Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Unbecoming - Book Review


Unbecoming - Book Review
Jenny Downham
YA Contemporary 
UK PUBLISHER: David Fickling Books

Synopsis:

Katie’s life is falling apart: her mum’s controlling, her dad’s run off, she’s in love with someone whose identity she can’t reveal and now her estranged grandmother’s turned up on the doorstep and Katie’s expected to take care of her. Soon Katie discovers she’s not the only one in the family hiding the truth. If she’s going to get her life back together, she’s going to have to expose everyone’s deepest secrets - including her own…

Review:

The were serval scenes in this story that really touched my heart. Exploring themes of sexuality, bullying, the pressure of expectation and the onset of dementia, this book follows a story that spans three generations. It is a book I won’t soon forget. 

When a grandmother Katie never knew she had, suddenly comes to live with them, Katie at last feels she has found someone who understands her. But grandma Mary has dark secrets of her own, and she wants them brought into the light before her growing dementia sucks them from her memory, forever. 

Following three generations of women, this is a story that reveals their struggles, triumphs  and searing determination to break free from the conformity of society and make their own marks on the world. Told from the dual perspectives of seventeen-year-old Katie and her grandmother, this book was very character orientated and packed a lot between its pages. 

Pressurised by her mother to be the perfect daughter, Katie is a closet lesbian - at least she was until she tried to kiss her best friend. Now ostracised from her classmates, and duty bound to her disabled younger brother, Katie feels trapped by her life. The arrival of her a long-lost-grandmother is a great comfort and distraction for her - but overall Katie came across as a very angsty and indecisive teen. 

She spends a good portion of the book whining and keeping her head down. It wasn't until the end I began to see some real character development - however the ending was one of the things I loved most about this book. 

Then there was grandma Mary, who was hands down my favourite character. The story explores both her wild youth and dips from past to present. The struggle she undergoes as her dementia becomes worse really broke my heart, but I loved how it allowed the author to merge reality with a touch of the otherworldly. The “conversations” Mary has with her deceased husband were the sweetest thing, and I loved how her husband played such a big role in the story despite not being alive. 

Yet one of the most touching scenes in the book was when Katie discovers the post-it-notes Mary’s husband left throughout the house. Things like “If you go outside - I want to hold your hand and come with you.” And “Only one spoonful of sugar, you are sweet enough.” These little notes told me so much about their relationship and I thought it was both the saddest and most romantic thing ever.

Overall though this is really a story of self discovery. Each character learns about who they are and becomes brave enough to share their true face with the world. 

My biggest gripe with this book though was that it was so long. A few times I had to put this book down for a breather - and also because things were taking a long time to happen. However I am glad I persevered with it, since it's a really emotional story that I fully enjoyed. 

4 stars!

Talk to me - has anyone else read this book? What were your thoughts?


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Author Interview: H.J Blenkinsop + Free Ebook!


Today I'm really excited to welcome Middle Grade author, H.J Blenkinsop to the blog. If you haven't already, you can check out my review of her awesome debut - Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing Well - HERE.

Not only is it a fantastically magical read - but for the next few days (Feb 19t to Feb 20th) you can grab it for FREE. What are you waiting for my pretties, go go go!

Hey HJ,

First off, let me offer you a warm welcome to my blog. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions.

So let’s jump right in. For anyone not familiar with your book, can you tell us a little bit about what it’s about?

Thanks for having me! Kitty Tweddle and the Wishing well is a coming of age story about a young girl who discovers she has magical powers, and how she uses them to save the world. 

Complete with talking cats, secret passageways, enchanted libraries and a gateway into Fairyland, it’s a story about courage, self confidence and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. Although it’s aimed at middle-grade readers, I’ve had a great response from a much older audience too!

What was the inspiration behind Kitty Tweddle? And what came first, the story or the characters?

Both - but separately. The story was inspired by real events. A few years ago, while a doctoral student at the University of Edinburgh, I rented a basement apartment just outside the city. My landlords told me the story of the old well - the remains of which were still visible at the bottom of the garden. They also said that the underground stream feeding the well ran right under the house. 

One very rainy summer, it flooded the basement flowing down the hallway and out the back door! I started writing before it was dry. 

Kitty’s character, however, came about following a research project with a colleague called “The Cult of Hotness”. We explored the phenomenon of ‘hotness’ in western society and our findings were grim indeed. 

Not only does a woman’s worth appear to be tied to her perceived ‘hotness’ as opposed to her intelligence, creativity, contribution or even beauty, but this emphasis on hotness begins long before puberty. 

Pink princess culture, our research indicated, is a precursor to hotness culture, priming young girls to emphasize physical appearance and a very narrow definition of attractiveness. We were horrified!

 I wanted to do something to turn the tide. It wasn’t until years later when my Edinburgh basement flooded that the idea clicked into place. Create a protagonist that young girls will want to know. Create a cool girl who is everything pink princess culture isn’t. But also a girl who is real and has feelings, who makes mistakes and has to fix them. Someone readers can identify with. That was the inspiration behind Kitty’s character.

Can you tell us a little about you’re writing process? Any quirks or daily rituals that contribute to getting words on a page?

Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. A feline muse or two really helps, too. But I don’t wait for inspiration. Once the mug is full and the cats are positioned. I just start writing. Anything, it doesn’t matter. Open a blank and just start writing. If I don’t know what to write, I write a questions for myself, ‘what would Kitty do next?’ and start answering it. It’s awkward at first, but usually, the words start flowing. 

There are a lot of myths and folklore in your novel - just how much research went into Kitty Tweddle?

Quite a bit - not just folklore but local history too. While the village of Dribble is a fictional name, it’s based on a real community just outside Edinburgh. I researched the local area and wove the history and folklore into the book. The well, the local library built on the foundations of a crypt, the old nunnery, it’s all real. 

What you are working on now? Any surprise projects we can expect from you?

Book two in the trilogy - Kitty Tweddle and the Secrets of Smugglers Cove - is due for release in a couple of months! I’m working hard putting the final touches on Smugglers right now. I also have plans to publish one or two companion stories later on this year.  

What is the best piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?

Learn from others who have already done it. Join a group and get a good critique partner - I have one of the best! My writing wouldn’t be where it is without her. Develop a tough skin and don’t take the critique personally. Remember, critiques make your writing better. Also, learn the basics of grammar and expectations for your chosen genre. Finally, realize that your book will probably take many more drafts than you would like before it’s ready.

And for a bit of random….

Who is your favourite childhood villain?

The troll under the bridge in the Three Billy Goats Gruff. My sister and I had a set of Ladybird Books - Well Loved Tales. I loved to see the Billy Goats outfox the troll and then banish him back under the bridge where he belongs. 

If you were to have a tea-party with fictional characters - who would make the guest list?

Professor Moriarty, Bellatrix Lestrange, Raynard the Fox, Saruman, and Catwoman. Might be a bit of a murder party...

Tea of coffee?
Given the list above, probably poison!

Cheese or Chocolate?
Can we have both? Please?

Favourite Middle Grade or Young Adult Book of all time? If you can’t choose, tell us about a book you read and enjoyed recently …


One of my favourites, is the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. Such a unique story line. The gates of Hell, a magical wall, a private girls school, talking animals, zombies, demons, and a set of bells that control it all. Utter genius!

So great. Thanks very much HJ for answering my questions :) I always love getting a look inside an authors head!

Meanwhile if anyone would like to find out more about HJ or her books - follow the links below.


Talk to me: Has anyone else read Wishing Well yet? If so I would love to hear your thoughts below :) 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

A Promise of Fire - Book Review



A Promise of Fire - Book Review
Amanda Bouchet
Romantic NA Fantasy 18+
UK PUBLISHER: Pikatus
(Kingmaker Chronicles #1)

Synopsis:

Catalia “Cat” Fisa is a powerful clairvoyant known as the Kingmaker. This smart-mouthed soothsayer has no interest in her powers and would much rather fly under the radar, far from the clutches of her homicidal mother. But when an ambitious warlord captures her, she may not have a choice.

Griffin is intent on bringing peace to his newly conquered realm in the magic-deprived south. When he discovers Cat is the Kingmaker, he abducts her. But Cat will do everything in her power to avoid her dangerous destiny and battle her captor at every turn. Although up for the battle, Griffin would prefer for Cat to help his people willingly, and he’s ready to do whatever it takes to coax her… even if it means falling in love with her.

Review:

If you enjoyed P.C Cast’s Goddess Series, then you will love this book! A Promise of Fire is a funny, light hearted read that is really enjoyable... so long as you don't take it too seriously. While the underlying plot was really interesting, most of the story is centred around lust and building up a budding - yet possessive - romance. Good fun if you’re looking for a fantasy with a steamier side. 

The story follows Cat, a soothsayer in hiding. Spending her days hidden among the performers of a magical circus, she thinks herself safe - until a warlord realises the truth. That Cat is the Kingmaker - and he wants her for himself. Now taken prisoner by the Warlord and his band, Cat will do anything to get away. But as her powers emerge, her enemies grow, and it seems the handsome — but insufferable — Warlord is the only one who can protect her...

I enjoyed this book, despite its predictability - and the very obvious “secret” Cat is keeping from everyone. True there were about a million cliches and the main characters whining and violent outbursts became a little tiresome at times, but the underlying plot and world building I loved!

Set in a fantasy world ripe with magic and watched over by Greek Gods, power came in all shapes and sizes. Fire-breathers, invisibility, healers, mind control… although it seemed a little unfair that our heroine got a bit of everything. She was a bit too cool for my liking, and I would have liked to have seen her struggle more. 

Also admittedly it took me awhile to catch on as to which Royal. Instead of Kings and Queens, everyone in the family had a title. Alpha, Alpha Beta… it’s a bit confusing at first but you soon catch the hang of it - and I liked that the author is trying to be different. 

The backstory though - particularly Cat's - was pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to the second book where I hope we see Cat’s past catch up with her present. I also loved the secondary characters, including the Warlords vast family, his hunky team of fighters, and all the people at the circus who were deliciously unique. 

As for the romance though, it was fun but mostly built on sexual tension that was drawn out for nearly 80% of the book. However the warlord was pretty possessive and dominating - a very primal sort of man - and opposite him Cat was the typical virgin with rampaging hormones and lots of curiosity. Since the story is from Cat’s POV, we get a lot of her inner thoughts which where funny, but she came across quite juvenile at times. I also felt her thoughts clashed with the sexual scenes which are graphic, but definitely well written.


All in all, this was a steamy read with the right amount of pops and sizzles. Despite its flaws, I still really enjoyed it and will definitely be picking up the sequel. Steamy, fantastical and hard to put down, I give A Promise of Fire 3 stars!



Wednesday, 8 February 2017

What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible - Book Review


What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible
Ross Welford
MG Adventure
UK PUBLISHER: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Other Books by Ross Welford:

Synopsis:

Turning invisible at will: it’s one way of curing your acne. But far more drastic than 13 year-old Ethel Leatherhead intended when she tried a combination of untested medicines and a sunbed.

It’s fun at first, being invisible. And aided by her friend Boydy she manages to keep her extraordinary ability secret. Or does she …?

When one day the invisibility fails to wear off, Ethel is thrown into a nightmare of lies and deception as she struggles to keep herself safe, to find the remedy that will make her seen again — and solve the mystery of her own birth…

Review:

Ross Welford is fast becoming one of my favourite authors - although I may be a little biased. Being a Geordie myself, its pretty awesome to read a book set not only in Newcastle, but around the coast of Whitely Bay where I grew up. However what captured me most about this book was how the story seamlessly merges reality with a dash of science fiction. Funny, relatable and with an underlining family mystery, What not to do if you turn invisible was a real page turner.

When thirteen-year-old Ethel Leatherhead mixes Chinese magic medicine with a prolonged sleep on an sun bed, she discovers she’s lost more than her acne. Her whole body has disappeared! But being invisible isn't as fun as it seems. And when in an attempt to steal back an incriminating photo — Ethel learns that playing with fate is a dangerous thing. Now she may just be invisible forever….

This was a really fun read. Ethel is a very relatable protagonist (applause to Ross Welford for capturing a female POV so well) and while she doesn't always make the best decisions, she is loyal, quick thinking, and a generally nice person. Easy to like, her adventure is both humorous yet heart wrenching, and with so many layers to the plot - it’s a story that is easy to be swept into. 

One of the things I really enjoyed was how each character has a secret - all of which affect Ethel in some way - and all of which add so many subplots to the story. Not only does this mean that every character is fully fleshed out, but everyone from Ethel’s best friend, to her grandma and great grandma, even the evil twin’s at school, they are all involved in something that turns out to impact upon Ethel. Whether it be revealing truths, helping her grow a spine, or just making her a better person in general - this all comes together to make a really great story. 

Like Ross Welford’s last book - Time Traveling with a Hamster - this book also has a dash of science fiction. However I felt Ethel’s invisibility was explained very simply so that even younger readers can understand. Ethel's reaction to said invisibility was also both believable and hilarious - and comes with plenty of “don’t try this at home” warnings. 

Otherwise the story focuses on the theme of family and relationships. It explores trust and friendship, and I liked that this book lacked all the angst and finger-pointing hate that similar teen books have. As I said, Ethel is a generally nice person and you can really tell how much she loves her family. This helps her overcome the hurt she feels after uncovering some under-the-rug secrets, and wraps everything up nicely.

Overall I think this is a book many tweens, teens and adults will enjoy. Ross Welford has a knack for taking a simple story and, with a sprinkle of magic, turns it into something truly unique. I can’t wait to see what he will write next! 4 stars!


Sunday, 5 February 2017

January in Review

(Turtle Beach in Guang Teng Indonesia)

January in Review

This month has really flown by - and if January is anything to go by - it’s shaping up to be a pretty good year for me so far.

Here are this months highlights:

  • I spent ten days in Indonesia, which was amazing! Look out for my post on Indonesia's highlights later on in the month.

  • Winter Camp. Because of Chinese New Year my school held a week long camp of activities. It was really fun, but its finally hit home how much I’m going to miss all my students when I leave at the end of February. 

  • A huge embarrassment - Stationary, instead of Stationery. As many of you pointed out last month, I spelled the title of my giveaway wrong. Big oops! So much for being an English teacher lol.

  • Booked my next trip :) On March 14th I will be meeting my dear old dad in Japan, my FAVOURITE place in the world. 

  • Clear Out - Since I’ll soon be returning to England, I’m slowly giving/ throwing/ mourning over all my things. I've had a very cutthroat approach so far, but its amazing what you can accumulate over a couple of years.

Books Read and Reviewed

  1. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi 
  2. The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
  3. Lorali by Laura Dockrill
  4. Unbecoming by Jenny Downham 
  5. Fire and Flood by Victoria Scott (Loved!)
  6. Salt and Stone by Victoria Scott (Loved!)
  7. Dark Tempest by Annette Marie (Loved Loved!)
  8. What not to do if you turn Invisible by Ross Welford
  9. Dawn Study by Maria V Snyder (So sad this series is over!)
  10. Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton (Amazing!)
  11. Black Cats and Butlers by Janine Beacham (Super Cute!)

Currently Reading:

  • Moon Chosen by P.C Cast (5 Chapters now - still very slow going!)
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater (Still enjoying, but haven't progressed much further)
  • Smugglers Kiss by Marie-Louise Jensen
  • Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by JK Rowling (Just fancied a re-read)


And that wraps up my month - How was January for the rest of you?

 Did you hit your reading goals? Get any writing done (I totally didn’t... hang’s head in shame) or travel anywhere new? Let me know in the comments.


Friday, 27 January 2017

The Star-Touched Queen - Book Review


The Star-Touched Queen
Roshani Chokshi
YA Fantasy
UK PUBLISHER: St. Martin’s Griffin

Synopsis:

Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?

Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire.

But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most… including herself. 

Review:

I’m in two minds about this book. There was a lot I liked about the story: the writing and sheer imagination of it are particularly spellbinding. However there was so much I found confusing. I couldn't connect all the dots between the story arcs, and I didn't understand the main characters choices at all. 

Maya was born with a terrible horoscope, one that binds her to a future of death and destruction. Safe in the freedom she will never marry, her life is turned upside down when her father suddenly announces she must choose a husband. But when the man Maya picks makes her queen to a world of myth and legend, she finds herself caught in a maze of secrets, stars, and a deadly plot that will cost her every person she loves….

My first impression of this story was that the prose is stunning. The descriptions are beautiful and Roshani Chokshi paints a world of vibrant colours, magical creatures and vivid scenery. The world building is truly astounding. I also love that it's all based around a fantasy version of old India, featuring its foods, scents and culture, as well as some delicious myths and legends. 

The characters however, I did not relate to so well. This was mostly because I didn't understand why they made such bad choices - and although I liked Maya’s personality and way of thinking, I didn't like how she could be so trusting and naive. The scenes between Maya and Nritti I found unrealistic and just plain confusing!

Then there was the romance between Maya and Amar. I felt it lacked connection because the sparks and passion, the butterflies and witty banter that makes a romance real… it just wasn't there. Despite many declarations of love from them both, I never experienced that rush (or any of the squee moments readers are prone too - you guys know the ones I mean!) when a couple finally gets together. 

However I adored the demonic talking horse, Kamala. She had some of the best lines and made me laugh out loud on many occasions. I’m just sad she didn't appear until near the end of the book.

All in all though, there was much to like about this book. The prose, the world building and magical creatures - those alone are reasons enough to give this book a try. It also means I will definitely be checking out other books by this author. Unfortunately though I wasn't sold on the characters, and the storyline unravelled in an almost dreamlike, yet non-sensical way. 

For those reasons, I give this book 3 stars!

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Girl of Ink and Stars - Book Review


The Girl of Ink and Stars

Kiran Millwood Hargrave
MG Fantasy
UK PUBLISHER: Chicken House

Synopsis:

Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.

When her closest friend disappears into the island’s forgotten territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographers daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland — and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from it’s sleep. Soon, following the map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

Review:

The Girl of Ink and Stars is a sweet, middle-grade adventure that has the power to charm all its readers. Wrapped in a pretty cover, inside of which are beautiful pages and pretty script, this a lovely book to add to any pre-teens collection. 

Isabella loves stories detailing the myths and legends of her island home. Yet when the governors daughter — her best friend, Lupe — goes missing, Isabella will do anything to see Lupe brought home safely. Even venture into the Island’s forgotten territories.

But the closer Isabella gets to the heart of the island, the more she realises that the myths and legends about it were true. Now, after a thousand  years of slumber — a fire demon has awoken with plans to lay claim to the island once more… and Isabella may be the only one who can stop it…

One of my favourite things about this book was the stories within a story element. Tales of the Island’s history, recaps of peoples adventures, as well as backstory on other characters and artefacts, all made it into this book. That alone really helped flesh out the world and bring Isabella’s story to life.

Isabella herself was a feisty heroine although I didn't always understand her decisions. Still I admired her bravery and liked how she was prepared to risk everything to save her friend.  Although I did feel the ending was a little… weird, given what the story itself was about. 

Also with so much happening in the last chapters, my mind struggled to wrap around the new ideas and I felt some scenes were just thrown in for the sake of raising the action. Worth mentioning too is that although the book is very fast paced, there is no subplots or intrigues. Each event follows the next in a predictable way that I think would be enjoyed more by younger readers.

All in all though this was still a cute read and a nice book to while away an afternoon with. Also both the cover and interior pages are beautiful. 3 stars!