Wednesday 28 December 2016

The Shadow Keeper - Book Review

The Shadow Keeper
Abi Elphinstone
MG Fantasy
(Dreamsnatcher #2)
UK Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s UK

Other books in the series:
Book #1 - The Dreamsnatcher
Book # 3 - The Night Spinner

Other books by Abi Elphinstone:
Sky Song
The Snow Dragon


Moll Pecksniff and her friends are living as outlaws in a secret cave by the sea, desperate to stay hidden from the Shadowmasks. But further along the coast lies the Amulet of Truth, the only thing powerful enough to force the Shadowmasks back and contain their dark magic. So, together with Gryff, the wildcat that’s always by her side, and her best friends Alfie and Sid, Moll must sneak past smugglers, outwit mer creatures and crack secret codes to save the Old Magic.

With more at stake than ever before and the dark magic rising fast, can Moll and her friends stop the Shadowmasks before it’s too late?


The second instalment in Abi Elphinstones amazing dream snatcher series, this was a book I simply couldn't put down. Full of magic and friendship, the story puts some unique twists onto old tales and fully captured my imagination. I absolutely loved it!

After defeating the first group of shadowmasks, Moll and her friends must now battle an even scarier and more powerful trio of witch doctors. Determined to destroy the old magic of the forest, the witchdoctors use their dark magic to hunt Moll down, intending to kill her before she can reach the second Amulet. But when a rough and tough group of smugglers join in the search — determined to take the amulets wealth for themselves — Moll and her friends must use every bit of cunning available to make sure they get there first. But can they arrive in time…

My favourite thing about this book is its heroine, Moll. She is brave and spunky, hard-headed and without doubt, the toughest gyspy Tomboy around. In this book the challenges she faces really helps to develop her as a character and I liked that we got to see a more vulnerable side of her. The part that loves her friends and family and is a real softy behind her tough exterior.

As always Moll’s wild-cat, Gryff accompanied her wherever she went - and I liked that he got a bigger role in this story. His connection to Moll as her protector and friend melts my heart - and he really endured a lot throughout this story.

Otherwise I really enjoyed all the characters. Molls oldest friend Siddy also got more page time - he also developed a courageous side and his wise words really raised him in my esteem. He went from the timid best friend to the solid glue that keeps everyone together and moving forward. I also adored that his pet got upgraded from an earth worm (porridge the second) to a timid crab (hermit the first).

Alfie of course completes the trio of friends. His story came as a real surprise, with lots of plot twists and… ok, no spoilers, but I’m now desperate to read book three to see whats in store for Alfie next.

Of course the motley band of characters that make up Moll’s family of gypsies were in there too - humorous and loveable as ever. This book also saw the addition of some new characters - Scrap particularly deserves an honourable mention for she was amazing in her silent, miming way.

The plot is dramatic and fast paced. Something huge seemed to happen at the end of every chapter, and there were some elements of the story I really enjoyed. Golden Soles - something I’m sure was inspired by the little mermaid tale. Creatures such as Kelpies and the souls of drowned sailors, talking lighthouses … every page was full of magic and folklore.

The villains were also kicked up a notch. Nefarious smugglers and powerful witch doctors with their dark voodoo magic. One scene really sticks in my mind since it really creeped me out (I’m sure you’ll know what one when you read it), all I can say is that Abi Elphinstone really has a talent for creating atmosphere in her prose.

All in all there was nothing about this book that I didn't enjoy - except maybe the end - but only because I don't have the next book in which to continue the story.

I give the Shadow Keeper 5 stars!

What about you? Have any of you guys read this series? Let me know your thoughts in the comments :) 

If you want to read more daring adventures, check out COGHEART or THE HUNTRESS: SEA for some unforgettable reads!

Wednesday 21 December 2016

Favourite Books of 2016!

(I don't have any good book pictures - so instead here is one of Tokyo which was my favourite trip of 2016!)

Favourite Books of 2016!

I didn't get nearly as much reading done this year as I had hoped. If any of you follow me on Goodreads, you’ll see I only managed 76 out of my 150 reading goal. Maybe I can push this number to 80 before the year is over, but I can honestly say I really enjoyed most of the books I picked up. However, these books below —in no particular order—were my favourites!

Red Winter by Annette Maria

Set in Japan, this book read very much like a manga. Forbidden love, innocent girl and handsome demons, dry humour and plenty of action. The next book is released in early January and I cant wait.

The Dragon with the Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis

Without doubt the most delicious read of the year! With a spunky heroine, plenty of humour and mouth-watering descriptions of chocolate I devoured this book within half a day!

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Probably the first time a contemporary story has made my list! But I loved the links of friends in this book, and the writing was so relatable to my inner teen. Sara Barnard is an author who captures EXACTLY what its like to be a teenager.

The School for Good and Evil
Magic, humour and a whole new spin on happily ever afters - the characters in this book are simply fabulous!

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas
For this one I have no words… just please give me the next book asap!

The Other Alice by Michelle Harrison

I adored this book - Talking cats, crazy killers and an ancient curse! This story is perfect for fans of InkHeart or anyone who likes seeing characters brought to life.

A World of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

This book was pure magic. Weaving a compelling story about the Bronte Children, this story is a really beautiful piece of writing!

The Otherlife by Julia Gray

Borderline contemporary - Borderline magical, this was a really strange read that I found myself swept up in. Norse Gods, a potential murder… and boys stuck studying for their exams, it is a book that you will remember for a long time. 

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

This book was breathtaking and shared a huge piece of history that I knew nothing about. With a cast of realistic characters, each with their own heartbreaking tale, this was one of the most heart-wrenching books I read this year.

And that’s it! I also just realised that most of these books were new authors for me too— yay to me for branching out! Now tell me, what were your best reads this year?


Friday 16 December 2016

Red Winter - Book Review

Red Winter - Book Review
Annette Marie
YA Fantasy
(Red Winter Trilogy Book #1)
Publisher: Dark Owl Fantasy


In a few short months, Emi’s mortal life will end when she becomes the human host of an immortal Goddess. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body and soul to unite with the goddess — and not once has she doubted her chosen fate.

Shiro is a spirit of the earth and an enemy of the Goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with a cunning she can't match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command — whether she wants him or not.

On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate — but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the Gods, Shiro is her only hope… and hope is all she has left.


This book had everything that I look for in a good story. A great heroine, a hunky guy, forbidden romance, magic... and lots and lots of sarcasm. Set in Japan, it also read just like a manga, and I love, love, loved it!

Emi is more than a modern day priestess. She is the soon-to-be vessel of the great Wind Goddess, and therefore must remain pure in body, spirit and mind. But when she uncovers a terrible secret, everything Emi knows about Gods and Demons is thrown into question. For the first time in her life, she wants to run from her fate, only to learn her future cannot be altered.

However after Emi unwittingly saves a fox demon from a gruesome end, she inadvertently gains a servant — one who refuses to leave until his debt to her is repaid. But there is more to this fox demon than meets the eye, and his trickery and deceit aside, he may be Emi’s only chance at survival … but first she must learn to set aside her prejudices, and admit that demons aren't quite as bad as they seem…

This book made me squee with excitement/happiness so many times. But first and foremost, I have to mention that the artwork within the pages is exquisite and really captures the characters. Although there are only about ten of them, the images created matched exactly what was in my head.

However, I did feel this story got off to a slow start, beginning with lots of backstory and world building. While interesting, about 25% in I began to wish for something more dramatic to happen, and finally, it did. From that point onward, I literally could not put this book down.

That was around the point when the demons (Yokai) were introduced, and while they weren’t the most likeable characters at first, there literal way of speaking and dry humour was very entertaining. I also liked how they viewed everything, including the battle scenes as a sort of game - and remained witty even against terrible odds.

I also enjoyed Emi’s character. She is very sheltered and naive, innocent to the world around her, but I liked how she quickly grew a spine and challenged herself to be braver and try more things. I particularly liked how her good, priestess-trained self warred against the normal, teenaged girl within her, especially when it came to controlling her hormones. 

The only thing I think readers would struggle with is the amount of Japanese words used in the prose. I actually studied Japanese for a few years in university so the words were familiar, but I think if I had to keep flipping to the glossary at the end I may have lost some patience with the story. 

Although the author does do a fair of job of describing everything, I still think the Japanese could have been toned down a little. However I enjoyed the descriptions of the temple customs, and the settings themselves were full of atmosphere. 

In terms of story… everything is fast paced and flows well. The world and its magic are very believable, although occasionally I thought Emi’s choices weren't always the best. However I throughly enjoyed this book (although since I love all things Japanese I may be a little biased) and isn't this cover just gorgeous?

A definite read for anyone who enjoyed Zoe Marriotts “Name of the Blade” Trilogy, or Amanda Sun’s “Ink” series - Red Winter is a 5 Stars Read! I can’t wait to have the sequel in my hands. Please go read it... like, right now.

Want more Manga like fantasy? THE NIGHT ISTELF and INK are fantastic reads full of Japanese culture!

Monday 12 December 2016

Sarah VS Anxiety - My thoughts...


(A few months into my China trip - a beach outing with my older students)

So recently I read “A quiet kind of Thunder” by Sara Barnard, a book whose main character suffers from extreme anxiety. It’s beautifully written, and really made think about how everyone approaches life differently. For example, the main character in the story panicked over buying bus tickets, asking for help or directions, or even just buying some milk. I myself have never suffered from anxiety to such an extent, but in many ways I still related to the main character.

First let me introduce myself. I’m Sarah, a 27 year-old English teacher from the North-East of England. When I was 23, I moved out for the first time… by boarding a plane and flying to China. It was the best (and scariest) decision I ever made. 

However, meet 19 year old me. I was the girl who had my mum order a takeaway (Me, call and speak to other people? Yeah right!). I hated shopping by myself (Clearly I look shifty) and if I forgot to reply to a text or email, obviously I needed some great and elaborate excuse as to why. Surely just “I forgot” could not suffice. 

So how did this quivering mass of a girl go from a mousey, keep-my-head-down baby, to a Dance-Gangnam-Style in front of a theatre full of parents type alien. Simple. I WANTED to change.

When I was in England, I really didn't like the person I was. And I certainly didn't like the person I was becoming - which frankly, was a weight-gaining, stay-at-home shut in. Looking back, I can pinpoint a few reasons for how I ended up on this path, so allow me to give you some backstory - at the least the highlights.

(Cue violin music)

  • I had problems with my back throughout high-school. This led to two spinal fusions, one at sixteen, then another at eighteen. 

  • No teenager wants to be known as “The back girl” so I avoided school until they expelled me, and after I wanted to stay in a safe bubble. Somewhere I wouldn’t accidentally fall or be hurt. Thankfully my mum pushed me back  into school.

  • After my first operation at 16, I enrolled in a new college where no one knew me and I could have a fresh start. I even got a boyfriend.

  • Then I discovered I needed a second operation - and it was rinse and repeat all over again. Although this time, I fought the expulsion, and managed to scrape through my exams. Wahoo - I got some A-levels!

  • However I was still known as the back girl - only with a boyfriend. However myself esteem was really low, and admittedly, my boyfriend was not so great. He didn't want to travel, he didn't want me going out or talking to other guys, or any people for that matter. And since I was clearly unloveable because of my back…. well, who else would want me? And so I let him treat me terribly. 

  • But then my back healed. I began to dream of travelling once more. I needed to show myself - and apparently everyone else, that I could do it. And although my parents put me off for a few years, and my boyfriend whined for me to stay, in January 2013 I did it. I moved to China, and I haven't once looked back. 

(End tragic music)

When I left England, it felt like freedom. For the first time in a long time, I was responsible for myself, and there was literally no-one to fall back on. It pushed me to become the girl I am now.

I remember the fear of literally not being able to read anything - even now my Chinese sucks, but I still remember miming a chicken in a restaurant, just trying to get something for dinner. Admitted my first week in China I actually lived off plain fairy cakes and cheese slices, which I brought from a shop next door to my hotel. Only when they ran out (they don't restock often) was I forced to venture out and find food else where.

Then there’s the feeling of standing at the front of a classroom  for the first time, children looking up at you expectantly - I literally wanted to cry! Instead I think I started singing five little ducks…

(My last day at Shane English School - 2 years in China)

These all seem like such trivial things now.  Of course there were certainly hard times in the beginning, bouts of homesickness, days where I just wanted my mum… but I got through them. Mostly through pride and a sheer stubborn will not to go home. Plus the gift of Skype meant my fiends and family were just a video call away. 

It wasn't until I was in China for about three months that I knew I was going to make it. I remember me and some friends were on vacation (apologies - I live with a Canadian. My British vocabulary is slowly being leeched from me) and I chose to go back to the hotel alone before meeting up with them later. I remember hailing a taxi, speaking in terrible Chinese the name of the bar I wanted to go too - then arriving early, getting a table and ordering a drink. That was when it hit me. WHO WAS THIS GIRL? Had I really just done all that by myself!? … And I hadn't even thought twice about it. 

I don’t believe I have ever felt so proud OF MYSELF. But luckily, I get these surprise moments a few times a year now. Once when I went by myself to Shanghai, when I ventured into a fancy restaurant with my book, and ordered a table for one. Then again when I traveled to Tokyo alone and made a German friend in a cat cafe. Also when I survived climbing across waterfalls in a torrential downpour (not recommended!) after getting lost on a mountain. Then there’s that time I was nearly kidnapped… but that’s another story lol.

However when it came to overcoming my anxiety, it helped that I made some great friends, plus had my mind boggled by China and its people. I also met an awesome man during my second year out here (previous boyfriend was dumped - sadly via Skype one month into my China journey. Hey - I was still a coward back then!). But most importantly, I felt like I had grown up. 

Believe it or not - the thought of returning to England now is more scary than staying in China.  In the four years I have been out here, I discovered that when I went home for visits - It was/is terrifying how little has changed for everyone back home.

My old friends still ask about my back (because I’m still the bad back-girl-to-them) and they still try to carry the heavy bags when we buy our Friday-Night-Binge-Snacks at the supermarket. And heaven forbid if I drop anything - because I’m totally not allowed to pick it up! And if I take a long hike, everyone is constantly asking if I’m ok. My parents are much the same way. As soon as I get off the plane its all, “I’m so glad you’re home, how’s your back after that long journey?”

It’s frustrating, because it makes me feel just like I did when I was nineteen. Of course, while I know my friends and family mean well, I actually came to realise their protectiveness and concern hinder my growth as a person. It’s just SO EASY to let other people do things for me. What’s HARD is MAKING THEM UNDERSTAND, I’m not that person anymore. 

Now I am the girl who climbs mountains.  I’m the woman who quite happily walks around naked at the Japanese hot springs (men and women are separate!). I’m the person who doesn't blink twice at going off to a new country by myself, and public speaking…. it’s not the worst thing ever.

And the best part - apart from the odd twinge now and then, my back is fine. Sure when I climb mountains or ride elephants it can be a slight worry, but if I let my worries hold me back, what kind of life would I be living?

So my point is, I do understand anxiety, but I think growth happens when the person themselves WANT to change. I was terrified at the thought of moving to China (although to tell the truth, I hadn't actually thought passed the plane journey - when I actually realised I had arrived and now needed to survive - wow - that was a hole new bundle of nerves lol), but I was more scared of was who I would become if I stayed. Probably a shut in hermit with a terrible boyfriend who was, one by one, cutting away what few friends I had… And the worse part, I was the person who was letting him. 

It makes me wonder though - how many people are being held back by the very people who care about us most? It’s a horrible thought, but I do believe the people we love can unconsciously make our anxieties worse. Whether they mean to or not, they remind us of our problems and difficulties. Whether its a parent asking, “Do you really think that’s a good idea?” To friends constantly wanting to know, “How are you faring?” My advice is don't get angry, but do let them know your frustrations.

Thankfully, I grew a spine and talked to both my friends and family about treating me like I’m helpless. Bit by bit, with each visit home, things have gotten better. But even knowing how I live now, their caring habits can’t be erased entirely. Their intent comes from a good place, but I want people to be aware of how loved ones can feed your own insecurities. 

Obviously I don't think you need to move to another country to gain some confidence (although I would recommend it lol) but if you are anything like that character in “A quiet kind of Thunder” I want to encourage you to try slipping a toe or too out of your comfort zone. 

Try something by yourself. Make a phone call (you can always hang-up) or push yourself to go into just one shop. Say hello, or just nod your head to a person on the street (I recommend dog walkers - they are always friendly), or hey, write me an email (and send me into a panic about what to write back lol) but do something just for you. And of course - there is no shame is bringing a friend along if needs be. 

Anxiety is IRRATIONAL! And everybody gets it. Just the other day I was in a shop, and the clerk picked up the items in my basket, writing 100 on the bottom of each thing. My Chinese isn't that good, so I had no idea why. In the minutes the followed, I had the following thoughts:

Maybe I should put everything back and walk away. What if everything in my basket is really 100RMB (£10) which is so expensive. OMG - I don't want to pay that much. But once they ring them up, I cant just not pay… maybe I really should walk away….

However after much deliberation I stood in the queue, and guess what - nothing happened. Everything was normal price, and so I decided the clerk just wanted to freak me out. But I wanted to show you, even after moving to another country, I still panic and worry about silly things. 

Admittedly, if everything had been 100RMB I would have paid - too nervous not to - and walked away very unhappy. And while I’m being honest, even though I’ve done it a thousand times… I get scared to ask for carrier bags. Crazy right? But it seems to depend on how friendly the person at the till looks - or how many people are waiting behind me. 

So now its your turn. What are your methods for beating anxiety? Any achievements this year? Or failures, because they’re nothing to be ashamed of. They show you’re trying - and as long as you keep trying, your life will be a happier place :) 

Until next time….


P.S I'm actually quite anxious about this post - I don't normally write about my personal self... please be gentle in your comments lol

Thursday 8 December 2016

A Quiet Kind of Thunder - Book Review

A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Sara Barnard
YA Contemporary
UK Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books.
UK Release: 12th January 2017


Steffi doesn't talk, but she has so much to say.
Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.
Their love isn't a lightening strike, it’s the rumbling roll of thunder.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life - she’s been silent for long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to look after him. To Rhys, it doesn't matter that Steffi doesn't talk, and as they find ways to communicate, Steffi finds that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it.


A Quiet Kind of Thunder is a lovely coming of age story that girls of all ages would enjoy. Covering many issues such as anxiety, social situations, sex and first love, it really opens the readers eyes to the world around them. It reveals how everyone is dealing with their own problems, and I liked how this story highlighted that what are mundane tasks for some, are huge achievements for others.

Stephanie is a selective mute. Her voice comes and goes, controlled by her fears and social anxiety. But when she meets Rhys, a handsome, confident new student, her pea-sized world suddenly grows so much bigger. 

Rhys is deaf, but he doesn't let that stop him living a normal life. Bit by bit, he helps bring Stephanie out of her shell, showing both her and the world that she does have a voice. All it takes is that one person willing willing to listen…

I don’t generally read a lot of YA Contemporary, but after I read Sara Barnard’s debut, Beautiful Broken Things, I knew she was an author to watch out for. Her books are so relatable, echoing many thoughts and feelings I myself had as a teenager. I can’t imagine any girl not enjoying her books, and A Quiet Kind of Thunder proves her skill as a writer only continues to grow. 

This story follows the life of seventeen-year-old Stephanie Brons. As a character who has suffered with anxiety all her life, being inside her head offered a unique insight into her day to day struggles. I was really moved by how many seemingly ordinary tasks were so difficult for her, things such as browsing in shops, buying bus tickets, or simply ordering food. Every time she succeeded, the triumph she felt was heart warming.

However what struck me most about this book was how it emphasised that all the changes that happened, happened mostly because of Stephanie herself. Through her own desires and need to take control of her life, she made an effort to put herself in situations that would challenge her. Was it horrible. Yes. Did it always work. No. Why? Because anxiety is irrational and thats all the explanation needed.

I also liked how the reader knew Stephanie was taking medication, but both her boyfriend and best friend didn’t. I felt Stephanie's reasons for keeping such a secret were honest and justifiable, and this made her very true as a character. However her shame that she needed to rely on medication was obvious, but I liked how by the end of the book she owned up to the truth about it, accepting that medicine was indeed making her life better - and that there was nothing wrong with admitting it.

In regards to Rhys, he was a very sweet sort of love interest, but his mood swings began to annoy me toward the end. I didn't like how he made every problem about him. Still I enjoyed his and Stephanie's relationship as a whole, and the awkwardness of their sexual explorations cracked me up in its honesty. While not graphic, the sex scenes were truthful, making comedy of the mess, sweat and fumbling, “can’t find the entrance” moments. 

The other characters were also well written, especially Stephanie and Rhys’ parents. What I loved about them was how the current me sympathised and agreed with them, but the teenage girl inside me got all riled up and irritated. I wanted to roll my eyes and rant about how the parents “just didn't get it” which won this story some major points.

However, as much as I enjoyed this book, about half-way through I began to feel that this was just another romance, coming of age story. If Stephanie wasn’t mute, and Rhys not deaf, their romance and struggles wouldn't have been nearly as interesting. Therefore this was definitely more a plot of circumstances and while I did enjoy it very much, I didn't love it quite as much as Beautiful Broken Things.

All in all though this is an empowering story that I think a lot of girls - both young and old - will relate to and find comfort in. 4 stars!

If like books that explore mental health or living with disabilities, you must look at WHISPER and THE YEAR OF THE RAT