Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

04006290In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

It took me far too long to pick up this book. I’ve adored the film for a long time and, shamefully, didn’t know it was based on a book until a couple of years ago.

The book is glorious. It’s a very different beast to the film (which is also glorious) and so I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of the twists and turns along the way. Both mediums have the same whimsical flavour and if you love the film, you really should give the book a go!

Howl is much more of a drama queen in the novel, which makes for some hilarious scenes, and Sophie is as wonderful as ever – so resigned is she to being an old woman that you forget she’s young underneath!

There’s not a single character that I don’t like, which is surprising for me.

It’s such a magical story, much more magical than the film (I didn’t think it possible but the novel packs in more spell-casting than Ghibli).

I love that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, the novel is ridiculous and it carries it in the best way possible. I adore whimsy in all its forms so this is the perfect story for me. I will definitely be reading it again, and looking up the sequels!

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Review: All That She Can See by Carrie Hope Fletcher

9780751563207Cherry has a hidden talent. She can see things other people can’t and she decided a long time ago to use this skill to help others. As far as the rest of the town is concerned she’s simply the kind-hearted young woman who runs the local bakery, but in private she uses her gift to add something special to her cakes so that after just one mouthful the townspeople start to feel better about their lives. They don’t know why they’re drawn to Cherry’s bakery – they just know that they’re safe there and that’s how Cherry likes it. She can help them in secret and no one will ever need to know the truth behind her gift.

And then Chase arrives in town and threatens to undo all the good Cherry has done. Because it turns out she’s not the only one who can see what she sees . . .

This is only going to be a quick one as I soon have to jump in the car and whizz my way down to Oxfordshire, but since I finished another book I thought I would write a quick review before I go.

I am an advocate of all things Carrie Hope Fletcher (I am seeing her in concert on Easter Sunday!), so naturally, I had to buy All That She Can See.

It’s described as ‘Chocolat with a tablespoon of Bake-Off’ and when I started reading this book, I would have agreed with that assessment but having finished it, that’s very much not the case. It’s very different than what I was expecting. Her first book had magical realism, it flittered in and out of the story (confusing many people when it did), but this one relies on it. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it but it grew on me.

Cherry is a girl who can see the bad emotions that have latched onto people, she sees them as many different monsters and, naturally, she tries to help. I liked reading about the different descriptions of the monsters and how they varied from person to person. The downside to a story revolving around emotions is that it does get a bit preachy in parts. What I liked more were all of the human characters. Sally and Margie and Bruce and George, they were all so endearing.

did have to quell my inner editor a lot but I did enjoy the novel. Pick it up if you want an easy read containing a lot of baked goods and a very original magical realism premise.

Review: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

practical-magic-9781471169199_lgAs children, sisters Gillian and Sally were forever outsiders in their small New England town, teased, taunted and shunned for the air of magic that seems to sparkle in the air around them. All Gillian and Sally ever wanted was to get away.

And eventually they do – one marries, the other runs as far from home as she can manage.

Years later, however, tragedy will bring the sisters back together. And they’ll find that no matter what else may happen, they’ll always have each other.

 

I finished a book! Can you believe it? I can’t. I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you. Hopefully, this spells the end of my reading slump. I’m going to try starting another book this evening and we shall see what happens.

Practical Magic is a book I’ve been wanting to read for yonks. Ever since I first saw and fell in love with the film, I’ve wanted to read the book. I am glad I saw the film first – I may not have read the book if the film stuck more closely to it (and I really liked the book so it would have been a shame to miss out on it).

I’m not one of those people who despair if a book-movie deviates from the source material. I view the two as separate entities that I can enjoy individually (the exception here is Inkheart, while I do enjoy the film and will happily watch it, I am very sad that they didn’t allow for the whole trilogy to be turned into films because the later books were incredible), and most of the time I understand why a change had to be made.

Practical Magic the film and Practical Magic the book are very, very different to one another. They share characters and the main conflict but otherwise, they’re different stories. I think it was a great choice for the directors and writers and film people (whoever makes that decision) as the film does add drama that was lacking in the book. The book is a slow burner, it really enjoys exploring the characters more than it does plot, the prose is delicious and it wanders off in directions you would not expect having read the previous paragraph.

I really adored the characters, they were all irrational and flawed and irritating and three dimensional. I love a character that I don’t automatically like. One of the major differences in the film is the age of Sally’s children, in the book they’re both teenagers and the book focusses as much on their relationship with each other as it does the relationship between Sally and Gillian. This is a book about relationships, story and magic are secondary. It’s very much a character-led book.

It weaves magic without making it too showy, there’s no wand waving (except from one of the characters who happens to be a stage magician, I liked that touch) but instead just little things, little bits of intuition and the odd bird heart.

Even though it’s not story-heavy, it left me wanting more; luckily for me, there is a prequel! (A prequel with an equally gorgeous cover design.) It’s not out in paperback until September so I will have to wait a little while but with the rate time is passing at the moment, by the time I wake up tomorrow it will probably be September already. I’ll definitely be giving the prequel a go, and will probably find myself reading Practical Magic again. Good stuff.

(‘the air of magic that seems to sparkle in the air around them’ – blurb-writer, what were you doing? That’s terrible. Ahem.)

#Vote100Books

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Happy International Women’s Day! I am absolutely loving all of the love being shown to inspirational women across my social media, so I thought I would share a way to show some love to the inspirational women writers of the world.

Now that it’s 2018, (some) women in the United Kingdom have been able to vote for 100 years (women over the age of 30 who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register were given the vote in 1918 as part of the Representation of the People Act, women were awarded the same voting rights as men in 1928). In honour of this, there have been events here, there and everywhere – it’s glorious.

My favourite of these is the #Vote100Books initiative.

Hay Festival, which is the biggest literary festival in the country, has teamed up with The Pool with the aim of finding 100 books by women published in the last 100 years that deserve more attention. I am here for it. (There is also a snazzy competition for everyone who nominates – yay books!)

I don’t think anyone will be surprised at which book I nominated (I find every opportunity to mention it, after all).

That’s right, it’s Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. It is and always will be the first book that I recommend to friends, family, loved ones of all breeds, random camels… literally anything, plant, animal or mineral, that I can recommend this book to, I do. If you’ve not read it, consider this a formal recommendation.

Not only does the book (the beautiful, beautiful book) deserve to be on the list but Catherynne M. Valente does too. I’ve already mentioned how wonderful her Patreon is, she really does take the time and make the effort to show her fans that she appreciates them, and though that is not at all a requirement of authors, it’s definitely deserving of praise when it happens. Her writing is beautiful and deserves to be shared.

I am super excited to find out which books end up on the list, and I can’t wait to start delving into it.

I implore you to nominate your own favourite female author – the more nominations they get, the better! If you want to cast your vote, you can do so at the Hay Festival website. If you want to read more about #Vote100Books, The Pool has written a great article.

Happy International Women’s Day, I hope you take the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful women around you, as well as the women writers who make the literary world go round.

Dealing with a Book Slump

I am suffering. I have been suffering. I am in the slumpiest of book slumps and I cannot deal.

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It’s not that I don’t want to read – I really, really do – it’s that I can’t seem to finish anything. Even if I am really enjoying a book, for whatever reason, I can’t sit down and finish it (it is for that reason that I am currently reading about four different books). I am used to being a speedy reader, a reader who can get through a book in a day if I put my mind to it. But alas, my brain is just not letting me.

Which brings us to this blog entry, I thought I’d give some tips for dealing with book slumps, even if I am dealing with my own hilariously badly. These are the three things that I need to try to remember in my time of need and I suggest you (if you are in the same rabbit hole of reading-related guilt) do too.

Cut yourself some slack

I know it’s hard, and it sucks, and you probably want to take a leaf from Piper’s book:

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But it’s okay. It’s okay that you’re not reading, I know you think you should be because you are a book blogger/an avid reader/the one who reads all of the things but everyone needs a break, and your brain is probably trying to tell you something.

You are not required to be that person who reads every waking moment. You have a life, you have work/school/family and each of those things is completely deserving of the time that you think you should be reading. You don’t have to feel guilty for taking that time, and you definitely should not punish yourself for it.

Try not to isolate yourself

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For me, isolation means not updating my blog – because I should be posting reviews, right? That’s what I do and maybe it’s better not to post than to post anything else. It also means not reading blogs, not commenting on them and generally pretending that they, and I, do not exist.

It doesn’t achieve anything. Sure, I might think that I will update when I’m back on the reading horse properly, and then I will comment on stuff and ‘like’ things and become an active member of the community but if I don’t know when that will be all motivation to update, comment, like runs away and joins the circus. All that mentality achieves is an empty, barren blog and I definitely don’t want that.

You can still blog about books without having read anything new

This last one is a biggie and one that I did not understand for the longest time. Just because you’ve not finished a book recently does not mean that all of the other books that you have read in your lifetime cease to exist, it also does not mean you’re not a book lover and you cannot engage in bookish conversation. You can, you should, it might actually spur you back into a reading frenzy.

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A Very Witchy Book Haul

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Have I mentioned my love for giftcards recently? (That is a trick question, I know that I have.) Here is a very recent haul using up some (yes, only some) of my Christmas giftcards. I am in love.

None of these books are particularly new but they have been on my wishlist for a very long time and I am super into witches at the moment. Well, I am always into witches but I really wanted to read about some too. Bring me magic and wonder and darkness.

I have never read any of them and I probably should have (Practical Magic is one of my favourite films, and so far the book is excellent… very different but excellent).

Have you ever seen such a beautiful display of covers? A couple of these are among my favourite covers ever. Ever. I’m always swayed by a pretty cover, even if I don’t like the book, a pretty cover is always welcome on my shelf. (Shallow, I know.)

Thanks must go to Waterstones for having these in stock, and for being my favourite bookshop. Thank you, Waterstones, as ever you are fantastic.

Just a quick one today, I am a very busy woman. Things to do, people to see, worlds to conquer. (I am lying, I am watching Extreme Cake Makers while attempting to make some progress on my manuscript.)

Have you ever read any of these? If so, what did you think? Link your reviews below! Do you have any wonderful witchy reads that I should really add to my list?

What’s on my Wishlist #1

I have a vast Wishlist on Amazon, which I am constantly adding to and removing from when I eventually get round to buying a thing or having the thing bought for me by lovely people (mostly my parents at birthdays and Christmas). My Wishlist is quite an eclectic thing so I thought it would be fun to chronicle some of my favourite things-I-want on my blog!

I say ‘my favourite things’ but I don’t actually own them yet so they could be utter crap. We may never know.

41O3NhRd1yLThe Body Shop Vanilla Chai Shower Gel. If it’s Vanilla Chai scented, flavoured, or even vaguely hinted at, I want it. I have so many Vanilla Chai related things on my Wishlist. It is my ultimate favourite scent. I mentioned it in my last post and I will definitely be mentioning it again.

If I could get every scented product I own in Vanilla Chai, I would. My boyfriend would hate me but I would do it anyway. (He has no control over my pretty smelling things, even though he hates most of them. Ha.)

I bleed Vanilla Chai now, that’s how obsessed I am. I am not ashamed.

41r7x3nKHxL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_Bernstein’s Reverse Dictionary. I love the idea of this. Can’t think of the word you need? Look up the definition! It would be so handy, I am always losing words. I know exactly what they mean but I cannot think of the word itself. There is a word for that and I have forgotten what it is (update: it’s Lethologica). It’s also a fairly old book so I am sure there will be some amusing outdated definitions that no longer apply.

I’m a big fan of all things wordy. I love dictionaries. I love gimmicks. Give me all of the gimmicky dictionaries. All of them. I don’t care if they all have the same words in them, I will have them anyway, gladly!

I may never own this one. I would imagine it’s quite hard to find nowadays. A girl can dream.

51paPsszjULDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Boxset). I just finished watching the show on Netflix, I loved it. I know the books are very different and follow a different plotline but I need to read them. The show was exactly the sort of thing I fall in love with, and exactly the sort of thing I wanted to watch at the time. (At any time, really. It is incredibly good.)

I love weird shows. Weird shows are great. I really enjoy watching a show that surprises me at every turn, a show which is so ridiculous that everything makes a sort of sense and it is kind of impossible to find any kind of plot hole because literally anything can be explained by the weirdness of it all.

41RLkXQOrxL._SX412_BO1,204,203,200_Pantone 20th Century in ColorIt pains me to spell ‘colour’ that way but that is the title of the book so I have to. I love all things print and colour, one of my favourite things at my old job was the book of Pantone swatches and one of my favourite things at my current job is the massive colour swatch poster I have on the wall, so that I can see how certain colour codes are reproduced on one of our machines.

It looks like a really nifty exploration of colour throughout history and I am so here for that. Not only because I find it interesting but because it might help me in my work too! Vintage colour palettes are always lovely to work with.

715LLXlG-wLNabokov’s Favourite Word is Mauve. This looks like such an interesting read. It combines statistics and data with literature. It answers questions like: “What are our favourite authors’ favourite words? Do men and women write differently? Are bestsellers getting dumber over time? Which bestselling writer uses the most clichés? What makes a great opening sentence? How can we judge a book by its cover? And which writerly advice is worth following or ignoring?” (Taken from the blurb.)

I find that sort of thing fascinating, and selfishly think that it will make my own writing better. Apparently, you don’t need to be good at maths to understand it, which is great for me because since leaving school, my maths skills are dismal.


A predictably bookish first post with some Vanilla Chair thrown in (we are beginning to not be surprised at this point). Lovely.

Are any of these on your Wishlist? Do you have an actual Wishlist or do you keep it all in your head? Is there anything you think I should add to mine? (This, of course, being a fraction of my list.)

Let me know in the comments.

Happy Saturday, bloglings.

The Perks of Supporting Authors on Patreon

Ah, the fabled second post. Nice to meet you, post, I’m sure we’ll get along swimmingly.

I’m incredibly vocal about the things I love, particularly the authors I love. One moreso than others. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you probably know exactly who I mean. I have her words tattooed on my bicep, I make excuses to mention her work in my posts because I love it so much, and get a little bit too excited when she responds to me on Twitter. (It’s shocking that I’ve not reviewed more of her books because I’ve certainly read enough of them! I will be fixing that oversight in due course.)

Being a book blogger, I love to support authors in whatever ways I can, from tweeting about them to buying their books and attending their events. Having worked in the publishing industry and knowing authors both indie and traditionally published alike, I know that writing books is not the most lucrative of businesses, there is a huge investment of time and not always a huge monetary return so I like to do whatever I can to ensure my favourite authors can continue creating new content for me to enjoy.

When Catherynne M. Valente announced her Patreon, I jumped at the chance to support her.

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I am all for authors offering exciting exclusive tidbits but that’s not the only reason I decided to donate a little chunk of my money every month – it makes me feel good. I feel like I am part of something, and that’s a glorious feeling.

The wonderful thing about Valente, in particular, is that she’s not just posting the expected sneak peeks and previews into her work, she’s also sharing everything from recipes to adorable photographs of her pets. She hosts live streams and live tweets very questionable films as chosen by her patrons. She’s not just about helping herself though, she helps the budding writers in her fan base with monthly articles (endearingly known as experiments) aimed at helping us all to grow into better, more effective writers – and she makes the effort to not only read the things we come up with but give feedback too.

Cue Exhibit A, in response to an article about writing beginnings:

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I may have almost cried when I read that comment and I am not at all ashamed. This screenshot makes me happy and I intend to keep it forever.

It’s so rare, what with the prevalence of celebrity status now-a-days to feel a connection to your idols beyond the fact that you love them. Because of Patreon, I was able to be involved in a video chat with my favourite author on my birthday. I cannot express exactly how much that still excites me.

Patreon is such a good service and if any of your faves use it, I would highly recommend donating if you can. It’s such a fulfilling thing to do and you get to sit smugly in the knowledge that you are reading things that no one outside of the publishing industry has read yet. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel a little bit special. If you have a little to spare, why not support someone you love and help them do something they love?

Review: Release by Patrick Ness

31194576Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Before we start: A big, big thank you must go to Walker Books for sending me a review copy. You make my bookish dreams come true, my friends.

Release is a day in the life of Adam Thorn, interspersed with a day in the life of a ghost, spirit and faun (stick with me). Where Adam’s sections are poignant and at times heartbreaking, the fantastical sections are a mysterious meandering journey for answers, for, as the title suggests, release. The two storylines meet with their need for release and while Adam’s story didn’t need the magical realism to work, or to be enjoyable, it was an intriguing addition (even if it has left some reviewers torn).

It’s a book of details, we see the kind of detail that can only be built into a novel that takes place over one day. There is no skipping over important details, every feeling is felt, every confrontation confronted and every revelation revealed in front of our waiting eyes. I like this. I like books which deal in detail. During my Creative Writing degree, we studied a module called A Day in the Life and this book would fit right into the reading list, I wish it were around when I was doing that course. It’s so engaging and a lot can be learned about writing from it, as well as it being a great reading experience.

Due to the degree of detail, we get to know the characters rather well, and what lovely characters they are. Adam is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast in the form of Angela and Linus. They are excellent. They are everything I wanted them to be and more.

Release deals with a lot of big things in a short amount of time but I think my favourite thing about it is its portrayal of relationships, romantic, familial and platonic. Every kind of relationship is hard and messy and Release doesn’t shy away from that. Ness is great at making you feel things. I felt my heart clench in moments between Adam and Linus, and I felt it break in a scene with Adam and his father, it swelled every time Adam was with Angela.

It is a sensitive representation of what it is like to be gay in a religious family that doesn’t agree with homosexuality but it packs one hell of a punch when it needs to, and emphasises that family isn’t just what you are born with, it’s what you choose. It’s a deeply personal novel, while it’s not about Ness and the characters are not people who are in his real life, you can tell he drew from his own experience and I think that’s what makes it so powerful.

The magical realism wasn’t as poignant, and that seems to be the problem for readers who didn’t like those parts, but it was interesting and it did a lot to break up the utterly terrible day Adam was having. I love a bit of fantasy, so I enjoyed it. I liked puzzling together what Katherine (a murdered girl, the ghost who has risen from the lake) was looking for, and how that linked her with the Queen (a spirit also inhabiting her ‘body’). Though it deals with murder and blame and addiction and all the mess therein, it stopped the novel from being depressing – if we had just had Adam’s day going from bad to worse to absolutely horrible, I think it would have been hard to get through. The fantasy adds something to puzzle over, something to distract, and it made each scene with Adam easier to digest. The fantasy is a palate cleanser between the meaty courses of the novel.

It does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are moments of dazzling brightness, alongside the dark. It’s not a novel where everything is tied up at the end, there are things that we don’t get to see (which happen after) that I am still curious about and I like it when books leave me curious. Sure, I will never get the answers I want but I will be thinking about it for days, and that’s what you want from a book. You want it to stick with you, and Release does.

Review: Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

26804769A startling and evocative novel, harkening to both One Day and Gravity, a man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it? An original and daring exploration of the impact of first love and how the choices we make can change the fate of everyone around us, this is an unforgettable read.

Before I say anything: look at that cover, take it in. It is gorgeous. The hardback is beautifully produced, with some of the stars spot varnished it really looks like a shining space scene. I bloomin’ love well-designed books.

I will admit, this was a cover buy – well, it was a birthday present but it was a cover wishlist add. It looks beautiful and it has stars on it.

But it’s so much more than a pretty book. I really didn’t know what to expect but the whole thing was poignant and heartbreaking. I cannot recommend it enough, it’s a beautiful, beautiful book.

At its heart,  Hold Back the Stars is a love story. It follows Carys and Max. It is the last moments of their lives, and how they each got to be there. It is their journey and their tragedy and it is breathtaking. The characters are so well-written, I really felt for them which is so important for a book which is so deeply character-led.  The supporting cast was also wonderful and I really don’t have any complaints.

The world-building was excellent, it was unlike anything I’ve seen before. In fact, the whole book was unlike anything I’ve ever read. Due to the nature of the story, it was very much about the little details and the details soared in this book, every question I had about the world was answered on the page, it’s like the book was reading my mind.

I just loved it. I am so happy when a book I know little about turns into a book I love and this definitely happened with this one. It is as beautiful inside as it is out and I want everyone to read it.