Thursday, 18 October 2018

All the Bookish Things I'm Loving - 2018 Edition


While looking for crabs, my friends stumbled onto this beautiful creature on a beach in Bali ... meanwhile I was house sitting their cat. Just wanted to share as I think its one of the most beautiful pictures I've seen in ages!

All the Book Things I’m Loving 

(2018 edition)

Hey lovely people! It’s been a very long time and what feels like an even longer “no see” since I checked in with the blogging world. 

I would like to say that I’ve been off doing amazing, writer-like things, or travelling the world, but honesty, not so much. 

Instead I’ve been pretty focused on my job and fighting for all the overtime I can get. I gave myself some pretty big financial goals this year and while they are going successfully, everything else I love sort of went on hold (So she says, as if her Goodreads doesn't show 73 books read so far this year!) :P

However book blogging is something I’ve really missed. Its such an awesome community to be a part of and more than anything - I NEED more people in my life with which to gush over pretty covers and awesome stories with :) 

Which is a very long winded way of saying - “Hey guys, I’m back!”

But despite my four measly posts this year, I have found/read a few things I want to share with you all. So in no particular order, here they are :)




Writing Craft books

I’m still plodding away at the second draft of my MG Fantasy (plod, plod, plod) and here are some of the books that have been a big help to me recently:

  • Anything by JAMES SCOTT BELL - "Just Write" is my favourite so far but every book I’ve read by him has been helpful.

  • THE MILE HIGH WORDCOUNT by Rick Smith - really useful exercises to help up your word counts. Works well if you read it alongside Chris Fox’s 5000 WORDS PER HOUR. I sort of mish-mashed the two methods and it really boosted my productivity.

  • THE PROCRASTINATION EQUATION by Piers Steel - while not directly writing related, I found this book insightful. It made me question how I approach writing and helped me build good habits.

Another one I want to shout out isn't a book, but any aspiring writer should definitely check out Susan Dennard's website. It has the best writing advice and she is so transparent about the industry. This woman is the best! And if you do find her advice useful, please consider buying her a coffee or two :)



Young Adult Books

I’ve read quite a lot of books this year, but these are the ones that stood out the most for me. Hopefully some reviews will follow soon :)

  • A GENTLEMANS GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzie Lee

  • HERO AT THE FALL by Alwyn Hamilton. This was book 3 and trust me, you need this trilogy in your life!

  • AMERICAN PANDA by Gloria Chao - I think I loved this so much because I have lived in China almost six years. I just love how the main characters parents were portrayed as its so spot to what I've experienced with traditional Chinese beliefs and culture!

  • THE SPELLSLINGER SERIES by Sebastian De Castell. The characters in this book are just amazing. I fell in love with this series so hard that be warned, I will be mentioning it again with many fan-girl squeals!

  • STARFISH by AKEMI DAWN BOWMAN - not sure what it was, but something about this book had me utterly gripped! Also the best representation of social anxiety I’ve ever seen!



Middle Grade Books

I think because I’m trying to write a MG, I’ve been reading more of these books than I usually would. However MG can be so brilliant and I really wish more people would give them a try!

  • PERIL IN PARIS by Katherine Woodfine. This is a spin off to her SINCLAIR’S MYSTERIES and I love these books so so much. If you haven't read them already, please go start with THE CLOCKWORK SPARROW!

  • MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE SERIES by Robin Stevens. More murder mystery, but I love the cast of diverse characters and the mysteries themselves are pretty hard to work out. There is always some kind of twist!

  • THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON HEART by Stephanie Burgis. This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 and I loved it. Please go read A DRAGON WITH A CHOCOLATE HEART first though - only then can you truly appreciate the characters. 

  • THE POLAR BEAR EXPLORERS CLUB by Alex Bell. Such an awesome adventure.

And finally...

THE BEST PODCAST EVER!

I've followed 88 CUPS OF TEA for a long time, but in my opinion its still the best! Interviews with authors such Sarah J. Maas, V.E Schwab, Victoria Aveyard, Leigh Bardugo and many many more. 

The show's host, Yin Chang, asks great questions and really goes into the details of what goes on behind the scenes with writing life. 

Inspirational and fun, I discovered so many new books from this podcast. It also helps remind me that everyones road to publication is different.

However I'm always on the look out for podcasts similar to 88 Cups of Tea. If you have any recommendations please let me know :)


TALK WITH ME

So how is the bookish world for the rest of you? Any amazing story gems you want to share? What about gold nugget releases you can’t wait for? 

I’ve sincerely missed talking with you all so please let me know what’s been happening in the months I've been silent.

Otherwise speak to you all soon!

Friday, 17 August 2018

The Midnight Peacock - Book Review


The Mystery of the Midnight Peacock - Book Review

Katherine Woodfine
MG Mystery
The Sinclair Mysteries #4
UK Publisher: Egmont

Other Books in the Series:

The Clockwork Sparrow
The Jewelled Moth

Synopsis:

You are cordially invited to Sinclair’s Midnight Peacock Ball! The festive season has come to Sinclair’s and Sophie and Lil are spending the holidays at Snowy Winter Hall. But it turns out that this is no ordinary house party… 

As sinister secrets come to light, our intrepid heroines find themselves faced with a more baffling mystery than ever before! With the help of their friends, can they uncover the truth in time to foil a truly diabolical plot? Or will Mr Sinclair’s New Year’s Eve, Midnight Peacock Ball spell disaster for the dauntless young detectives? 

Prepare for shocks and surprises in the thrilling conclusion to the Sinclair Mysteries!

Review:

From the very first book, I fell in love with the Sinclair’s mysteries. Now The Midnight Peacock brings the series to an epic conclusion, leaving just enough intrigue to insure I’ll be picking up Katherine Woodfine’s spinoff, “The Taylor and Rose Secret Agents.”

As the year 1910 comes to a close, this fourth book sees Sophie and Lil set up their own detective agency within Sinclair’s. Yet suspicions of a ghostly haunting take them out of the department store, to their friends fancy country manor. But is it a ghost stealing the valuables, or something even more sinister?

Meanwhile back in London, Billy and Joe stumble across signs that the brotherhood of the dragon - led by the ever slippery Baron - are active once more. But just how are the two cases connected? And what do they have to do with Sinclair’s Midnight Peacock Ball? Crack open the pages and venture into a world of ghosts, assassinations, secret Societies, and two very brave detectives….

What I loved about this series was how independent & individual each book was. Despite not reading the books in the right order (I accidentally started with book 3!) I had no trouble following the stories. While they do all interconnect, each volume tells its own mystery, and it’s not until this last book that everything clicks together. However now up to date with all four books, I can say with confidence that The Midnight Peacock is the best one yet.

It brings together characters from across every book and through a clever and tricksy plot-line, unites their story threads in a delicious tangle of intrigue. They will leave you open-mouthed at the cunning complexity of it all. I can’t help but applaud Katherine Woodfine for all the hard-thinking and preplanning that must have gone into this series! It’s simply  a gorgeous read!

I also like that this story took us outside London and Sinclair’s department store - as wondrous as that setting is - it was nice to see Sophie and Lil’s world grow. Especially as they found themselves in a country mansion, once belonging to Lord Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I spymaster. Full of secret passages, it was the perfect place for strange things to be happening.  

Each character has also gone through some serious growth and development, although it is a little sad to see them all diverging onto separate paths. Lil as an actress, Billy as a clerk and Joe, still the same loveable stable boy. However I’m curious to see what will be next for Sophie, especially as this book finally see’s her solve the biggest mystery of all - her fathers death (and yes, the unveiling is as emotional and epic as you all imagined).

However all the plot lines in this book were a real puzzle and while I worked out some elements (yay me!) so much remained a surprise. Otherwise I adored how Katherine Woodfine worked the suffragettes into the story, even going so far as having Mr Lim teach them KungFu (a handy skill for Sophie and Lil in their line of work, don’t you think?). 

All in all though, I loved this book, and can’t help but gush about this series as a whole. I can’t wait for the spin off series releasing in August 2018, and if you haven't already, I urge you to go pick up the first book - A Clockwork Sparrow. 

A five star book, with a five star ending to a five star series! :)

What were your thoughts on this book?
Please share your opinions in the comments :) 
Until next time!


Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A Far Away Magic: Blog Tour - Amy Wilson Q&As + UK Giveaway!


Hey everyone!


Today I have some wisdom from the amazing AMY WILSON to share with you all :)

Celebrating the release of her latest (and most fantastic) new book, A Far Away Magic, she was kind enough to answer some of my questions.

Here we go...

***

Hey Amy! 

A huge, huge welcome to my blog. First off I just want to say I LOVED your books. You totally caught my attention with A GIRL CALLED OWL and now you dazzled me with A FAR AWAY MAGIC! I’m so excited to see what you will write next :)

Oh gosh, thank you so much, it means so much to hear, especially while I’m in the sticky bit of the next thing!!

So to jump right in, your second book, A FAR AWAY MAGIC has just released. Was this one harder or easier to write than you’re first book? 

It was different! I was lucky in that I’d had the first chapters for a little while, so I already had the main gist of the story and the characters in mind, and very lucky that when we sent through ideas for book two it was the one that Macmillan went for – I was desperate to write it, and sort Bavar out! I do remember getting to about 17,000 words and feeling very lost, because I hadn’t really planned the middle section. I prefer not to plan, but in the end I always, always have to, even if it’s quite a brief timeline. Once I had the plan, and I knew what obstacles needed to be overcome, it was a lot of fun to write. I loved all of the characters and they were so strong in my mind, so I just got them going in the right direction and let them take the lead.

I loved the monsters, the Raksasa. Are they based on any real myth or folklore? What was the inspiration behind them?

I got the original inspiration for the Raksasa from the night gaunts in HP Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, but when I researched them I realised they were figures from his dreams and so I felt that I needed to move on from that a little. I did some research in Breverton’s Phantasmagoria, and found the legend of the Orang-Bati of Indonesia, ‘strange human/bat monsters’ who prey on children in the island of Seram. I put those two ideas together and called them the Raksasa, which is a Malaysian word for monster, as well as being a mythological creature in Hindu mythology.

Bavar’s house is pure magic! Is the setting based on a real place? And where do you get your ideas to create such a magical world?

I think mostly through a lot of reading! I was partly inspired by the Dower House in Bristol, that overlooks the M32, but only in that it is a grand old yellow house; the actual structure and all of the inside comes from my imagination, with a lot of inspiration from old gothic houses in books like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, or Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The book is split into dual POVs of Angel and Bavar, but did you prefer writing in one voice more than the other? And if you could have added a third perspective, whose would you have chosen?

Ooh! Well, the two voices happened quite naturally - I’d write in Bavar until he ran out of steam, and then Angel would step in, and vice versa. I didn’t think too hard as I wrote, because I was scared that if I did I would start worrying about keeping them distinct, and it would all come to a shuddering halt! If I had to choose another character to write from I think it would have been Bavar’s grandfather  - the bronze statue – just because he’d have such a different take on things, and I like his blustering.

Do you have a favourite scene from the story? Or is there anything that didn't make it into the final version that you would like to share?

I loved spending time in Bavar’s house; the kitchen, with Aoife’s amazing/gruesome baking, and the corridors and huge halls upstairs where the ancestors all come to life. And I particularly enjoyed writing the cemetery and woodland scenes, Bavar was so comfortable there, it didn’t feel creepy to him because he knew it so well, and I loved that Angel saw the beauty of it, despite all of the darkness.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? And how long drafting A Far Away Magic took?

It’s a little bit scatty! It usually starts out with a few chapters that explore a character who has come to me, and then I try to work out what that character needs and where we’re going. Plotting is the area where I tend to need a little outside help, I get a bit lost in the middle, as I said earlier! The first draft of A Far Away Magic took about three months, I think. I juggle it with looking after children and animals, so I write when I can, where I can, and try not to put too much pressure on myself.

Are there any writing resources or tips you would recommend to aspiring writers?

Do try to get to the end. It’s hard, and I think sometimes it’s even harder if we don’t quite believe we can do it. When I’m in the sticky bit I doubt it, every time, but it is possible, and once you have the whole thing drafted you can go back and work on any of those bits that didn’t feel quite right along the way. 

And finally - what are you working on next? Any juicy tip-bits you can share?

I’m working on my third novel with my editor Lucy at Macmillan. It’s currently in the editing/re-drafting stage and it’s been quite a different experience for me, because this time I had the idea and the setting before I had my main character. It took me quite a while then to find her! I’ll hopefully be able to reveal more about it very soon. 

Amy thank you so much for your time! I throughly enjoyed A FAR AWAY MAGIC and will be recommending it all my young students :) 

Thank you for having me, it’s been such a pleasure!



GIVEAWAY - UK ONLY

As part of the blog-tour, I have 5 copies of Amy's books to giveaway!

Both are spectacular MG Fantasies! If you would like to get your hands on a pair, just leave a comment below with either an email or twitter name with which I can contact you.

Winners will be drawn on March 17th :)

Meanwhile you can out my reviews of Amy's Books below:

A Far Away Magic

:)

Monday, 15 January 2018

The House of Mountfathom - Book Review


The House of Mountfathom
Nigel McDowell
MG FANTASY
UK PUBLISHER: Hot Key Books

Synopsis:

The House of Mountfathom. A place of wonder, magic and mystery. A house with doors that lead to faraway places, where shape-shifting and smoke-summoning are as commonplace as the rising and setting of the sun.

Luke is the son of the noble house with a magical education to fulfil; Killian, a sharp-tongued street urchin with an agenda of his own. Together the pair will have to tread a unique and brave path if they are to save the House of Mountfathom and preserve the very peace of the land…

Review:

This book was more unique than most. I throughly enjoyed the enchanting descriptions that contributed to the world building, as well as the author’s choppy yet poetic writing style. However the story itself was nothing like I expected, and while I can’t say I loved the plot, it did strike a chord that left me thinking about it long after the last page was turned. 

Luke is the only child of Lord and Lady Mounthfathom, one day to inherit the family’s magical mansion, along with the responsibility to remain a peace keeper for the realm. But as Luke’s training progresses, unrest and uprisings break out across the country, and suddenly he and his family are stuck between two warring sides - both of whom thirst for the destruction of Luke’s family, and all who wield the power of magic… 

 I found this a very difficult book to review.

The opening prologue is rather confusing (although you will get an “A-HA” moment near the end of the book) but that, mixed with the clipped writing style makes the first few pages difficult to navigate. However I soon found myself really enjoying the choppy writing. It keep’s you present, allowing you to live in the story alongside the characters, and I felt it really enhanced the descriptions.

However while the writing felt quick, it also helped balance the slow unfurling of the plot. And by slow I mean crawling. You literally follow the main character Luke from cradle to mid-teens, and while I wasn't bored reading through his childhood, after I finished the book I couldn't help but wonder WHAT the point of it all was - other than a chance to enrich the world. 

Mid-way through the book though, we are introduced to a new character, Killian, who spices things up as he is the opposite to Luke in every way. From Killian’s point of entry, the story is then split into Killian and Luke’s dual narratives, which really helps up the pacing. 

By the time you are two thirds into the story, the action really begins to snowball, faster and faster… until it suddenly stops. Not just stops, but the action literally disappears, and the story takes a sudden new route. As a reader this really threw me, and left me completely baffled with the ending. 

However, what kept me reading was throughout the book there was an underlying theme surrounding Luke, centring around his fear of stepping away from his sheltered life into the unknown - in this case - a magical void of darkness in which lurks a monster.

Is that monster death? Life? Fear itself? In many ways - this sudden philosophical turn in the story is left to the readers imagination, but this was the moment I found Nigel McDowell’s writing truly beautiful, and extremely deep. I also felt like the book was trying to send some kind of message or life lesson, and unfortunately, I hate when books do that. 

Therefore somewhat disgruntled by the ending, I then went on to read the authors Bio as I usually do, only to discover that Nigel McDowell passed away at the age of 34, shortly after completion of this novel. 

Cancer. 

I’m not sure why, but suddenly I appreciated this book a lot more. I’m only surmising, but I felt this story was very personal to the author and is perhaps even a echo of his thoughts and what ifs. 

It turned what I thought was a preachy ending, into a story that required some more time for contemplation and quiet reflection.

Even so, I don't think this book is for everyone. Sold as a middle-grade novel, I think children will be ensnared by the magic and imagination of the world and characters, but regardless of age - I think most readers will still find the story itself somewhat flat. All in all, I’d give this book 3 stars. However I will most definitely be reading Nigel McDowell’s other two books, THE BLACK NORTH, and TALES FROM PITCH END. 

RIP Nigel McDowell. 

Talk with me :)

Have any of you read this book? If so what were you're thoughts? Or did you prefer another of the authors books?



Monday, 8 January 2018

Sticking to your Goals!

(New Years Eve Bonfire in Allendale - warm and toasty!)

Sticking To Your Goals (Writing Edition!)
#Lifestyle

Hey everyone. HAPPY NEW YEAR! I wish you all health, happiness and the best of luck for achieving everything you want in 2018 :) With a clean slate ahead of us, I hope we can all make this year a memorable one!

So today I wanted to talk about methods that help me stay on track with my goals. I’m sure many of you have written lists, set new year’s resolutions, and made plans about all the things you want to achieve… but while the good intentions are always there, I for one find sticking to my goals super difficult.

After doing lots of research into the habits of successful people (I found many of them do very similar things) here are the tips and tricks that help make me more productive.

MORNING PAGES 

If you google this term, so many things will come up, but the basis of the idea is to HANDWRITE three pages by letting everything that comes to mind spill out onto the page. Don’t worry if it makes no sense - just write it down - even if your writing, “I don't know what to write.” Sit there for five minutes and something will come... Probably.

I like morning pages because while I only write them every other day, they leave me clear headed and with a much better grasp of exactly WHAT is going on in my brain! It allows me to see any obstacles, making morning pages my peak problem solving time. 

My pages tend to vary day to day. Sometimes they are more like diary entries, often recounting things I did the previous day, other times they focus on my future goals and dreams. For the most part though, they give me the opportunity to brainstorm ideas (without feeling guilty that I’m cheating on my current project), even if the ideas are only half formed. 

Sometimes I jot down my frustrations at myself, my characters, my story in general, and more often than not, solutions soon present themselves.

I would really, really recommend giving morning  pages (or nighttime pages  - time doesn't really matter) a go. They have helped not just with my writing, but often with my day to day life as well.

EXTRA TIP FOR WRITERS:

Another trick is to use writing prompts. Even five minutes spent on a fixed task can loosen up those writing muscles and get your creativity flowing! 

You can find plenty of story prompts online, but some books I would recommend are:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott 
Anything written by James Scott Bell
The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein 


PLAN AHEAD WITH ACTIONABLE GOALS!

I love t0-do lists. I'm always making them... and until a few months ago, nearly always ignoring them. Yet I found early on, if my list looks like this:

  • Make Doctors Appointment
  • Write 1000 words
  • Write a Book Review
  • Critique 1 Chapter for X

….. NOTHING EVER GETS DONE! Not only would my list just grow, but I would procrastinate the day away! However when I write my list like this, everything seems so much more achievable:

  • Ring Doctor’s on 0123456789 at 9.30am to make an appointment. (+ set a timed reminder on your phone)
  • Write Classroom scene:

       - Introduce Will-o-the-wisp teacher + Petey & Ajax. 
    - Rin gets bullied (stings, bites, raised hand)
    - Explain magic system of the school x 3 types of monster

  • Review Wendy Darling Book 3: Spend 30 minutes 
  • Read & Critique 3 pages for X: Spend 30 minutes

Don’t just write down WHAT you need to do. Write down HOW these things will be done, and WHEN they will be done by. Bigger tasks you can break down into bitesize chunks, for example rather than just writing 1000 words, my target is a specific scene, and from that scene I have three smaller goals which can be tackled one at a time.

If you can’t break your workload down physically, then I suggest cutting it into chunks of time. Often if I set myself 30 minutes to do something, I often find that I will actually sit there for an hour or more. It’s all about getting that momentum going.

EXTRA TIP FOR WRITERS: I mentioned in a previous post, WRITING HACKS AND TRICKS, that one of my favourite tools is an App called WRITERS BLOCK. Like it says on the tin, it blocks me from doing anything else on my computer until I hit my word count goal. 

If I’m being extra tricksty with myself, I load it up the night before. That way, when I open up my computer the next day, writing is literally the only thing I can do! The other option, to sit and type a_space_a_space a thousand times over to clear my screen - is oddly - not that appealing. This is a good trick to get your fingers typing at the start of the day!

PRIORITISE YOU LIST

We will always have a 101 things to do - that’s life. However each week I write out all my upcoming tasks, then every night I pick no more than FIVE THINGS  that I definitely want to get done the next day. 

However my GOLDEN RULE is this - Every day, at least ONE item on that list needs to help me work toward a LONG TERM GOAL. As an aspiring writer - usually that thing for me is writing, or reading about writing, looking for critique partners, or even attending a writing class. I’ve even written down “movie marathon” on my list once, while I was in search of inspiration. Hey, it all counts! - though try not to cheat too often :P

DON’T CONFUSE ERRANDS WITH GOALS! You will always feel better about yourself if you do one thing that will bring you closer to fulfilling your dreams!

(Only 8K into edits - I really need to push on....)

HAVE A REWARD SYSTEM!

I know many bloggers who are really into bullet-journalling, and while I love seeing the creative spreads that people do, for the most part, I’m quite happy with a plain old diary.

However when it comes to hitting word counts (and oddly - meeting my financial goals) I love creating pretty trackers that I can colour in at every milestone (or stepping stone) I reach! Much like the STICKY STAR SYSTEM I use for writing - (Writing Hacks & Tricks) -colouring in a tiny square in my bullet journal gives me the same sense of pleasure and achievement. 

However if you can TURN A TASK INTO A REWARD than even better! Right now I’m trying very hard to knit a patchwork blanket. I’m slowly getting close to finishing, but rather than write: Knit one Square onto my to-do list, I keep this project off my list entirely. Instead, this is my reward for completing the day’s tasks. When I tick off my five to-dos, then I get to knit one square, put my feet up and listening to an Audio Book. Win win for me :)

Other Self-rewards:

  • Bullet Journaling - like I said, I enjoy creating my tracker pages, so this is an end of day reward (again while listening to an Audio Book).
  • Cooking - I love trying out new recipes or baking things.
  • Writing - Yes, you read that right! Sometimes when I’m really in the flow of my story - or have left off in an exciting place - I can’t wait to get back to my book! If that’s the case, writing is my reward for completing the more boring tasks like laundry and admin.

Chat with me

What methods do you use to stay on task? Do any of these methods work for you? I would love it if you could let me know in the comments. I’m always on the look out to try new things that will help me boost my productivity!