Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Last month, Netflix launched the first season of the She-Ra reboot, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.

My memories of the original 1985 Filmation series are hazy at best, as I was too young to really follow and appreciate it. So, this is not going to be a comparison between the old and the new. I think enough people have done that already. I also want to put it out there upfront that I am well over the target age for this show.

When Netflix let the world know that is would be hosting the She-Ra reboot, helmed by one of my favorite artists Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, Lumberjanes) I was there like a bear. I had been following Noelle for a whole on social media and enjoyed her perspective on the world. I also knew that, like her other work, she would be sure to bring across a strong diversity message with She-Ra.

When they released the first stills from the show, there was an immediate backlash that, frankly, pissed me off. People, mainly men, where complaining that She-Ra was androgynous. That she didn't have curves. That the animation was shitty and simplistic. Noelle Stevenson had people rage-tweeting her for ruining their childhood.

This sort of reaction is exactly the level of stupid one can expect from social media these days and I can say, now that I have seem a fair chunk of season one, that the show does not deserve it.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power  is a well-scripted show with lovable characters and an engaging plot. Adora, our main character, is 3-dimensional and, while filled with doubt at times, takes on the various challenged presented to her head-on. The relationship between Adora and the main antagonist, Catra, is deep and complex and seems to form the foundation for much of the arcing storyline.

The animation is engrossing and we are even treated to the classic-style cutscene whenever Adora transforms into She-Ra, a nod to the original series.

The outstanding aspect of this series, however, is the representation and diversity presented. We get characters of different ethnicities, body types and sexual orientations. There are strong females everywhere and only one prominent (and very likely queer) male  in the main cast. This is a much-needed thing where we are usually dominated by strong male characters and females in need of rescuing.

Season One clearly sets the stage for the rest of the series, getting the audience familiar with the characters, setting and background.

I cannot fault the show in any way and highly recommend to give it a watch. This in spite of being 20 years above the age of the target audience.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Opinion: Girl Gamers and Toxic Community Perceptions

As many of you know by now, I am an active member in the local Magic: the Gathering community, running regular events and a recently qualified L1 judge. I have been playing Magic consistently for 5 years or so and it is a large part of my current personal identity.

I have also started playing online multiplayer games (Counter Strike: Global Offensive, mainly) in the hopes of leveling up my skills and situational awareness to better my single-player gameplay.

This past weekend, I attended my first Judges Conference, where the topic of gender balance in the Magic community was brought up. To put this into a very real perspective, of the attendees at this event, I was the only female Judge present. There were two other girls who were there with the aim of becoming Judges. So, this was already indicative of the lack of gender balance in Magic, a game where males and females should be on level footing as competitors.

This got me thinking, as there is a strong correlation between how women are treated in Magic and how they are treated in an online game, such as CS:GO. Before you keyboard warriors get upset with me, remember the points I am raising now are based on my first-hand experience. I do not need you to mansplain matters to me as this is literally the reality of what I and other women and non-binary members of many gaming communities face.

Julia "juliano" Kiran of Sweden and Team Secret.

Firstly, the perception that women are lesser players needs to be shot in the head. Kill it. Dead. If a woman does well at her chosen game, it is not because of luck but rather skill and hours of practice. Look, I am still trash at CS;GO, but it takes hours and hours of practice to top the scoreboards, even in casual play. That doesn't matter. I am on the same footing as any other noob would be. Some guys have this archaic idea that women are simply not as good as they are or that losing to a woman comes down to luck.

Secondly, women are not gaming to pick up men. We are not in the channel or room to be your tits and ass. If finding a woman is a goal for you, join Tinder. Don't assume we are single / straight / interested just because we are friendly in in-game chat. This happens at least once a session to me. Sadly, it's the 1% of players that can make girls feel uncomfortable. The same applies to female cosplayers, who don't get treated with respect.

Women aren't always playing because of their boyfriends. Sometimes, women want to play because they enjoy the competition and winning. Making this assumption is not only sexist, it puts women on the back-foot, further adding to the nonsense they have to deal with while trying to enjoy their chosen hobby.

Making crude / rude comments is not going to make me leave or cry. This comes from the male entitlement complex that the game is theirs and theirs only to enjoy and should not be ruined by the presence of a real female. Yeah, this is a dig at those guys who like having big boobs on their avatars. I am not easily put off by this sort of nonsense fortunately and find it, most of the time, amusing. There are also others around who will shoot the guy down without me having to step in. Although, I usually will anyway because I fear nothing. Also, all I usually have to do is rank higher than them and they will rage-quit the server.

In the past week alone, I have had salty male players make reference body parts of not just myself but the other ladies in-game. One special person also called two of us fat, hoping to upset us.

My response?

The intimidation factor of being in the 5% or less minority is real. 2 years ago, I qualified and played in the Nationals for Magic. I was one of only 2 girls who competed in a field of 150 players. It is scary and intimidating and immediately puts one on the defensive. This is a feeling I can guarantee no male player has ever felt. Ever. The same can be said for being the only girl in-game on CS:GO, though there are a few more girls than I was expecting who play.

My advice if you are a girl wanting to play? Put on your emotional kevlar and do it. Don't care what others think as their comments probably stem from their own insecurities. Keep at it. Get good. Get better. Kick ass.

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!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thoughts: On Comic-Con Africa and South Africans' Tolerance For Mediocrity

I know some of you who know me from various social media will be looking at this post and thinking, "Oh, no. She's actually done it and lost the plot." Let me assure you that is not the case at all. In fact, I remain firmly grounded in a little universe called reality.

A month or so ago, I expressed some unhappiness at the guest list and sponsors for Comic-Con Africa. My basic argument, which I will elaborate on a little more further on, is that I feel that Comic-Con Africa is simply not living up to the hype the name and initial marketing suggested.

As of the writing of this, less than two months before the event, Comic-Con Africa have confirmed a grand total of 13 guests. 13. Six of these are local guys.

So, of the 7 remaining guests, who is there to get excited about?

There's this guy...

When the announcement was made that Jason Momoa would be attending the event, all women with reproductive organs had a mass squee and rushed off to buy tickets to an event that they previously had zero desire to attend.

That basically means that anyone who would like to meet the man who played Khal Drogo and Aquaman, they would have to elbow and bite their way through queues of estrogen-fuelled fans for a glimpse of Momoa's visage.

There is also this little caveat on the Comic-Con Africa website:
These guests may cancel their appearance/attendance at any time due to personal or professional reasons after confirming their participation.
The Organiser will not be held responsible in any way or held liable to any party for the cancellation of the guests or other invited participants.
All guest profiles will be correct at the time of publication. In the event of a guest cancellation, the organiser will use any or all platforms to communicate this.
What if Momoa cancels his appearance because he has sniffles? All of those folks who have bought tickets solely to see him will have to find something else to get excited about.

Unless you are a huge fan of Kevin Sussman, the guy who owns the comic books store in The Big Bang Theory, I honestly don't see much else for the general public to fawn over.

I know it's unfair to do a direct comparison to San Diego Comic-Con as South Africa is smaller and budget restricted, however, I just want to do a quick example of the problems of expectations versus reality. I am purely looking at actors and not a holistic representation of their Special Guest Showcase.

This year, SDCC saw the likes of:

  • Breaking Bad panel
  • New Doctor Who panel
  • Star Trek: Discovery panel
  • Gal Gadot (WonderWoman)
  • Ben Affleck (Batman)
  • Supernatural panel
... plus many more that featured most of the main cast members.

I am sure that illustrates my point.

Do not call a mediocre event Comic-Con and then deliver something that is a fraction of expectations set by this misnomer.

The second thing about this event that bothers me is there seems to be little or no support from big sponsors. While I am pleased to see this is another platform for local crafters to exhibit their wares, there seem to be no direct sellers of official merchandise.

South Africans have always struggled with getting our hands on official merchandise and most of our events feature hand-made items or a small selection of merchandise at exorbitant prices. Surely, a Comic-Con event should then be a great platform for fans to find items directly from brands such as Marvel and DC?

Not one large international geeky brand is directly representing themselves as far as I can see. Most of the exhibitors are the same folk we see at other local Cons. 

I do not know why this is. Is it due to poor planning or the lack of interest in bringing the goods to South Africa as a whole? Who knows.

I will use Funko to illustrate this point. Funko is a super-trendy range of cute vinyl figurines that can pretty much be seen everywhere these days, including Vodacom and Dischem.

In keeping with the Jason Momoa theme, here is a sample of the Pop for Khal Drogo:

The average cost of a Funko in South Africa is R260 when purchased from a brick-and-mortar retail store. Takealot have them on a slightly reduced price of R235 and you can get them from Raru at roughly R170, but wait at least 3 weeks as they come directly from overseas.

If you live in the US, You can look at paying an average of $10 for a Pop, which equates to around R132 depending on which way the ANC sneezed that week. This is a massive difference!

Funko's local distributor, GammaTek, obviously have to put their cut onto the local wholesale price. This in addition to import duties. So I do understand, but it doesn't mean that I have to purchase said Pops at R260 each.

GammaTek is responsible for the Funko Pop stand at Comic-Con Africa. I do believe that they will have some exclusives, however, these will still be at inflated prices. And most of what they will have, I will be able to walk into a lot of retail stores and get without paying entry as well.

If Funko themselves were directly involved, Pops would surely be more affordable to the average fan, as it would cut out supplier costs from the final purchase price. This logic can be applied to any merchandise made available.

My last point is probably my most critical, given that I am a book blogger. There are no authors confirmed for Comic-Con Africa. None. Not even the more successful local authors have confirmed panel discussions. This is truly baffling because surely this is the ideal platform to promote books and reading.

And there are those, sitting there with their Comic-Con mugs half-full, who will argue that there are comic book artists in attendance. Surely that is the same thing? Actually, it isn't. Comic books / graphic novels appeal to a relatively niche market, while traditional novels have a lot more readers. Of course, this is shifting as the market grows, but traditional novels are simply a lot more accessible.

Here is a sampling of the authors who attended SDCC 2018:

  • Cory Doctrow
  • Elizabeth Hand
  • Deborah Harkness
  • RA Salvatore
The sad part is that we don't even have to look overseas to get reasonable author representation as we have many fantastic writers in genres that would appeal to the typical Convention visitor. And I am sure many of them would love the opportunity to attend as a Guest Speaker.

Some of my suggestions for South African authors are:
  • Lauren Beukes (she is also involved in graphic novels)
  • Deon Mayer
  • Zukiswa Wanner
  • Charlie Human
  • Sarah Lotz
  • Henrietta Rose-Innes
  • Nerine Dorman
.. and the above list is certainly not exhaustive.

So, I am not impressed. There is very little distinguishing this Con from the few others we already have locally other than a higher entry fee and some tactical smoke and mirrors marketing.

South Africans also have this amazing tendency to be happy with mediocrity. When we get served crap on a silver platter we go "Ah, well at least the platter is pretty." And this is wrong because it means ventures like Conic-Con Africa will continue to be sub-par and not even come close to international standards.

Stop dressing events like this up and making more of them than what they actually are. There is very little difference between Comic-Con Africa and rAge besides one ex-Dothraki.

I will not be attending based on my thoughts above. I simply do not see the value of time or money in this event. I also expect many to disagree and that is perfectly fine. I am entitled to not attend just as you are fully allowed to go. I am not stopping anyone from going and I am sure initial attendance will be huge. But it remains to be seen if they can sustain these numbers for future events.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thoughts: Why I Play Magic: The Gathering

Those who know me well will be familiar with my near-obsession with a little trading card game called Magic: The Gathering. I don't think they necessarily understand it, however. It probably takes a Magic player to really get another Magic player, but I am going to attempt to explain my journey into Magic and the cornerstone it has been in my life.

During high school, I dabbled a little with the game, getting some free cards and the like at an early incarnation of ICON,  the original gaming convention. I remember looking through boxes of cards and playing in an event where some boy decided that I was perhaps easy game as my wide-eyed wonder must have been very apparent. He offered me a stack of cards to start my collection if I could beat him. I beat him and he generously gave me the cards, which I took home and put in a shoebox.

I think I gave them away a few years later, not really aware of the potential value these cards may have had later on. The story of many regretful players, I am sure.

I didn't give Magic much thought for a long time. The bustling community of players was simply outside of my world of experience, even when I played and collected Pokemon for a time.

And then, in 2014, I was introduced to a venue for geeks, DeeTwenty. There were supposed to be more players for a boardgame session, but I grew bored and someone offered to teach me the basics of Magic. I found out that it was a regular thing for players to meet and compete every Friday night and decided to start playing, as I was looking for a means to meet more likeminded people.

Little did I realize then just how much Magic would influence my life. As my card collection grew, so did my social circle and skills in the game. I started attending more serious events, in spite of feeling out of my depth, and began to take the game a little more seriously.

I even taught my boyfriend to play and now it is a hobby we happily share and get excited over, especially when new cards come out that we want.

These days, I am a more casual player, passionate about introducing new players to the game. I play at least twice a week and love the banter and camaraderie the community offers. I feel a bit lost if I do not get my weekly fix.

What can you gain from playing Magic?

  • A sense of community - I have made so many friends through the game that I have lost count.
  • Feeling of accomplishment - Magic is a gradual process. You will not suddenly become a good player after a few games. It takes a while to learn the dynamics and nuances involved in playing.
  • Confidence - At your local store, you will meet so many people from all sorts of walks of life and you will learn how to communicate and interact with these people.
  • Analytical skills - Magic has taught me to think a few steps ahead and plan for possible outcomes. You can never control what your opponent will do but you can certainly plan for it! Your computational maths skills will also improve.
  • Improved memory - Magic is complex and has literally thousands of different cards which many rules and interactions associated with them. Learning these and remembering them at a critical point in the game could mean the difference between a win or a loss.
If you want to learn more about Magic, pop into your local store where they will give you an intro pack and a quick lesson on how the game works. There are also many educational YouTube videos for new players looking to improve their knowledge and skill.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Wrap Up: May 2018

Hey everyone!

So this has been an absolutely brilliant month for me in terms of reading progress and book bargains. I feel like I have become a much more productive reader of late and that I am making progress with my Goodreads goal of 100 books this year. I am still way behind schedule, but I am going to push to get more reading done.  I sit for far too many hours on Social Media and this is time that could be better spent actually reading books.

The month started off with a bang, as it was the Exclusive Books Warehouse Sale. We have not had one on two years, so I was really excited as every single item on sale was R30 each. Everything! I got up super early and drove out to their Warehouse in Kramerville with Nandi (who sometimes contributes to the blog with reviews).

We arrived at 07h30am and the queue was absolutely insane already. It is clear that Jozi loves books, but doesn't always have the money to spend on them.

After standing for an hour or so in the queue and burning my mouth on my coffee, we were let inside to scratch through tables and tables of all kinds of books. I was really pleased with the overall quality of this sale and saw books less than 2 years' old.

My Sale haul.
I got around 27 books and could easily have bought more if my arms and budget allowed for it!

I read 9 books this month, a record for me. It's been a while since I have managed this many books in one month. We will ignore the fact that some of these are Mills & Boons and very quick reads. The point is that I read them. Dammit.

Books I read this month were:

  • Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
  • The Astonishing Colour of After by Emily XR Pan
  • The Taking by Kimberly Derting
  • Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham
  • The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr
  • Born of Silence by Sherrilyn Kenyon
  • Swept Away by the Enigmatic Tycoon by Rosanna Battigelli
  • The Lieutenant's Online Love by Caro Carson
  • Captivated by the Brooding Billionaire by Rebecca Winters
I will do reviews on some of these in time, as well as a Mills and Boon Mashup Review for May.

A small sample of my TBR.

As much I would like to share my June TBR with you, I have realized that I cannot plan for my moods and never stick to them. Oh well.

If you follow me on Instagram (UrbansedGeek), you will notice an increase in quality and quality posts over the next month or so. I am trying to get my Insta account going properly as I am finding it to be a great way to interact with other bookish people. Also, there is almost no hate there. It's awesome.

Also, you can expect more opinion posts instead of reviews as I have realized that people tend to read those more than reviews, which I suppose can get boring after a while. If you do want to keep up-to-date on my reading, I am on Goodreads as Monique Bernic.

That's it from my side. Have a great June, everyone!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Completely Subjective and Judgmental Opinion on South African Bookstores

I have been debating about this post for a few weeks and I decided that, reactions be damned, I have thoughts to get off my chest.

As a disclaimer, the following points are based purely on observation and my own feelings on the matter. I do not want anyone going into this thinking it is well-researched facts. I have limited retail experience and am simply taking this from the perspective of both a customer and book enthusiast. If you disagree with anything I say, please let me know with a comment and we can get the conversation going.

In my younger and more vulnerable years (yes, I am quoting from The Great Gatsby, you clever bookworm, you), I used to work for Look & Listen, a music store known for having a great selection of genres and knowledge staff. Their offerings extended to DVD's, gaming and the like, but the heart of each store was its music. Their slogan was "for the fans" and I believe, for a time, it really was.

I remember, prior to my employment there, spending hours upon hours finding hidden gems, obscure albums and sitting at one of their listening booths, discovering new music that made me feel things. So it was, in many ways, a dream job for me. I got to chat to people about music, sort through new stock and and expand upon my music knowledge. I am not a one trick pony, you know. It's not just about the books in my head.

But, the digital age loomed over traditional music stores, with customers opting to go online and get iPods. The CD was slowly becoming obsolete and this began to hurt stores like Look and Listen. So, the franchise went into survival mode. They began to look for other avenues of revenue to keep their stores alive and bring feet through the door.

Trinkets like gift bags, branded fan items like keyrings, socks and the like started to dilute the merchandise on offer. CD sales continued to plummet and stock levels dropped with the demand. Not even Look and Listen's famous 3 for R99 sales could help them. And people didn't give a damn about the trinkets. They had specialist stores like Cardies for that sort of thing.

Look and Listen lost their identity and their entire reason for being. No amount of innovation was going to stop the inevitable closure of stores and subsequently the whole franchise. And it is sad and makes my nostalgic heart sore.

Gone are the days of browsing CD racks and jamming to the latest album from a favorite artist. The era of Empire Records has passed and this generation of teenagers will never experience the joy of visiting a music store that offers that unique experience. Now, they will be streaming Taylor Swift's latest on YouTube or Spotify, in what is essentially a solitary experience from the comfort of home.

I do have a point for you, bookstores. I feel there is a lot of learning that can be done from looking at traditional music stores as an example.

The digital age has impacted the book industry, too. It's just been a slower process probably in part due to the tangibility of books. I could get into the ebook versus paperback debate, but this is not the place for that.

I have seen in some local bookstores that they have also began the dilution process. Bringing in boardgames, trinkets and odd gifty things displayed prominently at till points. Mugs with names, pens and more. Bookstores, I am sure you mean well, but this is going to kill your revenue more that it will help. Fancy chairs and coffee are not why you are here.

I do have some ideas, though. Things which I feel are especially lacking in this country as well.

  1. Educate your staff on not just bestsellers, but also lesser known titles. Carry stock of some of those titles.
  2. Don't just buy off publishers' new release lists. See what else is out there. Rather carry less stock of new trade paperback titles, saving your risk of having to flog these off later with sales.
  3. If book 5 is coming out in a series, make sure you carry stock of books 1-4.
  4. Take advantage of your staff's knowledge and have a staff recommendations shelf unique to your store. If Frankie is a Sci-Fi buff, ask him what's good and get a few copies in your store for Frankie to sell.
  5. Stop buying trinket crap. It's a waste of money and no one actually wants it. I promise.
  6. Stock local authors. Put them in a prominent spot in your store. Lower your profit margins on these titles a little to get them into the hands of the people the books were written for.
  7. Use the power of the human element of physical stores. Make sure every customer has a good experience and feels welcome to hang around and browse. 
In short, bookstores need to continue to sell books and sell them well. Remain specialists of the trade and make sure each customer feels taken care of. Keep your shelves full of interesting titles and not just ones that are on current bestseller lists.

Your buyers need to know their stuff and stock your store according to the customer tastes of your area. The buyer has to interface with visitors too and find out what they are reading and what they want but cannot find. 

Book people love talking about books to other book people. Your staff are key in this interaction. It does not take much to have a good general understanding of each genre and the prominent authors who are the figureheads for it. 

I would hate for bookstores as we know them to become yet another nostalgic memory that the online experience cannot replicate. It loses the personal touch that books and reading should be embracing.

A book is expensive these days and people will be more willing to part with their money if they continue to have good experiences with bookstores. If visiting the store and dealing with the staff makes them leave with a smile, then that is a job well done. 

If you are reading this, please leave a comment below on what bookstores mean to you. Why do you visit your local bookstore over buying from an online store? Or have you made the move to purely shopping online for your physical books? Let me know! 

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Publisher: Penguin (January 2018)

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.” 
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

The Hazel Wood is one of those super-hyped books that pretty much everyone is talking about since its release in January.

I have mixed feelings about it, though. It's like those candied nuts you find at flea markets. They smell really good and you want some, but as soon as you bite into it past the sugar, it kinda loses all appeal.

Melissa Albert is a competent writer. Her prose and pacing are brilliant, as is the build up of suspense. The first half of the book was amazing and I was so, so sure that this would be my new favorite read of 2018.

Of course, like the nuts, I was in for disappointment. Suddenly the book seemed to fall apart and the charm and intrigue simply vanished along with any desire I had to find out what was going to happen next. The worst part about this experience is that I cannot tell you what caused this, exactly.

I think, towards the end, the book tried to be too clever. And what happened didn't meet my expectations leading up to that point. I wanted so much more than what was on the page.

If you do want to read something a bit offbeat and different, do give this a try. But also do not let thr hype fool you into believing this is going to blow you away, either.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

Title: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
Publisher: Pan Macmillan (April 2015)

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? 
The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death? 
What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again. 
Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life. 
Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions... 

This was one of those books that made me feel guilty just by looking at it. I received my copy as a gift from Pan Macmillan a few years ago and I was so reluctant to read it. And not for the reasons you are thinking!

My copy is this gorgeous hardback edition with blue-lined pages. The best part is that it's actually signed. It is one of only three books I own signed by international authors and I really didn't want to hurt it in any way by reading it. But I am also cheap and wasn't willing to spend the money on a second copy either.

So, on a whim, I decided to finally read it and I am so glad I did.

Before I get into detail, I just want to put it out there that you should take the Goodreads reviews of this book with a pinch of salt. I think a lot of fans went into it with big expectations because of Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy.

This is a quiet, unassuming read. It's very character-driven and might be percieved as slow if you are not into that kind of thing and prefer your reads more action-packed. Although, there is plenty of action, it just takes place on the sidelines, which is the whole point.

If you enjoy a John Green or a Becky Albertelli, give this one a try. You will love all the characters!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Thoughts: 5 Things I Have Learnt as a Blogger

Looking back, I released recently that I have been blogging and writing book reviews for near on ten years. A part of me feels a little disappointed that I have not attained more success and popularity, but another part of me recognizes that I am not the most perfect or consistent blogger and that it can be tough as a South African blogger to attain the sort of stats American and UK bloggers enjoy.

And that's ok. I am here doing my thing and will definitely take what I have learnt the past decade and try more consciously to apply it.

I also didn't start blogging because I was concerned about popularity. It was an outlet for my bookish passions and it serves that purpose well, no matter how many people read my posts.

If you are looking to start a blog or make yours better, here are some of the key things that stand out for me that I have learnt:

An earlier header while I was still figuring out brand identity.

1. Review What You Like

I admit that I fell into the trap of chasing popular titles so that I could have reviews that I perceived as "current" and what people were interested in buying right then. It seemed to be the best way to get page views and growing my audience.

What I didn't realize at the time was that a review of a popular title gets lost in a whole sea of similar reviews being posted at around the same time. If someone is searching for reviews of, say The Hate U Give, a book that has been on the NYT Bestseller list for over a year now, they will find hundreds of them.

Also taking this approach not only makes reading a chore ( I don't know about you, but I am not that keen to read some of these new, hyped books), it is also bloody hard to think of anything unique to say about the book that other bloggers have not covered already.

I can use all the rant reviews for Zenith as an example. They all say pretty much the exact same things about the book and few Booktubers actually have something new to bring to the discussion. But, it's cool to hate so the views rake up anyway.

This year, I am going to be focusing on books that I want to read, not books I feel like I have to read. I will be able to write more reviews and will hopefully also introduce new books to readers they might not have considered reading before. I also want to keep things positive because I need that kind of energy and the Internet doesn't need more mean, petty people.

2. Numbers Don't Matter

I used to get really bummed out that my stats were not that great compared to other bloggers. I felt like I was incompetent and not doing the right thing. It was so easy to let posts that were "poor performers" get me down, that I forgot the whole purpose of the blog.

If you are blogging for popularity, it affects your approach to the posts you write. Also, just because something is popular today doesn't mean it will be popular tomorrow. I mean, look at fidget spinners.

We live in a fast paced world where it is easy to lose your relevance. People have such short attention spans, jumping from one viral thing to the next like bees to flowers. And everything, particularly blog content is so subjective. It's impossible to stay on trend and still write authentically.

Rather than writing content that I assume will appeal to readers, I am just going to write what I feel like writing about. And if it only resonates with one other soul out there, then that's ok.

Write for yourself first. If you can do this, you will be surprised at the results and what posts readers will enjoy.

Blogging became a great networking tool for me. This was the first ever bloggers' event I attended at Skoobs.

3. Be Yourself

I see so many people in the book community trying to emulate those who are perceived as more successful than them. It is so obvious, it make me cringe. The sad part is, I used to do this too. The fact is, bloggers and influencers who gain success and large amount of followers do so because readers and viewers like who they are as people and have trust in what they say.

It takes time to develop your own voice and every writer is influenced by other writers. But, the more you write, the easier it will be to develop your own style. I find if I read my post a few times before hitting the Publish button, I pick up parts that don't sound like something I would actually say if I was in a conversation with someone. I strive to keep my blog in my own voice and it can be quite humbling to realize how often I subconsciously copy someone else.

Being yourself also creates a level of authenticity that will help readers trust in what you have to say. This is why I am so wary of big influencers these days who do paid promotions. Like, are they really that excited about that book or is it just because they are getting paid to talk about it?

Paid promotions are tempting and often how bloggers and vloggers turn this thing into a career. But I will not go that route with this blog. Getting review copies is one thing, but being paid to promote those books completely wipe away the honesty factor.

Also, don't be afraid to use your blog as a networking tool. I have met so many awesome people through blogging and events. 

4. Domains Make a Difference

For the longest time, I thought I could make it work with just my address. I also thought it was a lot more costly than it actually is to maintain a personalized domain. 

Not having a proper URL unfortunately hurts a lot of bloggers because it shows a level of complacency when it comes to setting the blog and brand identity up properly. Your URL is the first thing potential visitors see and it looks really unprofessional if they have not set up a personalized domain. 

Since moving to, there has been a marked increase in traffic and hits from search engines. It was the best move I could have made not just for the blog, but in my overall online brand. There is the added benefit of having an e-mail address that reflects your blog instead of  using a gmail or other generic account.

Set this up sooner rather than later. There are plenty of hosting companies to select from and lots of tutorials that will enable your to link your Blogger / Wordpress site to the domain.

5. Don't Give Up

Many blogs get started up with the best of intentions and then, because life or the realization that it can be hard work comes up like this massive stumbling block, bloggers stop posting.

Like loom bands, there are so many abandoned and neglected blogs out there, cluttering the universe. Don't do this to your blog. You breathed life into it and to just abandoned it is not fair to both the blog and yourself.

There were many times when I had to deal with work and life issues and felt like kicking this whole thing to the curb. I am glad I didn't and stuck with it. Like I said, I started this whole thing for a reason and it still remains a huge passion project for me. The blog is my way of reconnecting with my love of word and reading and it feels so good when someone comments or shares my posts.

People say blogging is dead. That is like saying writing is dead. Passion is dead. If this is something you want to to try, just do it. And don't worry about what you write or keeping on theme. It is your space so own it.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Mini Review: A Proposal For the Officer by Christy Jefferies (Mills & Boon)

Title: A Proposal For the Officer
Author: Christy Jeffries
Publisher: Mills & Boon True Love (March 2018)

She was used to flying solo…
But that was before Kaleb came on board! 
Temporarily grounded combat pilot Molly Markham didn’t come to Sugar Falls to get serious about a man she barely knows! But when Kaleb Chatterson becomes her unexpected hero, she agrees to date the billionaire software developer to keep their secret from getting out. Except the sexy brainiac—and her pretend boyfriend—is fast turning into the man of her dreams…
Another M&B review!

I really loved this one, and found it to be much stronger than Her Las Vegas Wedding in terms of plot and character. Getting the bind-up of these two is certainly worth it, though.

For those cynics who assume Mills & Boon is about fainting females who simply need a male to complete them, this story will completely bust that assumption.

Molly is a strong, independent lead, who in spite of challenges, stands her ground.

Kaleb is a good match for her, as he is just as stubborn.

I also loved how this book dealt with real issues, such as Molly's Type 1 Diabetes. I actually learnt a lot about this condition from reading this and was so happy that it was done in a realistic way.

Mills and Boon are clearly no longer about having perfect characters and I am loving the True Love range in particular.

There will be even more Mill and Boon Mini Reviews this month, so check back!

Don't forget to pick up the latest titles at your local CNA or subscribe to their bookclub if you are looking to get your fix. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Thoughts: On Second-hand Bookstores and My Top Spots

It's expensive to be an enthusiastic reader in South Africa. Buying books new is just simply not an option for a lot of folks as the price of a new mass market paperback now hovers around the R200 mark.

Also, if one reads 5-10 books in a month, this can tally up very quickly!

This point was made very clearly to me yesterday evening when I was browsing at my local Exclusive Books (Ok, I was really hoping for them to finally get stock of Children of Blood and Bone, with no luck...). A girl was clutching at a copy of The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington and asking her mother if she could get it. The mom turned the book over and, with a dismissive sneer, said, "I am not paying R170 for a book. We can go look at the second-hand book store and get four books for this price."

I felt bad for the kid. She clearly wanted the book and might not find reads she was as enthusiastic about owning at a second-hand store. What makes this even sadder for me is that The Red Ribbon is not some fluffy faire. It looks at the fictionalized lives of the seamstresses of Birken-Auschwitz and weaves in a message of friendship and hope. While this is not the focus of this post, I felt that, had the mother not been so dismissive and read the back of the book, she might have seen more than just the price and realized the true value of the book.

However, readers do need to buy new books as they are ultimately the suppliers for second-hand bookstores, so it can be a bit of a vicious circle.

Therefore, I do advocate supporting local bookstores and buying brand new books, however, I also love bargain-hunting and searching for hard-to-find older titles. There is definitely a place for both kinds of stores as long as books find their way to readers.

There are some really awesome second-hand stores in Johannesburg with really helpful staff and excellent selections. Here are my top 5 recommendations.

All these stores offer the option to trade books back for store credit.

1. Books Galore - Lonehill

One of my favorite spots, Books Galore in Lonehill Shopping Center has been around for many years and offers a great selection of genres, often getting in newer titles as well.

They have, in particular, a fantastic children's selection for all ages and will usually have stock of the more popular titles.

The staff are dedicated and friendly with an excellent knowledge of stock-on-hand.

Shop LL03
Lonehill Shopping Center
Lonehill Boulevard

Telephone: 011 465 5524

Opening Hours:
Monday to Friday: 09:30-18:00
Saturday: 09:30-15:00
Sunday & Public Holidays: 09:00-13:00

2. Books Galore - Edenvale / Greenstone

This branch is a new discovery for me, but I was impressed by the helpful and knowledgeable staff.

They have a well-organised store with a nice focus on Fantasy and Sci-Fi.

I particularly loved the recommendations shelves from the two managers, as it adds a personal touch to the store and experience.

The store can be challenging to find if you do not know the Greenstone area well. It is located in one of the smaller centers opposite Greenstone Mall. Just look for Builder's Express and you are in the right place.

Shop 2a
Greenstone Crescent
Stoneridge Drive
Modderfontein Hill
South Africa

Telephone: 011 452 2421

Opening Hours:
Monday to Thursday: 08:30-18:00
Friday: 08:30-19:00
Saturday: 08:00-17:00
Sunday & Public Holidays: 08:30-16:00

3. Tales and Fables - Victory Park

Based in Victory Park, Takes and Fables has been around since 2006 in it's current form and has an amazing selection of Fantasy titles, including older series such as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms.

They also boast a large children's section and seem to be very well-supported in the community.

I have been there a few times and have always found something interesting, such as a complete set of The Liveship Traders, by Robin Hobb.

Shop 14A
Victory Park Shopping Centre
Cnr of Rustenburg and 2nd Ave
Victory Park

Telephone: 011 782 3660

Opening Hours:
Monday to Saturday: 9am - 6pm
Sunday: 9am - 3pm

4. Bookdealers of Rivonia

If you are not a regular in the area, it would be hard to find Bookdealers of Rivonia's new store. Located opposite Rivonia Primary School, this specialist store is away from the hustle and bustle of shopping malls.

They have a great selection of history books, as well as collectible titles.

Their crime and contemporary sections are also well-stoked and reasonably priced. As an example, I found a decent copy of The Snowman by Jo Nesbo for R47!

If this is out of your way, there are other Bookdealers located in the following areas:

  • Melville
  • Birnam
  • Craighall Park
  • Greenside
40 Wessel Road

Telephone: 011 234 1250

Opening Hours:
Mon: 9am - 5pm
Tue-Fri: 9am - 6pm
Sat-Sun: 9am - 3pm

If you feel I left out some good spots, please comment below and let me know.

Happy bargain hunting!