Friday, August 31, 2012

WWYD? Time travel

What Would You Do? is a semi-regular feature in which a question will be posed based on a character or story line in a book I've recently read.  I'd love if you would take part and share in comments just what YOU would do in a similar situation! 

I recently read Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone and I absolutely loved it.  It's being billed as 'The Time Traveller's Wife for teens' and that description fits incredibly well.  It's an addictive, emotional, romantic read with that fun element of time travel which brings up a lot of questions to ponder.

But that isn't what I'm here to talk about today.  The main love interest in the story, Bennett, and his sister do this thing.  (In fact, this thing is technically the catalyst of the whole story because it causes Bennett's sister to be lost in time which forces Bennett to stay in a time and a place that he doesn't belong for a longer period of time than he'd normally. And in that time he meets and falls in love with Anna.  Oh *happy sigh* But anyway!)

This thing they do is that they go back in time (within Bennett's lifetime anyway) and they see bands in concert.  All those amazing bands that were performing the year Bennett was born or in his toddler years, he's able to go back and visit live.

I didn't think much about it while reading the book, so focused and intent was I on the swoony romance of the story, but now that I do have a bit more time ... isn't that a pretty awesome ability to have? If I were more musically minded, I think I'd have a field day on the number of musical acts I'd have like to have seen.  But sadly, I'm a musical idiot.

Who would I pick?  I liked Green Day quite a lot as a teenager. Perhaps I'd see Nirvana to see what the fuss was all about?  Or maybe The Smashing Pumpkins? Michael Jackson? I don't know! I was born 23 July, 1982. Perhaps along with choosing your own artists, you can give me suggestions for who I should choose? :)

The all important question though, is if you could travel back in time (limited only by the date of your own birth!) to see a band or musical artist in concert, what would you do?!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

REVIEW: Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

I first heard about Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone at the Random House Blogger's Brunch, in which it was described as 'The Time Traveller's Wife for teens.' That's HUGE and that description left me incredibly intrigued by this story.  And I have to say, Time Between Us did not disappoint.

It's very addictive reading - I really didn't want to put it down at all and every time I was forced to, I felt sad.  It's also very romantic - I really loved Anna and Bennett together.  Theirs is a relationship that I was rooting for right from the very beginning.  But at the same time, there's a huge level of uneasiness and dread (and heartbreak!) as you know that this relationship isn't supposed to work.  He's from 2012, she's from 1995.  They never should have met, but when Bennett goes back in time to correct a mistake, their two worlds collide.

I do love me some good time-travel stories, and Time Between Us is no exception.  I loved the rules that Bennett has in place to minimise the damage his time travel wreaks on others around him, I loved the restrictions of his ability, and also I loved the conversations and thoughts that Anna and Bennett have about the morality of altering events.  Should Bennett have the control to stop an armed robber? A car accident? Should he alter events that remove the choices from another person?

Anna and Bennett were great characters.  I loved Anna especially, with her dedication to running and her love and fascination with travelling the world.  She's been almost nowhere in her entire life and now suddenly, Bennett is able to give her the world.  And poor Bennett, he's kind of afloat at the beginning of the novel.  He doesn't connect well with his family apart from his sister who is lost in time. What he really wants in the world is what Anna has - a history and roots in one place.

I love that this book is about the choices we have and that we make.  We don't all have the ability for do-overs, so make it count the first time.  I also loved Anna's conflict in this story.  She doesn't seem to be the one in control of whether or not Bennett stays, but she is in charge of her own life and following her own dreams and aspirations.  And that's something we should all remember.

I loved this book.  I loved the emotion of it, the romance, the strength of these characters. I can't wait for you to meet them.  When this book is published later in the year, I urge you to read it!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Revisited post: My wish-list of American Sweets

Earlier in the month, I celebrated my 12 year moving-to-England anniversary.  Two years ago, I wrote this post and I thought it might be fun to revisit it today.  

This post was originally posted here on 29 September, 2010.

I'm American. I forgot to blog about it, but in August I celebrated my 10 year moving-to-England anniversary. Ten years! When people meet me they usually ask what I miss the most about the United States. Most people expect to hear something along the lines of close family members, childhood friends... perhaps a loveable family pet. But no. Here are the things that I miss the most.

1. Airheads - My all-time favourite type of sweet. I'd love to have these by the bucket-load. In fact, a friend recently took a holiday to Las Vegas and asked if I'd like anything. I only mentioned Airheads and (because she must know me very well) she brought back a bumper box of a variety of 72 Airheads. I was in heaven and she became my best friend. I could eat Airheads all day.

2. Bit-o-Honey - Have you heard of these? I don't think they're very popular? But my dad used to love them and because they were often in the house, I came to love them too. They're just so chewy and have the fantastic honey flavour. Love Bit-O-Honey.

3. Welch's Grape soda - How do I come to love Welch's Grape Soda as much as I do? It's a mystery, even to me. But I love that grape-y goodness!

4. Tootsie Rolls - I remember one year my dad bought this gigantic bag of Tootsie Roll Midgees for Halloween. Only he bought it in like, September. Yeah. Those suckers didn't last until the end of October! When they're that little, those things are addictive.

5. Laffy Taffy - Mmmmm, Laffy Taffy. My favourite is apple. Sour apple? I can't quite recall anymore. When I was little, I used to empty my piggy bank and walk up to the 7-11 behind my house and buy what I could. And Laffy Taffys are cheap, so they usually ended up coming home with me.

6. Almond M&Ms - This is one the whole family loves. My dad used to buy huge bags of these everytime he came over to visit and give some to me, to N and to N's mother. It was a huge Almond M&M party. Understandable, as they are delicious.

7. Mike-n-Ikes - Have you spotted a trend yet? I like fruity flavoured chewy sweets. I never really noticed that before. I have a total of two types of chocolate on this list, two drinks and the rest chewy sweets! This list is making me more self-aware! (I'm such a dork.)

8. Root beer - I have no preference for A&W or MUG. Either are very acceptable to me. There's an American restaurant (Tony Roma's) about an hour away that serves Mountain Dew and root beer from their menu. I love going there. Incidentally, Mountain Dew would have been on this list, apart from the fact that I am able to get it here in the UK finally! Certain petrol stations in my area sell it. Woohoo. But! Root beer floats = love.

9. Candy Corn - Now that Halloween is around the corner, I have candy corn on my mind. Halloween just isn't the same without it :(

10. Butterfinger - Last but not least, we have Butterfinger. As I've mentioned, I don't have a lot of chocolate on my list, but I definitely make an exception for Butterfingers. It's the peanut-brittle-type centre. Love that stuff.

PHEW! I'm getting hungry after writing all that out! Before you feel too sorry for me, there are certain websites that allow for importing all of these items! I don't use them often, and what I actually miss the most is wandering into a 7-11 (or whatever) and picking up all those interesting new varieties of my favourite sweets that are only found in America. I love that. Do you love these sweets too?

What is your favourite type of chocolate/sweet?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

REVIEW: Ghost Flower by Michele Jaffe

I read Ghost Flower by Michele Jaffe at the perfect time.  I had just finished Michele Jaffe's previous book, Rosebush, and was I thinking to myself how much I love psychological thrillers.  And lo and behold, I see Ghost Flower right in front of me.  And while Ghost Flower can be a bit confusing at times, I found myself really gripped by Jaffe's style of writing, the main character and the mystery at the heart of this novel.

Ghost Flower felt like a very different YA read to me.  Something about the tone of the novel and the subtle ways in which creepiness and uneasiness is added to the narrative made for a fascinating read.  And it really worked for me.  I was left so confused and wildly guessing at the different paths this book took. 

Ghost Flower begins with our main character, Eve, a waitress in Arizona who keeps to herself after the recent death of her mother.  When two wealthy siblings, Bain and Brigitte, approach Eve with an insane offer, Eve has little reason not to carry on for a little while.  What Bain and Brigitte propose should be fairly straightforward - they would like Eve to impersonate their cousin, Aurora, who disappeared three years ago, and to whom Eve shares an uncanny resemblence, until 'Aurora's' 18th birthday when she comes into her inheritance.  When this happens, the money goes to Bain and Brigitte and Eve is paid a large amount of money and is free to carry on with her previous life. 

But things really aren't that simple.  And as Eve carries on in the guise of Aurora, very strange things begin to happen.  Doing a bit of investigative work uncovers that the night Aurora fled from her life and her family is also the night of Aurora's best friend's apparent suicide.  Eve-as-Aurora begins to be haunted by the ghost of Aurora's best friend, and Eve-as-Aurora begins to question her own identity and history and also for her own safety. 

I really loved the creepiness and unease of the second half of this book.  Everything begins to come together in a way that doesn't quite make sense and everything feels a little dark and eerie almost at once because the build-up is so subtly and easily done.  This makes for a really interesting and unsettling book, one that I very much enjoyed. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

REVIEW: BZRK by Michael Grant

Review by Kulsuma from sunshine and stardust

BZRK was my introduction to Michael Grant and I was expecting great things. It is about the battle between two sides; not only on the macro level (the physical world) but also the nano level (where nano technology is utilised within the human body) to disable the opposition. A lot of this happens simultaneously on both levels. BZRK is a very high concept novel which I can easily visualise as a movie. It reminded me of The Matrix because there is a whole world that is unseen by ordinary humans.

The storyline was enjoyable, though it did take me a while to get into it and to get used to the futuristic world, mostly because many terms had to be explained at the beginning of the story. Additionally, as there were multiple plotlines and multiple narrators, it was difficult to form emotional attachments to any one character. Many of the characters, like Vincent and Sadie seemed detached to begin with, however I grew to like them as time passed.

The characters I was interested in were Vincent because of his unusual disability; he is not able to experience pleasure and the Armstrong twins, the grotesque villains, who were something out of a nightmare. Nearly all of the characters surprise you. No one should be taken at face value in BZRK.

At first, it was hard to see how all the plotlines and the characters were linked but as I continued reading, everything began to fall into place very cleverly. As there were many points of view, I realised that the line between good and evil was becoming obscured. Both sides were committing crimes. I had a lot of questions throughout the novel, most of which were satisfyingly answered. There were some questions which won’t be answered until the sequel. However, BZRK ends superbly, leaving the reader in suspense and wanting more.

BZRK is an action-oriented novel with vivid, graphic and grotesque sequences. It is not for the faint of heart. I wished for more character introspection in BZRK as I know that would have made me care about what happened to the characters much more than I did. However, Grant did well to convey complex concepts with a large and varied cast of characters. I look forward to reading more from Michael Grant in future.

Interesting! Thanks Kulsuma

Saturday, August 25, 2012

REVIEW: Hollow Pike by James Dawson

Sometimes when I'm really looking forward to a book, some strange thought process goes on in my head which means I don't read the much anticipated book straight away.  It's almost as if I'm afraid that the book won't live up to my expectations or sometimes I feel as though I'd like to hold onto that anticipation just a little bit longer. Such was the case with Hollow Pike by James Dawson.  I'd heard many wonderful things about it, but I just didn't feel like it was the right time to read it yet.  And then I did read it and kicked myself for waiting as long as I did. 

Because Hollow Pike is a wonderful addition to YA and James Dawson had written it with a wonderfully authentic teenage voice.  I really liked  Lis as a character and felt for her predicament as a bullied teenager who has moved someplace new to start over.  Things don't go quite to plan when Lis falls in with a popular crowd at her new school, only to find out they are the type of mean girl she moved there to escape from. 

Lis is just finding her feet in Hollow Pike when things of a creepy nature start sneaking in.  Hollow Pike is filled with stories of witchcraft and since moving, Lis has been suffering from very disturbing nightmares of murder that leaves both Lis and the reader very uneasy as to what the nightmares signify.  Honestly, this whole book has such a great atmosophe about it.  I was spooked out by the second half of this book, not entirely sure what to make of the witchcraft element, not sure at all who the murderer is and I was left guessing about how it all turns out, which is fantastic as I love a good thriller.

It isn't all dark and dangerous though, Lis and her outcast friends, Kitty and Jack are quite funny together.  I loved that there is an actual relationship between Lis and her sister who she has come to live with.  And also, Lis' crush on Danny was the ultimate in sweet and awkward. 

Hollow Pike was a very enjoyable experience for me to read and I highly recommend it!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Interactional books

I love how interactional books have become.  I've noticed this thing lately where sometimes a book will come with its own playlists ala Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson or like Saving June by Hannah Harrington. And I love that feeling of recreating what a character in a good book might be feeling or experiencing by experiencing these things alongside them.

The following books have mentioned songs within the narrative and as soon as they were mentioned, I really couldn't help but put my book down and rush to my YouTube app and play the songs that go along with these characters and these stories.  And it makes me happy.  I thought I would share them with you today, if you don't mind. 

What's Up With Jody Barton? by Hayley Long

I'm starting with What's Up With Jody Barton? because it feels more interactional than the others with the inclusion of Jody's drawings (which are ace!).  Plus I just really love this book.  I loved not knowing much about it before I started reading it and then falling headfirst into this fantastic story completly blind.  

And right from the beginning, Jody mentions love for two things: River Phoenix and The Doors.  She mentions Light My Fire, so I immediately grabbed my phone and once I'd listened to it, I had the song spinning on a loop inside my brain.  Which is no bad thing.

Here it is for you for your auditory pleasure:

How To Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Let me say again, just for the record, I love Sara Zarr! I think she's amazing and the stories she writes are so beautiful and emotional.  I've been looking forward to How To Save A Life for absolutely ages and was thrilled to read an advance copy of it.

The reason I rushed to listen to a song on YouTube is a little bittersweet.  One of our main characters, Jill, has recently lost her father.  And at times, when Jill's snarky attitude gets in the way and she says or does something that could be a bit mean or hurtful towards someone else, usually Jill's mother, her dad would remind her to 'try a little tenderness.'  Which I think is adorable but also a sad little memory to have.  Of course, I had to remind myself of this ace Otis Redding song in order to fully capture the sentiment.  For which I'm very grateful. Always nice to hear a little Otis.

The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day

Things are a bit different with The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Joens, because Susie Day has included so many wonderful songs into the narrative (Blue's parents are part of a band!).  But as soon as I read a snippet of the song, Everyday by Buddy Holly, that was it for me.  That is the song that wound up going around and around in my head.

Mostly because it's one of my dad's favourite songs.  He is a big fan of Buddy Holly and music in this era, so it's really the music that I grew up listening to.  I've listened to it many a-time since I've finished this book and I just love it more and more.

I'm glad that it's part of Blue's story in this book, and it does really fit in well. 


What do you think? Did you like it when a book has you experiencing the story in ways other than just through words on a page?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

REVIEW: Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers

I've been finding it difficult to put into words why exactly I loved Dying to Know You by Aidan Chambers so much.  There's just something about it that just completely took me in and stole my heart. Dying to Know You is so beautifully written and left me thinking for ages after I'd read that final page.  It's very sweet and emotional and I enjoyed every minute of the time I spent reading this book.

This is the story of Karl, a quiet but thoughtful 17 year old who is madly in love with 16 year old Fiorella.  Fiorella likes Karl, but she has concerns that he doesn't express his emotions and feelings to her and would like Karl to write down his answers to a series of questions about himself and what he thinks about love and other things. 

This terrifies Karl as he suffers from dyslexia and has difficulties putting his words into writing.  So, Karl asks an elderly writer in the neighbourhood to help Karl put his thoughts into writing.  And what follows is a very unexpected but utterly lovely story of friendship between Karl and the unnamed writer. 

Honestly, this book was just so sweetly written.  I found it very odd to begin with that Dying to Know You's narrator is the ageing writer.  He tells this story with little anecdotes of how old age has affected him and his perspective is that of a person towards the end of his life with Karl as this breath of fresh air that gives the older man hope, especially after the recent death of his wife.  Such a mismatched pair, Karl and this man, but theirs is a friendship that I felt deeply about, almost to my surprise. 

And I do so love Karl.  He changes quite a bit over the course of the novel.  At first, very unsure of himself and not thinking highly of himself due to the limitations of his dyslexia.  I found it interesting, this focus on communication in written form, when there so many ways to communicate.  But as Karl and the writer spend time together, discussing all manner of topics including love, Karl begins to come out of his shell a bit, he gains confidence in himself and his abilities and is able to express himself in a very different way. 

Much of the book is the dialogue between Karl and the older man and the writing is very simplistic, there's no added flowery bits of narration.  It's very much a simple account of their conversations, but I think it's beautiful in its very pared down way. 

Gorgeous book, possibly not a book for everyone, with it's slow pace and the book's emphasis on this gentle affection for two people.  But a book I genuinely loved.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I am inspired...

Can I take a minute and tell  you a little something about what inspires me?  This post might become a teensy bit sappy, but I have to say: This kid? He inspires me.

Before I had E and the Littlest, I didn't have that much experience with babies or other small children.  So while I knew, vaguely, that children asked a bunch of questions, but I didn't really know, if you know what I mean.  But ever since E began speaking at 11 months, it's been non-stop inquisitive.  And yes, it can be quite irritating when the questions seem to NEVER END, but I was raised by a dad who answered all of my endless questions, and I've always tried my best to answer his.

It's only been recently when E's questions have become a new level of fascinating. He amazes me with the way he pairs knowledge in his head, how great his memory is and the clever things he thinks to ask about.

I've never been so excited to know more about science than I am because of him.  I want to know more about history and art history so that I can share it with him.  I've learnt how car engines work, about steam trains, I've learnt about architecture and brushed up on my very rusty French and Spanish because of E.

And everything he's interested in, he throws his whole self into.  His interest in dinosaurs is going, as is all the transport.  We watched one of those David Attenborough nature programmes that ignited a passion for sealife that does not go away. Penguins, whales, sharks, dolphins. E wants to know about them all.  He joined the chess team over the last year and came home with a 2nd place medal for his year. Next year, he's aiming for the gold medal.  

And that level of intensity for learning makes me want to learn more.  I want to know more about everything, because he wants to know more about everything.  I think it's a beautiful way to be and I hope he stays like this forever, always asking 'why?' and 'how?' and happy to figure out how stuff works and learn more. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

REVIEW: How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

I'm such a huge fan of Sara Zarr's.  I've loved the quiet intensity and the emotion that has gone into every one of her books that I've read so far. And How To Save A Life was just as moving and incredible.  I really loved the story and its characters.

How to Save a Life is the story of two very different girls.  First there's Jill, an angry and sad teenage girl who is struggling due to the loss of her father.  Since his death, Jill has pushed away all of her friends and her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Dylan.  She's lost that ability to be nice and that makes her sad.  But still, Jill can't help but feeling like her mother is making a HUGE mistake when her mom decides that the thing to do is to adopt a baby over the Internet on her own. 

With that, we have the entrance of Mandy.  She figures the best thing she can do for her unborn child is to give her up to a loving family and bonus, going to stay with Jill and her mom until the baby is born solves her problem of living in her own toxic home environment.

I love how both Jill and Mandy changed for me so much over the course of this novel.  At first, I didn't quite like Mandy.  She's a bit brash and she makes other people uncomfortable.  Her mother's silly rules had turned Mandy into somebody obsessed with image and needing the attention of men.  But once we find out more about Mandy, it kind of broke my heart into teeny tiny little pieces reading the things that she has gone through in her young life. Sooner than I'd realised, my opinion of Mandy completely altered and I just wanted to give her a hug.  I love that she's the type of person who loves pancake houses and cheesy Mexican themed restaurants.  I love that she's the type of person who steals a man's address off his luggage after a brief conversation on a train and that she's still able to believe in love.

And as for Jill, I've always kind of liked moody and angry girls, but even Jill tested the very limits of my patience. She's so bitter and angry and it takes her a long time to see that she isn't the only person grieving for the loss of Jill's father and that Jill has always had things that Mandy has never known like unconditional love and support.  It seemed as though it took Jill's relationships with old flame Dylan and her new friendship with Ravi for her to finally see that the person she is becoming isn't so great. And that while she might not be able to turn back into the self she was before her dad died, she can go forward into being someone different, someone nicer and more generous with herself.

I really loved this book.  I loved that it deals with some heart-wrenching stuff in a believeable way.  I love that it's a book about friendship and family and love but written in a beautiful way that never goes over the top.  The characters are all real and flawed and wonderful.  I couldn't bear to be parted with this book and I highly recommend that you read it!

Monday, August 20, 2012

REVIEW: A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

Review by Kulsuma from sunshine and stardust

A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix is an epic story in which Prince Khemri, an augmented human, reflects on his three lives. Like the ten million other Princes of the Empire, Khemri will do whatever it takes to become the Emperor. As Khemri’s training intensifies however, and as he’s thrown into human situations he doesn’t know how to handle, he begins to slowly change. A Confusion of Princes is a grand story, spanning the lengths of space and lifetimes.

A Confusion of Princes is a complex story. Nix throws the reader into the deep end from the beginning. At first, it’s difficult to understand everything that’s going on, even though the story starts off somewhat slowly. But once I became used to the strange situations and people in the story, it was easier to read and enjoy it.

As a Prince, Khemri has a Master of Assassins and a host of Priests; servants who help him access the Imperial Mind and witness whatever is going on at the time; particularly assassination attempts. I was interested by the various training Khemri undertook and the whole mystery surrounding the Emperor and the Princes. It reminded me of The Borg from Star Trek as they too are an augmented race fuelled by one aim and lead by the hive mind.

A Confusion of Princes became more exciting and rapid in the second half. I was aware that apart from Khemri, the other characters seemed, not underdeveloped, but not there enough of the time. This is Khemri’s story, first and foremost. I was interested in learning more about Haddad; Khemri’s Master of Assassins, Atalin who is another Prince and Raine; the girl he saves. Though the story is told from Khemri’s point of view, I felt he could have spared us more details about other characters.

The romance was okay. It happened quite fast. The romance and his love interest should have been developed more but these felt like a small part in the grand scheme of Khemri’s story. Overall, while it took me a while to get into A Confusion of Princes, it became decidedly better as I continued reading. Khemri was an interesting, highly likeable and memorable main character. While I had a few questions at the end of this standalone novel, there weren’t any plot holes. A Confusion of Princes is a unique story and I look forward to reading more from Garth Nix.

Fantastic, thanks Kulsuma!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

REVIEW: Devilish by Maureen Johnson

I was thrilled to hear that Harper Collins is publishing some of Maureen Johnson's earlier work here in the UK.  As much as I love her Shades of London series and I'm dying to read the next book in the series, I've also been incredibly curious to read the books that haven't been as readily available here in England.  I've enjoyed all of the books I have read by Maureen Johnson, and while Devilish can be quite fun, there was something lacking in it to move it up from being an okay read to one I absolutely loved. 

Devilish is a book about popularity in high school and the lengths that some students would go to in order to achieve it.  The story starts out with a ceremony in which upperclassmen like Jane and Ally are to be paired as mentors with incoming freshman in a Big-Little event.  I didn't quite get the importance of this event, but aparently it's a big deal.

So when Ally humiliates herself in a big, flashy way, she feels like there's no hope for her whatsoever. Ally goes to incredible lengths in order to achieve popularity after the most embarassing moment of her life. And Ally will do anything to repair the damage done, including selling her soul to a demon in the form of new sophomore student, Lanalee.  But when Ally's best friend, Jane, finds out about it all SHE decides to make another deal with the demon in order to save Ally's soul. 

I don't know. Some parts of Devilish really worked for me.  I quite liked Jane as a character, she had a fun personality and I liked how much her friendship with Ally meant to her.  I was hoping for a bigger sense of friendship between the pair, but it is mostly missing until the last third of the novel. I also like the wackiness of it.  I found myself laughing at the craziness of this book - demons and blood-soaked cupcakes and the fact that the show-down of good and evil happens at the Poodle-Prom. But while the quirky storyline kept me reading, I still didn't feel any great connection to the characters.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Places that make me want to read ... about Denmark

This post is a little bit similar to my series of posts, Books that Make Me Want to Travel To..., except in reverse. My family and I recently spent some time in Copenhagen and now I really feel like I should have read up more on my Danish literature before we left.

Bear with me, I still have a post that needs to be written about our time in Denmark, but for now, here is some of the literature that I have been inspired to read since my summer holiday in Copenhagen!

Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales

I've had (multiple!) copies of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales in the house for years and years, and I don't think I've ever quite managed to read any of them. 

There was a ride that we went on in Tivoli Gardens which was a slow ride through some animated fairy tales attributed to Hans Christian Andersen, and obviously I'm familiar with a lot of the stories - The Little Mermaid,  Thumbelina, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen.  So I really will do it now. I'm going to sit down (with the boys probably, and go through these fairy tales.  See how very similar/different these stories are from what I think they are.  I think it'll be fun. 

Vicious Vikings

I did actually buy this book before the holiday, thinking that E and I could go through it a bit and discover the cool bits about Vikings before we went to the land of Vikings, but again, all my cool plans fell through. 

Still, E was most excited about what little we did learn about Vikings while we were there.  He sat in a replica Viking longboat in the National Museum and actually seemed a little bit interested in some of the other museum artefacts.  On his first trip to the library when we were home, he picked up (and read!) a book about Viking ships.  I think they're cool, and now, so does he.  Success!


I'm not sure if I've mentioned this on the blog or if it was just Twitter/ Facebook, but ours is a household of collections.  Lately, it's been the pop badges that you can collect at Legoland (our favourite place on earth!), but it has also recently included collecting Lego mini-figures.  I mostly think that this is really N collecting both of these 'on behalf of the boys' but they seem fairly interested as well.  And while I may claim to stay out of both of the way of N and the boys collecting these things, I do have to admit that I actually really love it as well. 

What's not to love about Lego?  It's endlessly entertaining and it is a fantastic and timeless toy.  I love how the boys both learned their colours sorting through Lego blocks and how fascinated E seems to be with building more and more intricate buildings and things.  So I picked up this Lego book and I'm interested enough in Lego to want to know more about the history of Lego.

Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg

Besides Lego and Vikings, I do actually want to read a piece of work by a Danish author.  I've had Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg on my shelves for years, since before Fluttering Butterflies was primarily a YA book blog (back when I still read books written for adults!) and I'd heard good things about it.

We obviously didn't see any of the Copenhange snow of which this book is mainly set, but I'm still curious about reading a translation of the book from Danish to English.  I'm curious about the distinction between Danish and Greenlandic.  I've heard a bit about the writing style being a bit distant.  Crime/thrillers aren't my usual read, but I'd still love to give this one a chance. 

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Do you know, I've never read Shakespeare's Hamlet.  I've always meant to, but never have.  In fact, I'm embarassed to admit that I know very little about the play at all.  I'd heard while in Copenhagen that Hamlet is a prince of Denmark and I can't recall now if I knew that already or if that was something I learned new while I was out there.

So perhaps my little trip abroad will inspire me to broaden my literary world to include this really famous play.  Who knows?

Denmark is also know for writers such as Karen Blixen and Soren Kierkegaard, but I'll have to save their books for another time!

Have you ever been inspired to read literature from the places you have been on holiday?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

REVIEW: The Prince Who Walked With Lions by Elizabeth Laird

The Prince Who Walked With Lions by Elizabeth Laird isn't anything at all like I expected it to be.  Regardless of that, I still really enjoyed it and found the story to be both interesting and sad.  Having only read a small blurb about the story before I began reading, I guess I thought the book would be told more in the present from our main character's point of view as he struggles with bullies in his school.

But Alamayu is based on a real person and in this story, Elizabeth Laird recounts a fictional account of what occurred when the British conquer the Abyssinians by defeating Prince Alamayu's courageous father who had taken some British soldiers hostage.

This story, though very interesting in parts, is quite sad throughout. Poor Prince Alamayu witnesses firsthand the horrific deaths of his family and friends.  Afterwards, he is taken by the British back to England.  At the start of The Prince Who Walked With Lions, Alamayu is in the infirmary, telling this story in flashbacks.  It is this early part of his story, which details the exoticness of his life in what is now Ethiopia the most fascinating.  I wanted to know more about the life that Alamayu led before the British came into the picture. 

Slowly though, Prince Alamayu begins to forget his Abyssinian heritage as he comes to England, is befriended by Queen Victoria and is educated to be a proper English gentleman.  His struggles to fit in with the other students though, is quite emotional and I could really relate to Alamayu's difficulties being caught between two cultures and trying to be true to himself. 

This is an interesting historical read, but I think it would have made more of an emotional impact if more of the story was told in Alamayu's present.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

30 Day Shred

Partly inspired by the amazing athletes of the Olympics, and partly inspired by the wonderful results of some friends in their weight loss regimes, I've decided to give the 30 Day Shred a go.  I've never heard of Jillian Michaels and I've never seen The Biggest Loser, but I have read quite a few people's accounts of the intensity of these workouts and the varied results from it and I'd like to try it for myself. 

I really want to dedicate myself to doing the full 30 days and hopefully I'll be that step closer to my ultimate goals of healthiness and fitness.  I thought that I'd write this blog post for some level of accountability and also a way of measuring the results once I'm finished.

I've only just ordered the DVD, so I have a bit of time left before I get started.  I'm not brave enough to show you a 'before' photo, but I can write a bit about my body for 'before' purposes.  Here we go:

I am 5'5" tall and weight approximately 175-180lbs. That puts my BMI at 29-30. A BMI score of over 30 is considered obese, so I am right on that border.  It's a scary border to be on and until recently I've only ever thought of myself as 'a little overweight.' In reality, I need to lose 26-30lbs in order to reach the very topmost weight for a healthy BMI.  Until I wrote that sentence just now, I had no idea how bad things had gotten and I have a tiny urge right now to cry.

I have a lot of problem areas.  From the top down, I'd say: double-chin, bust, flappy arms, stomach, hips, bum and thighs.  Before I begin the workout properly, I'll weigh myself properly and measure the different areas so that I can see if any inches or whatever are lost. 

Besides a better toned body, I'd also like to be more fit. I'd like to not get out of breath running after my boys, and just generally have a better all round cardiovascular health.  At the same time as the Shred, I won't be on any particular diet, but I will be trying to eat more fruit and veg and also drink more water. 

I'm hugely pleased that Keris Stainton will be doing the workout at the same time and I'm hoping that we'll push and motivate each other to keep going with this.  Will you help me as well?  I'll be writing at least one post mid-30 days but I'd love for any sort of support and cheer leading during this whole process! Ask in comments during the month or on Twitter to see how things are going, I'll love that on days when I want to give up or think it's too hard. 

Wish me luck, I'll need it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

REVIEW: FrostFire by Zoe Marriott

Last year I went on holiday and took with me Shadows on the Moon by Zoe Marriott and it was incredible, one of my favourite books of the year.  And now Zoe has done it again.  This year on holiday, I took with me FrostFire and ended up crying several times into my hotel pillow late at night.  I remember once not wanting to leave to go sightseeing because I had just 50 pages left.

I was slightly worried about taking FrostFire with me, as it is a sort of sequel to Daughter of the Flame, which I own and haven't yet read.  But they appear to be more companion novels, because while some of the events that occur in Daughter of the Flame will be slightly spoilt after reading FrostFire, it won't have ruined it entirely for me.  And I'm still desperate to read those last few books from Zoe Marriott's backlist.  Zoe Marriott really knows how to create an amazing world filled with characters and situations that I care about deeply.  Her writing is quite gorgeous and moving and I will always be excited to read more of her stories.

And right from the prologue of FrostFire, and I was hooked. What is this story about a girl possessed by a wolf demon?  I wanted to know more instantly.  And things aren't looking great for our main character, Frost, as this demon inside her comes out in a rage at the sight of her own blood. This rage that overtakes Frost has led to some terrible things.  Frost has been put through some terrible things, her mother seems to barely tolerate her existence, there is no love or comfort in Frost's life - only beatings from her mother, the taunts of other people, always the risk of imprisonment and death if her curse is ever found out.  But on a mission to find help against the wolf inside her, Frost stumbles on a Hill Guard whose job it is to fight against rebel warriors.  Frost is persuaded to join and there she meets two very different men - Luca, a golden boy with a great sense honour and justice, and the troubled Arian, his best friend. 

FrostFire really has everything - there's lots of action and kick-ass axe-wielding which made me cheer.  There's a wonderfully sweet romance, but also some great friendship building between a cast of characters that have very similar stories of abandonment and heavy guilt. I love that Arian and Frost in particular are very broken and have been through such difficult things.  There is a great deal of suffering in this novel, but still, they are all able to find a place to belong and the love of those around them give them the confidence to be more.

This is true for Frost more than anyone.  I love her transformation from the beginning of the novel to the end.  Her confidence in herself and her abilities grows and grows as she finds love and acceptance from this band of hill guards.  With the strength of that behind her, Frost is really a character to behold.  And this book is one to be savoured.  I really recommend it!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Blog Tour: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

 Today I am very excited to welcome Katie McGarry to the blog! Her book, Pushing the Limits, is one of my favourite books I've read all year and has quickly become one of my favourites! I sincerely hope that you go out and read this book, for I think it is fantastic. 

So I love this book, these characters .. and the fact that Katie is here today talking about Awesome Women, something very close to my heart. Over to you, Katie... 

 To find out more about Katie McGarry or Pushing the Limits, please do visit the following websites: 

Could you tell us something about the women in your life who have been an influence on you?

It’s funny you ask. While writing this I am days away from my US release and I was thinking about people I’d love to give a finished copy to. One of these people is a teacher/coach I had in high school.

I first met her my freshman year when I walked onto my school’s tennis team. She scared me a little, because let’s face it, most adults did. In my sophomore year, I had her for history and from that point forward she became a pivotal person in my life.

In her class, we often had to write essays and give speeches. She saw something in me, in my writing, in the stories I told during my speeches, and she told me that she thought I had a talent. She encouraged me to enter my essays into contests and to enter speech competitions. Under her advice I did and I was shocked when I succeeded.

On the court, she encouraged my quest to play competitively outside the high school arena. When I couldn’t find rides to tournaments or to the above speech competitions, she drove me. One summer, she drove me to a town an hour and a half away on her birthday so I could compete.

This woman told me more than once that I was college material and that I should keep my goals high. It is because of her faith in me that I’m where I’m at today.

If you had any advice for yourself as a teenager, what would you say?

That this too shall pass. When I was a teenager, I felt that every situation I found myself in would endure for the rest of my life. It’s not true. While some situations were harder than others, each morning brought a new day and a renewed sense of hope that I’d someday find happiness.

Who are your top literary heroines?

Katniss Everdeen from the Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games

Frannie Goldsmith from Stephen King’s The Stand

Alice Bell from Gena Showalter’s Alice in Zombieland

REVIEW: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

I know I've already listed this book on my favourite books of the year so far list and I've gushed about it to most everybody since I finished it, but it really must be said again.  Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry is a beautiful book, an absolute favourite of mine and one that I cannot recommend enough!

This book is so very beautiful emotional and absolutely heartbreaking in its rawness and its honesty.  Echo and Noah are such great characters, I found it very easy to fall into their head and into their stories.  And in doing so, my heart ached alongside theirs and I became fully immersed into this book.  I was bereft when it finished, completely wrung-out with emotion.

I do love a good love story, but stories like Echo's and Noah's grab me harder and longer than most because they are characters who are very broken in so many different ways.  Echo used to be popular and outgoing with a great boyfriend.  But all of that goes away after Echo is the victim of a violent crime that results in her arm covered in scars.  But the worst thing is that Echo cannot recall anything about what happened, only that it occurred at the hands of somebody who loved her.  I found Echo's journey throughout this book to be painful in so many ways.  Her attempts at learning the details of the incident, her PTSD, her troubled mental state are all absolute agony to read at times.  But it was also very real and tangible.  Together with her physical scars and the loss of her memory, Echo is dealing with the emotional pain of losing her brother in the recent past.  All that grief and confusion and pain make Echo a wreck of a character, but one is very sympathetic and somebody that I was rooting for right from the very beginning.

And that's just Echo!  Pushing the Limits splits the narrative between both Echo's perspective and Noah's.  And Noah is dealing with his own hardships.  He's not your typical bad boy, Noah.  Sure, he's hot and he smokes pot and has plenty of experience with the ladies, but he also just really wants his family back.  After his parents died in a fire, Noah and his two younger brothers have all been put in care and Noah is determined to graduate high school and become their legal guardian.  But it isn't as simple as that and he's holding onto some serious secrets.

They shouldn't work together, this damaged girl and this bad boy.  But together, Echo and Noah heat up the pages of this book!  The chemistry between them is unbelievable!  Really, this book comes so highly recommended from me!  It is an incredible book with its emotion and its intensity!  Read it, you won't be sorry!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

REVIEW: Pretty Bad Things by CJ Skuse

Review by Carrie from teabelly

When twins Paisley and Beau were children they became famous for being lost in the woods after going looking for their father. They were discovered three days later after being presumed dead. Known as the ‘Wonder Twins’, the public followed their story for a while, with their grandmother cashing in on the celebrity. Ten years later and Paisley has been shipped off to one boarding school after another, losing place after place due to her bad behaviour. Beau is at home with the grandmother, bullied and alone at school. Their father is in prison and they haven’t heard from him since they were kids. Then Beau discovers letters their father has sent throughout the years, but their grandmother has kept hidden. Telling Paisley, they escape their grandmother’s clutches and go off in search of their dad.

Reaching Vegas, they are soon out of money, when Paisley hits on an idea. Rob candy stores and leave obscure messages only their dad will know, get on the news, and soon their dad will know they’re looking for him. Simple, right? It doesn’t all go to plan, but that doesn’t stop the Wonder Twins.

I enjoyed this one. It’s another quick and easy read, and it’s very entertaining. It switches point of view for each chapter, so we get to know Paisley and Beau equally. Beau is the quieter twin. He’s used to keeping his head down and not making trouble. Paisley…wouldn’t know how to keep her head down if she tried. If there were an evil twin here, it would be Paisley. Not that she’s actually evil, she just jumps into things without thinking, has a smart mouth and comes across as fearless, even if she is riddled with insecurities. There were times when I found her immensely unlikeable, and I wished she wasn’t dragging Beau into her schemes. I know they’re kids, but if they’d thought things through a bit more there are better ways of finding someone. Obviously that’s not the point of the story, but she did bug me a bit, and Beau too for not standing up to her more. I do understand why they acted they way they did, given the dynamic of their relationship and the lives they’d led to that point.

It’s a really fun book, with some brilliant dialogue and insane moments. Worth a look.

Thank you for that Carrie!

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

BLOG TOUR: The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day

YAY! I'm very, very happy today to be today's stop in the blog tour for The Twice-Loved Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day! I do so adore Susie Day and now I adore both this book and Bluebell Jones!  This book is very funny and heartfelt and I really hope that you'll read it.  

I will hand you over to the fabulous Susie Day now, but if you'd like to know more about Susie Day or The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones, please do visit the following websites:


I wrote this book twice.

I don’t mean the usual rewrites that any published author will tell you about, with a weepy shudder; the first and second and third drafts before anyone even reads it, the edits, the other edits, the proofs and late tweaks.

I mean: I wrote this book twice. I wrote a book. Then I tore it up, and began again. New plot. New characters. New everything.

How did that happen? you ask. Because I’m rubbish! I reply, sort of joking. It is a bit uncomfortably close to the truth. I pitched my lovely, optimistic editor a single sentence - hopeless teenage girl gets to relive one year, and do it ‘better’ (with hilarious consequences!) - and she said yes. And then I wrote a spiralling pile of unamusing unambitious cack, which both she and I agreed should never be inflicted on anyone.

But really: how did that happen?

Two reasons.

One: I listened too much. My first YA novel, Big Woo, was a book about teenage angst and internet personas - which was also a bit funny, and the main character had a boyfriend. Suddenly I thought I was meant to write books which were a bit funny, where the main character had a boyfriend. That’s not actually a plot.

Two: I was impatient. Books don’t arrive like delivery pizza. Ideas need slow cooking.

This one I began to write before I’d unpicked what it was really about - so I started in the wrong place. My main character, then called Poppy, wanted to ‘redo’ being 14 - so she used a magic digital camera (yes, I know, shut up) to scroll herself back through her gigantically-convenient-to-the-plot one-year-long film diary, and start over. Aside from the horror innate in the words MAGIC DIGITAL CAMERA, that’s never going to work as a book. Poppy already knows what happened in the original version of the year, but the reader doesn’t, so she has to recap/watch her MAGIC DIGITAL CAMERA FILM of the original version, then live the new different one, and... then do that again... and again... and...

Sorry, I briefly melted into a puddle of shame. (I wrote 50,000 words of this. It’s basically Jamie and the Magic Torch only with kissing and Topshop. 50,000 words!)

To my immense relief, rather than (quite reasonably) telling me to bog off, my editor told me to go back and try again; that she still believed there was a good story in that core concept, and she thought I could write it.

So I took that one-sentence idea apart properly, in all the ways I could think of. I thought about the problem of exposition, in telling a story that a character had lived through already. I thought about the idea of rewriting your own past from a sincere, unjokey perspective. What could possibly make you wish to erase months of your life, and risk erasing the good with the bad? What could make such a wish come true?

And the result is a book that is a little bit funny, every now and then, and the main character might get a boyfriend, kind of - but is really about real life, families, growing up, and working out what’s important.

I’m so glad I got to write it twice.

REVIEW: The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day

There are some books that come in and completely steal your heart.  The Twice-Lived Summer of Bluebell Jones by Susie Day is such a book for me.  It's not a very thick book, it didn't take me long to read it. But boy, will this book stay with me.

Right from the very first page as we are introduced to Bluebell Jones, I was immediately drawn into the story.  It's Bluebell's 13th birthday, and she's rushing through a fairground, holding her birthday cake.  And as she passes she witnesses this absolutely tragic, life-changing event.  And this book is all about choices, starting with this first huge choice of whether or not Bluebell will allow her fear and the emotion of witnessing this event change her, make her afraid and less confident.

Things get complicated on a completely different level when, while blowing out her birthday candles, Bluebell makes a wish and before her, her future self appears in the form of beautiful, confident, older Red.  Who seems to know just what Bluebell should say and do in order for this summer to be the best ever.  She gives her the inside information on a cool crowd of teenagers who become her close circle of friends.  But things aren't always as they seem.  What wish did Red make to end up reliving a summer she's already known?

I love how this book manages to deal with so many things in such a short period of time.  I loved the importance of family and friendship in this novel.  Blue makes some lovely friends in Fozzie and Dan and especially Merlin, the mysterious magician.  But she also has this amazing family, with an older sister and parents who are loveable and supportive (with excellent taste in music!)

But it's also about Bluebell's journey to being confident and taking chances.  I loved seeing her breaking out of her shell as the presence of Red seems to make things easier for Blue to do things she wouldn't normally.  I loved the subtle message about being comfortable with who you are and knowing what's important in your life. 

This book is utterly wonderful.  I finished it past my bedtime, and just lay there, with tears trickling down my face remembering the odd beauty of the words I'd just read and wanting to hold onto the feelings that came with reading this book for as long as possible.  Now, even days after finishing it, my mind will sometimes wonder back to Bluebell's story and tears will come to my eyes.  I really can't recommend this book enough.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Revisited post: My Favourite Fictional Fantasy Places

 Originally posted October 2010!

I saw this someplace and it looked like too much fun for me to pass up. The person whose list I saw originally had Willy Wonka's chocolate factory first on their list and I thought it was inspired! (if that was you, please do comment and I will link to your blog straight away!) Without further ado, my list of favourite fantasy places...

Willy Wonka's chocolate factory - How fantastic would it be if Willy Wonka's chocolate factory were an actual place. That you could go and visit and get lost in. I would happily go there and never return. Especially with the Oompa-Loompas and that chocolate river.

Lyra's Oxford - I absolutely adore His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I love Lyra and this wonderful cast of characters, but one of my favourite things about Northern Lights, was his re-imagining of Oxford into this weirdly wonderful fantasy place, filled with daemons. It's always in the back of my head, 'if I lived there, what would my daemon look like?' Does anyone else ever wonder such things?

- Wouldn't everyone include Hogwarts on their list? I'm re-reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the moment, and hoping to carry on soon after with Deathly Hallows, and I'm absolutely positive that if this place existed, I would be beside myself with excitement. Obviously the movies brought Hogwarts to life, and as I love the movies, Hogwarts pretty much looks like it does on the screen. That's not neccessarily a bad thing, is it? Also, I'm pretty sure that I'd be a Gryffindor. Or maybe I just think I'd be in Gryffindor because I want to be in Gryffindor? I can't tell.

Old Kingdom
- Another one of my favourite series ever is the Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix. I loved the Old Kingdom, with Free Magic and Charter Magic and Moggett and the necromancer bells and the awesome characters, and the different gates of Death. Oh, just everything about it = love.

Discworld - I admit that I am a complete novice when it comes to Discworld! I've only read two adult Discworld novels and only read of the young Discworld novels: the first Tiffany Aching and Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. But I think Terry Pratchett has a wonderful imagination and living in Discworld would be the closest thing to living in Terry Pratchett's mind. I think that would be truly awesome! And I know for sure that I won't stop reading Discworld for a very a long time. I have so much to catch up on!

Neverland - Ooh, Neverland. With Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Always on some adventure and flying. Fighting with Captain Hook. I could live with that.

Oz - How much do I love Oz?! I'd love to count the ways with you, but this post would be never-ending. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I've only ever read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L Frank Baum's first book in the series on Oz. I do have the other in e-book format and will soon be getting to them. Most of my love for the place stems from the movie version. With Judy Garland and all the singing. It makes me happy.

Camelot - Is anyone else watching Merlin? I love that show. It can be a little bit silly, but I will watch it until forever. I love the magic of the show and this great relationship between Arthur and Merlin. And I love the legend of King Arthur. And his knights. And the dragons. I can't stay that I've read widely of Camelot and all its goings-on, but it's still one of my favourite fictional fantasy places!

Hundred Acre Wood - We've just started reading Winnie-the-Pooh with the boys. And I would love to live in the Hundred Acre Wood. How fun would that be? Playing Pooh-sticks and hanging out with Eeyore and Christopher Robin and everybody? Sigh.

Runners-up: Otori and Middle Earth.

Which are your favourite fictional fantasy places?