bigger catch to this – sometimes we must get over it. Fear only holds us back – it keeps us from saying yes to things that would ultimately help us grow as individuals. Or simply enjoy ourselves more (if you, like me, get irrationally afraid of social situations with a potential for awkwardness). It’s hard, but stepping out of our comfort zone is really important. It was Harry Potter that motivated me, a few years ago, to try and get over my fear of heights by going to an adventure park and spending three hours constantly having to look down at the great gap between my feet and the ground (it did not get rid og my fear of heights, I just now know that I won’t vomit from it, or die).

8. Being weird is great – being yourself is amazing.

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Isn’t Luna the best? She is so comfortable in her own skin, and genuinely does not care what others think of her. As I kept learning more about her throughout the series, I felt so angry anyone would ever dare to call her Loony Lovegood. She was always true to herself, and that’s what I loved about her. I first read these books during a period of my life when I was trying really hard to fit in (befriend the popular girls, copy what they do, try to seem cool – the whole package). Luna made me realise that being called “weird” or “nerd” at school was actually a compliment, and besides, being myself was less stressful than trying so hard to fit in.

9. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.

On the other side of the spectrum from Luna, we have the (personally) very irritating Gilderoy Lockhart.

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Now, I have nothing against tooting your own horn from time to time, we all need a bit of validation from others. However, in case you haven’t been told before, it’s never nice to pass off other people’s work as your own (Universities call it plagiarism and they take it very seriously). I was astonished Hermione liked this guy when he was first introduced in Chamber of Secrets, so his confession at the end of the book was not that surprising to me – there had been always something off about him. However, the important lesson to take from his unfortunate ending is that being a Lockhart will usually backfire (ha!) and go terribly wrong – it’s hard to force yourself to be something you’re not. I myself aimed for the things Lockhart wanted, such as popularity, but it was really tiring trying to fit in with the popular kids, so in the end I turned back to my “bookworm” status and was much happier.

10. The importance of friendship

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Let’s take a moment and think of all the things Harry would not have been able to achieve without his friends – he wouldn’t even have made it past Philosopher’s Stone. And it’s not only the trio’s friendship that is inspiring. My favourite friendship is between Harry and Luna. She has a lot of wise words for Harry, and moments like him bringing her to the Slug Club Christmas party, or her shouting at him when he was going about finding Ravenclaw’s diadem all wrong, really stood out to me. I also somehow never saw it coming. It’s these unexpected friendships that I cherish a lot in my life as well. I am also continuously grateful for my own trio/squad of ride-or-die friends that have become family as the years have gone by.

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11. You can choose your own family.

“Friends that become family” is something this series made me appreciate. Specifically, Harry and Hermione during Deathly Hallows. It was the simplicity of having the two of them spend time alone together, yet remaining best friends, and then later having Harry confirm that Hermione is like a sister to him, that impressed me beyond measure. It was the first time this type of female-male friendship was presented to me, and I loved it.

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There are a lot of adults in the series that become Harry’s family, the Weasleys being the most significant. They truly make Harry feel like he belongs among them. From the Christmas jumper that Molly knits him in Philosopher’s Stone, to the money that Harry leaves Fred and George so they can open their joke shop, Harry truly becomes a Weasely. I’ve been welcomed into the families of some of my closest friends, which I appreciate immensely, even more so thanks to being aware of the love the Weasleys have for Harry.

12. Love is everything.

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We all know that Harry was saved by a mother’s love several times in the series, but it’s not the only kind of love that saves him – the love of his friends, as well as the love of his family (yes, I am including the Weasleys, too) and of all those who believed in him is just as significant. And the magical protection that love offers Harry (we can say that it was the intensity of Lily’s love for Harry that burned Professor Quill’s face) is a certain example of the importance of love. So if you don’t believe it will save the world, trust that it will save your world.

13. Death is nothing to fear.

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Death is a very important theme throughout the series. Despite the numerous deaths that happen in Harry Potter, there are a lot of positive messages to take away from the books in regards to this topic. Those who die never really leave us, as Harry’s experiences prove over and over again – his mother’s love remained with him as magical protection, Dumbledore still came to his aid in Deathly Hallows, as did his parents. Being aware of this makes moving on from loss possible, which, I believe, is what everyone hopes for after they lose someone dear to them. Harry’s life is struck by death from the very beginning, and although it takes him a while, he eventually grows as a result of it. Death terrifies me. It’s one of my greatest fears – not just dying myself, but having to go through the deaths of those I love most. Harry Potter didn’t cure me of this fear, but it helped me understand what I already knew – that it’s inevitable, and that you can grow from it. Dumbledore says in Half Blood Prince, “”It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.” This is a very valuable lesson.

14. Books CAN save your life.

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You know how Harry and Ron wouldn’t have survived through Philosopher’s Stone without Hermione’s smarts? Or how Harry wouldn’t have been able to save Ginny without the book page in Hermione’s hand in Chamber of Secrets? (I could go on, but you get the idea) And how did Hermione become such an indispensable friend and the brightest witch of her age? By going to the library, of course. Hermione made me proud of being a bookworm, and I realised that all the seemingly random knowledge that I have gathered over the years will surely come in handy at some point in my life (such as, at a Harry Potter trivia game).

15. We are more than our illness.

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When you think of Remus Lupin, you think of the amazing Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher that he was, or what a kind mentor he was to Harry, or how great Tonks and him were, and maybe only after do you remember he was a werewolf. He didn’t let his lycanthropy define him. Nor does illness define you. It makes you different, which is always a good thing (even if you have to really think about it in order to realise it), and it should not get in the way of what you love. Focus your energy on being kind, and friendly, and passionate, and people will remember you for these qualities.

16. It’s important to stand up for yourself and your beliefs.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who didn’t love it when Hermione stood up to Draco Malfoy, be it this:

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Or even better, this:

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It’s important to stand up for yourself. I was constantly told as a child that if I left the bullies alone, they would stop – but if they don’t, then you have to do something to stop it. It’s never a good idea to let people walk all over you. I am a pacifist, so while I don’t encourage fights as a way to “end this once and for all”, there are other peaceful ways to do it.

17. Be accepting of others.

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We get to meet so many different types of characters throughout the books, and I, for one, love this. (You can’t tell me a magical world exists that is only inhabited by human witches and wizards. There has to be more than that.) However, as is the case with our ordinary muggle world, even in J.K. Rowling’s world, judgement exists. People are made fun of based on their appearance (to the point where they permanently alter how they look, such as Hermione making her teeth smaller), their social class and their birth (Snape and Draco never really quit it with making fun of Harry’s “fame”). It’s not cool. There is so much we can learn from each other – we should celebrate our differences, not bring others down.

18. We are all human.

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We’re not perfect. We can’t always be correct, or won’t always do the right thing, or keep our cool in a stressful situation. Harry struggled to come to terms with the idea that he had the potential for a dark path. And while speaking parsletongue isn’t something that I ever worry will lead me to become evil, Harry Potter made me understand that while you can’t be great all the time, it doesn’t take away your greatness.

19. Money isn’t everything.

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It might not be able to buy you a whole trolley of sweets on the Hogwarts Express, but it does not mean that “money buys you happiness”. The Weasleys are my favourite magical family – I fell in love with The Borrow just as much as Harry did, and the bond between them? Priceless. Just compare them with the Malfoys, who seem to have all the riches you could want, yet seem to do a lot worse that the Weasleys they so enjoy looking down upon. The love that they offer Harry, and that he returns, is something far more worthy than money.

20. There is magic everywhere.

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While we will never be able to fly on a broom or cast spells, our muggle world is still full of magic. It might be more simple than the one Harry finds in his textbooks, but it’s just as lovely. My favourite form of magic? Sunsets. And it doesn’t just stop at the wonders of nature. Being transported into another world by books/movies/TV shows? Magic. Having such a great time with friends you forget about time? Magic. The mere existence of pets, who love you more than you love yourself? Magic. It’s everywhere, we just have to pay attention sometimes.

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Book Review – “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

Book Review – “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

Synopsis: Born a generation apart and with very different ideas about love and family, Mariam and Laila are two women brought jarringly together by war, by loss and by fate. As they endure the ever escalating dangers around them—in their home as well as in the streets of Kabul—they come to form a bond that makes them both sisters and mother-daughter to each other, and that will ultimately alter the course not just of their own lives but of the next generation.

This was my first encounter with Khaled Hosseini. Yes, despite this being his second book.

Regardless, it was a very memorable one.

I had heard of Hosseini before, and even though I was aware of the praise being sung for The Kite Runner, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for this book, and Hosseini’s poignant and immersive writing.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is never described as an educational book, but it taught me so much.

When I picked it up the first time, I scoffed and thought to myself “I know about Afghanistan and what’s going on there!” But reading a few newspaper articles and hearing about the Taliban on the news wasn’t actually enough for me to make that claim. Hosseini proved my arrogance wrong, and proceeded to actually tell me what had been going on in the country we all know the name of, but not its story. The novel takes you through thirty years of the country’s modern history, from the end of monarchy to the rule of the Taliban. Because the story is told from the point of view of two women, who initially have nothing else in common besides being neighbours, we learn about Afghanistan through the characters, a much more meaningful experience. Hosseini truly manages to show the horrible effect of war on ordinary people’s lives this way – one of the reasons this book is so heart-breaking is because you get to feel the fear and confusion of the people whose backyards are being bombed. Secondary characters also take centre stage when it comes to teaching the reader vital history lessons. Laila’s father, a school teacher and huge bookworm, offers a lot of insight into the country’s current state of affairs, as his interest in politics seeps through almost everything he says. Laila’s two older brothers are actively involved in the fighting that takes place for most of the book. Even Rasheed, Mariam and Laila’s horrible husband, offers vital information regarding the social and political climate through the various regime changes, which would have been more confusing were it not for his indirect explanations.

The characters in this book are all amazing.

I adore Mariam and Laila, they are such strong women, yet so human and relatable. They experience a lot of complex emotions and are really well-developed. Laila’s father is an adorable sweetheart whom I felt very protective towards. Tariq, the boy Laila falls in love with, is a bad boy with a soft heart that even I fell for. Rasheed is THE villain, violent and mean to his wives, only showing compassion for his son (and not for his daughter), and it is impossible not to hate him. The difference between the men portrayed in the novel is a significant one. It points out that there is no one type of man in a society, something which is not only valid just Mariam and Laila’s world, but also to ours.

More than the characters though, I love the interactions and relationships between them. My favourite is the friendship-turned-into-romance between Laila and Tariq. It’s just so pure and honest. And there are a few very heart warming, and some equally heart-breaking, moments between the two. I also love the friendship between Mariam and Laila – yes, even the rocky start. There are people who comment that Mariam’s initial jealousy and anger at Laila (after she marries Rasheed) is unjustified. But when trying to win Laila over, Rasheed was kind to her, something which Mariam never got to experience. Mariam had also been the woman of the house longer – despite the suffering she experiences at the hands of her husband, I can understand why suddenly having to share everything with a stranger would make you upset. I also really love Laila’s children, especially the way they interact with Tariq.

It’s a really tough book, though – very far from an easy read.

The hardship Mariam and Laila endure is not easy to get over, even after closing the book. Mariam has a tough life from the beginning. She is the illegitimate child of a wealthy business man, and lives with her mother in an isolated place outside Herat (the city where the majority of the plot takes place). The relationship between her and her mother is strained, her only joy being the visits from her father. However, he isn’t the brilliant man she has made him to be, and later, he never welcomes her into his home or his family, marrying her off to Rasheed to keep her away. If this isn’t painful enough, the suffering she must endure as Rasheed’s wife is unbearable, yet becomes something of the ordinary for Mariam. By contrast, Laila has a much better upbringing, going to school and making friends, as well as having a proper house to live in. Despite all this, she also ends up married to Rasheed, enduring the same suffering as Mariam. It’s a really tough lesson about hardship. It can strike and any time, regardless of upbringing or social situation.

But the real lesson is about friendship and love, and how these can persevere against any obstacle and challenge. Female friendship in this book is the purest form of joy and hope. It made me cry happy tears. And love…this is no fairy tale, but it portrays love in the same way. Despite the war, the poverty and the hardship this book keeps telling us about, it is also overwhelmingly positive in its message.

A Thousand Suns was life changing, and I do not say that lightly. It taught me about Afghanistan, and made me realise how much I take for granted every day. It taught me about hardship, abuse and loss. It taught me about strength. It showed me there is beauty among the rubble, love among the hate, and above all, there is always hope.

It made me cry on the bus. People shot me strange looks, and the elderly lady next to me gave me a tissue. I don’t cry on buses. But that’s the kind of boo this is – it will make you cry in public.

five-stars