Monday, 22 August 2016

Travel: Staying in a Traditional Japanese Inn in Kanazawa, Japan

After a lovely overnight stay in Takayama, we headed northwest out of the Gifu Prefecture in to the Ishikawa Prefecture. We visited the absolutely stunning and historic city of Kanazawa. Kanazawa is famous for its preserved streets from the Edo period and the large castle (and its gardens) that sits in the very centre of the city.
Visiting Kanazawa, Japan
As Kanazawa is known for being full of history, we decided this would be the perfect place to try out a tradition Japanese inn, also known as a ryokan. I was a little nervous about this as I usually like the anonymity you can have when staying in a hotel - you can go undetected and nobody cares what you get up to. Ryokans are usually owned by a family and as Japanese people are so polite and friendly, they really want to make sure you have a great stay so tend to be very attentive. As it turns out, I had no reason to be nervous about this as the family were so lovely despite speaking very little English (although their English was better than our Japanese).
Kanazawa, Japan
Me, stood on one of the old streets in the Higashi Chaya geisha district
Kanazawa, Japan
The slippers we had to wear in the ryokan
We stayed in Kanazawa for two nights, but struggled to find accommodation for the two nights. We ended up staying at the Nakayasu Ryokan for one night, and Minshuku Ginmatsu for the other night. They were very close to each other, so it was no bother! We opted for the traditional Japanese rooms each time, but decided against ordering the traditional Japanese food (that would come later in the trip). Upon arrival at both of the ryokans, we were greeted by lovely Japanese women who showed us where to put our shoes and which slippers to change in to. Remember, you can't wear your own shoes inside Japanese buildings - they offer slippers to wear instead. These lovely women then carried our VERY heavy backpacks up stairs in to our rooms - I felt so bad but they wouldn't let us carry them at all. It was also very awkward walking to our rooms. They insisted on following us but as Bob has size 10 feet and the slippers only went up to around a size 6, every time he lifted his foot up to the next step the slippers would fall off his feet - meaning the short trip took twice as long and meant the very small women had to hold our bags for longer!
Kanazawa, Japan
Kanazawa, Japan
A totally natural, not staged at all photo of me and Bob drinking our green tea
When we got to our rooms, I was a little surprised at just how basic they were - there weren't even any beds! It was a plain room with tatami mat floor, a little table and two leg-less chairs. There was a kettle and some green tea for a refreshment. As it turns out, the beds are rolled up and hidden away during the day and are brought out at night time before bed. A little bit like a turn down service. The bed consisted of a very thin mattress, a pillow and a duvet cover. It's quite comfortable at first, but I can confirm after two nights I was looking forward to a proper mattress.
Kanazawa, Japan
The highlights of staying in a ryokan were hands down: the traditional Japanese outfit and the traditional Japanese bath. The two go hand in hand. The Japanese outfit is essentially a big dressing gown with a patterned belt, you wear it when in your room and when visiting the Japanese baths. There is a really attractive photo of me demonstrating how to wear it. I had my underwear on underneath as I wasn't really sure of the etiquette. Do you go nude or not? If you were a man, you'd wear the belt on your hips whereas women wear it on their waist. You also get a pair of super sexy socks to wear. You know the kind with the gap between your big toe and the others, so you look like you have an actual camel toe? I brought them back with me and they are so funny! There is also a cute little jacket to wear, in case you decide to go out in public in this outfit.
Kanazawa, Japan
The Japanese baths are basically just a big spa room with a huge heated swimming pool in it. You have to go in naked, which scared me a bit but as this ryokan was so small I risked it and ended up being the only one in there. Yes, they're for separate genders so if you're with someone of the opposite sex you won't be able to go in together. Also, if you have tattoos you might not be able to go in as they're hugely frowned upon in Japan. I have a tiny one on my wrist and managed to get away with it. So, what do you do in a Japanese bath? Well first you have a shower to make sure you're clean before getting in the water. You wouldn't want to bathe in the same water as a smelly person so it's the same the other way. After you're showered, just get in the bath. It's heated water and you usually get a beautiful view of a Japanese garden to look at. They're very simple, but I found it so relaxing to just sit and chill in a huge bath. Plus the excitement of being naked in a public room added to the fun! I didn't get a photo of the Japanese bath, but a quick Google search will show you what I mean. 
Come back soon to hear about what we got up to in Kanazawa!

Read the rest of my Japan travel posts.

Rachael Amy 

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Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Blog Tour & Review: The Summer That Melted Everything


PAGES: 310

FIRST LINE: 'The heat came with the devil.'

"Fielding Bliss has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heatwave scorched the small town of Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil.
When local prosecutor Autopsy Bliss publishes an invitation to the devil to come to the country town of Breathed, Ohio, nobody quite expects that he will turn up. They especially don't expect him to turn up as a tattered and bruised thirteen-year-old boy.
Fielding, the son of Autopsy, finds the boy outside the courtroom and brings him home, and he is welcomed in to the Bliss family. The Blisses believe the boy, who calls himself Sal, is a runaway from a nearby farm town. Then, as a series of strange incidents implicate Sal - and riled by the feverish heatwave baking the town from the inside out - there are some around town who start to believe that maybe Sal is exactly who he claims to be.
But whether he's a traumatised child or the devil incarnate, Sal is certainly one strange fruit: he talks in riddles, his uncanny knowledge and understanding reaches far outside the realm of a normal child - and ultimately his eerily affecting stories of Heaven, Hell, and earth will mesmerise and enflame the entire town."

WOW. Just look at the front of that book cover! Isn't is a beauty? I would definitely pick this up in a bookshop if I saw it! But the question is - after reading it - would I be glad I picked it up? The answer is... yes! When Scribe emailed and asked if I would like a copy of this book and to join in with the blog tour, they said that if I enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird, I would like this book. Well, you only have to mention that book title and I am SOLD. After reading the blurb, I knew this was going to be a special book. TKAM mixed with the devil? Add in some awesome names like Autopsy and Fielding and it makes for a very interesting read!

The story is set in a small town in Ohio named Breathed. It's pronounced 'Breath' (to take a breath) with 'ed' on the end (like Ed Balls), for anyone who was unsure. The protagonist is a young boy named Fielding Bliss, who lives with his father (Autopsy), his mother (Stella) and Grand, his older brother. The story starts when Autopsy publishes an invitation to the devil in the local newspaper. When a young boy appears in the town, people become suspicious of him. Is he the devil, or is he the runaway farm boy from the next town over?
I'm not lying when I say I haven't read anything like this before. Yes, it has similarities to TKAM: it covers racism and homophobia; it's set in a small town in the US, the father has an awesome name and works in law etc., but it's also completely different in the fact that most of it reads like poetry. The writing is exceptionally beautiful and I just know I'm going to go back through and copy down pages of beautiful quotes from it. The characters are deep and relatable, and Sal's depiction of both Heaven and Hell are hauntingly beautiful.

This is a truly beautifully written, thought provoking, deeply moving and original novel and I would recommend it to anyone. Especially if you're a fan of TKAM!


Now, visit the other blogs on the blog tour to read more about this wonderful novel!

Rachael Amy

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Monday, 8 August 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


PAGES: 330

FIRST LINE: 'Albus: Dad. He keeps saying it.'

"The eighth story. Nineteen years later...
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places."

Here we are. The eighth Harry Potter book has finally been published. Ok, it's not a novel. But it is a play script, and it sort of counts. As I'm one of the unlucky ones, I didn't get to see the play before the script got published. (I'm going to see it this time next year though, YAY!) I did venture in to the city centre hungover as a fart to track it down on the day it got published, and read it in a few hours. What did I think of it? Is it worth a hungover mission to town for? Continue reading to find out!

First, let me talk about the fact it is set out as a script. I wasn't sure how I would find reading a script as I'm very much used to the layout of a standard novel. I actually found it very easy to read and as I much prefer reading dialogue to descriptions, found myself engaged and drawn in to the story. It took me less time to read than a standard 330-page novel as there is more white space and less text. I thought the set descriptions and stage directions were descriptive enough for me, and I could visualise what was happening in each scene. I want to read more scripts now!

So now, let's get in to the actual storyline and characters within the book. Let me start by saying that I did enjoy this book. I find it really hard to not enjoy anything J. K. Rowling has written. She's a great story teller and character writer. Let's talk about the storyline first. Albus (Harry's youngest son) goes to Hogwart's for his first year. He gets placed in Slytherin alongside Scorpius (Malfoy's son) and they soon become best friends. Albus finds he is actually pretty useless at being a wizard and as everyone had huge expectations of him, they're disappointed. He feels like a letdown and starts to rebel against his perfect father. Scorpius also has his own troubles as he's rumoured to be Voldemort's son (apparently somehow someone used a Time-Turner to do this.. not sure of the logistics). The two soon become outcasts at Hogwart's. Albus' hatred towards his father grows stronger over the years until one day he hears Amos Diggery (Cedric's dad - R.I.P Cedric) asking Harry to go back in time and save his son. The two boys join forces with Amos' niece, Delphi, to go back in time using a stolen Time-Turner and try to save Cedric Diggory. I won't go in to more detail here as I don't want to spoil EVERYTHING, but obviously time travel can have disastrous consequences. You get me?

I greatly enjoyed the storyline. The introduction of new characters surprised me and I think Delphi was the perfect character for this story. I did suspect that something was a little shady about her, but I also really enjoyed the little twist in her character. I think the storyline was a brilliant way to end the Harry Potter series and answered some questions some people had - would Voldemort return? What were Harry's children like? What were Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny like when they grew up? - These were all answered.
The main thing I enjoyed was the relationship between Albus and Scorpius. This actually took me by surprise as I wasn't expecting the sons of two enemies to become friends. I was also surprised at the fact that Albus was the complete opposite of Harry Potter, and Scorpius was so likeable! I found myself being more on the Malfoy's side than the Potter's side.

What I didn't enjoy so much was that a lot of the dialogue was quite cringey. The soppy moments towards the end of the story seemed a little forced, and it still annoys me that everyone grins all of the time. "Harry grinned." "Albus grinned at Scorpius, and Scorpius grinned back." These aren't actual quotes, just so you know. I also found Ron's character completely embarrassing and quite irrelevant. Which is so disappointing as I often find myself LOLing at Ron in the original books. He runs his brother's joke shop and I think is meant to be the cool, funny uncle but really he's just embarrassing. Hermione is the Minister for Magic and seems to have lost anything fun about her. She had charm and wit in the original books and now she's strict, plain and boring. I guess maybe because she's grown up? But I hope not! Harry and Ginny are pretty much the same - quite dull. I did, however find myself growing to like Draco Malfoy. He has feelings and compassion in this book and I felt like I just wanted to give him a hug!

One more thing I would like to say is that as I was reading the story, I was so sure that Scorpius and Albus were going to have a thing - did anyone else get that vibe? I wasn't sure if it was love in a friendly way or love in an actual love way, but it would have been awesome if it happened!

Overall, I enjoyed it. I was disappointed by a few of my favourite characters, but as I liked the main characters so much this can be forgiven. The storyline was exciting, unexpected and answered questions that I had. I would recommend this book, but bear in mind that obviously your favourite characters will have changed. Everyone changes with age. It's also best to remember that this was written to be seen on stage, not read in a book. I will probably adapt this review once I have seen the play, and I'm sure I will be able to appreciate the characters once I've witnessed how they were meant to be. Not 2D letters on a page, but 3D actors on a stage.


Rachael Amy

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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Top Tips for a PGCE

Hello! I'm guessing that if you're reading this you're about to start, or are thinking of starting, a PGCE. If you're not, I'll just warn you that this might not be the most entertaining post to read, you weirdo!
PGCE Primary KS1 Placement Experience

I've just completed a PGCE in primary education, and I'm currently waiting on some marks back from assessments before I gain my qualified teacher status. The job hunt is on and I'm feeling very sick with nerves at the idea of my NQT year. Before I started the PGCE back in September 2015, I was constantly Googling questions about the PGCE and stalking the forums on The Student Room. As a course rep, I've been asked to speak to future PGCE students at the pre-course day and this has caused me to think of some advice. I thought I would compile a little list of tips that might be helpful to anyone thinking of studying a PGCE.

1. Don't read the PGCE thread on The Student Room.
DON'T DO THIS! I was religiously reading this thread where students currently on the PGCE would write about their experiences. They were all negative experiences and everyone sounded like they were having the worst year of their lives. It made me feel so nervous for the course and I honestly believed I would drop out by Christmas. I even told my boyfriend that we'd probably break up by the end of the course! Obviously, these people were only posting because they were having bad times. The people who were managing on the course had no reason to post, because they didn't need help! It's very important to remember that. But more important to stay away.

2. Make friends with the people on your course.
This is so important. Nobody understands the pressure of a PGCE except teachers who've done the course, your course leader/tutors and your fellow students. Boyfriend complaining that you're spending too long planning on an evening? Whinge to your course mates. Teacher changed the planning last minute and needs it sent by 7pm that evening? Ask your course mates for lesson ideas. Nervous about an observation? Ask your course mates for tips! Need to get drunk on a Saturday evening? Get your course mates out! They really are a valuable support network and understand what you're going through completely. I made a really great group of friends and I just know I wouldn't have gotten through the course without them.

3. Stay on top of your targets.
Nobody wants to be in the position of writing out three weeks' worth of targets before your link tutor comes to look at your placement files. Trust me, I've been there and it wasn't ideal. I had so much else I wanted to focus on, but I needed to make sure all my targets were there. They seem like a pain, but they are actually helpful and continue on to your NQT year - so they need to get done! Think about what you want to develop in your practice - behaviour management? Use of talk partners? Get them in your targets!

4. Develop your subject knowledge as you go.
As you're on a one year course, your seminars and lectures won't cover everything you need to know. Sentence types? Fronted adverbials? You're going to have to learn them on your own! Long division? Might not get covered at university! Seminars are there to teach you HOW to teach these things, not what to teach. But what you shouldn't be doing is revising the whole curriculum in your PGCE year. When you're on placement, find out the planning for that term. Oh, you're teaching direct speech, story writing, Vikings and multiplication? Revise those as and when you need to.

5. Keep in touch with your academic/university link tutor.
This might differ depending on your university, but at Sheffield Hallam we had an academic tutor for the university side of things, and a university link tutor for the school-based training side of the course. Within my group of friends, we did have a few issues with our course (nothing too bad, though!), and always our advice to each other was to consult our tutors to see what they said. My link tutor was fantastic, and really gave me loads of support when I needed it. My academic tutor was the course leader (so thankful for that) and she was OUTSTANDING. She'd reply to emails within the hour - even when she was away! They're there for a reason - don't suffer in silence!

6. Get stuck in with your placements from the first day.
This is something I wish I'd done. We had two long placements - one in KS1 and one in KS2. I wish I'd got stuck in a bit more from the beginning of the placement instead of stepping back and getting through the first few weeks. Get the teachers on your side, ask them for advice and most importantly: tell your mentor/school-based tutor what you need! Policies, class list, pupil targets, assessments, signatures, weekly review meetings etc. Make sure they understand what they need to do so you're not getting it all done in your last week!

7. Evidence, evidence, evidence.
I think your evidence varies from university to university. You will need to collect evidence to show you're achieving the teachers' standards. Not heard of those yet? You will! They're basically 8 sentences that describe a teacher's job. You'll be assessed against these throughout your teaching career, so you've got plenty of time to get to know them. In your file you will need to prove you're achieving these. At SHU, it's pretty relaxed in terms of physical evidence but I've seen a few universities asking for files and files of the stuff. All I needed to do was collect work and assessments from three focus children in my class. Start collecting evidence from the first day!

8. Most importantly: don't compare yourself to anyone else.
In my group of friends, most of them finished with a 1 or 1* overall. I'm so proud of them and they've worked so hard to achieve these grades. I finished with a 2 overall and I can't help but compare myself to them. The truth is, we've all had different placements and experiences. The grades are decided by your school-based tutor so it's very subjective. I need to focus on the progress that I've made and the experiences I've had. You never know what grade you'd get if you were at a different school. We've all worked incredibly hard and have made it to the end.

I really hope these tips help you. If you've got any to add, leave them in the comments. If you've still got any questions, leave them below or you can find me on Twitter @rachaelamyreads

Rachael Amy

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Monday, 6 June 2016

Why Do We Love Books So Much?

If you're anything like me, you'll love nothing more than browsing through numerous bookshops and drooling over all the beautiful books. Not much makes me happier than sitting amongst piles of pristine, amazing-smelling, wonderful books. But why? What is it about them that makes us so happy?
Look at these beautiful old books! #bookstagram #books #bookbloggers

Let's be honest now. Does anyone ever read all the books they buy? Or do they keep them on their shelves, ready to be flicked through or stared at any moment to bring instant joy. If I'm completely honest, I don't read even 50% of the books I buy. I will eventually, but at the moment my buying/reading ratio is very off balance. Normally, I would never buy anything I didn't plan on having a use for. But for some reason, it seems perfectly acceptable to do this with books.

Take, for example, these Shakespeare books I bought from a charity shop. Do I like Shakespeare? He's ok, I wouldn't choose to sit and read his work but I like Henry V. So why did I buy them? Well, they look beautiful for a start. And they were cheap. And they'll look good on my bookshelf. I'll feel happy when I look at them! They smelt really old! I like the pretty colours! Is this a good enough excuse, or am I judging a book by its cover?
Bought these amazing #Shakespeare books from a charity shop! #bookstagram #books #bookblogger

Why do I get so much enjoyment out of books I haven't read yet? Is it the anticipation of reading them? The beautiful covers? Am I just a crazy hoarder that will very soon be living in a library? Do I need to go on a TV show and have someone clear my house out?

Please tell me you're the same as me? I can't be the only one who reads books I might never get round to reading! If you are as book crazy as I am, let me know in the comments: why do you love books so much?

Rachael Amy

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