Book Reviews





The Notebook Project

The Notebook Project

The Notebook Project The Notebook Project The Notebook Project

I know I'm not the only one with too many notebooks - own up if you're a notebook hoarder too! My trouble is that I buy ALL THE PRETTY THINGS and then get too scared to "ruin" them with my untidy scrawls and plans for failed ideas. Annoyingly though, the finished notepads, sketchbooks and diaries I'm most proud of from my past are exactly that - mind melts on a page!

So you can probably see that I reach a bit of a stand off between the pretty and the not-so-pretty. And I usually end up just standing still; collecting the notebooks but not taking that necessary step to actually using them.

That's just silly!

So, I'm starting up a little personal project: The Notebook Project. I'm assigning each empty tome a specific use. And by hook or by crook am I going to use them!!!

Here's just a few of my unused notebooks, sketchbooks and journals, which I have lying around my house at the moment:

the notebook project

And here are their assigned tasks!

The Recipe Collector
The Inspiration Book
The Review Notes
The Book Notes
The Webshop Design Log
The Blog Planner
The Mindless Sketcher
The (dwindling) Manuscript
The Journal
The List Machine

I'll be posting updates throughout the year to let you know how I get on! I'm aiming for the first one to be in April so you can see whether I got off to a good start or not - and how messy those first pages really are!

Are you a notebook hoarder? Why not join me in The Notebook project? I love seeing inside people's notebooks so if you willing to share, why not add your link below in the comments, so that we can offer each other note-making encouragement!

The notebook project

The Blood List by Sarah Naughton - review

“Perhaps Agnes was right. They were so close to the forest here. It was only sensible to take precautions."

Title: The Blood List
Author: Sarah Naughton

Publisher: Simon and Schuster UK Children's
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it: Here


When sixteen year old Frances gives birth to a dark haired, screaming baby boy, her maid and even her own husband are convinced he is a Changeling; a baby switched by fairies in place of their real son. Despite Frances' protests, the child is left in the woods alone to be returned to the fairies. By morning, a shining blonde haired boy is in his place - the Changeling seemingly gone. Barnaby is the apple of his father's eye, while his mother is bitter towards him, believing he is not her son and never was. She showers affection upon his younger brother Abel instead, leading to a rivalry between the boys that will end in bloodshed.


The Blood List has a great subject matter; missing children, counterfeit babies, witchcraft and superstition all in a 1600's setting. I had visions of a YA novel along the lines of a re-imagining of Ken Follet's Pillars Of The Earth - (a good thing, by the way!) - and for a lot of the book, this is exactly what I felt I got. There are richly created characters from all walks of life; wealthy landowners, house maids, farmers, priests and, of course, "witches". I enjoyed reading about how each character is perceived by the village, but also how they are treated in the eyes of the varying characters. For instance, one of the maids feeds and houses suspected "witches" while the rich turf them out into the cold. At the end of the book I learned that some of the book's characters are based on real historical accounts, which made them all the more interesting.

Despite this, though, I didn't feel as though I could really relate to any of the characters. A great many of them were unlikeable and I found it difficult to want to root for anyone the narrative. This, in turn, made the novel feel quite fractured. At times I felt as if I had picked up three or four books laced together. At the start, I felt hugely for Frances as she struggled to keep her son from harm, but, after her chapter, Frances barely makes an appearance of any meaning, as Barnaby takes centre stage for the rest of the book. Barnaby's story of cock-sure rivalry was a stark contrast to that of Frances' maternal despair.
Equally, the themes seem to jump around as much as the alignment of the characters. At one minute I was reading a story of changelings and fairies, and the next I found myself reading a story of friendship and conquest of young love. Next I would find myself plunged into a story of witch hunts only to end up at a story of the Plague. I didn't find this confusing, but there were certainly noted changes in focus. It felt like it didn't quite hang together as well as it could have.

That said, I wholly enjoyed Sarah Naughton's writing style. She had a wonderful sense of sarcasm and cynicism, which could only come from hindsight in writing historical fiction, but which translated so well into her characters. I found myself smirking at the page on many occasions and I found it easier to forget the bad feelings I may have had elsewhere.


The Blood List is a fun historic novel that mixes superstition and reality wonderfully. However, I feel that a fractured flow to the storytelling and a lack of characters to root for let this book down a bit. That said, I would definitely look to read more by this author, as I enjoyed the sarcasm and approach to witchcraft throughout the novel, and would love to see it employed in new literary circumstances! Definitely a book worth reading.


Tiger gift swap and shopping

Last weekend I met up with Claire from Claireabellemakes in Cambridge. We had a catch-up and tea, then swapped gifts we had arranged to buy each other for a gift swap. I had bought Claire a selection of local Bristol independent goodies, and she had bought up a huge selection of things from Tiger for me, a shop I have been wanting to visit for a long time after being tempted by their products on Instagram!

Tiger is a Danish shop a bit like Ikea, but it's like jumping straight to the end of the store for all the random quirky bits! It's great for stationary, art supplies and bits for around the house. *

What I bought/was gifted:

Pens that look like pencils
3D origami dinosaur wall stickers
A flouro pink bike seat cover
A bunny mood lamp
Paper straws
Geometric notebook
Cosy socks
A clip-on reading light
A cat clothes hook
Mini notebooks
A tea infuser
Magnetic pegs
Kawaii keyring
Candy coloured photo frames
Speech bubble stickers

It was so hard to cram all this stuff in my bag for the trip back to Bristol! I really want a store here :p Or a webshop!

Here's a picture of my bunny in his new spot - I love it!:

Have you got a Tiger near you? Have you discovered its awesomeness yet?! 

*I wasn't asked to write this post, and didn't receive anything for it. I just love shopping there!

The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis - review

"Run. And James did. Through the gap in the garden fence. Not stopping even after the bellowing of his stepfather had wasted in the wind and there was nothing but the whip of grass across his shins.”

Title: The Dark Inside
Author: Rupert Wallis

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it: Here


James is an extremely unhappy 13 year old; he lost his mum in a car accident and lives in fear of his stepfather, his only guardian. He often escapes his home to The House on the Hill to write down his hopes and dreams for the future. One day at the House on the Hill, James discovers a large man; he is gravely wounded and wanted by the local traveller community who are offering a reward of gold. As James befriends the man, he begins a journey that will lead him away from the dark of his home life, into a whole new darkness he never even knew existed.


The Dark Inside is a book that took me by surprise again and again. Everything I was expecting when I opened up at the first page was flipped on it's head. I thought I would be reading an adventure story with dark undertones, and yes, I got that. But what I also found was a story of the meaning of friendship, of learning forgiveness, of hope and of hopelessness.

The characters in this story are united by their sense of loneliness and loss, and here the author explores the bonds of friendship between unlikely men; a cursed war veteran, an abused boy and an elderly stroke victim. Each of these characters were beautifully written, not speaking much but saying the things that they did say meaningfully. This sparseness of dialogue might make a story drag in some cases, but here it seemed fitting. The supporting writing didn't call for much dialogue either, as it sweeps the reader through the action at great pace.

I found the travellers in the story to be at once interesting and unsettling. It is in these characters the author asks the most of his reader's suspended disbelief, as we witness an elderly woman consulting a marionette that appears to be alive, and healing wounds with herbal concoctions. In the middle of a very "real" narrative these hints at magic were a bit unexpected, but added a great level of uncertainty to the already mysterious plot.
The traveller characters are completely surrounded in folklore, traditions and superstition, and I was willing, as a reader, to accept anything they could make happen. I did however, find their penchant for kidnapping and holding hostages clashed with their strong sense of family and honour.

The story itself was fast paced, and often profound. The reader is constantly thrown little snippets of philosophy and musings on life. The tagline of the book "Do you believe in monsters?" comes into full effect in many ways throughout the narrative as we see characters battle with mental and physical demons and running from threats both imagined and real.


The Dark Inside reads like a gothic fairytale. There are witches, monsters, magic and evil step parents, albeit in many different guises. There is a heavy lacing of folklore and a good dose of mild horror. I really enjoyed this book once the idea of "the unbelievable" had gained its footing. The novel asks you to suspend your belief and question yourself in doing so at the same time, which was an intriguing stance to be put in as a reader. I will definitely be looking for more by this author in future!


Valentine's Day - Book Swap Package!

Happy Valentine's Day every one! I hope that where ever you are, someone is showing you how much you are loved :)

I thought that today would be the perfect day to share with you my package from the Ninja Book Swap (@NinjaBookSwap if you are interested in being involved in the next one!) The idea behind it is that you are secretly paired up with another book lover (blogger or not) and you buy and send them a treat from their book wish-list along with a couple of gifts, and a note introducing yourself! I was paired up with Laura (@mrslaurafoster), and Frankie from @oneroundpanda was paired with me!

I received my parcel on Tuesday, and OH MY GOODNESS, Frankie has sent me the best goodies!

In the package was FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell, which I have been wanting to get my hands on for ages, and a selection of cute jewellery and nautical themed postcards.

Those earrings are about to become a wardrobe staple, I can tell you! hehe

I just wanted to say a HUUUGE thank you to Frankie, and to the guys at Ninja Book Swap who organised everything. It has been really fun - I loved shopping for my partners gifts and it was exciting wondering who my own package would arrive from. I hope theres another swap soon :D


Top Ten book titles

What's in a name?! There has been a string of awesome book titles lately. I thought I would collect together a Top Ten of some of my favourites! Some are funny, some have me desperate to know what they mean and some leave a happy tune in my head :p What are your favourite book titles?!

1. (Don't You) Forget About Me - Because it instantly reminds me of The Breakfast Club! *80's air punch*

2. Seagalogy: a Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal - It's a serious and ridiculous and an oxymoron all at once :p

3. Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma - Just, what the actual...?! Makes me want to read it though!

4. Dust - it's not written yet, and so of course there's no release date, but it's a title that means nothing to people who haven't read The Amber Spyglass and EVERYTHING to those that have! If one word could ever have more meaning... *enters hypothesis land*

5. Barry Trotter and the Unnecessary Sequel/Bored of the Rings - Because if there's one thing better than the real thing, it's a parody that just "gets" it, and "gets" it with love. These books had it right from the front cover.

6. Wreck This Journal - Um, oh, okay, err, yeah, all right then...! (authoritative and directive. I like!)

7. The Lies Of Locke Lamora - say it out loud and it just feels nice! ha!

8. Every title in the Song of Ice and Fire series - because they are just awesome. They sound like they should! My favourite series title is A Clash of Kings.

9. Days of Blood and Starlight - There's just something quite delicious about this title. I think its all the contrast; the words, the sounds. Love it!

10. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Boat of Her Own Making - It's got the work circumnavigated in it. Winner.


Black Moon by Kenneth Calhoun - review

“I did it for the best reason in the world: love."

Title: Black Moon: A Novel
Author: Kenneth Calhoun

Publisher: Hogarth
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it: Here


Insomnia is an epidemic. The world is slowly succumbing to sleeplessness and, as the human brain deteriorates in insomniacs deprived of sleep for weeks, those that still have the ability to dream are increasingly in danger. Bodies litter the streets, suicides are on the rise and everybody wants a cure. Meanwhile, Biggs' insomniac wife is missing, Lila's parents want to kill her, Chase has all the pills in the world to help him sleep but not the one he needs and Felicia is taking a massive leap of faith...


The idea behind this novel is amazing. As soon as I heard the premise of the plot I just knew I had to read it; kind of sci-fi but not, insomnia is a wholly possible threat and I think it is the echo of "this could really happen" that really suckers you into the story this novel has to tell.

Black Moon got off to a great start. Chapters are told from the point of views of four characters: Biggs, Lila, Felicia and Chase, all coping with a different effect of the insomnia epidemic. Their voices were very independent and I quickly warmed to Lila, Felicia and Chase. I found it harder to identify with Biggs. I didn't like him much and I think it's because he seemed quite mollifying to the extent of patronising at the very beginning.

I really enjoyed seeing how the world was subtly changing with the effects of sleeplessness - the most interesting thing being the curious syntax and speech of the sleep deprived. Hallucinations and killer jealousy also play a large part in the personalities of the insomniacs. I loved seeing what extremes were drawn from sleeplessness, it's such an unexplored subject in books and had a lot of possibilities. I was at once happy and a bit disappointed that Black Moon resembles something of a zombie novel, though. I love zombies, and the sleepless have the stumbling shuffle and the tunnel-visioned rage that are zombie tropes. I was just hoping for this new subject to be explored differently, I think.

Although Black Moon has a plot interesting enough to take you to right up to the last pages, I found the structure and pacing a bit frustrating. The book would leave a character at a cliff hanger as the POV changes, only to pick up their story again much later than the event we had left them at. We would then be told what happened and how they got out of their predicaments in something of a memory/retelling. It removed me from the action and left me in despair sometimes at the giant plot leaps being made. In one instance, a character is hallucinating madly, had just swallowed a whole pot of pills and was surrounded by murderous insomniacs... next, they're safe and sound in a lab. WHAT?!

There is also one other point I can't quite decide on... and that is dreams. In real life, listening to people's dreams is boring. In books not about sleep, that have character's dreams retold, I more often than not skip them as they probably have no real relevance. However, in a book about sleep, and about how the lack of dreaming capability has introduced insanity, I felt compelled to read them. But like in many books before, in Black Moon dreams still have no real meaning, they don't drive the plot and are something of a whimsical tangent. I expected a bit more, truth be told.

These points, coupled with the fact that the reader never finds out a lot of the answers they are holding out for, left me with a bit of a bitter aftertaste by the end. Which is a shame considering the amount of promise I felt the book had, and still felt it had at the half way mark.


Black Moon has a very strong premise and and intriguing beginning but falls a little flat by the end as readers are left wanting and the plot takes giant leaps. Still, a very good plot idea that I would love to see explored further. I would certainly read more books by Kenneth Calhoun in the future.


Quick Reads 2014

Something I hear a lot from my friends and family is "I don't have time to read". As much as I find this hard to deal with because I would really love to talk about my favourite books with them (!) I totally understand where they're coming from. We have to make time to read, just as people make time for the gym or baking etc. Reading is a choice.

What I find interesting, though, is that often the people I speak to want to read. Well, if that sounds like you, let me introduce you to Quick Reads! The Quick Reads campaign is out to help you solve your time vs. reading dilemma, and a lot more besides.

Quick Reads release 6 books every year, all selling for £1 and all taking only 2 hours to finish - you could read all six in just one day! Most importantly, they are easy to read, written specifically to be accessible and enjoyable to all. And the books don't fall short on quality either, all the books are written especially for Quick Reads by big name authours. This year the authours include Jeffrey Archer and Barbara Taylor Bradford among others. Genres are varied, so there is bound to be a Quick Reads for you.

Aside from the time saving aspect of Quick Reads, there is something very important at work within the campaign. Take a look at this quote from their website and you will see why I am supporting the campaign:
"1 in 6 adults of working age in the UK find reading difficult and may never pick up a book.  People’s reasons for not reading are varied but are often based in fear. Some people say they find books scary and intimidating, thinking they are ‘not for them’ or that books are difficult or boring."

That quote makes me feel quite sad... I definitely think reading and the joys of reading should be made accessible and welcoming to everyone, and I certainly support the work Quick Reads are doing to help.

Besides publishing the yearly titles, Quick Reads also offers a range of resources for learning, book groups and challenges - if you are thinking of getting inolved with Quick Reads this year why not make reading fun and social, too?!

You can read more about this year's books online on the Quick Reads website. They are available to buy, or loan from your local libraries. I hope you enjoy them!
Also, please watch the amazing video they have created, which shares the joy of reading and what books mean to people, and help spread the word :)

Disclaimer: I was sent some of the Quick Reads titles from the publisher, however, this post and my endorsement of the campaign is my own.

We Used To Be Kings by Stewart Foster - review

"Sporry wurry Sputnik

Title: We Used To Be Kings
Author: Stewart Foster

Publisher: Vintage Books
Source: ARC via Netgalley
Buy it:  Here


Tom's brother, Jack, died in a fire when he was five. The next day he was back. The only thing is, Jack now shares Tom's body. Jack is alive in Tom's head and they are plotting an escape; an escape from their care home, away from the doctors and off to the sea. They are going to find their dad who went missing five years ago, after he joined the Russian cosmonauts on a mission to the moon...


There seems to be a surge of fiction that challenges the stigmas associated with mental illness and learning disabilities at the moment. Only recently, The Shock Of The Fall has won the Costa Book Prize for its story of a man suffering with split personalities. Maggot Moon won the Carnegie Prize for it's portrayal of Standish Treadwell, a boy suffering with dyslexia who is entirely misunderstood. And here, in We Used To Be Kings, I hope we have another award winner; for it's tale of brotherly love and mental illness is beautifully and sensitively told.

It took a chapter or two to get used to the writing style. Stewart Foster writes Jack and Tom separately, but as one - interchanging "We" and "I" in the space of a breath, and no speech punctuation to differentiate between what is said and what is told. There are simply italics for Jack's voice. Tom's speech merges with narration which can be a bit confusing at the beginning. However, once in the swing of it, I was completely sucked in. I couldn't put the book down!

Both Jack and Tom's voices were individual and, at the same time, unified. I think Foster's biggest achievement in the two voices was the portrayal of the age gap between the boys - Tom 18, and Jack 10. There are some wonderful moments when Tom swears or has interest in a girl and Jack's naivety tellingly shines through. Tom also has a heartbreaking patience for his younger brother, allowing him temporary control of his body to play with planes and draw.

However, there is a dark underside to this tale, as you remind yourself constantly that however much these two characters appear separate, they are the same. Tom has had a traumatic past of lies and loss, and is, in fact, just days away from electric therapy to remove Jack's voice from his head completely. And, in the end, it is the one thing he fears most, as Tom writes the final chapter of his story.


There is so much adoration I could pour onto We Used To Be Kings. It was absolutely, 100% excellent and I will be recommending it to everyone I know! READ. THIS. BOOK.