Friday, January 30, 2015

Blog Design Recommendations Needed, New Happenings & Resolution Progress | Sofia Speculates - A Month In Review (3)

A Month In Review follows the same principles of Sofia Speculates, while covering more topics. Topics covered range from bookish to life to myself. So sit back, relax, and grab a cup of coffee, because rambling is to be expected! It wouldn't be Loving the Language of Literacy otherwise.

I Need Your Help!!!
I woke up the second Sunday in January, with this sudden epiphany-like urge that I should change my blog design. It's not that I dislike it. It's just that I've had the same theme for almost a year now, and I no longer feel like it's current with Loving the Language of Literacy's feel. I want something slightly more clean/modern, and I am now dealing with the issue all customers, of any type, deal with. 

Who the hell do I trust with the aesthetics of my baby?

I express my passion for blogging/YouTube in my most popular blog post (and the one I am most proud of) When Your Hobby Isn't Valid. I explain how much blogging means to me, and it's the closest (at this point in time anyway) I have to writing of mine published for the world to see. I take a lot of pride in the content I produce, so it's only logical of me to care just as much about how it looks. As we all know, your blog/YouTube channel content can be AMAZING, but no one will stay for more than three seconds if they don't like how you look (or sound, which is an added challenge with YouTube). 

I would appreciate it so much if you told me where you got your blog design, if you went with a custom or premade, company recommendations, price ranges, customer satisfaction, etc. I already interrogated one of my good bookish friends Alex @ The Book's Buzz whose used Butterfly-o-Meter designs and it sounds like a nice, affordable option and I simply ADORE Alex's design. So please help me out on this one. My budget for a new design is around the realm of $75 for a new header, social media buttons, signature, discussion/review banner, and post dividers. I would also like your opinion on what it should look like because no particular theme goes with the words "Loving" "Literacy" and "Language," besides hearts, which doesn't sound attractive.

Everything is AWESOME (I hate that song)
I had this moment in the middle of January where I just sat down in wonder of how great my life was, in the Blogosphere, YouTube Community, AND real world. I received my first ever print ARCs from Scholastic, which is a huge blogging milestone. I've explained about personal validation, and I never felt so... legitimate as when those arrived in my mail box. My YouTube subscriber count has been steadily growing and is now at 65 Subscribers which I am just flabbergasted at. Most importantly, I have begun making friends in my new school. At my old school, I had known everyone since Kindergarten and as any new kid knows, it's hard to slip into a the motions people have been going through for a long time. I'm getting to know my teachers better (which may or not be a good thing considering their unusual quirks) and my classmates. As I'm writing this post, Emma is showing me pictures of people from the previous year and BOY can 12 months make all of the difference in how people look.

ALL of the New Things
Back in October/November I was feeling extremely discouraged with my blogging, feeling as if my content was stale, but those feelings are mostly now gone.This month has been amazing for productivity, originality, and overall pride in myself and my blog. I started a three new series/original posts I am SO excited to continue on with. Such as Frames of Existence, Sofia Speculates, and A Progression in Playwriting. Of course, there's this new monthly series which is basically an excuse for me to extend my monthly wrap-up EVEN more. I have felt so much more creative and productive this month, and overall satisfaction with my life in general.  I would love to know what you think of these new features/series and how I could improve them. 

New Years Resolutions

New Years Resolution Progress - I posted LENGTHY Running, Blogging, Vlogging, Reading, and Living Resolutions on my YouTube Channel. Remember, any improvement, is progress. Don't judge me too harshly on some of these!

Read More Diversely - Genre Wise: As of writing this post (1/25), I have read 13 books (not novels), and 5 of them were NOT Young Adult. I read a New Adult - Hopeless by Colleen Hoover, which I LOVED. A Middle Grade by one of my favorite authors - Mark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielsen which is coming out in February and you should DEFINITELY keep an eye out for it. Tina Fey's memoir was spectacular. I dipped my toes into the world of graphic novels with Art Spiegelman's (same author as Maus) In The Shadow of No Towers. And an adult novel, which was my favorite (so far) of the month as well as my first read of the new year - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

Finish 20 Series: I read and reviewed The Retribution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin, the third and final novel in the Mara Dyer trilogy. But, I started 6 new series.... so I have a lot of reading to do.

Workout 4x Week: I got back into working out after a 7 month hiatus. Unfortunately I only worked out 5 times in January. But like I said, it's progress that counts! I might even participate in the Reader's Workout Meme again, and share with you some of my workout out tips.

Focus On Photography: I have done so well with this one and have another Frames of Existence scheduled for the beginning of February. I went outside and around my neighborhood and some of the shots look AMAZING. I can't wait to share them with you.

Work Harder on Posts | Draft/Edit. Schedule 1 Week Ahead: I've succeeded in drafting my discussion posts/look over my reviews before pressing publish, which I consider an accomplishment. Maybe I sound like an intellectual person now.... or not. As of today, I am a week ahead in blog posts which I also pretty proud of. It's the end of the days when I scramble the day OF for a blog post!

Sign up for less blog tours: I haven't signed up for a single tour this month, and after my February tour stop on the 13th, it's the end of blog tours for a while *gives self applause*

Find balance between clean editing/over editing: After doing some serious reflection on the amount of effort/time I spend in editing my videos, I decided to be a little more relaxed so the videos are more fluid. I believe I succeeded with Finding a Place of My Own | A Progression in Playwriting (1). Because it was downright ridiculous how much I slaved over videos in the past to end up not coming out very good.

Networking: I've made new internet friends too! Via twitter, I have interacted with these lovely people who have AWESOME blogs and personalities - Jackie @ Jackie's Book Shenanigans, Alex @ The Book's Buzz, Xander @ Forever Bookish, Holly @ The Fox's Hideaway, Summer @ Miss Fictional, Amber @ YA Indulgences.

1 Neo-Classic/Non-Fiction/Month: I succeeded in this one (surprisingly) because I read the non-fiction memoir Bossypants (Tina Fey) as well as what I predict will become a neo-classic and it most definitely should be - All The Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr).

New Years Resolutions REVISED - because we all know life gets in the way
Post 4x/Week = Post 15x a Month/Every Other Day.
Upload 2x/Week = Upload 10x a Month/Every 4 Days.
1 Research Post/Month = 1 Research Post/2 Months.

New Years Resolutions Failed  - but there are still 11 months left!
Listen to More Audiobooks: Did NOT happen. 
Re-Read | Favorite Books: I am planning on re-reading a book in February because of memory loss purposes. 
Write | 5k/Week: No comment on my failure. 
Run Goodreads Group Better: Didn't happen 
Comment More: *hides in shame*

Would you like to read some of my original writing?
Did any particular series/feature on Loving the Language of Literacy this month suit your fancy?
What videos/blog posts would you like to see in the upcoming months?
Would you like to see more personal posts from me?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

{BookTalk} To All The Boys I've Loved Before #1: Jenny Han

Rating: 79%
Series: To All The Boys I've Loved Before #1
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction, Fiction, Young Adult, 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 15, 2014
Page Count: 355
Format: Hardcover
Source: The Book Depository

Goodreads Synopsis: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister's ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

Disclaimer: Loving the Language of Literacy declares Book Reviews as non-spoilers discussions for the novel while BookTalks are reviews containing CLEARLY marked spoilers and you may read the BookTalk if you avoid the spoilers.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
Fans of cutesy contemporary authors such as Jennifer E. Smith, Morgan Matson, Emery Lord, Robin Benway, Kasie West, Kelly Fiore, Julie Anne Peters

Would I Buy It?
I'm just going to get over the shameless self promo that accompanied my review of The Winner's Curse (Marei Rutkoski) because as you can tell, I own a copy of this novel & have felt the need to take artsy instagram photos of it.

Background & Backstory?
I got this book during Book Outlet's HUGE sale for a killer price and actually didn't intend to read it until the mood struck. Yet, I saw my friend Alex @ The Book's Buzz do a haul including this novel and asked if she would like to buddy read it with me. She said yes and our initial start date for the novel was 1/24, aka the day I'm writing this review.... at an ungodly hour because I NEEDED to finish this novel. 

I started reading To All The Boys I've Loved Before on the 23rd of January in Social Studies and immediately fell in love. I picked up from where I left off from when I departed from school for the weekend on page 60 and read all 295 pages in one sitting (or lying) considering I'm in bed right now. THAT is how good it was and I would highly recommend reading it.

What Was My Reaction Upon Finishing?
I actually would be happy without a sequel.

Premise | 100%: Can we just discuss how insanely wonderful the premise of To All The Boys I've Loved Before is? The entire set-up for the plot/characters/romance/dynamics spells out the kind of trouble you love to read about. Automatically you know what type of girl Lara Jean is, because you all have one, know one, or are one "goody-two-shoes types that never take risks." Paired with her letters being sent out = a perfect contemporary novel. 

*Sidenote: If you are going into this novel expecting Lara Jean to deal with the aftermath of EACH and EVERY boy she writes a letter to, that's not going to happen. In fact, she only interacts on a chapterly basis with Josh and Peter, the two main male characters. 

Plot | 70%: The plot of this novel (turn of events) was truly one of my only qualms about the entire novel. I've complained time and time again about cutesy-contemporaries and my capacity to easily get bored while reading them. It wasn't even that I was bored with To All The Boys I've Loved Before, merely that I felt the absence of magic/apocalypse/totalitarian government, but that didn't make the story that was told any less.

Characters | 85%: I loved each character for their own reasons and they all went through extensive character development on top of being well developed in the first place. There was not a single second where I felt that I didn't have a firm grasp/connection with the characters.

Lara Jean - I heard a ton of complaints from Bloggers and BookTubers alike who believed Lara immature and unreliable because of her actions that did not seem "normal" for a 17 year old. However, I didn't have that particular issue of maturity. Based on her environment growing up and family we got to know and love so well, I could completely understand where she was coming from. An issue a lot of people addressed was her calling her deceased mother "Mommy." They believed this to be childish. Yet, it was completely understandable, because she passed away when Lara was so young that to remember and hold onto her mother's memory, she called her "Mommy" throughout the story. Lara Jean behaved in such as naive manner when it came to love/romantic experiences and that was my main complaint for her. I've obviously never been in her position, but I still wouldn't have held myself back as much as she did and made her life revolve around her family SO much.

Kitty & Margot - Lara Jean's oldest and youngest sisters were lovely additions to the story. Margot was the OCD (and somewhat anal) sibling that was constantly on top of things and pretty much ran the household since her mother's passing. She goes off to college in Scotland, providing the needed umph for Kitty, Lara Jean, and her father to become more independent. Kitty provided a fresh perspective and was the little spit-fire sister, way too smart for her own good that everyone is annoyed by but secretly loves. The two of them provided great contrast and I loved reading about the dynamic between them, deeper than sisterhood, that was forged when their mother passed away.

Josh & Peter - Josh and Peter are two of Lara Jean's letter recipients as well as the gentlemen that get tangled up with the Song sisters. Josh played the classic boy-next-door role and didn't seem very personality filled whatsoever. However, sporty, stud Peter is his direct opposite. Nevertheless, both have known Lara Jean for many years and were objects of her affections, and in some cases, these feelings were returned. It's always funny who you think you're on one team of the romance, then immediately switch when introduced to the other love interest. That's the way it was for Josh and Peter. I read about Josh, shipped Lara/him together, read about Peter, and KNEW I needed them together. 

Romance | 75%: The romance started off as a ploy from Lara Jean to make Josh believe she was dating someone and not still in love with him. This is a trope I don't usually enjoy in books, especially in YA literature, but I liked the way it worked in this particular novel. Obviously, over time, they grew to know/respect each other, causing them conflicts between exes, friends, and siblings.

Cover | 100%: Let me sing it to the heavens how much I LOVE this cover. The sharpie effect the title has is wonderful, combined with the wall decorations that make the room seem extremely tumblr-esque. The model they chose actually looks korean and the expression is exactly one I could imagine Lara Jean having. All in all, the cover and title encapsulated the book in the most perfect way possible. 

Ending | 50%: I didn't love the ending. I didn't hate it. When I saw The Book Basement's BookTalk, I spoiled myself and she said it was a really obvious person to send out her letters. The entire time,  I theorized characters and attempted to decipher motives, but never would have guessed Kitty. It seemed like such an easy option, kind of like the butler you oversee as the murderer. I'm most definitely plan on reading the sequel, but don't often have much luck with sequels in contemporary series.
***End Spoilers***

How Likely Is It That I Will Read Another Book By This Author?
Even before finishing To All The Boys I've Loved Before, I put The Summer I Turned Pretty and Burn For Burn on hold at the library because of how much I enjoyed this novel. I will most likely read them in February/March when they arrive at my library when I need another contemporary kick.

Conclusion: Wonderful novel with a quirky premise destined to go down in contemporary romance history, loveable, relatable characters, an awesome cover, and events that will leave you routing for your couple until the very end.

Monday, January 26, 2015

{BookTalk} The DUFF (Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend): Kody Keplinger

Rating: 90%
Series: None
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction, Issue Fiction, Fiction, Young Adult, 
Publisher: Little Brown/Poppy
Publication Date: September 7, 2010
Page Count: 273 
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

Goodreads Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face. 

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

Disclaimer: A BookTalk means that this review contains spoilers, but if you HAVE NOT read this novel, the spoiler-ey paragraphs have asterisks -more commonly known as stars- to inform you of when spoilers begin.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
Would I Buy It?
This book breaks down all my pre-concieved boundaries in terms of buying/re-reading. I sincerely want to buy this book and have it in my collection because THAT is how effected I am. While the cover is fitting and embodies the novel quite well.... I hate it and don't really want that on my bookshelf. Hopefully, a new cover (that's not that hideous movie coverwill be released soon.

Background & Backstory?
I picked this book up for the reasons a lot of people have in the past couple of months. On February 20, 2015, the book-to-movie adaptation is coming out. So, of course, I HAD to have the bragging rights of reading the book before the movie. There's a lot of hype around this novel, even before the news of the movie became big, I was SOOO close to giving this novel a 5/5 stars, and know exactly why people love this novel as much as they do.

What Was My Reaction Upon Finishing?
Expected, but appreciated. I have so much respect for Kody, Bianca, and Wesley.

Inexplicable Feelings: In 2014, I read five or so books that I was so confused about. I had no idea what to feel because there were ALL of the feels. The difference between a feels-filled books and the inexplicable feelings, is that these books range from TWO to FIVE star ratings. I may have hated the story, I may have loved it, but something in common with all of these books is the fact that they have made me think.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED the story, message, characters, and dynamics between various relationships. The dialogue and themes are rough.... but not necessarily gritty. The writing style, not the voice, is what killed that last half star for me. The dialogue, plot threads, and character molds (at first sight) were all hackneyed and done before. This is Keplinger's DEBUT novel, and the fact that it's so highly praised, and is being made into a movie is absolutely WONDERFUL. I would have preferred a smidgeon more of editing.

High School: If you look at ANY trailer for a movie set in high school, they give you this appearance like it's one for one and all for themselves. There are the certain labels and classifications people draw and call each other. Almost as if there's instantaneous self-damnation. If you believe in something for a single second.... that's who you become. High School is torture according to movies, and if done right, that is the best kind of contemporary novel setting. An author, such as Keplinger, who is able to find a perfect balance between an original plot and the setting because it provides reliability to the target audience without being a total cheese fest.

Sluts, Whores, and Bitches, We've Got Them All.... Kinda: Yes, I did use those words on my blog. I've come to a conclusion recently about use of language in blog posts. I'm not going to go dropping F-Bombs in reviews of Middle Grade novels.... but if I'm reviewing a book with a certain kind of language, and I need to use that word to further express my thoughts about the book.... I'm not going to keep typing asterisks between the first and last letter. That's a little noob-blogger of me. [Mini-Rant Over]

Anyways, Kody Keplinger deals with the topic of slut-shaming quite perfectly. There's the "DUFF" Bianca, who starts sleeping with Wesley, and for a sort of "darkest moment" for her character, she believes that she is a whore and a slut. By definition, she couldn't be, and by society's judgment.... society is screwed up anyway on their perspective of women. The term "slut" has absolutely NO positive connotation in society, and is only used as a degrading insult that does nothing to depict a person's character. To people squeamish of sluts, alcohol abuse, divorce, and cheating, Keplinger basically tells you to DEAL WITH IT in a way that is neither offensive to the reader or to gritty, but perfectly comprehendible to the non-booknerds of the world.

***The side character, Vicki, is brought into the light in a brief chapter when rumors of her being pregnant are spread. She is immediately slut-shamed, because it's true that she has a habit of "sleeping around." With Bianca's new-found revelation of labels just being another hurdle for teenagers during the track meet of life, she comforts Vicki, and assures her that she's not a slut.***

Wesley aka Zach Goode in an Average High School: If you haven't read the Gallagher Girls series, this will make 0% sense, but if you have.... do see how clever I am? Despite the attempt to portray him as a "bad boy" he didn't feel bad, and I quite enjoyed the dynamic between him and Bianca. She tells him to (how shall I say this PG-13?) shove his persona and douche-bag attitude up his behind quite a few times. Despite his sarcasm and womanizer stereotype, I loved him and he was probably my favorite character. Even if everyone knows bad boys can't be tamed.... let the booknerd wish what she wants.

Aint Nobody Got Time For That aka Bianca: She was a stunningly crafted character, intelligent, cynical,  and sarcastic. Yet she was forced to cope with various issues and did so perfectly. Despite getting lost in Wesley and "using" him as a distraction, she was solid with herself and who she was. Bianca would not take crap from ANYONE and I respected that in a YA character so much, almost as much as being kick-ass and cold-hearted.

How Likely Is It That I Will Re-Read This Novel?
Everyone who has been following my blog for more than a day will know that I DO NOT re-read books. I have practically yelled it from the rooftops and out of the 153 books I read last year.... TWO of them were re-reads. Yet, I legitimately want to re-read it. As in, pick it up RIGHT now and start reading it again. I am certain this will show up in my Top 15 of 2015 and I will re-read this in 2016 for sure.

How Likely Is It That I Will Read Another Book By This Author?
It will be hard to write another novel of the same caliber, and I'm not sure Kiplinger can out-do herself in my eyes, especially because I haven't heard ANYTHING regarding her other novels. Nevertheless, I am 100% willing to give another one a try and will be ecstatic if I can be as emotionally effected by another book of hers.

Conclusion: This is most certainly a memorable and raw Young Adult novel that should be recognized for the barriers it pushes past.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I Thought I Was Heartless.... Alas If I Stay Gave Me The Feels | Sofia Speculates (2)

Welcome to the second ever episode of Sofia Speculates aka the feature I've been doing since I started blogging (rambling) that finally has a name. These speculations range from bookish to life to myself. So sit back, relax, and grab a cup of coffee, because I spend FOREVER sewing bits of my soul into the HTML brackets of this blog post discussing whatever topic is at hand.

This Is So Weird.... The booknerd has never cried because of a book. I feel almost as if this were a violation to who I claim to be. A book has never given me such feels that illicit tears. I'm a heck of a lot more likely to go around the room ranting and jumping than crying. It's Sofia nature (because we're still waiting on test results to see if I'm human or not). 

Yet that has all changed.....
Because of a book-to-movie adaptation.

I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but it's pretty popular
One of my earliest reviews on Loving the Language of Literacy was a Series Overview of the If I Stay Duology. Although I wanted to, I never got around to watching the book to movie adaptation. I actually remember coming home from school on a Friday and sitting in front of my computer to watch the trailer. I had goosebumps and literal chills running up and down my spine (in the most clichely realistic way possible). I KNEW the movie would be good, but I never guessed it would be as effective. 

Book-to-Movie Adaptation Mini-Review: While If I Stay wasn't even my favorite novel in the duology, I gave it a solid 4 out of 5 stars for a creative concept, I felt as if I couldn't connect with the characters the way the author intended me to, didn't care at all when the parents died, and did not receive the feels. The movie changed ALL of that and was a successful 5/5 stars.

Initially, I felt taken aback because of how unrealistically they portrayed Mia and her life. The idea of her watching all of the event of the hospital unfold around her seemed extremely "WTF?" whereas with the novel, I went along with it, no questions asked. Yet, by the end of it, I saw a brilliant story pieced together and got such a better feel for the character and the story. Hats off to the picture AND sound editing team. 

What Does An Automatic 5/5 Stars Need? The surest way to get Sofia to like your media - whether it's television, movies, or books - is to make her feel emotions, get her invested enough in the story to make her feel. Crying, something I never do, was what made this such a good movie.

Let's Have the Actual Backstory.... I flew with one of my parents to Los Angeles for a day (even longer backstory I won't divulge into) and the lovely airplane was playing If I Stay

Even though I wanted to read/be productive, it was If I Stay
The movie is 107 minutes long, and it wasn't until around the 85 minute mark that the first tear arrived. I thought it was from the high altitude that my eyes had gotten watery. Then another tear came.... then another.

Ten minutes later, the tears were just streaming down my face in great rivulets of being. I hadn't even felt this way with Where She Went. I don't know what was going on, the movie had just been so emotionally moving and the buildup was so surprising. For once, I actually felt sorry for Mia Hall and her life. When her relationship with Adam wasn't going well, when her family fathered in the waiting room and came to visit her, and then when we saw how truly awesome her parents were.... I just lost it. 

And there we have it, the story of how Sofia's heart grew three sizes over the span of two hours. 

Let's Discuss:
Do you have any embarrassing stories about when you cried because of a movie/tv/book?
Are you like how I used to be and never cry because of a medium?
Have you seen/read If I Stay and had the same feelings?

Friday, January 23, 2015

{BookTalk} All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1): Ally Carter

Rating: 35%
Series: Embassy Row #1
Genre: Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Mystery, Young Adult, Fiction,
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: January 20, 2015
Page Count: 310
Format: Physical ARC
Source: Scholastic 

Goodreads Synopsis: Grace can best be described as a daredevil, an Army brat, and a rebel. She is also the only granddaughter of perhaps the most powerful ambassador in the world and Grace has spent every summer of her childhood running across the roofs of Embassy Row.

Now, at age sixteen, she's come back to stay - in order to solve the mystery of her mother's death. In the process, she uncovers an international conspiracy of unsettling proportions, and must choose her friends and watch her foes carefully if she and the world are to be saved.

Disclaimer: requested this ARC from Scholastic and they so generously sent me a copy to review, but that does not effect my 100% honest opinion. 

Would I Buy It?
There is a smaller chance than usual of me purchasing this novel because I dislike the cover AND I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped to. If I begin to enjoy the series (because as I said in my video, now I HAVE to continue reading because of that ending), I will probably purchase a boxed set in paperback.

Plot: 33%
Premise: 90%
Characters: 35%
Romance: 20%
Originality: 40%
Cover: 30%
Title: 60%
Feels: 50%
Writing Style: 30%
Pacing: 30%
Ending: 70%
Quotes: 20%

How Likely Is It That I Will Read Another Book By This Author?
Even though All Fall Down wasn't the best book I have ever read by Ally Carter, but Heist Society #4 will come out someday and I can't miss out on a chance to see Hale/Kat together in an entire novel. Plus, I disliked the first Gallagher Girl Novel and LOVED the rest of the series.

Conclusion: While I usually love Ally Carter's books, this was a confusing, unexpected disappointment in character and plot, but I will be reading the sequel because of the suspenseful ending.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

When Your Hobby "Isn't Valid" | Sofia Speculates (1)

Welcome to the first ever episode of Sofia Speculates aka the feature I've been doing since I started blogging (rambling) that finally has a name. These speculations range from bookish to life to myself. So sit back, relax, and grab a cup of coffee, because I spend FOREVER sewing bits of my soul into the HTML brackets of this blog post discussing whatever topic is at hand.

I am here to discuss what it's like being Sofia Li and to reinforce the fact that I am not normal. I mean this in my usual blogging cadence but also with candor. I am a teenager, without a boyfriend, many friends, or organized sports/activities. That about sums of the GENERAL definition of having no social life.
This is me!
It's Friday night? The average teenager is probably getting ready to hang out with their friends, chow down on junk food, and relieve the stress of the week with cliche rom-coms everyone secretly loves. I'm getting ready to film a video telling people (I've never met) my opinions. I have the benefit of living with my best friend (there are posts to explain this - I'm not going off on this tangent) and I am 99% okay with this. I have a roof over my head, good food, a loving family, and the resources (such as the internet and the library) at my disposal to do the things I love. Do I wish I was a social butterfly with a ton of engagements and people texting me every moment of the day? No. Would I like to have a few more friends since moving to New York? Definitely.

Today, I am here to debunk all of these all of these myths, answer all of your questions, and generally explain how genuinely happy I am with the life I am living right now.
What Do I Get Out of Blogging/YouTube?
You Blog and YouTube? What does this mean?
Everyone from Christine Riccio's mother to Jamie @ The Perpetual Page Turner's now-husband, Will, to my very own parents don''t understand the freedom, the opportunities, and the salvation (to be extreme) that comes with putting yourself out there on the internet. Since the 10s began (I have no idea what to call this decade) YouTube and Blogging have begun seeming more and more like a legitimate career (not one I intend on pursuing professionally, but a valiant one for those who can make it). It's extremely hard to break into, find your personal niche, and all of that jazz. But I get something out of Blogging/YouTube that is unique and can't be found anywhere else because of its newness in the past years that no one (besides my generation) has ever experienced before.

Don't Lost Hope!

The Blogging and (more so) YouTube Cultures have become more and more of a an actual THING (to be as illiterate sounding as possible). The classic teenage response nowadays for why they are procrastinating is Tumblr or YouTube. You might think your content is crappy, but you HAVE to remember that SOMEONE out of the 7 (or is it 8 now) billion people on planet earth stood EXACTLY where you are at this very moment. Whether it's speculating as to whether or not you should take the plunge into one of these two of these communities, hanging on to the hundred or so followers you have and trying to grow your own brand, or being approached for a relationship between you and a company you have admired/loved since the very start.

Never Fear, The World is Big Enough For Us All.
ANYONE can be a content creator because EVERYONE is interested in something. If it's a common niche such as beauty or books, you are in luck. If you think you are the ONLY person in the world that likes something, the internet will most definitely surprise you. There will be people out there who will watch your videos/read your posts because no one else has experienced your life, no matter how boring it seems.

We Are Valid! 
I'm using Elsa.... THAT'S how strongly I feel about this
To others, especially in the 40+ range of adults (there are always exceptions ), this doesn't seem valid. They throw words like REAL and LEGITIMATE out there, wondering how GENUINE or HONEST either channel of self-expression could possibly be. You are basically selling yourself to the public, if not for money, but popularity or response. Yet, how different is that from an actor trying to land their first break-through role, an author attempting to query their 13th novel to reluctant agents, or a painter begging to have their piece displayed at a local gallery? Blogging and YouTube are daunting JUST because they're platforms with a possibly large audience and ANYONE with access to a computer can see.

Do you think I have earned a dime for ANY of this? 
The answer is the biggest, fattest, NO I can manage to type on this screen. This is 100% a labor of love. I'm going to spit out the usual disclaimer of "if you're Blogging/YouTubing to make money, you're doing it for the wrong reason." In future, there might be opportunities for monetization, and if it's something that helps me stay true to myself and the brand I have created, I will go for it. For now, every second of time I choose to spend or not spend on my greatest passion is my own.

The Best Part is.... I am my own Boss
You think I have a coach breathing down my back, ordering me to make my posts more grammatically correct (although, that would probably help)? You think my parents are telling me to churn out 4+ posts per week (when for the record, they have no idea what I talk about)? You think I'm letting down a team by deciding to watch Netflix instead of film (answering to myself is a lot harder of a job)? I make my own hours. I  carve out my own niche. I establish my own voice. I decide what I want to say. Basically, blogging/BookTubing is the best hobby EVER because I don't have to answer to anyone. The only people who are remotely effected by me not posting are my readers/viewers/friends.... who I have worked towards.

What's the point? 

Books, Reading, Writing, and Expressing Myself are my greatest passions in life. I will choose the bookstore over Barnes and Nobles ANY day of the week. I will blow all my money on BookOutlet, then go shopping at the Strand INSTEAD of H&M and Abercrombie. The point, is that this is ME. 100% genuinely who I am. I get to read books AND have people stroke my ego with views/comments in the process? Hell Yes! I get to talk to others who enjoy literature just as much as I do AND have thought-provoking conversations and learn different perspectives about the world? Yes, Please! (As Amy Poehler would say).

You cannot imagine how appreciative I am that I was born in a day and age where all of this is possible. With the move and the events of the past months, blogging/YouTube has been my life raft, my tug boat, my anchor. It's the ONE thing that never changes and will always be constant. We're of course disregarding the fact that people change and the internet is progressing every moment. But you catch my drift.

Why do I pour my heart and soul out if only a few people see it? 
The most FAQ question and IMMEDIATE impulse of people who I am discussing my blogging/BookTubing with is How many followers do you have? Out of ALL of the cliche, standard questions a person could ask, they question how many people follow or subscribe. I don't even need to mention that followers are the most crystalline sign of "legitimacy" out there.

Why is this so important?
For someone that isn't engrossed in this industry, it's a quantifier, a marker, something simple and easy to make a judgement on. This isn't even the most FAQ from peers my age, but adults. Plenty of my parents friends jump the gun and ask this question. Instead of "How did you get into blogging? What's the best part of it?" Out of all of the cookie-cutter questions adults have to ask, it's this one.

Obviously, the better content you have, the more followers you get. Someone filming with their iPhone against their living room wall obviously doesn't have the same quality as another with a DSLR, microphone, and ring lights. But, this doesn't mean that what you have to say, what you can give to people, is any less just because your following isn't as large. You can love something and be just as committed as the person with 100,000 followers versus your 100. It has taken me over a year to become more confident with my abilities, but every second of time I spend is worth it.

How do I know these people on the internet who watch my content aren't pedophiles?
Directed to parents 
This is the moment of truth for all the adults waiting and wondering what their children are doing on the internet. As teenagers, we don’t know. As adults, we don’t know. Internet safety is something extremely important and valued amongst the general populace. There are stalkers, there are bad people. What you really need to do is be responsible and make your own judgements on what you disclose on the internet. There are vloggers that tell us every aspect of their daily lives, and then there are people we love to watch, but don’t know a thing about other than the content they produce. It’s an entirely personal decision as to how much you choose to disclose. My number one piece of advice for parents is to trust yourselves that you have raised your children to be safe on the internet. 

Did you know that you can have friends online?
On the topic of interaction and “internet friends” it’s a lot easier to judge whether or not a person is who they say they are if you know of them through YouTube. With BookTubing, it’s impossible not to show your face or reveal at least a little about yourself. I consider book blogging a generally safe niche to be in when comparing to the beauty community or technology reviewers. With books, you actually have to read the darn thing and have general knowledge of books. I highly doubt a stalker is going to sit through Anna and the French Kiss, then compose a feels-filled review about Etienne St. Clair. Book Blogging is NOT the area you should be in if you want to be a stalker, too much work.

What's my experience with this?
I’ve never been contacted by someone illegitimate (that I know of) through my blog, youtube channel, or twitter account, but if I were…. it would become pretty clear pretty fast that someone was a faker. My twitter friends and I talk about books/book-related subjects 98% of the time and the other 2% is complaining about the weather and school. So to answer parent’s hesitation, no we don’t know…. but trust yourself that you have taught your kids good judgement.

You actually do things?
You want to come over here and tell me I don't do anything? You will get a one way ticket to the Arena, Erudite Headquarters, or the Batalla Hall prison cells (we’re just going to ignore the fact that those are all REAL places in America and going there will serve you no consequences). Blogging and YouTube are WAY more than filming, drafting posts, editing, and uploading. There is scheduling, time management, reading, prioritizing, networking, publicizing, responding to comments and emails, and sitting down in front of a computer to review a book is the tip of the ice berg my friend.

Looking at blogging and BookTubing with that perspective, the hours are truly endless, especially if you quantify them in comparison to a sport, instrument, or any other extra-curricular. I’ve heard a ton of bloggers say that its like a full-time job without getting paid. In the most literal sense, you’re running a business consisting of only yourself. *Ends rant* My point is not to put-down the value of what other people do as their past-times, but just to stake my claim that my hobby is 100% valid.

If you made it ’til the end of this blog post, I congratulate you! It took me way longer to compose than it should have and it’s a lot of work to read and take in all of my (caffeine induced) advice.

Now I want to know your opinions. Feel free to answer any of the points I make in the comments because I want to know your personal experience with this entire wonderful, crazy, tight-knit community.

Disclaimer: I used the typewriter image from FreePix on this website. All images, except for the parchment/quill are not my own, nor do I claim them to be.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

{Book Review} The Winner's Curse #1: Marie Rutkoski

Rating: 50%
Series: The Winner's Trilogy #1
Genre: High Fantasy, Dystopian, Romance, Young Adult, Fiction, 
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Page Count: 359
Format: eBook
Source: Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis: Winning what you want may cost you everything you love 

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. 

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. 

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined. 

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?
Fans of Pompeii/Ancient Rome, Political Intrigue, Legend (Marie Lu), Kiss of Deception (Mary E. Pearson)

Would I Buy It?
I already have.... the image of the book is from my Instagram -*shameless self-promo @sslluvsbooks & Marie Rutkoski RTed it on Twitter also @sslluvsbooks*- I bought it for $2.50 from BookOutlet's Boxing Day Sale. To my disappointment, I ended up not loving it and am glad I didn't splurge too much. From my peer book bloggers, this is either a love it or hate it novel, and I would advise borrowing a copy from the library or some other means of book obtaining unless you are CERTAIN you will love it, just in case you feel the same way I did.

Background & Backstory?
Spring 2014 was a HUGE new release season in publishing and The Winner's Curse was the most hyped, most anticipated Macmillan Series Debut. Even if you didn't know what this story was about, you head ALL of the bloggers rave about the gorgeous cover and it's even prettier insides.

I was one of those ravers. I was a baby blogger (still am, but at least I know more about upcoming releases) and if everyone else was raving.... it HAD to be good, right? I actually encouraged one of my greatest twitter BFF's Nath to read this book, and she ended up not loving it (for these reasons). I also borrowed The Winner's Curse from the library 50 billion times and I never read it and ended up returning it to the library ANOTHER 50 billion times.

Finally, I bought The Winner's Curse in eBook form when Fierce Reads was having their holiday eDeals AND I bought the hardcover off of BookOutlet. Can you say putting all of your eggs in one basket?

And now I shall proceed with telling you my unpopular opinion for this novel that everyone and their mothers seemed to adore. I hope I can show my face later on Twitter.

[I saw this video in my subscription feed a few days ago by Thoughts on Tomes about dealing with Hype and Disappointment and I HIGHLY recommend you check it out because she does a better job than I ever could with explaining my disappointment because of the Winner's Curse]

What Was My Reaction Upon Finishing?
Suspenseful ending! It tipped the rating to 3 stars, I want to read the sequel. But.... the overall story was a huge, boring disappointment ;(

Con | Political Intrigue Promises: *imagine I'm 2 years old for this sentence* I was promised political intrigue and I didn't get it! *stomps foot indignantly*

Yes there was political dealings with the military and Kestral's father was a general, but when I hear the two magic words, my expectations are sky rocketed to LEGEND status. Aka the queen of making politics actually sound like fun. We got a bit of an idea of how the military worked and the expectations for females in this world, but there weren’t any dirty dealings pertaining to a plague or swoon-worthy, well-meaning Elector’s sons who want to change the way things are run…. so I would say that this book did not fulfill that particular expectation.

Pro | Tacticians for the WIN!: While I disliked the two protagonists as characters themselves, I adored the characteristics the were given. Arin and Kestral have extremely intelligent minds built for leadership and the military. The book would have been awesome if the ENTIRE thing was the two of them being presented with various problems/battles and them attempting to find a solution together. I loved how they were quick-thinking, and witty at times, Arin knew he had to push to envelope, but knew how to do it in a way so that it would gain him respect and not a beating. In these aspects, they were a lot like June and Day…. my favorite power couple of all time. 

This is going to sound like one of the most unusual statements EVER for someone talking about The Winner's Curse but my favorite character in this novel was Kestral’s father. The intimidating, powerful, rich, and vicious general of the emperor’s army. This goes along with my borderline-unhealthy obsession with loving psychopaths in Young Adult literature. He reminded me immensely of the Commander (Warner’s father) in the Shatter Me Trilogy. I loved how ruthless and unapologetic he was, and the word “regret” wasn’t even in his vocabulary…. like every all-powerful, life-ruining psychotic leader should be. 

Con | Romance: A lot of people loved the way that the developed and cheered for Arin and Kestral whenever an external factor pushed them together. I’m not sure how this could scientifically happen (if book writing is in the least bit scientific), but even though nothing physically happened between them until around 60% of the book had passed, it felt entirely too rushed, insta-lovey, and out of no where. Of course I knew this book had romance in it…. that’s one of the biggest attractions for the reader. Of course I knew they would eventually fall in love and there would be chaos ensuing because slave/master love affairs are taboo. Yet, I could not wrap my head around them. There was no foreshadowing, in terms of chemistry and the dynamic between them. If anything, they seemed more suited to a parabati relationship than a romantic one. There was sincere mutual respect… that’s why Kestral purchased Arin in the first place. Yet, there were no electrifying touches, sarcastic remarks, or other indicators that proved they were attracted to each other or would make a good couple. 

Neutral | Would anyone like to explain to me the kind of world/genre are we in?: On the world subject, I felt as if I was reading a novel set in Ancient Rome, set in Pompeii. Yet, this was a completely made-up world. There were slaves, an emperor with generals and province-like locations. There was a strong focus on military and protection. Women were expected to marry or join the army at age 20 (that one was unusual). All of the usual parties, galas, and overall frivolity that comes with being rich was present. So let me break it down for you - I felt like we were in Ancient Rome (historical fiction), but the world was made up (high fantasy), and there was a somewhat corrupt government slaves were determined to overtake (dystopian). What does this mean? What genre do I classify this as? *cries and collapses from confusion*

Con | Pacing: *We resume Sofia’s two-year old rant with this statement* I was told this book was fast-paced! *sits on ground to pout* but I was able to tear myself away for the sake of twitter. A good book should NOT be able to let Twitter get in my way. The entire novel, I was thinking, “When are we getting to the big climatic scene?” Things started happening around the 60% point, but once they did, they weren’t able to hold my interest very well and I grew bored quickly. 

Pro | Writing Style: As an author trying to please Sofia Li, the number one thing you can do to boost your star rating is writing well. There isn’t a magic recipe or equation for greatness, but readers can just sense good writing when they read it. It wasn’t so much the way Rutkoski told THE story, but how she TOLD story. Her word choice was exquisite and (as odd as this may sound) the arrangement of her words was flawless. This mostly shone through with her descriptions/metaphors when painting a beautiful picture of minuscule details. She made exiting a room eloquent and playing a game lyrical.

How Likely Is It That I Will Read Another Book By This Author?
There is so much pre-publication hype from a ton of bloggers I know, love, and respect their opinions. I'm obviously not going to purchase the hardcover at full retail price, but I am considering borrowing it from the library because Rutkoski could have a wonderful sophmore novel in this series. But it is most definitely not at the top of my list. (On top of putting too much faith in hype, I keep coming back for more.... no wonder I'm not in a romantic relationship with anyone)

Conclusion:I let the hype surrounding this novel get the best of me and didn’t enjoy the story or romance as much as I could have, but the way it was told was exquisite.

Let's Discuss~
Did you read/enjoy The Winner's Curse?
Was your reading experience spoiled for you because of hype?
Who was your favorite character?
Did you think this novel was fast-paced?
Do you ship Kestral & Arin together?
What do you think will be in store for us in The Winner's Crime?  
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