25 Weeks and Counting

So, we hit 25 weeks this week. It feels like the further along we get, the faster things seem to go!

I remember back when we first found out, I couldn’t wait for things to get moving. It’s kind of weird knowing you’re pregnant and having nothing to show for it: I was the same size as ever, I had no morning sickness or other typical symptoms, and no one knew about the baby – it often felt like I wasn’t pregnant at all.

These days it’s a little different. While I’m not exactly huge, I am more obviously pregnant now. Enough that strangers or people that don’t know I’m pregnant,  feel confident in saying things to me now – at work I’ve learnt that when someone asks “How are you?” they’re actually saying “I know you’re pregnant, how’s all that going for you?” It’s quite nice being approached like that though. I know Nathan enjoyed it when someone at the supermarket asked us if there was a baby in there when they saw us touching my stomach!

My sister is about 7 weeks ahead of me in her pregnancy, and the difference between us is pretty huge. She looks massive in comparison! I have to say, I’m pretty excited at the thought of getting bigger, which is not something I thought I’d say before!

We’re feeling a lot more movement now, and can tell the difference between them too. I can recognise the small, rhythmic movements that indicate hiccoughs and the bigger ones that are actual kicks. It’s good to feel and know that baby’s still in there and everything’s okay.

It’s hard to believe we’re well over half way now, and it feels like there’s a billion things to do before we’re ready for our little arrival, and not enough time to do it in! I’m sure everyone feels like that though. And there’s a big part of me that wants the next 15 weeks to fly by so we can finally meet the little one!

Book Review: Thunder Oak – Welkin Weasels #1 (Garry Kilworth)

Publisher: Corgi

Pages: 388

Release Date: July 1st 1997

Summary (from Goodreads):

Long ago, long before Sylver the weasel was born, the humans all left Welkin. Now life for a weasel — under the heavy paw of the vicious stoat rulers — is pretty miserable (unless you happen to be a weasel who likes living in a hovel and toiling all hours for the benefit of the stoats).

It’s certainly not enough for Sylver. Or for his small band of outlaws, both jacks and jills. but slingshots and darts can only do so much against heavily-armed stoats and life as an outlaw has a fairly limited future (probably a painful one, too). That’s when Sylver comes up with his plan — a heroic plan that could destroy the stoats’ reign of power for ever. He will find the humans, and bring them back to Welkin! And the first step is to follow up a clue from the past — a clue that lies in a place known as Thunder Oak…

Review:

This is a book series I read and loved as a child, but haven’t picked up in a long time. I was a little worried that it wouldn’t have aged as well as I would have hoped – you know how it is with some things you read or watched as a child: you think they’re wonderful when you’re 10 but not so much as you get older.

I guess there were some elements of this that weren’t as good as I remember. I am a good 15 years older though, and my tastes/reading age have changed quite a lot.

I love the idea behind this story: the humans have mysteriously disappeared and the animals have taken to living in their castles, cooking food like humans and picking up some of their other bad habits too. The stoats rule over the land and they treat weasels as slaves.

I remember struggling to get into this book when I first read it, and it was the same again this time. It dives into things pretty quickly, which isn’t normally a bad thing, but I found I struggled to get my head around the world, and could have done with a gentler introduction. Once it gets going though it’s a great adventure story, with tons of encounters with strange and magical creatures, high stakes and clear task throughout. While this sets up the trilogy nicely, it works well as a standalone novel.

My favourite thing about this book is the villain. Prince Poynt is the stoat that rules over Welkin. He’s whiny and spoilt and manipulative, and all that makes for a perfect villain. The best bits are in the small details though: believing a white coat to be more regal, Prince Poynt keeps his ermine coat all year round, and won’t let anyone else change their fur (I told you he was spoilt!)

I think the one thing that disappointed me about this book was it all felt a little simple. This may sound unfair for a children’s story, but I’ve read plenty of other children’s stories with more complex language than this one. It all felt a little basic, which was a shame. Still, it’s a real fast paced and action packed story that I think younger readers will really enjoy.

3

 

Book Review: On Writing (Stephen King)

Publisher: Mass Market Paperback

Pages: 297

Release Date: First published October 3rd 1999

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Review:

I bought this book for my partner’s dad last Christmas to encourage him to write, and he also bought it for my partner (apparently it makes a great gift!) so I’ve snuck in there and read it first.

It took me a while to get into this book, and I think that’s because I was desperate to get to the writing advice bit. I was often tempted to just skip forward, but I persevered with the initial chapters (they’re not boring by any means, I just wanted the writing advice!)

The first part of the book is a kind of memoir, as King recounts different events in his life that relate to his writing style and the genre he writes in too. It’s well written and enjoyable throughout, but I particularly like the later stages. I think everyone loves a good struggle-to-success story, and King’s is a great one. You can’t help but feel for him as he works hard to support his family and still manages to fit his writing in on the side. Just reading it made me want to write more and made me realise that excuses just don’t cut it – we’re all tired and busy, but if you really want to do something then you just get on and do it.

And then we get to the part where he sells Carrie and I actually had tears in my eyes. When he’s told the amount of money he’s getting for it, and looks around and the tiny, terrible houses he’s living in, and knows his life is going to change – I think it’s every writer’s dream. I adore success stories like this.

The actual writing advice is all very solid. Some of it is worded in a brilliant way that might cause a little revelation in you, but other bits are pretty standard advice that you’ll hear from all kinds of writers and editors. As always, there’s no magic formula for becoming a great writer or writing an amazing story – and anyone who tells you otherwise is not to be trusted – but there are certain skills you can develop and hone. I think the charm here is King’s bluntness and simple way of putting things – there’s no fluff here, no false hope, just a lot of great advice.

I’d definitely recommend this book, for any King fans who want to know more about him and how he writes his books, and for aspiring writer’s who want some straightforward advice. It doesn’t promise to make you a better writer, but with this advice, it can’t make you any worse.

4

 

Book Review: Topics About Which I Know Nothing (Patrick Ness)

Publisher: Harper Collins

Pages: 288

Release Date: First published 2005

Summary (from Goodreads):

Scintillating, surprising, inventive fiction from one of the most talented writers in Britain – this is a superb collection of short stories from the acclaimed author of the Chaos Walking series and ‘More Than This’. Have you heard the urban myth about Jesus’s double-jointed elbows yet? 100% true. Or seen the latest reports on the ‘groomgrabbing’ trend – the benevolent kidnapping of badly-dressed children by their well-meaning (and more dapper) elders? Heard the one about the Amazon from the Isle of Man? Or perhaps you’d like a job in telesales, offering self-defence classes over the phone? Don’t worry, as long as you meet the weekly quota, you won’t be sent to the end of the hall…Wonderfully original, fresh and funny, ‘Topics About Which I Know Nothing’ is stuffed to the gills with dizzyingly inventive writing and warming, puzzling emotions – a fictional guide to how the world might have turned out.

Review:

This is a continuation of my ‘read everything by Patrick Ness’ binge that came about from receiving all his books for my birthday.

I do prefer his young adult books (as in I love them and rave about them always) but I’ve been trying to get into his adult stuff too. I really enjoyed The Crane Wife earlier this year, and was looking forward to this one too.

I worry about reading short stories like this. It’s the kind of thing we’d read in my creative writing classes at uni and I’d always worry that I wouldn’t get it or I wouldn’t be able to say anything clever about it. And for some reason that still colours my opinion when I read things like this: even though I don’t need to impress anyone with my intellectual opinion, I still worry about it.

There were some stories I just didn’t get, or didn’t enjoy, and rather than worry about it I’ve just accepted it. I;m just going to write a couple of lines about each one rather than try and sum up the book as a whole.

Implied Violence – this was a great start to the book and just felt like everything a short story should be: a quick snapshot of life, with fleshed out characters, a good spot of humour and an interesting premise. I really enjoyed this.

The Way All Trends Do – this was in the form of a report and was a bit bizarre, but in a brilliant way. I loved the idea of ‘groom grabbing’ and the way the information unfolded was really interesting.

Ponce de Leon is a Retired Married Couple From Toronto – this story was told by several letters, between a mother and son, and the son and various authorities. The ending was a little ambiguous but I quite liked that.

Jesus’ Elbows and Other Christian Urban Myths – the style of these felt a little odd. They didn’t feel like your traditional written story: more like one that someone was telling you directly, in person, if that makes sense. They were really quirky though and very enjoyable, though they’re probably not for everyone (i.e. you may find it a little offensive if you’re Christian).

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodest – this falls half in the category of ‘I didn’t understand’ but there were some bits I really enjoyed too. I think the not understanding came mostly from the large amounts of Latin used, but I did follow the main story line. There was a reference to Flemish that I really appreciated, though most people won’t enjoy as much (my Grandma is Flemish so it’s a language I’m used to hearing).

Sydney is a City of Jaywalkers – I didn’t really enjoy this story. There was an interesting idea in there but I got a little bored, and then confused towards the end (another where I just felt maybe I wasn’t smart enough for it).

2,115 Opportunities – this story explored all the little fluctuations that can cause or not cause an event to happen: we see over 2000 different scenarios (some are grouped together as they are similar) which just show how specific every little event had to be to lead up to two people meeting.

The Motivation of Sally Rae Wentworth, Amazon – I think this is probably what spoiled my enjoyment of the book a bit. I really struggled to get through it, and it stuck in my mind more than the ones I enjoyed. I just found it dull.

The Seventh International Military War Games Dance Committee Quadrennial Competition and Jamboree – this was a newspaper article, and another of Ness’ more bizarre ideas, but it did make me chuckle: the idea of combining war and art in some kind of weird and dangerous performance was brilliant.

The Gifted – this was another one with a bit of a weird/ambiguous ending, but I really enjoyed it. There were some strong characters and a school assignment to die for (pun intended). I could easily see this as a longer story idea too.

Now That You’ve Died – the introduction said this was recorded as an immersive play, and the theatre student in me loved it. It just filled me with creative ideas and I just wanted to take it into class and workshop it with some students. It was a brilliant way to end the book.

4

Blog Tour Book Review: Return to the Secret Garden (Holly Webb)

* I have been given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *

Publisher: Scholastic UK

Pages: 240

Release Date: October 1st 2015

Summary:

It’s 1939 and a group of children have been evacuated to Misselthwaite Hall. Emmie is far from happy to have been separated from her cat and sent to a huge old mansion. But soon she starts discovering the secrets of the house – a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary and a garden. A very secret garden…

Review:

I interviewed Holly Webb on writing a sequel to The Secret Garden a few weeks ago, and it made me really excited to read her book, so of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a review tour!

It must tricky writing a sequel to such a well known classic, and I can see why Webb chooses to focus on a new set of characters rather than picking up where the first book left off. We get a whole new story in the same setting, but also get to find out what happened to our favourite characters too.

We don’t really find out who is who in terms of returning characters until near the end, but they’re not too hard to guess, especially if you’ve recently read the first book as I have. It’s a bit sad to see how times have changed them, but it’s understandable too: they’ve grown up from the children they were in the first book, and have lived through one World War and are enduring a second. If that hadn’t touched them in some unforgettable way then it wouldn’t be very believable.

The new characters share certain traits with the old ones, but have enough of their own differences to let them standalone and have their own story. Like Mary, Emmie is sour and skinny and is used to being alone. It would be easy to dislike such a bad tempered protagonist, but Emmie’s relationship with a stray cat shows that she’s not all mean, and she begins to blossom in the secret garden just as Mary once did.

I really enjoyed the story, especially the Second World War setting, and thought the book was best when it was doing it’s own thing – there were some times when the similarities with the first book were a bit too strong for me, but that could just be because I read the first so recently and its events are still firmly in my mind.

You don’t need to have read the original to enjoy this book, though I would recommend it, as it’s a lovely little story. This book manages to be just as charming and compelling without falling into the trap of being twee, which I thought was a real danger. This is definitely a book for fans of The Secret Garden, and for those who’ve yet to discover it.

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

About the Author:

hw

Holly Webb was one of the World Book Day authors for 2012 and has received high praise for her previous standalone fiction Looking for Bear, A Cat Called Penguin, The Chocolate Dog and A Tiger Tale. She published her 100th book, The Truffle Mouse, in August.

Website: http://www.holly-webb.com/

Twitter: http://twitter.com/HollyKateSkeet

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HollyWebbOfficial

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/887961.Holly_Webb

Follow the Tour

To keep up with the blog tour for the rest of the week and catch up on any you might have missed, check out the tour poster and follow the links below.

unnamed

Monday 9th November

Heather Reviews

Tuesday 10th November

Serendipity Reviews

Wednesday 11th November

The Reading Reptile

Thursday 12th November

Life of Kitty

Maia and a Little Moore

Friday 13th November

Tales of Yesterday

Saturday 14th November

The Book Bandit

Sunday 15th November

Kirstyes

Book Review: The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

Publisher: Children’s Classics

Pages: 331

Release Date: First published 1911

Summary (from Goodreads):

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle’s estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won’t enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty–unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.

Review:

I know I’ve read this book before, but I really couldn’t remember it at all when I started reading this time round, ready for the #ReturntotheGarden blog tour, so it was like reading a brand new book.

By far my favourite thing about this book is how unlikeable both Mary and Colin are for the majority of the book. It’s great to not have main characters who are always beautiful and bright and charming: Mary is none of these things, and that just makes her feel more real.

The story may feel a little predictable, but that’s probably because it’s such a classic. Of course, when Mary hears about the hidden garden she’s going to resolve to find it. And of course, when she hears a child crying at night, she’s going to find him. And of course, during theses events both sour faced children are going to learn to become better people. It might sound pretty standard but it doesn’t make the story any less charming.

What really comes across in the book is how much Frances Hodgson Burnett loves gardens and plants. You can feel the passion behind the wonderful descriptions as the secret garden slowly comes to life under Mary’s eager hands and Dickon’s experienced ones.

One thing I did struggle with in this book was the Yorkshire accent. I found it really jarring, the way it was written. I think dialogue in classics can be tricky at the best of times, as they can be so different to how we speak today, but with the added complexity of the Yorkshire accent it did slow my reading down as I tried to figure out the words.

There is no doubt that this book is a wonderful children’s classic and it’s one I can imagine reading to my children in the future.

4

Book Review: Web of Darkness (Bali Rai)

Publisher: Corgi Children’s

Pages: 432

Release Date: June 5th 2014

Summary (from Goodreads):

When the incredibly attractive Benedict befriends Lily online, she is thrilled. He is so much more mature than boys her age and he seems to know exactly how she’s feeling. She finds herself opening up to him, telling him things she wouldn’t tell anybody else.

And she needs someone to confide in more than ever before as a spate of apparent suicides rocks her school – and her group of friends.

But is Benedict the kind, charming person that he seemed to be initially? Lily soon realises that now, with half our lives spent online, you can be found – even if you try to hide . . .

Review:

I won this book in a competition over at Miss Chapter’s Reviews, so big thanks to Georgina and Bali for the copy!

I’d heard about this book after a UKYAChat a few months ago – I can’t remember what the topic was, but I remember requesting recs for books with internet bullying in and this one cropped up a lot. I also got to see Bali Rai talk a little at the UKYAExtravaganza event earlier this month, so when I won one of his books I knew it was this one I wanted to read.

I have to say, this book just sucked me in completely. I sped through the book in a couple of days – I reached the end just as the bus got to work and spent the whole day itching to get back to the last few pages.

I’ll admit to being a little bit skeptical at first. I’m an adult and had a lot of internet safety talks when I was younger, and always thought I would be safe and new better. But this book showed just how easy it is to be sucked it. The characters in the book thought they were above such talks too – they thought they were adult enough and the talks were more appropriate for Year 7s. But when it comes to it, it’s so easy to be careless: a  wrong click here, a friend request there and suddenly you’ve let them in.

It happens this easily for Lily, and you can see why. For someone with low self-esteem, attention from someone like sexy, American model Benedict would be so welcome you wouldn’t ask too many questions. These traits make Lily a really relatable character too: I could see so much of myself as a teenager in her, I had no problem believing in her as a character.

Benedict to me was just a creep, plain and simple – every time he said ‘babe’ I shuddered a little – but I could understand the appeal for someone younger who isn’t used to that kind of attention. It started off innocently enough, but I was glad when things got more intense and Lily started to have doubts. Even though it’s obvious to the reader something isn’t right there, the build up is slow enough to see why Lily isn’t suspicious from the off.

Lily’s story is punctuated by snippets from The Spider, who we gather is the hacker/computer genius. It’s horrible to see how cold blooded he is in his actions, as he doesn’t even flinch when he talks about videos for pedophiles or making teenagers kill themselves. I have to say, I had my thoughts about who he was and was pleased when I was right – I don’t think it’s really obvious, I’m just super suspicious/maybe some kind of genius… 😉 I was wrong about the identity of his colleague, The Other, and that I was pleased about. It was a nice little twist that gave me a surprise at the end.

The ending really shocked me, it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Despite the dark tone of the book, I was still expecting a happy ending. I won’t spoil it, but this isn’t a book that wraps things up neatly and gives every character the ending they deserve. In a horrible way, I was pleased. Real life doesn’t always end happily, and this ending suited a book that felt so close to real life.

I enjoyed this book so much, I want to recommend it to everyone, but especially to my younger sisters and people their age, who spend a lot of time on line and might not know the dangers they face. I know it’s probably taught a lot in schools these days, and parents will give their lectures, but I think this book puts it in a way that isn’t preachy but will show exactly what happens when you trust too much online.

4

Book Review: Grimm Tales for Young and Old (Philip Pullman)

Publisher: Penguin

Pages: 420

Release Date: September 27th 2012

Summary (from Goodreads):

Two hundred years ago, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of Children’s and Household Tales. Now, at a veritable fairy-tale moment—witness the popular television shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time and this year’s two movie adaptations of “Snow White”—Philip Pullman, one of the most popular authors of our time, makes us fall in love all over again with the immortal tales of the Brothers Grimm.

From much-loved stories like “Cinderella” and “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Rapunzel” and “Hansel and Gretel” to lesser-known treasures like “Briar-Rose,” “Thousandfurs,” and “The Girl with No Hands,” Pullman retells his fifty favorites, paying homage to the tales that inspired his unique creative vision—and that continue to cast their spell on the Western imagination.

Review:

This book combines two of my favourite things: Grimm Tales and Philip Pullman’s wonderful writing. What’s not to like?

I loved his introduction. It explains a lot about the nature of fairy tales, the tradition of oral storytelling, and what he has done with his versions. Because these aren’t adaptations, or Pullman putting his own spin on well known tales: they really are re-tellings, just in his own words, without changing anything dramatic in the plots or characters.

I won’t comment on all the individual stories as there’s lots of them and I have to say, when reading them all together, they can blur into one a little. I think this is a book that you should dip in and out of rather than reading consecutively as a novel. The stories and characters can get a bit repetitive otherwise. This is something Pullman comments on in his introduction: the characters are all stock characters rather than ones you would expect to find in a novel. They’re not there to be people. Often they don’t even have names of their own, just job titles like ‘The Baker’ or relationship ones like ‘The Sister’. This help keeps the stories brief, as they need to be, because these are about the story rather than any kind of character development.

There were a lot of familiar stories in this book – who doesn’t know the tale of Cinderella or Rapunzel or Hansel and Gretel (from childhood or Disney films…)? – but there were also a lot that were new for me. I liked that they stuck to the more original stories too, just in the small details: like Rapunzel revealing the Prince’s visits by complaining that her clothes are too tight (because she is pregnant) rather than her just being stupid and making a flip comment about him being easier to pull up than the witch.

As I mentioned before, I don’t think this is one to read straight through. It’s too repetitive and ever so slightly moralising, as is the nature of Grimm tales. But this would work perfectly as a bedtime book – a story before bed each night, that kind of thing. Don’t go in expecting some revolutionary adaptations, but do expect charming (though often brutal or even cruel) stories with a little of Pullman’s magical story telling in there.

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

Book Review: Blood and Feathers (Lou Morgan)

Publisher: Solaris

Pages: 384

Release Date: July 31st 2012

Summary (from Goodreads):

“What’s the first thing you think of when I say ‘angel’?” asked Mallory. Alice shrugged. “I don’t know… guns?”

Alice isn’t having the best of days. She was late for work, she missed her bus, and now she’s getting rained on. What she doesn’t know is that her day’s about to get worse: the epic, grand-scale kind of worse that comes from the arrival of two angels who claim everything about her life is a lie.

The war between the angels and the Fallen is escalating; the age-old balance is tipping, and innocent civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire. If the balance is to be restored, the angels must act – or risk the Fallen taking control. Forever.

That’s where Alice comes in. Hunted by the Fallen and guided byMallory – a disgraced angel with a drinking problem and a whole load of secrets – Alice will learn the truth about her own history… and why the angels want to send her to hell.

What do the Fallen want from her? How does Mallory know so much about her past? What is it the angels are hiding – and can she trust either side?

Caught between the power plays of the angels and Lucifer himself, it isn’t just hell’s demons that Alice will have to defeat…

Review:

Earlier this year I read Sleepless by Lou Morgan and really enjoyed her writing. So when I received this book for my birthday earlier this year I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

I have to start off by saying how beautiful is that cover?! I could just stare at it forever, it’s absolutely stunning.

The book plunges straight into the action and gets the more awkward bits over very quickly. You know the kind I mean: when you’re trying to explain something fantastical and unbelievable to someone who’s lived in the real world and doesn’t believe in that kind of magic (the whole “You’re a wizard, Harry” moment). I can find these really awkward to read sometimes as it’s tricky to get the right level of disbelief and skepticism, followed by gradual acceptance. Morgan handles this very well though and I felt Alice accepted quickly enough for it to be believable but didn’t take so long that it became irritating.

The world building was really incredible, and you could see that Morgan had really done her research into angels and the mythology but also used this to create her own story and characters. There was a depth to it that I just loved: it really made things come alive for me and I felt completely sucked into the story. The angels aren’t what you’d expect: they’re not the good guys sweeping in on their beautiful wings to save the day. It’s more complicated than that. And I love that the angels weapons are mostly guns. It adds a whole new badass-ness to their characters!

I love that the focus of the book was more on Alice adjusting to her new life and saving the world than any romantic aspect. I feel there’s too much focus on finding love in YA at the moment, and I think it’s brave of Morgan not to include a romance line in her book. It didn’t need it, there was enough going on to keep anyone’s interest without complicating things with romance!

This worked well as a standalone book, as it solved the main story line set up in the beginning, but there’s also plenty left to be done, and I’m very much looking forward to reading the sequel.

4

If you enjoyed this, you might like Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson