Sunday, 31 December 2017

Best Books of 2017

It's the time of year for reflection and rest, ahead of what's shaping up to be a very busy January, so I'm taking a moment to look back on my favourite reads of 2017.

I really struggled to narrow down the 50 books I read this year into a top five, but here they are:



Crooked Kingdom One of the most amazing fantasy series I've ever read. I love all of the characters in Crooked Kingdom and the plot was just as exciting, fast-paced and emotional as Six of Crows.

Strange the Dreamer Laini Taylor tops my list of must-buy authors. The way she writes is beautiful. 

A Conjuring of Light Another fantastic conclusion to a superb fantasy series. 

The Hate U Give Easily the most important book I've read this year. I can't wait to see the film. 

Editing Emma So funny! At one point, I laughed so hard my husband rushed downstairs to check on me as he thought I was crying. 

Saturday, 30 December 2017

2017 Reading Stats

This year, I read 51 books, totalling almost 20,000 pages.

The shortest book was We should All be Feminists and the longest A Court of Wings and Ruin.

I read four non-fictions books on writing and am part way through a fifth.

I still read more YA SFF than anything else (21 books) but I also read 9 adult novels this year, which is really high for me.

There were two plays: The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts, so with a re-reading of Philosopher's Stone, there's been a fair bit of Harry Potter this year too.

Next year I'm going to try to read a few more classics and also keep increasing the number of adult novels I read, although I'm sure I'll still be reading more YA than anything else, especially as I got a kindle voucher for Christmas and there's a long list of YA novels I want to buy with it!

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Christmas Books!

Merry Christmas everyone, I hope you had a lovely time and have lots of brilliant things planned for the New Year. 

We had a book filled Christmas, so expect plenty more book reviews in the New Year, particularly picture book ones - we're loving the Baby University series at the moment with our 11 month old. 

I've waited so long to read Book of Dust, but this beautiful signed Waterstones edition was worth the wait - although I'm a little nervous about starting in case I spoil it in some way! 

One book I've not waited to dive into is A History of Magic, which has been amazing so far. I didn't make it to the British Library exhibition, so I'm enjoying getting to experience it through the book. 

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Gilded Cage

Firstly, I would like to say that any novel which mentions the Isles of Scilly is a major winner in my eyes. The fact that some of the next book might take place on Tresco has me giddy with excitement.

The Britain of Gilded Cage is dramatically divided - skilled 'Equals' rule the lower classes, who are forced to complete ten years of slavery in order to become full citizens. Abi and Luke Hadley have just begun their slavedays, hoping to complete them as a family while they are young enough to survive. But family secrets, rebellion and magic mean their days are anything but easy. 

I loved the multiple perspectives this novel was written in; they weaved together so well and kept the pace of the story fresh and exciting. The world James creates was terrifying, but detailed and enthralling. 

There was a fantastic focus on sibling relationships and I looked forward to seeing these developed further in book two.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe

I was lucky enough to pick up an early copy of the Loneliest Girl at YALC and I am SO pleased that I did - it is phenomenal.

Romy Silvers is the loneliest girl in the universe - until she finds out that another ship has just launched from Earth, one that's traveling fast enough to catch up with her.

I'm actually not going to say any more than that about the plot, because I think the less you know going into this, the more exciting you'll find the book. The Loneliest Girl is a gripping page turner that kept me guessing to the end - I made some big assumptions at the start of this novel which turned out to be completely wrong, and made watching the story unfold even more exhilarating. 

I felt Romy's loneliness quite keenly - this probably isn't a book to read when you're home alone, and is best saving for when you're with other people, otherwise it might bring you down a bit. The novel is character driven and Romy is a fantastic character to follow.

My mind was boggled by the message dates. James says at the end that she kept a spreadsheet to work them all out, and I think that shows just how detailed and brilliant the sci-fi elements of this novel are. Setting is so crucial to the plot of this novel and it's a while since I've read a book where that's the case - possibly not since Way Down Dark.

Everyone should read The Loneliest Girl - it is definitely one of the best books I have read this year. 

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Faber Writing Academy: Plot

I meant to post this months ago, but it somehow got stuck in my drafts!

This summer, I took part in Faber Academy's Plot writing course, which is one of the mini, two month long online courses Faber offers. At £120 per course, Faber's mini courses are considerably cheaper than the longer, more intensive courses offered by Faber, Curtis Brown Creative and The Writer's Academy.

I decided to sign up for this course after reading a few articles on why people often forget to treat writing as a hobby, so feel guilty spending money on it. If I was into cycling, I wouldn't think twice about spending birthday money on a bike, or new kit. If I was a musician, I'd happily pay for instruments, lessons and sheet music. But for some reason I've always been reluctant to spend money on my writing. I'm trying to rectify this (and change my entire mindset on my approach to my writing) by investing in a few books on writing, a Mslexia subscription and this Faber course. 

I really enjoyed this course and it was a lot of fun to take part in, but you do get what you pay for. Feedback is provided by other members of the course (you can pay extra for tutor feedback) and you're mostly left to your own devices. Some of the participants didn't feedback on anyone else's work, which was a shame as I found leaving feedback was a really useful process and I loved seeing everyone's unique and talented responses to the tasks set. 

I thought the resources were brilliant and I picked up some really useful tips and tricks, which I'm using on my current WIP. I think taking the course has helped with my writing process and also stopped me panicking about some of the aspects of my writing I worried about previously. I've also been able to join an alumni forum to keep in contact with some of the people I met on the course. The daily email updates I get from the forum serve as a great motivator to keep writing.

Faber offers mini courses on character, research and setting for the same price. It's also worth pointing out that CBC now offer some great scholarships for people who would like to apply to one of their courses but can't afford them. You can find out more about them here

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Shift Zine

Argh! It's been so long since I posted anything. I don't know what happened - I have around ten posts saved in my draft which I haven't finished and scheduled for some crazy reason. Expect a deluge in the run-up to Christmas!

My most exciting writing news at the moment is that I had a short story published in the October issue of Shift Zine! You can read it here - it's a (very) short story about a vampire discussing his self-control issues (which he absolutely does not have). I had a lot of fun writing it and was so incredibly excited when I heard it was being published. I really hope you enjoy reading it. And after you do, make sure you check out the brilliant reviews and interviews, as well as two amazing short stories by Gemma Varnom and Brianna Henderson. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

When Dimple Met Rishi

I can't remember the last time I read a novel in a day, but I couldn't put When Dimple Met Rishi down!

“Seriously? That's what you think I should be relegating my brain space to? Looking nice? Like, if I don't make the effort to look beautiful, my entire existence is nullified? Nothing else matters-not my intellect, not my personality or my accomplishments; my hopes and dreams mean nothing if I'm not wearing eyeliner?” 

Dimple has a plan - for college and coding domination - and an arranged marriage doesn't figure into it. So when she arrives at a summer coding program and Rishi strolls over, introducing himself as her husband, she takes the only reasonable course of action and throws her coffee over him. What follows is both adorable and hilarious. 

“She refused to be one of those girls who gave up on everything they'd been planning simply because a boy entered the picture.” 

I loved the characters and the romance in this story. It was so cute and happy that I defy anyone to read it without a smile on their face. This is absolutely one to read if you want to be put in a good mood.

“But that was Rishi... he was like a pop song you thought you couldn't stand, but found yourself humming in the shower anyway.” 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

On Writing: by Stephen King

I have been reading more non-fiction books this year and the highlight so far has definitely been On Writing, which I was bought for my birthday. It's a fascinating insight into how one of the greatest writers of our time works and I think it will appeal even to people who don't have an interest in writing fiction. 

The first half is a 'writing CV' which is a mini-memoir of the writing related moments in King's life. I actually ended up enjoying this more than the writing types as it was so interesting. However, the writing tips were also extremely useful and I made a lot of changes to my editing process as a result. In particular, the marked up 'edited chapter' King includes at the end of the book was such an invaluable thing to see. I cut a lot of words out of my WIP after reading it (including a lot - but not all - of the adverbs!)

One of the things I found most fascinating, however, was that King doesn't plan his novels. As someone who has recently completed a Faber course on plot in an attempt to get her head around planning, I found this both interesting and surprising. King likens his writing process to an archaeological excavation; carefully uncovering a story that's already there. 

While I don't think everything King suggests is right for me and my writing process, I've taken away a lot of helpful advice and I can't recommend this novel enough as a result.  

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Wing Jones

Beautiful. I've seen a lot of hype for this novel and all of it is justified. My only regret is that I read it on Kindle, so I couldn't get my copy signed at YALC. 

“Wing,” he breathes, like a wish, like a prayer, and it’s as if it is my heart’s name and not my own because my heart flutters in my chest, desperate to get out to fly to him.” 

Wing Jones (or The Heartbeats of Wing Jones, if you're in America) follows a young girl called Wing's attempts to cope with a difficult stage in her life by discovering a passion and talent for running. 

“Then he smiles at me and it’s like I’ve been living in darkness and now there is light.”

I adored the figurative language, which fitted in so well with Wing's personality and what she imagined. It flowed beautifully and made this novel so enjoyable to read. 

"But my happiness is a squishy kind of happiness, squeezing itself in where it can fit, pushing around all the sadness and the stress and the pressure, finding any empty spot, any crevice, and filling it."

The characters were also brilliant - I liked that none of them were perfect, as this lead to a realistic, believable story line. And speaking of believable, I've never read a novel which made me so thankful for the NHS. The medical bills and difficulties Wing's family face are incomprehensible for someone who has never had to pay for healthcare and reminded me how lucky we are to have the NHS in the UK. 

“Another wish, a secret one, flutters by, and it has Aaron’s name on it. I watch it for a moment, fluttering, floating, and then I grab it tight and crush it before anyone else can see it. I can feel the remnants of the mothy wish wings on my skin.” 

Webber captures the exhilaration and freedom of running so well and it (almost) made me want to put on my trainers. Until I remembered that I have a six months old and haven't had a decent night's sleep in over a year, so running is about as appealing as, well, anything that's not sleep, really... I think I'll stick to reading!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Scarecrow Queen

The fantastic conclusion to The Sin Eater series.

I know I've already said this in my reviews of the first two books, but I love the world building in Salisbury's stories. I only wish I'd been reading the paperback edition rather than my kindle, so that flicking back to the map wasn't such a hassle!

“And that, my girl, is the secret. Quake all you must on the inside. But on the outside you must be stone. And you never know; with enough practice it might become the truth.” 

The plot of Scarecrow Queen had a lot of twists and turns and the story was really fast paced, with characters being thwarted in every chapter - this story never went where I was expecting it to, even at the end, which was all kinds of perfect (and I won't say any more than that because of spoilers!)

“In every fairy tale there is a kernel of truth, and that is the truth of this one. For him, I am poison. I am his death. And I will deliver.” 

I recently got to hear Salisbury speak about Errin and Twylla on the Heroines panel at YALC and it was great to hear about the contrasts she wanted to draw between them, so that she created two very different heroines who would reflect and speak to different readers. I love both girls, but Twylla was my favourite - I love the changes she goes through and the way her confidence improves over the course of this book. She's come so far from the girl she was in the Sin Eater's Daughter.

“Scarecrow queen. Nothing but a dupe, alone in a field, hoping to keep the crows at bay.” 

I also enjoyed how horrible Aurek was - he's not horrible in a darkly seductive, I-like-him-even-though-I-shouldn't kind of way - he's a monster. I like reading about villains that I really, deeply dislike. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Why We Love: There is a Tribe of Kids

Whenever I spot a new picture book at the library that I've already heard about, I have to pick it up. This is exactly what happened with There is a Tribe of Kids, which won the 2017 Kate Greenway medal. 

It follows a young child's attempts to find a group where he fits in: from baby goats, to turtles, to - finally - a tribe of children.

There are some brilliant collective nouns in this story. The words are sparse, but cleverly used and we loved the illustrations. There's also lots to discuss as you read, in terms of loneliness and belonging. It's a really lovely book and one that I will be disappointed to return next week. 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Strange the Dreamer

Laini Taylor is one of those author's whose book I will buy without reading the synopsis - I know they're going to be amazing, no matter what they're about. They're also usually so beautiful that I have to buy them in hardcover rather than as ebooks, so can admire how pretty they are on my shelf. Strange the Dreamer didn't disappoint in either of these criteria.

“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable," she pleaded. "Something beautiful and full of monsters."

“Beautiful and full of monsters?"

“All the best stories are.” 

Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with the city of Weep for as long as he can remember. A librarian and a dreamer, he longs to journey to the lost city and discover its secrets. But this is a story of godspawn and monsters, of alchemy and nightmares; sometimes fulfilling your dreams brings much, much more than you ever imagined. 

“It was impossible, of course. But when did that ever stop any dreamer from dreaming.” 

Taylor's writing is a whole other level of beautiful. She has such a clever way with words and her novels are a joy to read as a result. I'm sure I will be flicking back through this purely to enjoy her wonderful writing. 

“I turned my nightmares into fireflies and caught them in a jar.”

I loved the dual perspectives of this book: some chapters focused on Lazlo, while others followed Sarai, the daughter of a god, trapped in a citadel floating above the city of Weep. No one knows that she, or her siblings, are there and they need it to stay that way. 

“Without his books, his room felt like a body with its hearts cut out.”

There were some brilliant plot twists in this novel, some I saw coming, others I didn't. And the ending is just... Well, I can't really say anything without major spoilers, but it's superb and has left me desperate to find out what happens in book two. I'm so disappointed that I went to YALC the day before Taylor was there, as I would have loved to meet her.

First non-picture book review in a while! I have a lot of these to catch up on, so expect regular updates and a few writing related posts too. I've been busy recently completing a Faber Academy writing course, which I'll post about very soon. I hope everyone's having a lovely summer!

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Why We Love: Sleeping Handsome and the Princess Engineer

It should come as no surprise that I love a fairytale retelling, especially one with gender reversals! 

Sleeping Handsome is cursed. If he ever touches a pointy thing he will fall asleep for a hundred years, and can only be woken by the gift of cleverness. Luckily, Princess Anya is clever enough to find his castle - now she just has to wake him up. 

Sleeping Handsome was a really funny take on the original tale. It was modern and feminist - especially the twist at the end. I will definitely be looking out for the other stories in this series. 

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Why We Love: Use Your Imagination

I had been eyeing this one up in Waterstones for a while, so was pleased when I found it in the library. Use Your Imagination is the story of a bored little bunny rabbit and the wolf who offers to help entertain him with a story. A story where rabbit is the hero and wolf is the bad guy. Can rabbit use his imagination to get himself out of a tricky situation before it's too late? 

We had a lot of fun reading Use Your Imagination. We especially liked the end and the large, pull out page. 

Noisy Crow also includes a QR at the front of the book which will take you to an audio version of the story. This was a really interesting way to enjoy the story and was useful after I'd already read so many books that my voice was beginning to go!

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Why We Love: Rain

Rain is a story about patience, and learning that waiting for the right time to enjoy something can make it even more fun. It is a story that any child who has been stuck inside watching rain pour down the window outside will be able to relate to and the beautiful artwork makes it a real treat to read. 

Saturday, 1 July 2017

The Crown

The Crown by Keira Cass

When Eadlyn became the first princess of Illéa to hold her own Selection, she didn’t think she would fall in love with any of her thirty-five suitors. She spent the first few weeks of the competition counting down the days until she could send them all home. But as events at the palace force Eadlyn even further into the spotlight, she realizes that she might not be content remaining alone.Eadlyn still isn’t sure she’ll find the fairytale ending her parents did twenty years ago. But sometimes the heart has a way of surprising you…and soon Eadlyn must make a choice that feels more impossible—and more important—than she ever imagined. {goodreads summary}

The final novel in the selection series was everything I hoped it would be.

As with the Heir, I really enjoyed seeing the selection process turned on its head. Eadlyn is a great character and the outcome of her selection is exactly what I wanted. I'm really disappointed that this series has come to an end, but I can't wait to see what Cass works on next.

“Maybe it's not the first kisses that are supposed to be special. Maybe it's the last ones.”

The boys in the selection were well developed and even though I had a strong favourite, I still really liked the rest and cared about what happened to them at the end. Probably due to the change in perspective, it felt as though there was less animosity in the group than in America's selection.

“I’m Eadlyn Schreave, and no one in the world is as powerful as me,” I blurted without thought.

He nodded. “Damn right you are.” 

I also enjoyed Eadlyn's character development in this book, although she was still flawed at the end (which is great because perfect YA heroines can get a bit annoying - I like someone I can find fault with).

“It was a delicious feeling, falling in love. I'd had so many luxuries in my life, and I thought I'd had a taste of this before, but I realized now it was merely a cheap imitation of something not meant to be imitated in the first place.” 

The world building and politics is really strong and had me thinking about the way realms are ruled in YA novels for some time after I'd finished reading. I wonder what the obsession with monarchies is? Interestingly, fantasy seems to be the home of kings and queens, while dystopia and sci-fi are normally ruled by dictators. Politics is such an integral part of so many YA novels, which is one of the reasons I love YA books so much, but it would be great to see more democracies represented in YA fiction - especially as they can have just as many flaws as monarchies and dictatorships, and I think discussing these would be of real value to teenage readers; particularly in the current political climate.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Why We Love: Fabulous Pie

We first discovered Fabulous Pie on CBeebies story time, where it was read by Nadiya Hussain. This funny, repetitive story appealed to my little girl straight away and we watched it every night that it remained on iPlayer. I was really excited when I found it on my next trip to the library, so we could continue to read it during the day. 

Fabulous Pie tells the story of a very bad bear, who bakes a very big pie. But what is he planning to put inside it? The berries, honey and fish collected for him by helpful woodland animals, or something much more sinister? 

Fabulous Pie is really fun to read aloud and for weeks afterwards, you'll find yourself quoting it every time someone mentions pie!

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Why We Love: Archie

This one is a bit different to the sorts of picture books I'd normally get and was actually one my daughter picked out by herself. Archie doesn't have many words, leaving you to discuss the pictures as you go to tell the story. My husband's expression quickly changed from puzzled - when he opened the book and realised there was nothing to read - to dismayed when I told him he needed to talk about what he could see happening and discuss it with our daughter! However, I found it made a refreshing change,  as I sometimes feel like the rhythm of a story is so strong you can't keep breaking it to talk about the pictures. 

Archie is the story of an anthropomorphic dog who is sent a sewing machine and becomes an instant success as fashion designer for all of the other dogs (and their pets) in the area. By the end, he is exhausted and in need of a holiday, but on the final page he gets a call from a client far too important to refuse!

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Why We Love: Nothing

Whenever Lila's mother asks her what she's up to, Lila replies 'nothing'. She might look like she's messing with a scarf and mittens, but she's really battling a sea monster, and when she's whizzing along on her scooter, she's actually a fearsome charioteer travelling faster than the wind. Nothing is a beautiful look into a child's imagination, and a brilliant reminder that you don't need fancy toys to have fun. 

This is our second Yasmin Ismail picture book, as we already have (and frequently read) I'm a Girl. The art work is very similar and the words have a familiar rhythm and flow. I think I prefer this to I'm a Girl as it's a bit easier to read aloud - I sometimes stumble over quite how I should be saying all the 'I'm a Girl's and would love to see a YouTube video of someone else reading it.  

Nothing is another library book we'll be disappointed to return. I have a horrible feeling our library trip is going to have turned into research for a big book order!

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Why We Love: The Lion Inside

Another brilliant library book! The Lion Inside is one that has popped up in my Amazon recommendations a few times, so it was great to get to read it. 

The Lion Inside follows a quiet, often overlooked, mouse on his quest to speak up and be noticed - and who could teach him to be loud better than a lion?

It has cute artwork and a lovely rhythm, which makes it a lot of fun to read. I like the varied use of typography too, as it places emphasis on certain words. Bravery, friendship and self-confidence also all play an important role in bringing depth to this lovely story. 

It's been the favourite of the books my daughter borrowed from the library and we will be very sorry to return it. 

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Crooked Kingdom

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Welcome to the world of the Grisha.

After pulling off a seemingly impossible heist in the notorious Ice Court, criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker feels unstoppable. But life is about to take a dangerous turn—and with friends who are among the deadliest outcasts in Ketterdam city, Kaz is going to need more than luck to survive in this unforgiving underworld. {goodreads summary}

Brilliant heists, amazing characters and a curve ball at the end that I didn't see coming. 

“You aren’t a flower, you’re every blossom in the wood blooming at once. You are a tidal wave. You’re a stampede. You are overwhelming.”

Crooked Kingdom follows Kaz and his band of criminal teenagers as they attempt to rescue Inej, reclaim the money Van Eck swindled from them and bring down Pekka Rollins. And they attempt it all with schemes, teamwork and a healthy dose of magic. 

“Crows remember human faces. They remember the people who feed them, who are kind to them. And the people who wrong them too. They don’t forget. They tell each other who to look after and who to watch out for.” 

It was really interesting to see the subtle progression in Kaz and Inej's relationship. Their final chapter together was sweet and also felt realistic given everything they have gone through. Crooked Kingdom had romantic plot lines without the romance having to be at the centre of its characters every action. They were free to act on their individual dreams and wishes as well as forming relationships. 

“I would have come for you. And if I couldn't walk, I'd crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we'd fight our way out together-knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that's what we do. We never stop fighting.” 

I really liked the inclusion of characters from the Grisha trilogy and the part they played in the narrative. Bardugo has brought her two series' together seamlessly and Crooked Kingdom is a spin off which is faithful to the original world, but moves the story in an entirely fresh direction. 

“Jesper couldn’t quite believe he was having a conversation with the Sturmhond. The privateer was a legend. He’d broken countless blockades on behalf of the Ravkans and there were rumors that… “Do you really have a flying ship? blurted Jesper.


“I have several.”
“Take me with you.” 

Spoilers ahead: Veronica Roth and George RR Martin have a lot to answer for. However, I do love that I no longer read YA expecting all of the major characters to make it through to the end of the series.

Friday, 26 May 2017

CBeebies Bedtime Stories

My daughter doesn't really watch kids TV yet, but recently we decided to introduce CBeebies bedtime stories into her evening routine, as it seemed like a good way for us to discover new books without having to spend a small fortune buying them all! Here's a quick round up of the one's we've enjoyed best so far:

A great message for siblings. Three bears question which of them their parents' loves the most, and the mummy and daddy bear have some great answers. 

Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury (We're Going on a Bear Hunt) so the art work is adorable. I loved this story and it was great hearing it read aloud by Simon Callow. 

This one I might actually buy so we can keep reading it. It's a great story about having out of control emotions and how to deal with them - perfect for toddlers with a tendency to throw dramatic tantrums!

We've also loved the Very Busy Spider and My Mum has X-Ray Vision. 

This week, they've actually done two stories we own - Zoe and Beans: Where is Binky Boo, and Marmaduke the Very Different Dragon. It's really interesting getting to hear stories you've read on repeat in a different way, with different emphasis and voices. 

You can catch up on any stories you've missed on the CBeebies website. If you watch them too, which ones have been your favourites?

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Why We Love: Tidy

Last week I finally managed to get the little ones registered at our local library and we borrowed a selection of lovely picture books while we were there, one of which was Tidy, by Emily Gravett. 

This is the second Garvett picture book we have read, as we got Where's Bear in a Bookstart pack.

Tidy is a funny, clever story that follows a badger called Pete on his quest to make the forest tidy. It wasn't at all what I expected from its title, however, as Pete is interested in tidying far more than just litter! As a result, the story contains an important message about the vital role trees and natural spaces play in allowing the world around us to thrive.

Tidy is a really lovely book and I would definitely recommend it.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Snow Like Ashes

Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raach

Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. Now, the Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been waiting for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild the kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee, raised by the Winterians’ general, Sir. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, and future king, Mather — she would do anything to help her kingdom rise to power again. {goodreads summary}

Snow Like Ashes has been on my tbr since I first saw the cover; it was too beautiful to ignore. The picture above really doesn't do it justice. 

“Even the strongest blizzards start with a single snowflake.”

Meira's kingdom has been defeated and enslaved for the majority of her life, and she'll do anything to help rescue her people. She's desperate for a chance to prove herself, learning to balance what is best for herself with what is best for the people who depend on her. 

“Holding on to some part of your past even if it means also holding on to the pain of never again having it. That pain is less horrible than the pain of forgetting.”

I loved the twists and turns in this novel; it didn't always go in the direction I was expecting and I often found myself looking at how many pages I had left, wondering how everything would be resolved in time. 

"Someday we will be more than words in the dark."

The world building was a real strength, with the kingdoms and their magic fully worked out. I felt really immersed in Meira's world and am looking forward to hopefully finding out more about the other kingdoms in the rest of the series. 

“Sometimes placing our belief in something bigger than ourselves helps us get to a point where we can be enough on our own, magic or no magic.” 

Meira was a fantastic character. I loved watching her develop as the novel progressed, weighing up how the decisions she makes affect not only her own life, but those of the people she cares about. There are interesting observations on selfishness and selflessness, courage and resilience, throughout the novel. I'm really interested to see how her character will progress in the next novel. 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Why We Love: I Don't Know What to Call my Cat

Choosing what to name your pet can be a difficult decision - there are so many to pick from: from Ethel to Rocky to My Maestro... The wrong name can have unexpected consequences. 

I Don't Know What to Call my Cat has adorable art work and a very funny storyline - which I hadn't expected because I thought the book was just going to be a list of names.

However, my daughter is quite young and a lot of the story is hidden in the pictures, rather than obvious from the text, so so do feel like a lot of it is going straight over her head. She really likes the busy artwork and has fun spotting the cats on each page, but I think this is a story she'll get more out of in a year or so.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Sleeping Prince

The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury

Ever since her brother Lief disappeared, Errin's life has gone from bad to worse. Not only must she care for her sick mother, she has to scrape together rent money by selling illegal herbal cures. But none of that compares to the threat of the vengeful Sleeping Prince whom the Queen just awoke from his enchanted sleep.

When her village is evacuated as part of the war against the Sleeping Prince, Errin is left desperate and homeless. The only person she can turn to is the mysterious Silas, a young man who buys deadly poisons from Errin, but won't reveal why he needs them. Silas promises to help her, but when he vanishes, Errin must journey across a kingdom on the brink of war to seek another way to save her mother and herself. But what she finds shatters everything she believed about her world, and with the Sleeping Prince drawing nearer, Errin must make a heartbreaking choice that could affect the whole kingdom. {goodreads summary}

Reading the Sleeping Prince reminded me why I should try to read novels in the same series more closely together - it's been so long since I read the Sin Eater's Daughter that I had forgotten a lot of the plot lines and back story, which made reading the first third or so of the book a struggle in places. 

“The apothecary, the monk and the living Goddess went to war. We sound like the start of a joke.”

I'm not usually a fan of books in series which follow different characters to the original, but TSP is definitely an exception. I really loved Errin and Silas - they were such complex, interesting characters and a real credit to Salisbury's world. They also meant that TSP nicely avoided the mid-book slump that it all too common in YA trilogies, giving the story a fresh twist with the changed perspective.

“Fortune favours the bold." I smile weakly."So does death," she counters immediately. "The craven tend to live much longer than the heroic.” 

I adored the world building, and found myself lost in Salisbury's fantasy world for days after I'd finished TSP, even though I'd started on another book. I just couldn't get it out of my head. The backstory and mythology is incredibly detailed.

When I asked him why, he told me it was safer like that. For us both. And to not ask again.
Mysterious boys are not as enjoyable in reality as they are in stories.

I'm going to make an effort to read The Scarecrow Queen quite soon, so I don't encounter the same issues that I did at the start of TSP. I can't wait to see how this series ends. 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Why We Love: Oh No, George!

George said he'd be good and he wants to be good, but being good is tricky when there are so many fun temptations to be found when you're alone in the house... 

George is like a toddler who's been left alone in a room for five minutes while you try to make a cup of tea/put the washing on/brush your hair/hide and eat a biscuit. He means well, but temptation keeps getting the best of him and before he knows it, the whole house is a mess!

We bought Oh No, George! on the strength of Shh! We Have a Plan and I'm sure it won't be the last Chris Haughton book we read together. The art work is so distinctive and the repetition in the text is great for getting little ones involved in 'reading' the story; Oh No, George! is full of questions which you can discuss with your little ones, getting them to guess/remember what happens next. 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Half Lost

Half Lost by Sally Green

The Alliance is losing the war, and their most critical weapon, seventeen-year-old witch Nathan Byrn, is losing his mind. Nathan’s tally of kills is rising, and yet he’s no closer to ending the tyrannical rule of the Council of White Witches in England. Nor is Nathan any closer to his personal goal: getting revenge on Annalise, the girl he once loved before she committed an unthinkable crime. An amulet protected by the extremely powerful witch Ledger could be the tool Nathan needs to save himself and the Alliance, but this amulet is not so easily acquired. And lately Nathan has started to suffer from visions: a vision of a golden moment when he dies, and of an endless line of Hunters, impossible to overcome. Gabriel, his closest companion, urges Nathan to run away with him, to start a peaceful life together. But even Gabriel’s love may not be enough to save Nathan from this war, or from the person he has become. {goodreads summary}

I put off reading Half Lost for a very long time, mostly out of concern that it wasn't going to end the way I wanted (I'm so team Gabriel that I don't read a book without my Gabriel bookmark).

“You've been away a long time. Were you lost?

I was wounded, not lost.”

Half Lost follows Nathan learning how to use his new powers and master his all-consuming desire for vengeance against Annalise, culminating in the final battle against Sol and the Hunters.

Gabriel turns to Greatorex, saying, ‘It’s him. But still feel free to shoot him.”

Nathan is a really interesting character - he's dark, with a bloodlust and violence that's unusual in a YA protagonist. He's volatile and angry, often pushing those closest to him away. Green's writing style really helps you to get into his head, her narrative voice matching perfectly with the way you would expect him to speak to you.

“I’m tired of your revenge, your anger, your hate. The war is killing you.” 

The ending: oh wow! I don't want to say very much, as I'd hate to give anything away. It's one of the best series endings I've come across in a while though, even if it did break my heart. I can't wait to read whatever Green publishes next.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Why We Love: Edie

Edie is helpful. So helpful. She wakes up her parents, keeps the dog looking smart and tells her little brother 'what's what'.

Parents of toddlers will instantly recognise Edie's behaviour. I feel like it could have been written after watching my little girl for an afternoon. Edie's 'helping' is usually more of a hindrance to her family, but her sunny attitude and desire to make everyone's lives easier makes this book a lot of fun.

Throw in some adorable art work and you've got a real winner of a picture book. I'm already planning how I can dress my daughter up as Edie for next world book day!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Elements of Power on Wattpad

Last week, after four and a half years of updates, I posted the final chapter of Air and therefore the conclusion to the Elements of Power trilogy, on Wattpad. 

I am so grateful for all of the support, votes and comments I have received for the series on Wattpad. I'm going to miss my weekly check in with Roxy and Jasmine a lot - I learnt so much by working on this series, not just about writing but publishing, marketing and promotion, and it will always be very special to me. 

At some point, I would really like to work out the formatting so that the trilogy can be available in paperback on Amazon, with new covers more like the ones I use on Wattpad. Until then, you can still get the ebooks from all major ebook retailers, or read the full series on Wattpad:

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Way Down Dark

Way Down Dark by JP Smythe

There's one truth on Australia: You fight or you die. Usually both. Seventeen-year-old Chan's ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one. The only life that Chan's ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive. But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness - a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead. {goodreads summary}

My first sci-fi novel in a while! I watch a lot of sci-fi films and TV shows, but don't seem to end up reading many novels, for some reason.

"After I helped to kill my mother, I had to burn her body."

Way Down Dark follows Chan's life on board the Australia - a space ship divided by fierce gangs, where caring too much, or showing the slightest sign of weakness, can get you killed.

"You aren't special, Chan. None of us are."

I loved the concept of the Australia. It placed really interesting limitations on the characters and plot due to the cramped confinement and lack of resources. It was a dangerous, but exciting setting and was the thing I liked most about WDD. There was so much you couldn't do, and so much that you couldn't escape from. It was a bleak world and the ship was as important to the novel as any of the characters. 

"'I'm not special,' I say, 'that's right. I'm really not. Anybody could have done what I'm doing, but they didn't.'"

But that doesn't mean that the characters weren't great too! Chan was a really interesting protagonist, and I loved the exploration of where she was 'special' and whether that actually meant anything - she was determined to try and make a difference because it was the right thing to do, not because she thought she was important or worth following. The novel was packed full of action and there was enough peril that I never felt assured of any of the characters' safety, which made it an exciting read. 

"I need her to believe that life isn't just death and revenge."

There is, however, one major reason I'm not racing to read book two, but I don't want to mention it here as it's definitely a spoiler. Way Down Dark was a great book and I really enjoyed reading it, but it hasn't left me rushing to complete the series. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

Skin Deep: An Update

Chicken pox and the Easter holidays have delayed my Skin Deep posting somewhat, but chapter five was posted on Wattpad today! This is how it opens:

The voice behind him grated like nails on a chalkboard. Beau steeled himself before turning to face it; the beast. He had expected a monster of towering height, with horns, fur and blood-drenched fangs. 

What he hadn’t expected was a woman. 

She was draped in an etherial black veil that Beau at once recognised as a funeral shroud. The eyes that gazed out from beneath it looked dead and empty; her skin was skeletal in its paleness. She was a corpse incarnate; a spectre risen from a funeral parlour to freeze the blood running through his veins. Death and darkness and despair.

“Don’t tell me what you see,” she said, almost softly. “I learnt long ago not to ask such questions.”

You can check out the full story so far, here:

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Why We Love: Don't Wake the Bear, Hare!

The woodland animals' preparations for their spring party are curtailed by a sleeping bear. They need to be really quiet if they're going to avoid waking him up. Because bears are hairy and scary, right?

A good picture book should be fun to read aloud and Don't Wake the Bear, Hare! definitely ticks this box! The text scans really well and also encourages you to whisper and be really loud. It's really enjoyable to read.

The artwork is lovely too and there's lots to look at on each page - from towering stacks of cups to the tiniest of ants.

We've read Don't Wake the Bear, Hare! at least once a day since we got it and it's still just as enjoyable as the first time. Seriously though, if anyone knows of a job where so can be paid just for reading picture books all day let me know!