Friday, 31 March 2017

Goodbye Tokyo


(No! It's not an alien - it's a kodama!)

Goodbye Tokyo

So my two week holiday in Tokyo has at last came to an end :( I’m currently writing this post from Australia — Actually in the not-so-sunny living room of my aunts house in Brisbane. Lol, I didn't realise it could rain so much this side of the world! But I wanted to share the final highlights of my trip.

Public Bath House

When we arrived it was empty...

I didn't have time to seek out the famous Onsen’s this holiday, so I did the next best thing. I grabbed my Japanese friend, Nozomi, and headed to the public bathhouse. If you are super body-conscious this really isn't a place for you - but I love the family and social atmosphere in these places - although admittedly it’s pretty strange carrying on casual conversations surrounded by lots of naked people. Although I adore how (despite the lack of clothes) there is no judgement, no stares, only friendly banter between people of all shapes, ages and backgrounds.

Men and Women’s bath’s are separate of course!

Nikko

pretty pretty...

If you have time, I would totally recommend you spend a few nights in Nikko. It’s about a two hour train ride from Tokyo and is famous for its national parks, temples and awesome hikes. 

Considering that my dads a pretty “large” man, I was so impressed by how far he walked. Even if we did have to stop for constant coffee/sit down breaks :) But yay for dad — so proud that you finally got yourself to Asia. 

Tokyo Tower


Its a long way down....

Tokyo tower is one of the best view points ever - even if it does look like a white and red Eiffel tower. We actually went on my dads last day and we were super lucky enough to have a really sunny day, and could see for miles. Even Mt. Fuji was visible.

Ueno Park

One small corner of the park... its actually really big

Not only is this a nice place to walk (Or camp - as many people appeared to be doing) but there always seems to something going on. Book Fairs, street performers, and of course, stalls and stalls of awesome food! You all know how much I like food!

And that just about wraps up my trip. After my dad left I had an extra four days to kill so I got a little writing done, ate more awesome food - and wandered from cafe to restaurant to cafe dodging the pouring rain. However at least the sun came out for my last day!

But now I’m in Australia… and its raining yet again! Hopefully the sun will return soon!

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Girl of Glass - Book Review



The Girl of Glass - Book Review
Holly Webb
MG Historical Fantasy
A Magical Venice Story Book # 4

Other Books in the Series:
The Water Horse
The Mermaid’s Sister

Synopsis:

Mariana lives with her family on the Venetian Island of Murano - famed for its artists who create masterpieces from glass. But when Mariana’s little sister, Eliza, dies their father decides to use his glassmaking skill - and a dash of magic - to create a girl of glass in Eliza’s image.

The remarkable glass doll, who sings, dances and talks, draws attention wherever she goes, and soon Mariana is famous for having the magical glass sister. But as the glass girl takes on more and more of Eliza’s personality, Mariana begins to suspect that there is more than just magic at play. Could the girl of glass be her sisters ghost made real?

Review:

Another magical read! Although this is the forth book in the series, the story reads perfectly fine as a standalone and will enchant readers from eight years and upward. 

Once again the reader is taken into the beautiful streets of Venice where skilled craftsmen use magic to create the most delicate fancies imaginable. But when Marina’s little sister, Eliza, dies - their glass maker father loses himself in his grief, and creates a living doll of glass - a miniature version of Eliza.

Yet as news of the glass girl spreads, people fight for the right to “buy” her - but she is not for sale. Now Mariana will do anything to ensure her glass sister stays safe, even if it means leaving home and finding work on the mainland…

There is a lot of emotion packed into this story. Mariana’s relationship with both the real Eliza, and the glass Eliza, is truly touching. Their bond as sisters helps them get through many tasks and ordeals - although I must admit, I found the idea of a glass child a little creepy.

With that in mind, this has been my least favourite book of the series so far. Also while the emotional journey was there, I felt this book lacked the action and suspense of the other books. I also guessed very early on who the villain was, and the ending left me feeling just a little bit… empty.

Like the previous books though I throughly enjoyed the magical elements. I adored watching Mariana grow into her powers and unravel the secrets of her abilities. The old man with his magical potions was also an asset to the story - I really liked his shop of wonders - as well as the glimpses given into the bustling life of old Venice. 

This book also doesn't shy away from the grimmer side of the past, subtly acknowledging that death was a common-day occurrence  at the time, due to the sickness and poverty that plagued the city. 

All in all though, this was a nice book to while away an afternoon with. I will definitely be continuing this series - not to mention the covers for these books are gorgeous!


3 stars!

Talk to me!

Have any of you read this series? I would love to know your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Barefoot on the Wind - Book Review


Barefoot on the Wind - Book Review
Zoe Marriott
YA Fantasy/Beauty & the Beast Retelling
UK Publisher: Walker Books

Some other Books by Zoe Marriott:

Synopsis:

There is a Monster in the forest…

Everyone in Hana’s remote village on the mountain knows that straying too far into the woods is a death sentence. When Hana’s father goes missing, she is the only one who dares try to save him. Taking up her hunting gear, she goes in search of the beast, determined to kill it - or be killed herself.

But the forest contains more secrets, more magic and more darkness than Hana could ever have imagined. And the beast is not at all what she expects…

Review:

In this book, Zoe Marriott puts her own stamp on the beloved, Beauty and the Beast tale. Yet what struck me most about this book, aside from its Japanese setting, was the beauty of the writing, the friendships formed by the characters, and funnily enough, the distinct lack of romance. That’s not to say that this isn't a love story - because it is - but it’s a love story built on loyalty and companionship. You won’t find fluff in this book. It’s a truly exceptional read. A real masterpiece of fiction.

All Hana’s life, the forest has whispered the same warning. There is a monster in the woods. Yet growing up in a village where people frequently disappear, never to return, Hana’s heart is hardened to the warning. Yet when her father goes missing, she will do anything it takes to save him. Even venture into the deepest, darkest part of the forrest.

But the woods surrounding Hana’s village have a magic of their own and they protect a dark secret. A cursed creature, a beast with a heart of ice…

This was a really delicious read. Unlike most beauty and the beast retellings, this story explores the beast’s past, giving the reader an insight into the events that led up to the curse. It’s a book that doesn't turn away from the ugly sides of nature, but instead reveals the story in a truthful way.

Hana is strong heroine who has been sculpted by loss of her brother into a more masculine role. She is a hunter with a strong will that serves her well throughout the course of the story. The beast on the other hand is a healer, quiet and docile in nature. I like how his strength is portrayed, not through physical action, but through his acceptance of his sins. He doesn't fight his fate, and believes his punishment is just. It is only through Hana’s arrival that beast finally begins to see he is not the same man he once was. 

I also liked the mythology in this book, and without giving away spoilers, all I can say is I liked the twist on the whole “there is a monster in the forrest” storyline. It made the ending of the book that much sweeter.

However I did feel parts of the middle were a little slow. I understand many of the scenes were there to show the developing relationship between Hana and the Beast, but I couldn't help but be eager for something more to happen. While the pacing does pick up considerably toward the end, the contrast is sharp and in hindsight, makes the middle seem more slower than it probably was. 

All in all though this was a really beautiful read. Zoe Marriott has a real flair for poetic storytelling and I’m looking forward to her next book, whatever it may be. I give Barefoot on the Wind 4 stars!

Chat with me! 

What did the rest of you think? Isn't that cover just gorgeous? And did I mention this book counts toward both the British Book Challenge, and the fairytale retellings? It's a win win! :)


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Hello Tokyo!


(Near lake Kawaguchi - can you see Mt. Fuji in the distance?)


Hello Tokyo

Hey lovely people! So I’m writing today’s blogpost from February Cafe - which is a lovely little coffee shop in Asakusa, Tokyo. I arrived in Japan on the 14th of March, and this marks my third trip to this totally amazing country. So what have I been up to these last few days? Well, here are some of my highlights!

Asakusa!


(Dont mind a little rain @ Senso-ji Temple)

I always stay in Asakusa. It’s one of the many bustling and totally touristy parts of the city, but you can literally find everything you need right here. It has an awesome temple, great shops, every type of Japanese Cusine imaginable, not to mention cheap places to stay. My favourite Hostels are Tokyo Origami and Sakura Hostel - they are clean, safe and have super helpful staff - plus extremely awesome showers. Tokyo Origami even has heated toilet seats!

Mt. Fuji (Kawaguchi-ko)


(Mt. Fuji from lake Kawaguchi)

This was my first time seeing Mt. Fuji and it was so worth the overnight trip to kawaguchi. Since March is low season, I couldn't actually climb the mountain (maybe next time) but I certainly got close. I got really lucky and the weather was super nice allowing me to see for miles. 

And speaking of miles - I walked about 12 of them! Kawaguchi is one of the biggest lakes near Mt. Fuji and walking around it was literally breathtaking/ heart stopping! My feet are still recovering!

Harajuku and Shibuya


(Harajuku)

I always visit the temple at Harajuku. I could loiter for hours in the park that surrounds the temple, and its really easy to forget you are in the middle of a capital city. This is one of my favourite things about Japan: no matter where you are, there is always a park or green-space somewhere close by. A place to chill out and just relax away from all the hustle and bustle.

Harajuku also houses the famous street where you can see all the young people in Cosplay,  buy crazy clothes and eat pancakes to your hearts content. 

Just a train stop away from Harajuku (or just a short walk) is the famous crossing in Shibuya! I would recommend people watching from one of the cafes close by :)

Owl Cafes



Last time I was in Tokyo I made sure to visit the famous cat cafes. However since my last trip, owl cafes have sprung up everywhere! And they don't just house owls. The one I ventured into also had otters, baby meerkats, two huge tortoises, a chinchilla and an unidentified fluff-ball of cuteness that … well, I don't know what it was...

Most of the animals you could play with - although signs warned which ones would bite and which ones just shouldn't be touched. But the owls! So many owls of all shapes and sizes. To be honest I was expecting like three owls maybe… there were about twenty! However in terms of being a cafe, the drinks weren't so great...

Food!


(Tempura - and yeah, they did shape the seaweed into a shurikien!)

So much food… but only so much room in my jeans! For those of you who don't already know, food plays a huge part in all of my trips. I refuse to eat anything that isn't native to the country and Japan has so many extraordinary dishes. 

  • Tempura (deep friend everything)
  • Okonomiyaki (noodle/squid/vegtable pancake thing) 
  • Nigiri (Rice balls)
  • Omu-Rice (Rice Omelette - simple and delicious)
  • Sushi!
  • This list could go on and on…


(Meet Hideki, the coolest dog in Japan)


And that’s been my week so far. With another 7 days to go, who knows what else I’ll get up too :) How has everyone else’s week been? 

Have any of you been to Tokyo? If so I would love to hear your recommendations of things to do and see - the more off the beaten track the better!

Until next time...


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Mystery of the Painted Dragon - Book Review


The Mystery of the Painted Dragon - Book Review
Katherine Woodfine
MG Mystery 
(The Sinclair’s Mysteries #3) 
UK Publisher: Egmont 

Other books in the Series:
The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow #1
The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth # 2

Synopsis:

When a priceless painting is stolen, our dauntless heroines Sophie and Lil find themselves faced with forgery, trickery and deceit on all sides!

Be amazed as the duo pit their wits against this perilous puzzle! Marvel at their cunning plan to unmask the villain and prove themselves detectives to be reckoned with — no matter what dangers lie ahead…

It’s their most perilous adventure yet!

Review:

I haven't read the previous two books in this series, but The Mystery of the Painted Dragon has ensured I will be picking them up at the first opportunity. This Middle Grade novel was utterly compelling and I throughly enjoyed both the characters and mystery it provided. 

When a famous painting is stolen from Sinclair’s department store, Sophie and Lil find themselves drawn into a mystery that leads them through doors of forgery, secret societies, and into the arms of old enemies. It’s their biggest mystery yet…

Despite starting with the third book in the series, I had no trouble following this story. Not only was the mystery unique to this book, but the bigger picture elements were easy enough to follow since just the right amount of backstory was offered. 

The first thing that struck me about this series though was the historical setting of 20th century London. Theatre was a massive thing, motor cars were relatively new and I adored the inclusion of the suffragettes as they fought to give women the vote. Combined with lovely descriptions, interesting facts and fitting dialog, Katherine Woodfine has done an exceptional job of bringing this world to life.

The main characters, Lil and Sophie are strong heroines and I like how despite the odds, they always look out for each other, even when they aren't in agreement. In fact, the relationships between all the characters are really enjoyable, and I also liked the introduction of Leo — an antisocial artist with a bad leg — who added an element of compassion to the story, especially as nothing about her fitted the social conformities of the time. 

As for the mystery, following the clues was interesting although I actually worked out straight away who the culprit was. Having said that, despite having guessed the bad guy, this didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book. In fact it enhanced it, and I felt all smug when it was revealed I was right. Not that I had any doubts.

With lots of intrigue and nefarious deeds, all delivered inside a fast paced plot, I can’t help but give this book 4 stars! A most enjoyable read!

Talk to me! Have any of you read this series? If so let me know which book has been your favourite so far? I’m can't wait to pick up the rest :)

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Black Cats and Butlers - Book Review


Black Cats and Butlers - Book Review
Janine Beacham
MG Mystery 
UK PUBLISHER: Little Brown Books
UK Release Date: 9th March 2016

Synopsis:

The Clockwork Sparrow meets Downton Abbey.

Rose Ravensthorpe loves nothing more than wandering around Yorke with her beloved butler, Argyle, listening to the stories he tells about the city. So when Argyle is murdered - the third butler to be stabbed in a week - Rose knows she must find out what really happened.

Rose’s investigation leads her on a journey into a hidden world of grave robbers and duelling butlers, flamboyant magicians and the City’s ancient feline guardians.

Knives aren't just for cutting cucumber sandwiches, you know.

Review:

This was a really cute story that I devoured in one night. Full of history, mystery and a hint of magic, Black Cats and Butlers is a lovey book with fun characters and a clever storyline. A perfect murder mystery for a Middle Grade audience!

Rose Ravensthorpe is a lady of class and pedigree, but when her beloved butler, Argyle is murdered, she sets out on an unladylike mission to find Argyle’s killer. Along the way she discovers grave robbers, magicians, a whole bunch of missing feline statues… and a secret society of sword-wielding butlers. Now Rose must find out how they are connected if she is to have any hope of bringing Argyle’s killer to justice…

There were so many things I adored about this book. First, all the butlers came with really creative names that I enjoyed reading aloud. You know, those kind of words that just roll off your tongue, particularly if you are putting on a posh accent... and this book made me want to do a lot of posh accents :) 

Secondly, I liked that this book was set in York (one of my favourite places) and I could easily imagine and relate to many of the buildings. Considering most English books are set in London, or sometimes Edinburgh - York was a refreshing change. 

Rose was quick witted and brave, overall a pretty awesome heroine. However, I would have liked to have seen the secondary characters filled out a little more. I’m hoping both the butlers and grave robbers get a little more page time and backstory in the next book since they certainly caught my interest in this one. However, I think Rose’s gothic best-friend, Emily was one of the most amusing characters of the book. I really hope she will be making an appearance in the sequels!

Otherwise as far as the story goes, the plot was fast paced with plenty of action. Each problem intrigued me - although some were easily resolved - while others were less obvious and harder to work out. The killer’s identity was particularly well hidden with plenty of red herrings - and while I did guess who it was before the big reveal, the story certainly kept me on my toes right up until the end.

I also enjoyed the hint of magic at the end of the book. I thought it fitted well with the story since there was always an underlining promise of it, and it makes me curious to read more books in this series.


Overall a most enjoyable story that I think fans of Stephanie Burgis and Katherine Woodfine will enjoy. A deliciously sharp edged tale, I give Black Cats and Butlers 4 stars!

Have any of you guys read this book? If so I would love to hear your thoughts!


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Dawn Study - Book Review


Dawn Study - Book Review
Maria. V. Snyder
YA Fantasy
(Soul Finder Book 3)
UK PUBLISHER: Harlequin / Mira Ink

Other books in the Soul Finder Series:

Synopsis:

Despite the odds, Yelena and Valek have forged an irrevocable bond and a family that transcends borders. Now, when their two homelands stand on the brink of war, they must fight with magic and cunning to thwart an Ixia plot to invade Sitia.

Yelena seeks to break the hold of the insidious Theobroma that destroys a person’s resistance to magical persuasion. But the Cartel is determined to keep influential citizens and Sitian diplomats in their thrall and Yelena at bay. With every bounty hunter after her, Yelena is forced to make a dangerous deal.

With might and magic, Valek peels back the layers of betrayal surrounding the Commander. At its rotten core lies a powerful magician and his latest discovery. The fate of all rests upon two unlikely weapons. One may turn the tide. The other could spell the end of everything. 

Review:

From beginning to end, I have loved this series. All nine books of it! However while this final book wasn't without it’s flaws, it still brought everything to a satisfying conclusion. All the characters (both new and old) came together for one last adventure, and together they helped put the world to rights.

Ixia is preparing to invade Sitia with a weapon created to wipe out magic. Yet with the magicians under the influence of Theobroma, their minds controlled by the cartel - Yelena and Valek find themselves trapped between their two fighting nations. Now with Yelena heavily pregnant, they are determined to bring about peace before their child can be born, but they will require the help of their friends if they are to defeat old enemies… 

This book is told from several character view points, however Yelena’s POV remains my favourite. For all her trials, she is still very much the same girl we all came to know in Poison Study, and I especially like that without her magic, she is back to relying on her initial wit to survive. 

Valek’s POV though comes in at a close second, and I love the emotional insight we’ve had into his character. Getting Valek’s backstory was one of the best things about this series - along with meeting his family. As strange as it sounds, its also nice to see him getting older. Unable to rely on his physical abilites, he wins his battles through strategy and skill, unlike the previous books where he was just an awesome, “I can conquer all” assassin. 

I guess my biggest nit-pick with this book though was how the plot fell into a repetitive, characters captured/characters rescued sort of pattern. We went through so much of this in the previous book and I felt it got a little silly. No one learned from their mistakes! I kept feeling all “I’ve read this before”, however the dialog and humour (generally supplied by Ari and Janco) stopped me from getting bored. 

This book also offers a lot of insight into the commander and the ending scene between him and Valek  blew my mind. I would have read through even more capture/rescues scenes so long as I ended up with that same finale. It was grand!

Otherwise everything wrapped up very smoothly. However I feel there is plenty potential for a spin off featuring the next generation of trouble makers. I would really love to see this happen, because saying goodbye to this world and characters is truly heart-wrenching. All in all - while I only give this book 3 stars, I would give the Soul Finder Trilogy as a whole a solid 4!

It’s been an awesome magical journey! I cant wait to see what Maria. V. Snyder will write next!

How about you guys? Have any you read this series? If so what did you think? And if not, please give me your excuses as to why?!!
:)