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?

10 things that have made me happy recently

img_9274I want to spread some joy, I also love writing about myself (because I am vain and I like to think I am good at it) so I thought I would combine the two. I intend to make this a regular thing. Lots of things make me happy, and it will be a nice little catalogue to look back at on my down days which could never be a bad thing.

So, here are 10 things that have done a lot for my mood recently. A lot of them are simple and random but, often, the best things are.

1. A little cat named Sergeant Pepper.

img_9155Back in December, it snowed pretty badly. We’d been feeding a cat for a while, it would come and visit us almost every day and we’d been seeing it for months and months and months. It was such a friendly little critter, and it was always really happy to see us (my boyfriend would always say “Can we have him?” and look hopefully at me when trotted over to us). We couldn’t bear the thought of our little friend being out in the snow with nowhere warm to go so we invited him up to our flat. (Though, we thought he was a she at this point and had spent many months calling him a beautiful girl. Whoops.)

img_8807He stayed with us for two weeks before we were able to take him to the vets (there were many hijinks involving cat carriers and the like). I was checking all of the lost pet pages and websites for my area just in case anyone was looking for him, and I kept an eye out for posters around our estate, but no one was looking for him, if he had a home they didn’t want him anymore. The vet scanned him all over for a microchip and, luckily for us, he didn’t have one. (Though I would have been happy to reunite him with his family, I would have been devastated if he had a chip – I fell in love with him as soon as he made it inside the flat!)

img_8658As he had been with us for seven days without anyone claiming him and he didn’t have a chip, we were allowed to keep him. Hooray! We think he’s about 6 years old, and he may have been hit by a car because his mouth is a little bit messed up (he’s having at least one tooth removed later this month), and he may have limited vision in one eye. He’s a little bit wonky and I love him very much.

I’m sure my loved ones are fed up of my constant prattling about him but he is the best and I feel so lucky to have him.

2. Vanilla Chai Tea.

Vanilla Chai is my tea of choice, to the point where I am now a little bit disappointed when I am met with a normal cup of tea because I expect it to taste and smell like vanilla chai. Spoiler alert: it never does.

It’s such a lovely flavour. It’s so autumnal and warm, with its wintry cousin Spiced Chai they are my perfect cosy drinks.

I have two honourable mentions in this section and they are thus: Coconut chai tea, my other half bought me coconut chai loose leaf tea yonks ago but I could never drink it because I cannot handle bits in my drinks and the infuser I have always leaks, luckily I found some empty tea bags on Amazon so I was finally able to try it properly (it is delicious); OGX limited edition Vanilla Chai shampoo and conditioner, this stuff smells incredible, so incredible that I panic bought some more so that I can use it for as long as possible before I have to wave a sad goodbye.

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3. Owning a slow cooker.

img_8933My lovely, lovely parents bought me a slow cooker for Christmas and it has changed my life. I am still eating the Slimming World way and I have long been wanting to try slow cooker recipes but I lacked a vital component: the slow cooker.

I’ve only cooked a few things in it so far but they have been a success and I am raring to try more. I have recently fallen in love with cooking again after several months of being lazy and living mostly on giant vats of plain pasta (I love pasta, I am a carb fiend and I always will be); since early January, I have been trying out at least one new recipe every week to try to keep things interesting while I continue on my meandering weightloss journey, and I would recommend it to everyone. Widen your food horizons, you might surprise yourself.

On a related note: my other half does not eat the same food I do, and I love not having to share my food. It is wonderful knowing that you have leftovers in the fridge. It is even more wonderful when you know with complete certainty, that they will still be there when you want to eat them.

4. My boyfriend talking in his sleep.

My other half is a very deep sleeper but if you catch him just as he’s falling asleep (which can sometimes occur while you are on the phone) you get a little insight into his pink elephant dreams and the results are often rather funny. So far in 2018, we have only had one Sleep Talking Scott moment but it was beautiful:

“Don’t let the onions and pickles [mumble mumble mumble]..”

Don’t let the onions and the pickles what? What are they doing?

“They’re trying to infiltrate my burger.”

Oh.

Sometime later after a fairly large interval of silence, he uttered but one word…

“Cheese!”

5. The End of the Day by Claire North.

img_9038The book I am slowly reading. I hit a reading slump last year which I have been struggling to get out of. I put a lot of pressure on myself to read more, and it worked for a while, I read more than I had read in the entirety of 2016 in the first few months of 2017 but then I hit a snag and haven’t been able to find anything new that I wanted to read. There are a lot of books I want to read but I had trouble finding one I wanted to read right then and there.

The End of the Day seems to be that book. It’s taking me a while but I am getting there and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I will hopefully be reviewing it in the coming weeks, or however long it takes me to finish (I refuse to rush myself) but for now I will leave you with its tagline:

Sooner or later, Death visits everyone. Before that, they meet Charlie.

Is that a hook or what?

6. High-waisted skinny jeans.

img_8134Up until recently, I never thought I would wear skinny jeans. I never thought I would wear high-waisted jeans either, I tried some on yonks ago and they looked horrendous and felt uncomfortable. When I was at my biggest, I was too scared to buy jeans because clothes sizes frightened me (and made me very, very sad) so I just didn’t try. Recently, I got to a size I was happy enough to take the chance with and now I am the proud owner of several pairs of skinny jeans, two of which are high-waisted. I love them. They make my legs look so good. I live in them now.

7. I found my first half-a-grey hair.

This is a weird one. For most people, finding a grey hair is a bad thing, and I thought it would be for me too. I don’t know whether it was because it was only half a hair or because it looked white rather than grey (and for a dark haired person, the idea of white hair is quite exciting, just think of all the bright coloured dye you could use without having to bleach your hair to death beforehand!) but it made me happy just the same.

I even saved the hair in my phone case so I could proudly show the other half when we both finished work. Oh, Elou.

8. Pepsi Max in glass bottles.

It just tastes so much better from glass. So much better.

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9. Giftcards.

I get a fair amount of giftcards for birthdays and Christmases. I ask for them because A) books are expensive and B) I am losing weight and thus want and need to buy new clothes. Adulting takes money so I sometimes feel guilty for spending mine on things I don’t need, receiving giftcards takes the guilt away from buying things I just want. So thank you to all of my friends and family for your kind, kind donations to my shopping problem. (Giftcards are why I own jeans now, they are a blessing.)

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10. The word ‘ochre’.

I wrote it in something the other day and it has been stuck in my head ever since. It is such a satisfying word. It sounds warm and rich and I love saying it.


What has made you happy recently? Feel free to join in! 

If you’re reading this, I tag you.

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.

Twenty-Six

Today is March twenty-sixth. In 1824 Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis was performed for the first time (though Wikipedia says this happened in April), in 1827 he died. Britain, 1934, driving tests were introduced for the first time. In 1953 Dr Jonas Salk announced the vaccine for polio. The first royal email was sent from the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment by Queen Elizabeth II in 1976. These are all things that happened on March twenty-sixth.

There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet. A rhombicuboctahedron has twenty-six faces. There are twenty-six black and twenty-six red cards in a deck. A normal human foot and ankle have twenty-six bones. Twenty-six is the only number between a square number and a cube number, and it takes twenty-six moves or less to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

I have been alive for twenty-six years.

I’ve decided that my twenty-sixth year is the year I get things done. I will reach my target, I will take the first steps to achieving my dream (which I have been avoiding for a while now because I’ve been scared – taxes are scary), I will continue this trend of unashamed self-love I have going on at the moment (we all have our bad days but I am determined to have more good days).

I have big dreams, and more determination than I ever expected to have, and big things are coming. Twenty-six? I am ready for you.

Photography: Baby Meadows (Annoucement)

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Back in January, I had the absolute honour of taking the announcement photos for my friends’ pregnancy. I am so glad they chose to involve me and the photos still make me grin like a loon every time I look at them. The shoot itself wasn’t hugely planned, we agreed on where we would shoot, and I prepared a chalkboard. The chalkboard turned out to not be a chalkboard at all and instead was a block of wood painted black that once drawn on would never be the same again. I only had two so it was very nerve-wracking trying to get it right on the first try. I managed it, with my limited hand-lettering skills and I am so glad they liked it. I did my prep the night before and was practically fizzing with excitement.

The morning of the shoot came. It was cold, drizzly and, best of all, misty. I’ve long been shouting about my love of mist so I was incredibly excited to do my first photo shoot of the year in my favourite conditions.

To put the amount of mist into perspective, there is rich countryside behind that windmill, you can see for miles (it is on the top of a hill overlooking fields and wonder). We couldn’t see a thing. Driving up the winding roads was like being in a completely different, and completely deserted world. I loved it.

Brill Hill was where their proposal happened, and where they took their announcement photo for that – I thought it would be perfect to stage another incredibly important announcement there. There’s definitely something beautiful about tracking the seasons in sentimental locations.

We didn’t count on it being misty but I am so happy it was. It allowed the focus to be on them and not the location, with the location becoming more like a stage. I hope I can coerce them into going back there and let me shove my camera in their faces when it’s not misty, probably when the baby is born so that we can get some richly colourful family shots and really show off the beauty of the location.

It was a quick, damp shoot but I am so happy with the results. They’re simple and beautiful and I am totally and completely in love with them.