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Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Touch Down - I'm back in the UK

(My last class in China)

Touch Down - I’m back in the UK

So as the title suggests, for the first time in a long while, I am back home in Newcastle. And it’s amazing! I can walk into a bookshop knowing 99% of the books are in a language I  can understand, I can go to a restaurant where I don't have to mime a chicken to get my dinner, but better yet, I’m finally back in a place where I can walk down the street and have no one stare at me for being a foreigner. And so my two year journey in China has officially come to an end.

Am I sad? A little. It was an incredible experience, I made some amazing friends, seen and done many things that I never thought I would do and looking back to the me of 2013, I know I’ve really changed as a person. I’m more confident, more outspoken and the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. Living in China and teaching English was an experience I will never forget, and as sad as I was saying goodbye to all my students, I knew it was time to move on to the next thing. 

So what are my plans for 2015? Well I want to spend a month or two here in the UK. Now that I am officially unemployed and back with my parents, I am determined to at last finish my YA novel - currently stand at 60,000 words so hopefully this is an achievable goal! Just need to make it to 75,000! Who know’s, maybe this is the year I can make my dream of publication real. 

Otherwise once I’ve caught up with my family and friends I think this will be a year of travel and adventure. I’m already setting plans in motion to fly to Canada where I can meet up with my other half before we make our way back to Asia. So far it seems to be a unanimous decision that Vietnam will be our first stop but from there… who knows?! I can’t wait! 

Life is so good right now that I am almost afraid to jinx it! But I hope everyone else’s 2015 is shaping up to be just as good? And if anyone has any questions about moving to Asia, or teaching English as a foreign Language, or heck, if anyone wants to travel but is afraid to go it alone -come along with me! I’m just at the other end of an email!

Take care
XxX

The Bookshop Book - Book Review



The Bookshop Book - Book Review
Jen Campbell
Non-Fiction

Synopsis:
Every bookshop has a story.

We’re not talking about rooms that are just full of books. We’re talking about bookshops in barns, disused factories, converted churches and underground car parks. Bookshops on boats, on buses, and in old run-down train stations. Fold-out bookshops, undercover bookshops, this-is-the-best-place-I’ve-ever-been-to-bookshops.

Meet Sarah and her Book Barge sailing across the sea to France; meet Sebastien, in Mongolia, who sells books to herders of the Altai mountains; meet the bookshop in Canada that’s invented the world’s first antiquarian book vending machine.

And that’s just the beginning.

From the oldest bookshop in the world, to the smallest you could imagine, The Bookshop Book examines the history of books, talks to authors about their favourite places, and looks at over three hundred weirdly wonderful bookshops across six continents (sadly, we’ve yet to build a bookshop down in the South Pole). 

The Bookshop Book is a love letter to bookshops all around the world. 

Review:

I took real pleasure in reading this book. Made up of letters, short stories, author interviews and memoirs, this book describes the many hidden bookshops around the world. It was insightful, interesting and I loved each and every page of it. 

My favourite part of this book was hearing the stories from the bookshops owners, their reasons and inspirations behind opening their stores, and the ways they try to make their shops unique and inviting places. They are all amazing people and big advocates of promoting reading in people of all ages. 

Also not only was it great to read about bookshops that I myself love and visit regularly, but this book was a like a treasure map, each page leading to a new an exciting location. Some of these bookshops are local places that I plan to explore at the next opportunity, while others are more far more out the way (France, America… Mongolia, just to name a few) but they have all sparked both the bookworm and travel bug in me. 

Interestingly, this book also brought up the question of paperbacks vs e-books. Many authors and booksellers seem to be of the opinion that despite e-books impacting upon the sales of paperbacks, the independent bookshops will survive. I have to agree because as a book lover myself I adore my hardbacks and paperbacks, I can’t imagine a world in which they don't exist. Nothing can surpass the smell and feel of a real bound book!

Complete with photographs, random facts and insightful stories from best-selling authors, The Bookshop Book is a brilliant read and would make a quirky present for any book lover. Continually Jen Campbell has also written Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops - which I have yet to read, but have heard its  an hilarious and I intend to check out soon.


She is definitely an author to watch out for. Fantastic! 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Courting Magic - Book Review

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Courting Magic – Book Review
Stephanie Burgis
MG/YA Historical Fantasy
‘The Kat Series – A novella’
Synopsis:
In Kat Stephenson’s Regency England, magic is even more shocking than a stolen kiss. But now that she’s eighteen, it’s time for a wild and magical Kat to be introduced to high society by her older sisters, whether she likes it or not… and to finally have a romance of her own!
Of course her true love is hopelessly ineligible. But when has Kat ever let society’s opinion stop her from making up her own mind? Once she realises she’s found her perfect match, she’s not going to let anything or anyone stand in their way – even if she does have to solve a magical mystery, match make for an old friend and break a few rules along the way!
Review:
I adored ‘The Kat’ series and was utterly delighted when I found out Stephanie Burgis had written this novella. Set five years after the series ended, it follows the life of a now grown up Kat as she debuts as a society lady … what could possibly go wrong?
Now with the rest of her siblings happily married and producing families of their own, everyone’s attention is focused on one sole task – Introducing a now eighteen year old Kat to society with the hope of finding her a husband! Something that Kat herself is forcibly objectionable too.
Not only is Kat now a fully-fledged guardian – a role that comes with a power and responsibility to protect the world from evil magic – but she is still the stubborn, adventurous, trouble seeking girl who knows there is more to life than dresses and parties. And right now, with a magical thief divesting the upper classes of their jewels and finery, Kat has more to worry about than hapless romance… or so she thinks.
But when a friendly figure from her past makes an unexpected return, Kat is suddenly plunged into a new world of feelings and emotion. Can she keep her head and do her duty as a guardian, or will she let both the thief and her legacy slip away as she dreams of green, green eyes…
Yet another story of magic and mayhem, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Kat all over again!
As a character she has truly grown. Mastering her temper, she is both smarter and more controlled in her actions, yet remains a feisty tom-boy in her thoughts and head strong attitude. Never afraid to plough straight into danger, she yearns for adventure and brings about delightful chaos wherever she goes. Yet for all her growth, Kat is still blissfully naive when it comes to romance.
And what a sweet romance it was! Bringing back a character from the last book, Stephanie Burgis chose to pair Kat with a soul just as mischievous and troublesome as our heroines (well, almost) and I have to say, I think they suited each other perfectly.
Since I don’t wish to give away spoilers, I will call Kat’s mystery man Mr. X, and with the inferiority of his birth working against them, and step mama’s obvious protests, not to mention Kat’s own obliviousness to his feelings, there were times I felt very sorry for Mr. X indeed. For him love was a difficult road.
Yet what I think grabbed me most about this book was seeing not just Kat, but nearly all the other characters again. I can’t express how much I enjoyed the Kat series and reading this charming little novella brought back all the warmth of being ‘in and among’ Kat’s family again. Hers is a crazy but cosy world and if you haven’t already, I strongly urge that girls –whatever your age – give these books a try.
Sometimes you read books with characters you just don’t want to say goodbye to –this is one of them – and I only hope Stephanie Burgis considers writing a couple more Kat stories in the future.
I would certainly like to read more about Kat’s life as a guardian, find out what her brother Charles is up to, and maybe even dip into the home of Lucy and the Marquess (I adored their somewhat Pride and Prejudice romance). So yes… I admit I am a little addicted to the series.
But no matter what your mood, funny and tomboyish-ly sweet, these books are sure to put a smile on your face. Courting Magic is no exception, 5 stars!


Friday, 2 January 2015

Lucy's Secret Reindeer - Book Review


Lucy’s Secret Reindeer - Book Review
Anne Booth & Sophy Williams
Children

Synopsis:

Dear Lucy,
Thank you so much for asking me if I needed help this christmas. What a kind girl you are! As a matter of fact, I do. My smallest reindeer is not very well, and needs someone to make him better before Christmas Eve. Starlight guides my sleigh through the night sky, so without him, I won’t be able to deliver any presents. Go down to the shed at the bottom of the garden and you will find him.

And Lucy, this is TOP SECRET!
lots of love from Santa

Lucy has a big secret …  Santa’s left her a little reindeer in the garden shed! But starlight is poorly, and Santa won’t be able to deliver any presents if he’s not well in time. Can Lucy make starlight better and save christmas? 

Review:

This was a sweet, seasonal read that would really be enjoyed by younger children - and most likely their parents too! I happen to be neither child nor parent, but I too found this story cute and heartwarming. It’s definitely something I would have wanted to read as a little girl.

Lucy is friendly and kind hearted girl - she love’s animals and is always helping her grandmother out with the wild hedgehogs and foxes she rescues. But what Lucy wants more than anything is a pet of her own, and this year she is sure Santa will bring her a kitten. What Lucy doesn't expect, after she innocently offers to help Santa with his work, is to be trusted with the care of Santa’s smallest reindeer, Starlight.

But Starlight is unwell, and no matter what Lucy tries, he doesn't seem to get any better … Now with Santa counting on her, and with the hours ticking down to Christmas Eve, can Lucy save both Starlight and Christmas before its too late…

This is a lovely christmas story, and a great way to spend a spare hour - and it will definitely put you in the christmas spirit. I found Lucy to be a kind, polite character who always tries to do her best, fulfilling her promise to Santa, she keeps Starlight a secret, even though it means a little sneaking, and a few white lies to her mum.

 The family dynamics also made me smile, and because it was christmas, I liked how everyone contributed to the homely atmosphere by being polite, generous and generally helpful in and around the house. 

Not only does this book give the reader a nice story, but it will help teach children some manners and morals as well. A happy, cheerful read, ‘Lucy’s Secret Reindeer’ was a lovely Christmas book that I think will be enjoyed by young children everywhere. 4 stars!

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Falconer - Book Review

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The Falconer – Book Review
Elizabeth May
YA Fantasy
Book #1 in the falconer series

Synopsis:

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season and Aileana slaughter faeries in secret, in between the endless rounds of parties, teas and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic fa├žade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has a decision to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Ailena go for revenge…?

Review:

This book has been on my TBR list for a long time and I am only sorry that I didn’t pick it up sooner. Thrilling, action packed and set in 19th century steam punk Edinburgh; I couldn’t help but enjoy The Falconer immensely.

On the day of her coming out ball, seventeen year old Aileana is changed forever after she witnesses a mythical fae woman rip out her mother’s heart. Now one year on, Aileana is hardly recognisable as the meek, polite society girl she once was. With her reputation as a Lady hanging together by threads, she fights to endure her days of mindless balls and inane gossip, yet at night, she prowls the streets of Edinburgh, hunting down the blood thirsty fae in the hopes of running into her mother’s killer.

Only Derrick, her tame pixie companion and clothes mender, knows about her nightly excursions. But when Kiaran, Aileana’s trainer and unlikely accomplice in arms discovers that Aileana has been killing fae without him, he is furious. Now word is fast spreading through the fae world, that for the first time in centuries a falconer, a legendary female warrior born with both the skill and strength to hunt the fae, is alive and on the hunt. But the hunter is about to become the hunted.

As the seal holding the most powerful fae captive begins to weaken, Aileana learns she has only mere days to re-enact the spell keeping the fae from slaughtering the entire city – but she doesn’t know how. Now with time working against her, she can no longer keep up appearances as a highborn Lady. Yet as the scandal surrounding her spreads, she not only has to contend with impending world doom, but an arranged marriage as well… and even Kiarans forbidden good looks cannot distract her from that.

“Duty comes first” her father told her, but now Aileana must choose, duty to society, duty to the world or duty to her heart… either way, no matter what she chooses, people she loves are going to die…

I really, really loved this book. It’s the first steam punk style setting I have ever read and now I am certainly eager to check out more books in the genre. And for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, steam punk is set within the historical Victorian era except the technology is usually both highly advanced and steam powered.

In terms of the story, I was gripped from the first few pages where we are immediately introduced to Aileana, a feisty tempered red head who is out for revenge. She is an easily likeable character yet for all her tough exterior, beneath she is a soft hearted girl who is a little love staved and naive. Struggling to balance her two lives of debutante and fae hunter, she is also sinfully attracted to her tormented fae trainer, who she knows better than to trust, yet alone fall for. My heart couldn’t help but go out to her.

The secondary characters are also interesting and often humorous, particularly Derrick the Pixie, with his small yet foul mouth and never ending love of honey.

Yet I also loved Catherine, Aileana’s best friend. She knows there is more going on in Aileana’s life than meets the eyes and steadfastly stands by her. Catharine’s mother is also an intriguing, if disproving piece of work while Catharine’s brother, Gavin is a true gentleman – and the first human to really understand Aileana’s true nature.

What really grabs me about these characters though is how they drive the story forward. With hidden pasts and unclear motives for helping Aileana , they add an undercurrent of speculation to the story.

Undoubtedly the most unique character however – aside from Aileana herself – is Kiaran. A full blooded fae, he is a powerful being with deadly good looks and a blunt, to the point manner. While lacking the charms of Derrick and Gavin, he has a pained, tortured soul and a thirst for vengeance that captures the readers attention – and while maybe he isn’t the best love interest for Aileana (He isn't exactly the kiss and cuddle type) his lessons both better and protect Aileana in some way. I really hope we learn more about Kiaran in the next book.

My only disappointment with ‘The Falconer’ was its major cliff hanger of an ending! Right in the middle of the action! It’s fair to say I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book, I’m dying to know what happens next as so much of the plot was left unresolved.

All in all though a great, unique read set in a fantastical yet emotionally realistic world with a story that will keep you turning the pages. 4 stars!


Saturday, 6 December 2014

The Indigo Spell - Book Review

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The Indigo Spell – Book Review

Richelle Mead

YA Paranormal

Bloodlines Book # 3



Synopsis:

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the world of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets and human lives.

In the aftermath of a forbidden moment that rocked Sydney to her core, she finds herself struggling to draw the line between her alchemist teachings and what her heart is urging her to do. Then she meets alluring, rebellious Marcus Finch – a former alchemist who escaped against all odds and is now on the run.

Marcus wants to teach Sydney the secrets he claims the alchemists are hiding from her. But as he pushes her to rebel against the people who raised her, Sydney finds that breaking free is harder than she thought. There is an old and mysterious magic rooted deeply within her. And as she searches for an evil magic user targeting powerful young witches, she realises that her only hope is to embrace her magical blood – or else she might be next.

Review:
 
Another fabulous addition to the series, this book was difficult to put down and I really enjoyed every minute of it. Although, I was slightly disappointed that some characters only got to play small parts.

When a frantic phone call wakes Sydney in the middle of the night, she never imagines that she will be pulled even deeper into the world of vampires and magic. Yet now, with her life in danger, Sydney finds magic is the only way to protect herself and despite her original reluctance to use it, she is finding a surprising thrill in her new found power. But it is just one more secret she must keep from the alchemists. And now, with each new question she asks, Sydney’s fear of re-education grows.
 
Because the alchemists have been lying to her! And now Sydney has proof. But what to do with the information? Should she confront the alchemists, or run away and become an outcast, giving up her mission to protect the Moroi Princess… and her sinful feelings for Adrian, a gorgeous and sarcastic vampire royal. Torn between heart, head and ingrained duty, Sydney must make the ultimate choice, to stand her ground and risk exposure, or do nothing and risk losing everything…

What first struck me about this book was how nearly the whole plot centred around magic and Sydney’s progression with witchcraft. It was also the first book in the series that revolved completely around Sydney and her problems – which is partly why I think most of the secondary characters didn’t get much of a look in. While definitely a page turning story, I was still a little sad the Eddie, Angeline, Jill and the rest of the team got sidelined.

However Sydney’s story is without doubt a riveting one. The plot is fast paced with plenty of drama, revelations and nail biting moments. Yet I think the biggest attraction to this book lay in the fact that Sydney and Adrian finally got some lip-locking action!
 
Their romance is sweet yet passionate, and of course, completely forbidden. Not only does it up the stakes of the story, but I like how it’s clear to see that both Sydney and Adrian bring out the best in each other. I really can’t wait to see what the future has in store for this star crossed couple.
 
Otherwise I liked seeing the deeper side of mortal magic. This was something never explored in the vampire academy and is unique to the bloodlines series. I’m also curious to see how Sydney’s magic will help her in freeing herself of  the alchemists control, while also empowering her to get into more action based conflicts.

So overall, I really enjoyed this book, including the somewhat cliff hanger of an ending. A fantastic story, this is a series all vampire academy fans need to check out. 4 Stars!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Year of the Rat - Book Review

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The Year of the Rat – Book Review
Clare Furniss
YA Contemporary

Synopsis:

Grappling with grief is hard enough without repeat visits from the deceased. Pearl deals with death, life and family in this haunting, humorous and poignant debut.

The world can tip at any moment… a fact that fifteen year old Pearl is all too aware of when her mum dies after giving birth to her baby sister, Rose.

Rose, who looks exactly like a baby rat, all pink and wrinkled and writhing. This little rat has destroyed everything, even ruined the wonderful relationship Pearl had with her stepfather, the Rat’s biological father.
Mum, though… mum’s dead but she can’t seem to leave. She keeps visiting Pearl, smoking, cursing, guiding…

Told across the year following her mother’s death, Pearl’s story is full of bittersweet humour and heartbreaking honesty about how you deal with grief that cuts you to the bone, as she tries not only to come to terms with losing her mother, but also the fact the her sister – The Rat – is a constant reminder of why her mum is no longer around.

Review:

The year of the Rat is a deeply moving book that will definitely tug at the heart strings. And while I’m not generally a fan of contemporary reads, I had heard that this book was quite the emotional rollercoaster, and despite my reluctance for the genre, my curiosity eventually got the best of me. However while I didn’t exactly fall in love with the story, the book really did pack a huge punch that caused me to shed more than a few tears.

The story follows the life of fifteen year old Pearl. Opening on the day of her mother’s funeral, the reader is immediately informed of the close bond Pearl shared with her mother, and Pearl’s bitterness towards her newborn sister, Rose, aka ‘The Rat’ of whom she blames for her mother’s death.

Spanning the space of a year, the book takes you on Pearl’s journey through each stage of her grief. The denial, the guilt, the misplaced blame and of course, that anger than comes with a sudden loss. Yet what I found most interesting was the sporadic appearances of Pearl’s mother in ghost form. For me it was these beyond the grave conversations that helped make this story special.

As a main character Pearl is really complex. In the beginning her emotions are very raw but as the story is told in first person, it’s easy to relate to her mood swings and understand her perspective.

Yet watching Pearl’s slow acceptance of ‘The Rat’ also kept me turning the pages. While at times, I found Pearl’s actions horrifying, they were undeniably human and my heart would bleed for her with each new wall she would throw up between her and the world. So while by no means a happy story, ‘The Year of the Rat’ is without doubt one of depth and feeling.

What most drove me to keep reading the book though was its blatant honesty towards family life. Every family is special; whether that family is connected by blood, friendship or marriage. And as most parents keep some truths hidden from their children, this book shows how such things can lead to the children misunderstanding and making bad decisions, such was the case with Pearl.

Furthermore this book also explores the darker element of women who don’t initially bond with their children. Yet I also liked how these symptoms echoed in Pearl, especially when she accepts that her feelings of rejection and hate towards ‘the rat’ are abnormal. Nonetheless, she can’t help but blame her mother’s death on her innocent sister.  

As the story goes on, Pearl isolates herself more and more. Losing interest in her old life, she cuts herself off from her friends, skips school and begins to turn to alcohol to deal with her problems. All in all, it is a crazy year of ups and downs for Pearl that have a significant impact on the adult she is turning into. This book, especially for a debut novel, is a truly powerful read.

Overall, a gripping and beautifully written story that captures a young girl’s grief and tragedy. ‘The Year of the Rat’ will take you on a heartfelt journey that will teach you to let go of the past, cope with loss and remind you to keep on living. Truly spectacular! 4 Stars!