Saturday, October 13, 2018

Hype / Tripe: Are Popular Books Worthy?

I have decided to do a regular feature where I will read and give an honest review of a very popular book. This might not be a recent book, however, it will be something that a lot of other bloggers and Booktubers have spoken about a lot.

I just want to confirm a theory I have that not all books that are hyped are necessarily good and that a lot of the attention surrounding these books comes from a big and clever marketing campaign.

I am not going into the books I select expecting to hate them and really prefer it if I don't have to do a ranty review. But if a book pisses me off, you can expect full honesty about it.

The first book I will be reviewing for Hype / Tripe is Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I have a strong suspicion that this is a book that was popular because of the representation it offers, rather than the strength of the story. But I would love to be proven wrong and will be reading and reviewing it in the coming week.

If you have any books you would like to see me write about for this feature, please leave your recommendations in the comments. I already have a pretty good list of titles I plan to read for this, but it will be interesting to get an idea of what books you feel are overhyped.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Thoughts: On the Current State of Booktube

I used to be a voracious fan of Booktube, watching every single video any of my favorites brought out. Unfortunately, I have been hit with such fatigue lately that I skim through videos when I even bother to watch them at all.

I have given this a lot of thought and I am going to break down this topic fully because I have a lot to get off my chest. Please do understand that I still feel Booktubes adds a lot of value to readers. Individual content creators work damn hard doing what they do and this is in no way to throw shade in their direction. I simply feel that the current state of Booktube needs some shaking up and I am having a little rant about it.

I have addressed some of this before, but I am going to expand on that with some updated views with the help of Will Ferrell's face.

What is Booktube?

If you are not sure what I am on about, here is a definition of what Booktube is for you:

Booktube is basically a community of content creators who focus on books. This is particularly big in the YA space, with channels like PolandBananasBooks, JessetheReader, and Abookutopia dominating the space for the past few years.

Most videos follow a specific theme or concept such as reviews, book hauls, TBR (To Be Read) videos, bookshelf tours, and monthly wrap-ups.

Booktubers often attend big events, sometimes even as guests on panel discussions. They are seen as minor celebrities in the community.

The Problem With Sponsored Content

Because many of the bigger names in the Booktube space have over 100,000 subscribers, they get approached by publishers, book subscription boxes and more to do sponsored content. What this is means is that the Booktuber will do a video that is either wholly or partly sponsored where they will mention/promote a specific title or item. These videos them get reviewed by the sponsor before publication to ensure they are shown in a good light.

The content creator also has to state directly at the beginning of the video and in the description box that it is sponsored so there is full disclosure to their audience.

Most videos by the big names these days are sponsored. This is a problem as they are basically selling their right to an honest opinion on that specific item. They are paid ambassadors who might be too scared to say anything honest about anything their sponsors publish for fear of them not wanting to work together in future.

What this has created is a bunch of super positive and happy videos raving about the latest hyped title. The kicker is that most of the Booktubers don't even bother to read the book, but I will talk more about that a bit later.

Because of this, I just don't trust many Booktubers anymore. And that's sad because a lot of them were not afraid of honesty in the past. This does not mean that they don't genuinely love the books they are promoting, but how do I really know that?

Same New, Same Old

Leading on from the sponsored content issue is the problem that most big Booktubers are all essentially producing the same videos.

If a publisher wants to hype an upcoming release, they will contact all the big names, send them copies and do a sponsored post for that title. This means that at the same time, this book will be hyped by these Booktubers. It's pretty obvious when everyone is talking about the same book at the start of their videos.

This is ok in theory, but it gets boring when you hit video number five of the same sort of thing.

Also, most bookhauls contain the same new releases. I get that everyone wants the same new books, but there are plenty of backlist titles that never get spoken about. I know the odd Booktuber who does have some older books in their TBR and it's awesome. A good example is Emily Fox, who is always looking to diversify what she reads.

Writing Books and Reading Books are not the Same Thing

There is this trend currently where every Booktuber is writing a book. And vlogging about it. And using their channel to promote something that isn't even signed yet.

This is not why I started following Booktubers and some of these videos strike me as taking advantage of their audience. They are also pretty boring and add no value to my Booktube experience.

I started getting addicted to Booktube because I loved hearing other readers rave about books I love or want to read and I really feel like this aspect of it has been diluted. I don't care about the novels they are writing. Especially when there is this element of secrecy around it. "Oh, I can't say anything. I don't want to give anything away."

Here is a newsflash. I don't care. I have seen the "quality" of writing Booktubers have produced thus far and am not exactly blown away. Being a popular book reviewer and being a good writer are not the same thing. There is one person in particular who self-published his stuff and acts like he is the gift to the YA world. He used to give great reviews, but now his channel is simply gushing about his writing. Self-reviews, if you will.

I really feel that, if a Booktuber wants to write, they should create a new channel for this purpose.

Following Trends Hating on Popular Books

There was a time, shortly after the publication of the fifth book in the Throne of Glass series, where Booktubers started unhauling their copies of the series, saying how bad they are.

I have no idea who started this, but it seemed a bit fishy to me that suddenly it was trendy to hate on SJM and her books because she made Bad Choices.

I don't see many Booktubers supporting books deemed as generally unpopular anymore and there is always a series du jour that seems the be in the spotlight. I wonder if this is because people are afraid to admit they liked that unpopular title because it makes them an outlier.

Do Booktubers Even Read Anymore?

Every month, Booktubers do big bookhauls where they get 20-30 odd books and show them off. But, at the end of the month, viewers are lucky if they have read even one or two of these.

To me, this is madness. I also see so many unhauls where Booktubers give away a ton of books they have not read because they got them as ARCs but didn't really want them or never felt like reading them.

I feel that a lot of Booktubers these days are promoting having massive collections rather than actually reading and enjoying them. I mean, this is ok but there should be more emphasis on the reading and enjoyment of the books they own rather than how pretty and color-coordinated their shelves are.

So, there it is. The basic reasons why I don't really care about Booktube outside of a few favorites anymore.

I also know it can be hard to come up with original content and I am sure a lot of Booktubers feel the demands of posting regular videos. It's a proper job with an interactive audience who are ready to judge and pick up the pitchforks on the drop of a hat.

Maybe I will do a post featuring those channels that I still watch and love.

I don't mind if you disagree with this post, as it's just my views based on my experience the past two years. Share your thoughts in a comment below!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Response to Sunday Times Article "My Big, Fat Geek Expo"

Traditional rag, Sunday Times, decided that it was ok to print an article titled "My Big, Fat Geek Expo" this past weekend, covering Comic-Con Africa. Written by Oliver Roberts, the article made many members of the South African pretty angry. And rightly so.

You can read the full turd on the face of journalism here, but I have chosen some of the pearls from it so you don't have to.

"Obese, puffing Darth Vader." 

"I don't think there is much difference between a nerd and a geek; I think "geek" is just an updated and much less ugly word for the same entity." 

"What a geek does to express their passion for something is to go completely over-the-top about it and, as a result, sometimes or often, become a bit annoying." 

"They started whooping and pumping their skinny carpal-tunneled wrists and spraying droplets of saliva." 

"Geeks are so intolerably polite and sycophantic."

Now, I didn't go to ComicCon. I had my concerns about the event meeting expectations and opted to wait for feedback from attendees before committing to CCA 2019.  But, as a geek, I feel it is important to raise awareness for this sort of nonsense and call out both Sunday Times and Oliver Roberts for this article.

Firstly, why would they send someone like Roberts to cover an event that he very clearly has no interest in attending? Nor does Roberts possess even one nano-fraction of geek culture as its foundation. This event was a big deal for many South Africans, many of whom made the trek up to Johannesburg to attend it. There were many more appropriate journalists that could have covered Comic-Con Africa for Sunday Times who would have provided an insightful article on the event. 

This article has no value whatsoever to anyone actually wanting feedback on the event. It just seems to serve as a podium for an adult form of playground bullying, calling out geeks and their behavior as something undesirable and worthy of mockery. In publishing this, Sunday Times is showing that they agree with this mindset and that fat-shaming and slut-shaming are ok.

We should be living in a world where people are encouraged to embrace who they are and be proud of what they love. This article makes a mockery of this and even suggests such behavior is shameful and annoying.

The worst part of this whole mess is that it is targeting a group of people who have been in the crosshairs of bullies for their whole lives. Geek culture has only recently become more "mainstream" and Cons serve as a platform for geeks to embrace their fandoms, not be aggressively ridiculed for it in a supposedly reputable newspaper.

It's 2018 and there is no place for this sort of article. There never was. There never will be.

Step down, Oliver Roberts. Your archaic opinion is an insult to anyone and everyone who has ever cared about a fandom. Oh, and the game you referenced in your trash article? It's actually called "Exploding Kittens" not "Exploding Cats", something you would know if you actually bothered to do some research.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Katherine Webber

Title: Only Love Can Break Your Heart
Author: Katherine Webber
Publisher: Walker Books (August 2018)

Sometimes a broken heart is all you need to set you free… Reiko loves the endless sky and electric colours of the Californian desert. It is a refuge from an increasingly claustrophobic life of family pressures and her own secrets. Then she meets Seth, a boy who shares a love of the desert and her yearning for a different kind of life. But Reiko and Seth both want something the other can't give them. As summer ends, things begin to fall apart. But the end of love can sometimes be the beginning of you...

I received a review copy of this book from PanMacmillan SA, so a huge thank you to them for thinking of me and continuing to be so awesome.

I admit I had not heard of this book before receiving it, though I was eyeing the author's debut novel, Wing Jones. 

This is a YA Contemporary with a small twist on the genre, where it dips its toes into magical realism. This aspect was not overdone and simply added a unique touch to the storytelling experience.

I particularly enjoyed the departure from the usual YA trope of girl-meets-boy, boy-heals-girl.

Reiko is a strong character that you will definitely care about by the end of the book. She doesn't have that affected John-Greenesque way of talking that seems to infect a lot of emotionally-charged YA books these days.

I really don't want to give too much away, but I can tell you that if you enjoy Jandy Nelson and John Green, you will adore this.

I cannot wait to read Wing Jones!

Friday, August 31, 2018

Magic 101: Tips for Getting into Magic: The Gathering

I imagine that for players looking to start playing an established game like Magic: The Gathering, it's kind of like standing on the edge of a pool, wanting to dive on. Only, when you do, you realize that the pool was a mirage hiding a stormy ocean filled with overwhelming waves, crosscurrents and hidden rocks.

This is literally when I felt like when I started playing again four or so years back. Magic is vastly complicated. Not only are there various kinds of formats to play, there are so many cards, products, and events to choose from, that finding an easy point of entry is challenging.

For this post, I am not going to be discussing any of the rules and other technicalities around actually playing Magic. This is simply going to focus on the best ways to get started with minimal confusion and wastage of money. This is based on my own experiences and observations and I am sure other players may disagree with some of these points. However, I feel that players who have been competitive for a long time can forget how confusing it can be as a beginner and sometimes give advice that can be either overly complex or impractical.

Let me shatter the first myth that a lot of new players believe. You cannot simply buy a preconstructed deck, learn the basic rules, and go play at your local game store (LGS) and expect to do well. Preconstructed decks are those sealed products many stores sell as an entry point into the game. The current incarnation of these are the Plainswalker decks, which include a 60 card deck and a single booster.

I am not being dismissive of this product at all, as I also maintain that this should be the first item any new player should buy.

A Plainswalker deck is only really enjoyable if you play against another Plainswalker deck as they are designed to be at a similar power level. To take this deck to an event, where you will be playing against people who have spent thousands on building finely tuned decks, is just madness and would be a soul-crushing experience for any new player. However, if you attend events purely with the intention of gaining experience and seeing other decks in action, then you will not be disappointed in your final standings and will hopefully remain encouraged keep playing the game.

Also, new players should be misled into buying boosters. This is the biggest waste of money as you would be better off looking for specific cards you need instead of relying on chance. Each booster only contains one rare card, which might not even be of any monetary value. Boosters are good for a format of Magic called Draft and as prizes. That's about it.

Magic has a very complex rules system, so one should master the basics first. Practice as often as possible so they become second nature and you are able to put more focus on what your opponent is doing and your potential interactions with him/her. You will never stop progressing and developing as a player, so you should treat every person you meet and play with as an opportunity to expand your skills and knowledge. There are a plethora of resources online and, if you are unsure about anything, rather look it up right away before assumptions breed incorrect habits.

Pick a local store that has regular events and get to know the people there, as these will be your best resources to not only learn from but also to trade with when you are ready to build your first deck. Even if you are not playing in an event that day, hang around and watch others play. Most Magic players are in the habit of talking through their turns to assist their opponent in understanding what they are doing and to give the opportunity to respond. This is a great way to pick up information and learn how various cards and decks work.

You will also notice that Magic has several formats to chose from. The one you pick will depend on your goals as a player and is also influenced by funds. I will only detail the more popular ones here for simplicity's sake.
  • Standard: This is the most popular entry point for new players, as it can only be played with cards from the most recent card sets. It can get expensive as older cards are no longer legal to play and new decks are required to be built. Also, this format tends to inflate the secondary market card value if certain cards see a lot of play, making it even more pricey to stay competitive in.
  • Modern: This format has a larger base of cards to work from, dating back to 8th Edition (2003) upwards. This means that, in theory, one would have a wide choice of decks to chose from. However, there are very popular decks that do well and will continue to dominate the format. However, it is still possible to put together a cheaper deck and still do well in Modern. I always suggest Elves or Goblins, as these decks only use one colour and are straightforward to learn to play well.
  • Commander - This is a fun, multiplayer format that has some great preconstructed decks available on the market. It's casual and a good pick for those wanting to play social Magic. It can also be as inexpensive or expensive as your tastes allow. However, you do need to understand the fundamentals of Magic before diving into this format, as it can get very complex, especially when you need to keep track of and understand what 3 other players are doing.
When you are comfortable, you can then start collecting cards for the deck you would like to build. I reccomend checking out various decklists online so that you can get an idea if you 

As mentioned, the internet offers a host of resources to learn from. Here are some of my top choices for new players:

I hope this has been of some help! Please let me know if you have any questions?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

5 YA Books With Kick-Ass Female Leads

Because it's Women's Month here in South Africa and I needed a good excuse to do another list, I thought I would recommend some underrated YA novels with memorable, independent female leads.

I didn't want to point out the obvious books that most people have read already, so hopefully, there is something here you haven't tried yet.

1. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

"It is this kindness of his that unsettles me most. I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrote wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.” 

Grave Mercy is the first book in His Fair Assasin trilogy. This series has always been a bit of a mystery to me because, frankly, more people should be reading it and talking about it.

The first book focuses on Ismae, one of a select group of assassin nuns, trained to do the bidding of Death himself.

Ismae is awesome and 100% fierce and capable. This reads more like a Historical novel than a Fantasy and, if you enjoy books with an atmospheric setting, then this is the book for you.

2. Sabriel by Garth Nix

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

Perhaps more well-known, Sabriel is the first installment of an exciting fantasy series by Australian author, Garth Nix.

Sabriel, at the age of 18, finds out her father is missing and is given the responsibilities of his job as the Abhorsen, a special kind of necromancer. She is forced to use her ingenuity and wits to survive and figure out what happened to her father.

I first read this novel in high school and it has remained a firm favorite. Sabriel is still one of my favorite characters along with her demon-feline companion, Mogget.

3. The Mediator by Meg Cabot

“Sometimes, the only way you can make someone listen is with your fist. This is not a technique espoused, I know by the diagnostic manuals on most therapists' shelves.Then again nobody ever said I was a therapist.” 
The Mediator series is probably my favorite of Meg Cabot's books, which is really saying something as I went through a serious Meg Cabot phase in my late teens. I mean, I have probably read over thirty of them.

This series features Suze Simon, a sassy teen with the ability to speak to and help the dead. This often ends up with her in some dangerous situations, throwing punches and saving her fellow classmates from the restless dead. This series was well before the days of Twilight and I think, had it been published a good decade later, it would have been even more popular.

I know it's been over 18 years since the first book came out, but I am still waiting for this series to be made into a CW series or something. Hope springs eternal.

4. The Magician's Guild by Trudi Canavan

“How am I going to make friends with these people if all I can think of is how easy it would be to rob them?” 
The first in The Black Magician trilogy, this novel introduces us to Sonea, a street urchin who suddenly discovers she has magical abilities and is thrust into the elite world of The Magicians' Guild, where she is the first from the slums to be considered to train.

I loved Sonea and her growth as a character throughout this series. In the early naughties, it was also unusual for a fantasy series to have a female lead, so that's why this series also stood out for me.

5. The Dark Days Club - Alison Goodman

"I am no warrior, sir, nor do I aspire to be. I have been taught to sew and sing and dance, and my duty is to marry, not fight demons. Look at me: I am an Earl's daughter, not a man versed in swords and fisticuffs.”
Set in Victorian England, The Dark Days Club follows Lady Helen as she discovers that demons lurk in the shadows and sets about to follow a destiny beyond society parties and finding a handsome Duke to marry.

Helen is an interesting character, as she has to deal with the gender oppression of the 1800's that demands women be meek and obedient. This creates a fun internal conflict to read as Helen learns more about herself and fights with her desire to be a true lady.

Have you read any of these? And have I left anyone off who deserves a mention? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tips: How to Grow Your Own Seedlings this Spring

Thanks to Checkers and their Little Garden promotion earlier this year, I have become quite addicted to growing things.

Checkers Little Garden
The Little Garden promotion rewarded shoppers with a mystery seedling kit per R150 spent at Checkers. There were 24 different seedlings from flowers to veggies and herbs.

It was just unfortunate that this special was right in the middle of autumn. Even though Checkers promised that the seedlings would survive the mild South African winter, it is still not ideal for new gardeners. Mine mostly survived and I now have a flowering garden to look forward to and enjoy this spring. However, I did want more variety and investigated how to mimic the Little Gardens with my own seeds.

I had great success planting my own seeds and, because it's now a great time to plant them, decided to put together this post to help everyone else wanting to try their hand at growing their own.

It is lots of fun, super rewarding and also cheaper than getting punnets of seedlings from the nursery.

Here is what you will need to start off:

  • Palm peat
  • Seed packets of your choice
  • An old bucket
  • Seagro Organic Plant Food
  • Plenty of fresh water (5 liters to start)
  • small pots - 5cm in diameter

The palm peat comes in a brick and consists of coconut fiber. It is 100% organic and provides a soft, fine medium for the seedlings to grow in. Potting soil is simply too coarse and the seedlings will have to work harder to sprout. It also retains moisture well so you will have to water your seedlings less frequently. 

I have used Starke Ayres palm peat, which retails at around R35. 

You will need to prepare the palm peat first as this will take some time. Find a 10l bucket and fill it with 5l water. Unwrap your brick of palm peat and drop it in the water. Leave it to swell and go read a book or watch some tv. It will take 10-20 minutes for the peat to absorb all the water and soften. 

Because the peat can be lacking in nutrients, you will need to help your seedlings along. I recommend mixing some Seagro into your bucket before preparing your pots. Seagro is made from fish and provides the plants with nutrients for optimal growth. It is also 100% organic and can be used without the risk of burning the plants and overdoing it. It costs around R90 for a bottle that will last you all year.

Now it is time to prepare your pots. I have suggested 5cm plastic pots, as they are super cheap and can be reused for years to come. You can also use old seedling punnets, but make sure you rinse them in a weak dilution of bleach and water to kill any lingering harmful fungus or parasites.

Fill your pots three-quarters full with your peat mixture and compact well. then take your seeds and sprinkle some on the surface of the peat. Six seeds per pot should be sufficient, as some might not sprout at all.

Take some more peat and sprinkle a layer no more than 1cm deep over the seeds. press down gently, as you do not want to damage the seeds.

Now is the time to gently water them, to help the peat settle around the seeds and secure them.

Place your pots in a sunny, protected area and check on them every morning and evening. Water them only if the soil looks dry on the surface. This is easy to see with peat, as it will go a light brown. Your seeds should sprout according to the guide on their packet and will be ready to move to bigger pots when they have 4-6 leaves established.

Remember that sun is essential for growth and will prevent the stems being weak and long, what is termed as "leggy".

This method can be used for starting your flowering plants, herbs, and veggies.

Happy gardening!