Top 5: Anticipated Releases II

It has been a while since I last posted on here… Oops! At the end of November I lost focus on my blog due to assignments deadlines; come December I had decided to attempt Vlogmas on my YouTube channel and during the latter half of December I went home for Christmas break, during which I also didn’t get round to doing anything YouTube-y. Since then and until last week, I’ve been busy writing a beast of an essay.

Now, that’s been handed in, and I have returned from my unplanned hiatus! I’m not sure what day I’ll try to upload every week, but I’ll definitely try to post something each week from now on!

Excuses aside, back in July, I wrote a Top 5-post on Anticipated Releases. Here is another list, with some more exciting books that’ll be released between now and May!

 dumplin1. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (28 January 2016)

Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back. Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant-along with several other unlikely candidates-to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City-and maybe herself most of all.

This book just sounds like a whole lot of fun: body positivity, pageants, trying to figure oneself out, and a spot of romance. Dumplin’ has been getting really good reviews so far, and I can’t wait to find out for myself whether I like it as much as I think I will (though that might actually take a while, because it appears to be released in hardback first – and I tend to find those too expensive… Eventually I’ll get round to it!).

2. The Wicked + The Divine, vol. 3: Commercial Suicide by Kieron Gillen (11 February 2016)wickeddivinevol3

After the detonation of FANDEMONIUM the gods-as-pop-stars of THE WICKED + THE DIVINE try living in the long dark shadow.

The Wicked + The Divine is one of the first graphic novels I laid my eyes on – after recommendation by a friend – and I loved it. It’s got such fantastic art, the story is fascinating and it ends on a huge cliff-hanger. I read Volume 2, Fandemonium, last summer and was just as enthralled as by the first volume – and it had just as much of a cliff-hanger as the first one. I’m very excited for the release of Volume 3, so I can finally find out what happens next.

radiosilence3. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman (25 February 2016)

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way […] But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself. Then the podcast goes viral and the fragile trust between them is broken. Caught between who she was and who she longs to be, Frances’ dreams come crashing down. Suffocating with guilt, she knows that she has to confront her past… She has to confess why Carys disappeared…

Meanwhile at uni, Aled is alone, fighting even darker secrets.

I read Alice’s debut novel, Solitaire, sometime last year – mostly out of curiosity about what a published book, written by someone my age, might be like. I didn’t like it all that much, which perhaps was largely down to the protagonist, or perhaps I just didn’t like the plot that much: I’m not sure. Who knows – I might give it another shot in the future. However, I am very interested in Radio Silence: story-wise it sounds more like something I’d be interested in, and I would also like to read something else by Alice and see whether I feel any different about it than her debut.

4. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas (3 May 2016)acourtofmistandfury

Feyre survived Amarantha’s clutches to return to the Spring Court–but at a steep cost. Though she now has the powers of the High Fae, her heart remains human, and it can’t forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people. Nor has Feyre forgotten her bargain with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court. As Feyre navigates its dark web of politics, passion, and dazzling power, a greater evil looms–and she might be key to stopping it. But only if she can harness her harrowing gifts, heal her fractured soul, and decide how she wishes to shape her future–and the future of a world cleaved in two.

This was to be expected, right? Last year I first read Sarah’s work, and I was immediately hooked. I didn’t love A Court of Thorns and Roses quite as much as I do the Throne of Glass series, but I am excited about this sequel to ACOTAR nonetheless!

 

thecrown5. The Crown by Kiera Cass

Twenty years have passed since the events of The One, and America and Maxon’s daughter is the first princess to hold a Selection of her own. Princess Eadlyn didn’t think she would find a real partner among the Selection’s thirty-five suitors, let alone true love. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and now Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more difficult—and more important—than she ever expected.

To be honest, I have quite mixed feelings about The Selection series: I didn’t love the first three books, but found them somehow quite addictive. The Heir, which followed Eadlyn for the first time, I liked more: possible because America was constantly getting on my nerves in the first three. Despite my mixed feelings, I’m interested in reading The Crown, which will be the final instalment in this series. I’ve gotten this far – might as well see it through ‘till the end!

 

Those are all the books for today: as per usual, let me know what books you’re excited about and whether you’re planning on picking any of these up!

Advertisements

My Topdeck Trip – Part VII: Reflecting on Egypt

It has now been exactly three months since I hopped on a plane to Frankfurt, and then another from there to Cairo. Now that I’ve been back in England, buckling down on uni work and getting on with everything that comes with student life, my trip to Egypt seems a lifetime ago.

But last week, I finally sat myself down and edited all the video footage I took in Egypt.

I love this video (though I hate my editing programme for messing up some of the quality during exporting it – I’m trying to fix it): I feel like it really captures the many things we did in Egypt, how amazing the trip was and the overall good time I had exploring the country.

As you might know, I went on the 10 day ‘Spirit of Egypt’ trip, which is organised by Topdeck Travel. They’re an Australian-by-origin company, organising group travel around the world (last week they launched their trips to Asia, and they look amazing – seriously wanderlust-inducing!). This year I’m a student ambassador for the company, and, as a part of this, I got to go on a trip of my choosing. The reason I chose Egypt in this scenario is because, of the available to me options, I deemed Egypt the country I was least likely to be able to go to any time soon. That, and it just sounded like an amazing trip!

I’d never been on a group trip before this holiday (that is, unless you count school trips abroad), but to be fair, I still don’t think I really have been as our little ‘habibi group’ was only five people strong – three Australians, one Dutchie (that’d be me), and our Egyptian trip leader. Nevertheless, it was a new experience and thankfully, we all got along fine.11891433_10207219284031609_760167916027847267_o

The trip was truly great. Over the course of ten days, we have seen a massive amount of Egypt – having travelled almost 2,500km over road and river – and learned tonnes about the ancient history (I’ve talked about the specifics in more detail in five posts which I’ll link below). It was amazing!

Honestly, if you are thinking of travelling to Egypt, I would highly advice going with an organisation like Topdeck, for several reasons:

  1. It was wonderful not to have to worry about where to go, when to go, and how to go. All our destinations had been planned out for us – all we had to do, was wake up on time (some of the times we had to get up were brutal, but worth it) and makes sure our bags were packed.
  2. As I said before, we saw an incredible amount of what Egypt has to offer (though I bet there’s so much more to be seen), and I simply don’t think it would have been possible to see that much – or that you’d take on the challenge to travel so far and wide on your own – in just ten days. It felt like we’d been in Egypt for absolutely ages, because almost every day (especially in the first half of the trip) we’d do as much as you’d usually do spread across two or three days (well, my family would anyway). True, around the sixth day we were all very tired, but right after that we were taken to Hurghada for a few days of 11865205_10207219310552272_5945558516897026569_orelaxing! And really, you need to see as much of Egypt as you can.
  3. It’s also very useful to go on a trip where you have a trip leader in Egypt: ours was able to tell Meg and me when we’d have to wear more covering clothing to avoid nasty situations. It is a Muslim-majority country and they have different values from more Western countries. However, because our trip leader told us when it was best to wear a t-shirt and longer trousers, we never experienced any problems.
  4. This one is more practical, but still true: due to the current political climate in Egypt I’m not sure how possible it would be to go there on holiday without an organisation like Topdeck. I imagine you’d be able to go to Sharm el-Sheikh or Hurghada if you’re only after a beach holiday, but if you want to travel across the country like I did, I think you’d have to have a trip leader. Every time we covered a lot of ground (so from Cairo – Aswan, Aswan – Abu Simbel, Hurghada – Cairo, etc.), our trip leader had to organise permits for us to be allowed to travel (and so, I think, the government knew where tourists were in case something happened). On top of that, when we drove from Aswan to Abu Simbel we had to drive in a convoy with other tourist vans and two police cars with armed policemen.

There were two things I didn’t like as much about the trip, both of which couldn’t really be helped:

  1. Everywhere we went, sellers tried, in rather loud ways, to lure us into their shop so we’d buy something. On top of that, if you’d actually decided to buy something you had to haggle about the price, so you wouldn’t pay something ridiculous for your keychain or magnet. I really disliked the haggling and I wish it hadn’t been necessary. I usually buy souvenirs if I go on holiday, and don’t mind shelling out €2 for magnet, but due to the constant pressure to come in, look at things and buy them, I probably bought less than I’d usually have. I understand why it is this way (since the revolution in 2010, tourism, which used to be a big part of Egyptian economy, has dropped drastically).
  2. A bit more light-hearted: I wish our Topdeck group had been bigger. True, it would have cost us space in the van, but I would have enjoyed meeting more people!

Overall, I loved getting to explore Egypt. Despite the need for the convoy, a guard with us for longer distances, and having come within metres of guns, Egypt didn’t feel inherently unsafe. Sure, I would hate to drive in Cairo (crazy traffic, I tell you), and being born in The Netherlands, I had never come so close near an army tank and guns, but they didn’t cast too big a cloud on the trip. It was rather shocking to be near them instead seeing them on TV, but in all fairness, the presence of the tank and guns, and the need for a convoy and a guard on long distances, were put in place to ensure our safety (but no, America, I don’t condone your gun policies).

I should say, though, that when we were in Aswan, a bomb did explode somewhere in Cairo. However, this hasn’t affected our trip in any way. Perhaps I was a bit more wary about returning to Cairo, but we wouldn’t stay long. Unfortunately, since that plane went down in Sinai, air travel has been limited and holiday-goers have been advised not to go.

11923286_10207219270591273_2037593435858934947_oThat being said, I still urge you to go to Egypt when you can (be sure to keep an eye out on government websites to see what they recommend when it comes to travelling to Egypt). It’s a wonderful country and so completely different from anywhere I’ve been before. It has an incredibly rich history, and there is just so much to see and learn. On top of that, I got to do, see and experience things I didn’t think I’d be doing for at least another few years! (swimming with dolphins, going in a hot air balloon, and quad biking, to name a few…) I’m very happy with my choice to go on the Spirit of Egypt trip and incredibly grateful to Topdeck for providing me with the opportunity.

As part of my role as student ambassador, I am also able to offer exclusive deals and discounts on any Topdeck trip. I’ve heard about the trips of the other ambassadors, and they, too, sounded absolutely fantastic. Whether you’re after a New Year’s trip in a big city, a few weeks in the US, a month across Europe or exploring Oceania and Asia – Topdeck has a wide variety of trips to offer, and I highly recommend you check out their website (warning though: you’ll seriously want to travel after doing so). If you’re interested in the deals and discounts, just send an email over to adventures@topdecktravel.co.uk and mention my name (Christa!).

And that is it for my Egyptian adventures. I loved going on this trip and have already got my eyes on a few other Topdeck trips that are calling to me – alas, I must wait until I have money. But when I do, I’d go on another Topdeck trip in instant.

As promised, here are the other parts in my Topdeck ‘series’:

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI

Thanks for reading!

Love,

Christa

The Book of Life

the book of life

This review, written by me, was first published in Newcastle University’s newspaper, The Courier, and has been slightly altered for the purpose of this blog post.

The Book of Life is an animation film, directed by Guillermo del Toro, that was released into cinemas last year (and is now available on DVD): the story centres around the small town of San Angel on the Day of the Dead.

La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlmen), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, decide to have a wager. The prize: Xibalbe will get to rule the Land of the Remembered. The bet: which of the two boys from San Angel will marry their friend María (Zoe Saldana): Manolo (Diego Luna) or Joaquín (Channing Tatum)?

The film is absolutely beautifully animated; instead of the traditional style of animation, the characters are caricatures – some have enormous noses, tiny legs, massive bellies, and the like!. Each character has an exaggerated feature, and has been made to look like wooden puppets – all except La Muerte and Xibalba that is. The Land of the Remembered was especially stunning as the characters had been given such unique looks and the entire land was full of vibrant colours and figures.

The Book of Life has got a great musical element to it as well, the songs are a mix of covers (including Radiohead and Mumford & Sons) and original songs. In my opinion, the original songs are the best, they are more directly related to the film and as a result convey the emotion of the scene much better. I was greatly impressed by the voice actors, however, I’m not entirely sure about Channing Tatum as Joaquín; most of the characters from San Angel sound like they have Mexican influence, but Channing just sounds like a typical American. The only other criticism I have is that some of the jokes were very straightforward, though it’s forgiven because most of them were still chuckle-worthy and the film’s main target audience is, at the end of the day, children (but non-children, you should still watch this as it’s great!).

I definitely recommend this films it’s an absolute treat for the eyes and the story is especially heart-warming, offering an instant feel-good feeling that lasts long after you leave the cinema.

Love,

Christa

Magic & Mayhem with Leigh Bardugo and Melinda Salisbury

DSC01628

On the 23rd of October, authors Leigh Bardugo and Melinda Salisbury came up North to Newcastle upon Tyne for an event organised by Seven Stories in their attic filled with fairylights. Leigh is currently touring the world in promotion of her new book Six of Crows (the first in a companion duology to the Grisha Trilogy). Melinda is author of The Sin Eater’s Daughter (its sequel, The Sleeping Prince is currently set for release in March 2016).

The event was led by Lorna, who works at Seven Stories. After Melinda had gushed over the manuscripts by Diana Wynne Jones she’d been taken to see earlier that day (Seven Stories has a massive archive of Children’s Literature), the moderator took some time to draw parallels between both women’s writings: both their books are political, include intrigue and are set around a court, and, obviously, are both fantasy books.

At this point, Leigh could no longer contain her enthusiasm and asked Melinda whether she could (please hurry up and) read an extract from The Sleeping Prince. Apparently this was the very first time she’d read it to anyone other than her editors, so I feel very honoured to have been able to hear it (and though I have not yet read The Sin Eater’s Daughter, her upcoming book did sound really good).

When Melinda had finished, it was Leigh’s turn to read an extract from Six of Crows (including her doing an Irish accent). I’ll admit I didn’t completely understand what happened in the extract, as it’s from the middle of the book, but I’ve now got the book and will read it soon (and hopefully find out what actually went down).

When they’d both read their extracts, the moderator asked them a whole bunch of questions which the authors answered happily. Now, since I’ve got over six pages of notes on this event, I’ll condense the questions and answers to a selection of the answers I liked best (do note: these answers will most likely be a bit paraphrased as they spoke a lot and I only had one hand to write with).

Question: How much research do you do for your books?

Mel: None, really. I travel all the time (I’ll save up all of my money by eating dry toast for weeks and then go travelling), which is where I get ideas from. For example, the golems are in Prague, thDSC01629e Mirror Maze is real, sin eaters exist. You can’t really research what you make up!

Leigh: You can research what you make up, though. For example if you’re going to write about a disastrous economy, you should have a basic understanding of how an economy works; if you’re going to write about the way a land is ruled you should have a basic understanding of, for example, a dictatorship.

Mel: If you put it like that, I guess I do do research – it just doesn’t feel like research. I just love reading about stuff like the War of the Roses and Richard III.

Leigh: Even reading folktales, etc. is research. I absolutely hate reading about nautical stuff, so when I had to learn about that for Six of Crows I just read an entire book series that involved it a lot. It was still research, but fun. Six of Crows is based on the Dutch Republic in the 17th Century and I wanted to create an economy in a period like that with an actual middle class economy – so I had to research those.

Question: what about characters’ names?

Leigh: I’m always surprised by how many people ask me how to pronounce them! I thought they were all straightforward!

Mel: I don’t consciously choose names for my characters.

Leigh: All the Crows just had their names, although Kaz was originally called Baz, but then Rainbow (Rowell) came with Fangirl (and later Carry On) and I couldn’t use it anymore. I can’t write characters properly until they have a name.

Mel: I actually think I’m somewhat possessed. I just had this vision of a red-haired girl singing for a king. She loved singing, but they’d turned something she loved into something she hated. And her name was always Twylla.

Leigh: Really? I wish writing was like that for me. I’m definitely someone who outlines. I have to turn off the internet and write, and if I come across things I don’t know yet (like character’s names), I just insert ??? and fill that in later. The most important way to write about is just getting it written.

six of crows

Pinched the image of Goodreads

Question: What would you be doing if you weren’t an author?

Mel (who had an answer at the ready): A zookeeper.

Leigh: Must say I’m a bit freaked out about that.

Mel: Or I would be a wildlife photographer. I’d be doing something with animals.


Leigh:
So you wouldn’t mind picking up their poo?

the sin eater's daughter

Pinched the image off Goodreads

Mel: No! It’s not like I’d be picking it up with my hands – you get a shovel. And it’s not my own.

Leigh: … If I could be anything, regardless of whether I’m good at it, I’d be a fashion designer – even though I can’t sew at all.

Lorna: I would’ve thought both of you would say you’d teach at Hogwarts!

Mel & Leigh: I didn’t know that was an option!

Mel: Though I’d probably still be a dragonkeeper, like Hagrid, and shovel dung.

Leigh: I think the curse might be lifted off the job now, so if that’s the case I’d like to be a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Question: If you were to go home and write fanfic, what would it be?

Mel: Marauder’s Era fanfic – Remus and Sirius. (I think she said these names, not 100% sure)

Leigh: I’d write fanfic about The Sleeping Prince!

Question: Could you picture your characters?

Mel: Yes.

Leigh: No. They’re more like a dream: I know what clothes they wear, but I can never discern facial features, which is why fancasts always weird me out a bit. There are a lot of people who see Sean O’Pry (from Taylor Swift’s Blank Space music video) as the Darkling, and I think I’m OK with that.

Mel: If I were to fancast I’d probably go for Saoirse Ronan (starred in The Lovely Bones and The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Twylla – she doesn’t have that typical Hollywood face, but is very aesthetically pleasing. Merik would be Aneurin Barnard (who plays Richard III in The White Queen).

Question: Who should we be reading?

Mel: I usually say Leigh Bardugo. But you should also read Rainbow Rowell, Holly Bourne, C. J. Daugherty, Non Pratt and Tom Ellen.

Leigh: Illuminae by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman, Marie Lu (The Young Elites is one of my favourites and I love that it has a female anti-hero), Laini Taylor, Maggie Stiefvater and Gene Luen Yang.

Question: If you could steal/borrow a character from anyone else, who would it be and why?

Leigh: Geoffrey, so I can kick him around, because he needs more punishment.

Mel: Definitely Sirius Black. I would just like to give him a life – he was 21 when he went to prison for 12 years for a crime he didn’t commit and two years after he escaped he died. He never got to live.

Question: Do you find that you want to change things in your books after publication?

Leigh: There’s this one thing in the first chapter of Shadow & Bone that I’d love to change, but generally I don’t reread my own books – unless it’s at events.

Mel: I don’t reread my own books, because I’d have the urge to change things.

Question: When do you come up with titles?

Mel: Afterwards. The Sin Eater’s Daughter was always The Sin Eater’s Daughter, but for The Sleeping Prince I just had a random name and thought my publishers would come up with something genius. But they gave me this list of names that were hilarious, and barely had anything to do with the book, and I really didn’t know whether they were being serious or not.

Leigh: Titles are always there. Sometimes I sit in the bath tub and use my storyteller voice to come up with something.  Shadow & Bone was first going to be called The Grisha and Six of Crows was The Dregs (which is still the name of the series in both cases), but the publishers didn’t think that was very marketable. Also, the name of the Six of Crows sequel that’s currently on Goodreads isn’t the actual title of the sequel – it got changed after it was put on Goodreads.

DSC01738Question: Do you plan your books in-depth?

Leigh: Yes. I’m a plotter. I think of highs and lows in the story and work towards those. Otherwise I would start enthusiastically, knocking out a few thousand words a day, and soon after hit a wall of questions and have to stop. Outlining helps.

Mel: I plot, but by chapter two the story starts to get on with its own business. I can’t make the characters do anything they don’t want to do, so as long as what they do gets them to where they need to be and they stay true to who they are, I don’t mind.

Leigh: You really are possessed! Honestly, I had never even planned for Shadow & Bone to become a trilogy, but the way the story took off it naturally became a trilogy. I hadn’t even finished writing a book before Shadow & Bone.

***

After the Q&A part of the event, it was time for them to sign everyone’s books! Having never read books by either of them, I’d bought the books earlier that evening – I’m very excited to read them when I get the chance!

So there you have it! I’m aware this is a ridiculously long blog post, but I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’ll be going to a Patrick Ness event in November and intend to do something like this for that event as well, so keep your eyes out for that!

Love,

Christa

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston

a thousand nights

Pinched the image off E. K. Johnston’s website

I was provided an arc by Disney Hyperion through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.

And so she is taken in her sister’s place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin’s court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.

Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.

A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston is a retelling of 1001 Arabian Nights – a tale which I personally have never read. Thus I didn’t know what to expect of the novel, other than from the blurb above.

Even if I had known more about the plot, the story would still have surprised me, if only for the way it is told. Only occasionally, does Johnston use names (there are three named characters that I can think of, but they’re really more nicknames) – a surprising feature which I hadn’t initially noticed (and it did have me think about the purpose of names for a while), but it is never an issue: it is evident who each character is.

There’s a dual-narrative, but rather than the usual 50/50 split, it seemed to be more 20/80. There’s a reason for this split though: our main character is one of them, and narrates most chapters, but who the other narrator is remains a mystery for the majority of the novel (and this narrator has fewer chapters). Though you get given a vague idea, even at the end of the novel, you still don’t really know who this narrator is.

These techniques aside, Johnston writes amazing prose in A Thousand Nights. I feel like each word has been measured and carefully chosen before it was put into the book, which is a feeling I don’t get very often. Other than that, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this story is told in a very unique manner.

One thing Johnston certainly succeeds in is maintaining an air of mystery: some things are carefully revealed or explained in a very subtle manner, whilst others remain mysterious (like one of the narrators). Another thing I liked about A Thousand Nights is how, despite having only briefly glimpsed our main character’s family life before she is taken by Lo-Melkhiin, you get a very strong feeling of her familial relationships and what sort of communities she’s lived in. What goes hand in hand with this, I think, is the different terms used, like ‘wadi’ and ‘dishdashah’, which are never really explained and may be foreign, yet it is clear what each of those things is through the manner in which they are integrated into the story and text. There’s no over-explaining (like there might have been in that sentence of mine…).

Overall, I really enjoyed this story – it was rather a surprising novel to me. The only reason I’m not giving it 5/5 stars on Goodreads is because I’m simply not head over heels in love with it: I wouldn’t want to shout about this book from the rooftops. However, I would recommend if someone were to ask. So go ahead and give it a try for yourself!

A Thousand Nights was released in the USA by Disney Hyperion on October 3rd and will be published by Pan Macmillan in the UK on October 22nd.

Let me know what you thought of this book in the comments!

Love,

Christa

PS. You’ll notice that in ‘tags’ I’ve tagged this novel as ‘diverse fiction’. I’ve chosen to do this because, from what I understand, each character is a POC and the entire story plays out in a non-western setting.

My Topdeck Trip – Part VI: Hurghada & Return to Cairo

Sorry for the delay of this post – uni started again and has had me busy for the last two weeks! So let’s get cracking on the last post detailing my adventures in the Land of Sand (I will write another post about the trip after this one, but it’ll be a little different).

After our brief stay in Luxor, we got back into the Topdeck mobile at 7.30am on the 22nd of August for 4-5 hour drive. We’d finished all of our sightseeing and were to spend two nights in Hurghada – a very popular city among tourists, situated right on the coast of the Red Sea.

We arrived at our hotel around noon. As that was before check-in, we walked around the premises, taking in the pool, the beach and the several bars and restaurants within the hotel complex, before we had lunch at the buffet.

DSC01480 DSC01481

Following lunch, we got to check into our rooms – which thankfully had great air-conditioning – and went for a dip in the pool. There was a massive amount of chlorine in the pool, which I unfortunately discovered by accidentally swallowing some water, but other than that it was great to lounge in the cool water and swim around. We only had an hour to spend in the pool, for we’d booked to go quad biking in the desert!

11949780_10153082780445509_1755553503_nDuring our drive to Hurghada we’d stopped along the way to buy scarves for the quad biking (so we wouldn’t accidentally breathe in the entire desert), which were tied around our heads before we put on our helmets and got on the bikes. Remember how I thought camel-riding was a little scary? This was scarier – or at least, I thought so (the others seemed to be doing alright). I know how to drive a car, but driving a quad made me feel a lot more vulnerable: you need to have some upper-arm strength to keep steering straight and it t11911544_10153082780355509_1323467697_nook me half the trip to get used to the speed that our guide went. We stopped in the middle of the desert to take a few photos after a while, after which we returned to the place we’d started. In total, I think we spent about an hour, maybe a bit longer, on the quads. I enjoyed the second half more as I got more used to operating the vehicle, but I don’t think I’ll be driving quads anytime soon again. It’s a fun experience, but not really for me…

Unfortunately, by the time we got back to our hotel both the pool and the beach had already closed by the time we got back (we asked about this – apparently they close them at 5pm because it gets dark early and many Egyptians can’t swim that well. I’m not sure how true this is, but it was annoying nonetheless!). We had dinner at the buffet (which, to be honest, was really disappointing) and spent the night lounging on the sunbeds ( = I read a lot).

The next day we received our wake-up call at 7.30am (the latest we’d gotten up so far), met in the lobby an hour later and were driven to the beach, where we got on a boat with a bunch of other tourists, diving and snorkelling instructors and the boat’s crew. We sailed for about 45 minutes before we reached a large coral reef and anchored. The original intention was to spend a while here and then move closer to the Giftun Island, however, snorkelling/diving conditions around the reef were so good that the ship’s crew decided to stay at the reef. This was one of the moments I had looked forward to the most – I had never snorkelled before this and internet had promised the Red Sea was a great place to do just that.

DSC01508 DSC01496 DSC01491 DSC01509

The Red Sea was a breathtakingly bright blue and so clear. In the pictures you might see a few darker areas – those are where the coral reef is. We were given goggles, flippers and jumped into the salty sea with an instructor, who took us closer to the reef, showed us fish, dived to the bottom to show us shells and even took us to see some clownfish (Nemo, I found you!).

After our first snorkel-session we returned to the boat for a lunch and listened to everyone’s stories about their dive or snorkelling – it turned out Luke, who’d been diving, and several others had swam near dolphins! With this knowledge, we didn’t waste any time after lunch and Meg, our instructor and I went snorkelling again – this time to find the dolphins.

And we found them. It was really, truly magical to be so close to these creatures. One of them was particularly cheeky and came really close, while about six other dolphins stayed a bit deeper. Our instructor got even closer to the cheeky one and tried to touch it a few times – I didn’t get that close, but it was closer than I’d expected to (hell, I hadn’t even expected to swim with dolphins during this trip at all!).

DSC01505 DSC01504

I could have swam with those dolphins for ages (if you look close in the pictures above you can see them!), but alas, we had to return to the boat eventually. After the dolphin adventure, we spent some time jumping off different heights of the boat and just casually swimming around, before we had to board again and were sailed back to shore.

We spent our last night in Hurghada the same way we had the previous night (and were again disappointed at the pool and beach closing shortly after we returned to the hotel). The day before we had decided that weren’t that bothered with the extra day trip in Cairo we’d signed up for, after all, and would prefer a good night’s sleep instead (had we gone on the trip, we’d have had to leave Hurghada at 1am to make it back to Cairo in time). So instead, we went to around 11.30pm and didn’t have to wake up until 8am.

We gathered our belongings, had breakfast and set off at 10am for a 5.5-6 hour drive back to Cairo, where we arrived at 4.45pm at the hotel we’d stayed in before. Meg, Luke, Arnold and I had food in the hotel’s restaurant before we were taken to the Sound & Light show near the Giza Plateau.

The Sound & Light show basically shows its visitors the history of the pyramids and the sphinx, by using (can you guess?) sound and light. It was quite interesting to see, but I do think it was a bit long – a fun experience nonetheless.

DSC01546 DSC01539

And thus, we ended our last night together in Egypt. The next day, Meg and the boys were going to visit Alexandria as a day trip (Meg had already booked it, the guys’ flights weren’t until late that evening), so I said my goodbyes to them before going for some breakfast, packing up all my stuff and being taken to the airport by a taxi.

Other than me being really early at the airport (I couldn’t even check in yet), travelling back to the Netherlands was pretty uneventful (though I did manage to buy some brezeln (pretzels) in Frankfurt Airport in German), and I was back at home around 11.30pm.

DSC01547Thanks so much for reading about my adventures in Egypt. I plan on writing one more post about the trip, reflecting more on some aspects of visiting Egypt and my experience with Topdeck. In the mean time, if you’re interested in going on a Topdeck trip yourself and would like to save some money when booking it, you can send an email to  adventures@topdecktravel.co.uk and quote my name (Christa!) to get a great deal!

 

Love,

Christa

A Theme Song for Writers

Remember that Pokémon theme song? If you don’t – not to fear, for here it is:

Now, here is my rewritten version that I wrote a while back whilst bearing in mind the struggles and passions writers face daily.

theme song for writers correct version

Power to all the masters of the written word!

Love,

Christa

The Scorch Trials

scorch trials

The Scorch Trials (dir. by Wes Ball) picks up right where The Maze Runner has left off. Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and the others have just left the maze and have been led to a safe place. There, they discover their maze was not the only one of its kind and they meet a whole host of other teens like them. Every day, a group of the teens is led away to an unknown place where they’ll be able to restart their lives in safety. Or so they think. Thomas soon finds out their saviours are not what and who they appear, and together with his friends escapes to the Scorch (aka a very large desert) in hopes of finding a safe haven.

First things first: I have not read the books by James Dashner that these films are based on. Therefore, my opinion will solely be of the film!

Throughout the film I was on edge: the tension is introduced almost as soon as Thomas has arrived in this ‘safe place’, and as the plot develops, so does the tension. There are frequent chases and running away from things, as well as guns being fired between different parties.

Furthermore, the tension is kept high due to the constant threat of the unknown: like the characters in this film, we as the audience (unless you’ve read the books) have no idea of what lurks in the desert; why the world is in the state it’s in (because New York City doesn’t turn into a desert overnight); and why Thomas and his friends are sought after. Slowly, a few questions are answered, but enough remains veiled to pull in the audience (me, anyway) for the upcoming third film next year.

One thing I loved about this film was the set, by far. Especially when Thomas and his friends are walking through the remains of NYC: the buildings are falling apart, bridges with cars on them are missing half, and it appears no one lives there anymore. The state that most buildings are in, adds to the desolate feel that is also felt when the group walks all alone through the desert, as well as the tension that is ever-present: the buildings that are still somewhat upright look like they might come crashing down at any given moment – just like the enemy might catch up with the Gladers at any moment.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. If you were to look at this in the simplest way, it’s not very special: just a lot of running and chasing and gun shots fired. However, if you look at it the way it’s presented, with the interesting group dynamic, sacrifices that are made on many different levels and morals that are tested and questioned, as well as the tension I’ve previously mentioned, it’s really a good film.

I know I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the conclusion in this trilogy, The Death Cure, coming out February 2017.

What did you think of the film?

Love,

Christa

What Became of My (Wishful) Summer Reading List

At the start of the summer I uploaded this post, in which I told you all about the books I hoped to read between July and September. The summer has now come to an end (both weather-wise and freedom from uni-wise) and I’m back to tell you which of those books I actually managed to read, as well as the ones I read that weren’t even on the list.

First up: the books from the list that I’ve actually read;

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  2. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
  3. Vicious by V. E. Schwab
  4. The Year I Met You by Cecelia Ahern
  5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
  6. Lying Out Loud by Kody Keplinger
  7. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

So, that’s about half of the list I managed to read. Not too bad, but still, I really would have liked to read the others as well.

Now for the books that weren’t on the list:

  1. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill
  2. The Next Together by Lauren James
  3. The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen (Penguin 80th Anniversary Edition)
  4. Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton
  5. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
  6. The Wicked + The Divine, vol 2: Fandemonium by Kieron Gillen
  7. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  8. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter
  9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale*
  11. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome*

Overall, I’d say it’s been pretty good going – though I must add some of those books were tiny and both Harry Potter books were audiobooks. But still! I consumed a very decent amount of texts and some of the texts above are for my children’s literature module this semester (the ones by Lewis, Ransome, Pullman and Blyton).

I have written/filmed reviews of the following books in case you’re interested: The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Lying Out Loud, Only Ever Yours, The Next Together, Everything, Everything, and will soon have some sort of collective review going up on some of the children’s books I’m reading for uni!

Let me know what you’ve read this summer in the comments!

Love,

Christa

*Technically I haven’t finished the starred books just yet, but I’m sure I will have by the end of this week!

My Topdeck Trip – Part V: Luxor

On the 21st of August, we arrived in Luxor by ship at about 3am. Half an hour later, my Topdeck group and I were dressed and out on the streets, walking to another boat, filled with other
tourists, that would take us to the other side of the Nile. There, we were picked up by a van and driven to a plane on the edge of the desert.

After waiting around for a while and receiving some instructions, it was finally time to board the hot air balloon. Within minutes our pilot was filling the balloon with more heat and we were soon leaving the ground.

DSC01309 DSC01349DSC01343 DSC01331

Our balloon was the first to take off of the bunch. We soared across different heights, gliding through the air and the sun rose above the Nile. One of the most striking things I saw was the line between sand and greenery: the desert simply stopped and was replaced by a huge patch of land where the ground wasn’t too dry for plants to grow. It was crazy to watch the world wake up as we flew above it – a few cars drove around, a few people were taking care of their fields, chickens were going fluttering around their pen, dogs barked.

To capture what it was like floating across Luxor, here is a video:

After a relatively smooth landing, we were met again by Ahmed and our tour guide for the day, and were driven straight to Valley of the Kings. The Valley is a, as you might suspect, large valley in the desert where over the years and dynasties a large number of pharaohs were buried in tombs. We visited numbers two, eight and eleven, which belonged to Ramesses IV, Merenptah and Ramesses III respectively. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any pictures, but it was incredible to walk around those tombs! Much of the original colouring is still intact, and it is absurd to think people were walking down there thousands of years ago, dragging large stones into the depth of the tombs in preparation of their leader’s death (apparently, tombs were mainly built during a king’s lifetime – if the king died before its completion, the workers would have 70 more days to try and finish it as that was how long it took for the body to be mummified).

Following the Valley, we went straight to Hatshepsut’s Temple. DSC01378Hatshepsut was a queen who, after her husband died, was regent of the country, guiding her son, Tuthmose III, who wasn’t yet old enough to rule.
Hatshepsut, however, decided that she didn’t see why she couldn’t be ruler, so she decided to be king.
Pretty epic, if you ask me. DSC01395The statues – the ones that remain (because her son had many destroyed, or the face mutilated, because he didn’t want her to be remembered and he never considered her a rightful ruler) – of Hatshepsut are even ‘dressed’ like men. She’s got the beard, the attire, and the only way you can tell it’s a woman is because of the softer facial features.

Next up was a short stop at a shop where they hand-carved stones – once again, we were given some hibiscus tea.

We went on to visit Karnak Temple, which was very big and very hot: DSC01430despite the time of day, the sun was shining incredibly brightly already. The most striking thing about this temple were the number of pillars – each decorated with hieroglyphs, of course. There were also some obelisks, though in some cases it were more remainders, really (with the other part being in the Louvre in Paris).  One of the obelisks was built by Hatshepsut. Her son, however, couldn’t take it down, because obelisks represent rays of the sun (and the sun, in turn, represents the god Ra) – so instead, he built a wall all the way around it, which by now has
crumbled and reveals the obelisk once
more.

DSC01468Last on the itinerary was a visit to Luxor Temple, which we’d flown past earlier that day. The outside of the temple was unfortunately never finished, but there’s a carving inside the temple which shows how it was probably meant to have looked – this carving has then been drawn in colour on paper to show us how it might have looked in full glory!

By now, all of us were drained of energy, which perhaps didn’t give us the best experience of the temple. Our visit was rather short because of it, but it was an interesting sight nonetheless.

DSC01455 DSC01453

When we’d finished our sightseeing, we checked into the hotel. The boys went for a nap, while Meg, Ahmed and I had a late lunch in the rooftop restaurant, after which I went for a long dip in the rooftop pool. We gathered a bit later and just hung out, before going down to the hotel restaurant for a late dinner. Shortly after, we went to sleep, ready and excited for Hurghada the next day.

Love,

Christa

Ps. If you’re interested in going on a Topdeck trip yourself and would like to save some money, email adventures@topdecktravel.co.uk and quote my name (Christa!) to get a great deal!