Wednesday, 30 April 2014

What's Up Wednesday! | 30/04/14

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk as a way for writers and readers to stay in touch!

What I'm Reading

Sadly I haven't really done any reading since I got back to uni - I'm already quite busy - so I'm hoping to start reading again soon. I was going to carry on reading Mira Grant's Feed last night, but when I got into bed I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

But in a couple of week's time I'm going to be taking part in the 10th Bout of Books read-a-thon, so I hopefully I'll get plenty read then!

What I'm Writing

I'm still working away on Bloodroot and Bracken. I did practically no writing over my Easter holiday (which is really bad, I know) but now I'm getting back into it and I feel like my writing skills have gone severely down hill. Right now everything I write is pretty much: 'and then she did a thing, and it was good'. I just need to shake off the last of the laziness that's still clinging to me after those three weeks away from uni.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Being back at uni means I'm once again surrounded by other writers, and that's pretty inspiring - it's certainly helping me to get my arse into gear!

What Else I've Been Up To

On Saturday I got back to uni after a very relaxing Easter holiday - so relaxing, in fact, that I almost wasn't ready to come back to uni - and then on Saturday night a friend and I went to see the new Spider-man movie. I'm definitely more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan, and next to the X-Men my favourite Marvel comic/cartoon when I was younger was Spider-man.

I especially love these new films because it's finally seeing Spider-man being done well. Andrew Garfield is a brilliant Peter Parker/Spider-man - he's the witty, sarcastic Spider-man I remember from my childhood - and Emma Stone is a wonderful Gwen Stacy, too.

I really enjoyed this film, but be prepared to be sad if you go and see it!

Earlier this week (or possibly at the weekend, I can't remember) I also submitted a short story into a competition, so we'll see how that goes. To be honest I never win anything but I thought it would be fun to try anyway, plus this year I'm trying to get more of my short fiction out there while I work on longer projects.

So what's new with you?

Monday, 28 April 2014

Reading Wrap Up | April 2014

Contrary to what I expected, April turned out to be a great reading month for me - I read ten books in total, so let's dive in!

by Tim Manley

My Rating: 

Disney meets Lena Dunham in this illustrated humor book featuring your favorite fairy-tale characters dating and finding their way in 21st-century America 
The Ugly Duckling still feels gross compared to everyone else, but now she’s got Instagram, and there’s this one filter that makes her look awesome. Cinderella swaps her glass slippers for Crocs. The Tortoise and the Hare Facebook stalk each other. Goldilocks goes gluten free. And Peter Pan finally has to grow up and get a job, or at least start paying rent.

Here are more than one hundred fairy tales, illustrated and re-imagined for today. Instead of fairy godmothers, there’s Siri. And rather than big bad wolves, there are creepy dudes on OkCupid. In our brave new world of social networking, YouTube, and texting, fairy tales can once again lead us to “happily ever after”—and have us laughing all the way.

I read this little book in less than hour (that's how quick and easy it is to get through) and it was so much fun! Tim Manley has taken famous characters from fairy tales, myths and legends and thrust them into the 21st century.

This book just made me happy. It was funny, daft and lovely, and I loved Manley's reinterpretations of Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast in particular. This is well worth a read if you're a lover of fairy tales who's in the mood for a giggle!

by Tim Burton

My Rating: 

From breathtaking stop-action animation to bittersweet modern fairy tales, filmmaker Tim Burton has become known for his unique visual brilliance – witty and macabre at once. Now he gives birth to a cast of gruesomely sympathetic children – misunderstood outcasts who struggle to find love and belonging in their cruel, cruel worlds. His lovingly lurid illustrations evoke both the sweetness and the tragedy of these dark yet simple beings – hopeful, hapless heroes who appeal to the ugly outsider in all of us, and let us laugh at a world we have long left behind (mostly anyway).

This was my first reread of the month, and I was surprised to find I'd never actually marked it as read on Goodreads. I found this little gem in HMV a couple of years ago for about £4, and I knew I had to have it as soon as I realised it was bizarre poetry written by Tim Burton, who is one of my favourite film makers.

I picked this book up for my first read of the Hogwarts House Reading Challenge, and I had a lot of fun rereading it. Like Alice in Tumblr-Land it's one of those bizarre little books that you can read in an hour, and while some poems are funny there are others that break your heart.

If you're a fan of Tim Burton's imagination and you haven't read this, I recommend it!

by Mitch Albom

My Rating: 

In this fable, the first man on earth to count the hours becomes Father Time. The inventor of the world's first clock is punished for trying to measure God's greatest gift. He is banished to a cave for centuries and forced to listen to the voices of all who come after him seeking more days, more years. Eventually, with his soul nearly broken, Father Time is granted his freedom, along with a magical hourglass and a mission: a chance to redeem himself by teaching two earthly people the true meaning of time.

He returns to our world--now dominated by the hour-counting he so innocently began--and commences a journey with two unlikely partners: one a teenage girl who is about to give up on life, the other a wealthy old businessman who wants to live forever. To save himself, he must save them both. And stop the world to do so.

When I arrived home for Easter I went to the library and got a few books out; The Time Keeper was one of them. Like the majority of Mitch Albom's novels it's not a particularly chunky read, so I sat and read this in an afternoon, and I loved it even more than I loved The Five People You Meet in Heaven, which I read back in 2012.

Even though it was a quick read, it was powerful. I loved Albom's portrayal of the world before time began - or at least before we began to count it - and the way he wrote about its discovery. This book definitely made me think.

by Kristen Britain

My Rating: 

Karigan Gladheon, running away from school, is traveling through a deep forest when a galloping horse pounds up to her, its rider impaled by two black-shafted arrows. With his dying breath, he tells her he is a Green Rider, one of the magical messengers of the King. Before he dies, he makes Karigan swear to deliver the message hes carrying, and gives her his green coat, with the symbolic brooch of his office. Pursued by unknown assassins, following a path only her horse seems to know, Karigan becomes a legendary Green Riderfor when given to the right person, a Riders brooch awakens the magic inside.

This month I finally decided to give up on Green Rider; I may go back to it again in the future but I can't say for sure. I started this book back in December and this month I still wasn't even half way through it. It started out with so much promise, but it was so slow. Normally I don't have a problem with a slow read as long as it's executed well, but I got so bored of all the worldbuilding and being introduced to all these characters who, as far as I could tell, had absolutely nothing to do with the actual conflict.

I'd like to try to finish it one day because I've owned it for so long, but right now I still feel frustrated when I think about it.

by Sarah Waters

My Rating: 

An upper-class woman, recovering from a suicide attempt, visits the women's ward of Millbank prison as part of her rehabilitation. There she meets Selina, an enigmatic spiritualist-and becomes drawn into a twilight world of ghosts and shadows, unruly spirits and unseemly passions, until she is at last driven to concoct a desperate plot to secure Selina's freedom, and her own. 

April saw me read my very first Sarah Waters novel! I've been meaning to read her work for a while now ever since I discovered her last year, and her novel Fingersmith is the historical fiction read I mentioned wanting to cross off my TBR list this year in my 2014 Booket List.

I decided to start with Affinity not only because it's shorter, but also because it counted as my read for the second week of the Hogwarts House Reading Challenge. I really enjoyed this book (even though it broke my heart a little) and now that I'm acquainted with Sarah Waters' writing style I can't wait to pick up Fingersmith!

by Shirley Jackson

My Rating: 

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill Househas been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

April also saw me read my very first Shirley Jackson novel, and I can say with full confidence that I'm most definitely a fan! I received The Haunting of Hill House for Christmas, and because it's quite a thin book I decided to finally pick it up during my Easter holiday.

I loved this book. It is by far the best 'haunted house' story I've come across. Jackson doesn't try and get cheap scares out of people with blood and gore, instead she plays with your head until you're not entirely sure what it is you're supposed to believe. I'm definitely going to be picking up more of her work in future!

by Neil Gaiman

My Rating: 

In the sleepy English countryside of decades past, there is a town that has stood on a jut of granite for six hundred years. And immediately to the east stands a high stone wall, for which the village is named. Here in the town of Wall, Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester. One crisp October night, as they watch, a star falls from the sky, and Victoria promises to marry Tristran if he'll retrieve that star and bring it back for her. It is this promise that sends Tristran through the only gap in the wall, across the meadow, and into the most unforgettable adventure of his life.

My third read for the Hogwarts House Reading Challenge was Stardust which, despite being really short and despite me having owned my copy for years, I hadn't read yet. I enjoyed this little read, it felt like reading a bizarre fairy tale or fable, but I have to say I think this is one of the rare instances in which I prefer the film to the book!

by John Donne

My Rating:

From "The Flea," a sly and witty sonnet of seduction, to his celestial and holy "A Hymn to Christ," John Donne's poems capture both love and death, earthly and heavenly passion. Here are his most beautiful songs and sonnets; elegies and epithalamiums (poems in honor of a bride and groom); satires, verse letters, and poems of the Divine--a portrait of Donne's range and magnificence.

I finally finished making my way through a little collection of John Donne's poetry this month. I don't read much poetry at all - and really I should read more - but I've always had a fondness for John Donne. I love that his poetry initially seems so profound until you realise he's actually just talking about sex.

If you haven't read anything by John Donne then I do recommend him - "The Flea" is probably his most famous poem.

by Essie Fox

My Rating: 

Uprooted from her home in India, Alice is raised by her aunt, a spiritualist medium in Windsor. When the mysterious Mr Tilsbury enters their lives, Alice is drawn into a plot to steal the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond, claimed by the British Empire at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars.

Said to be both blessed and cursed, the sacred Indian stone exerts its power over all who encounter it: a handsome deposed maharajah determined to claim his rightful throne, a man hell-bent on discovering the secrets of eternity, and a widowed queen who hopes the jewel can draw her husband's spirit back. In the midst of all this madness, Alice must discover a way to regain control of her life and fate...

This was the second book I got out from the library and I only sort of finished it. I was really looking forward to this read; I've been hearing a lot about Essie Fox lately - she also wrote Elijah's Mermaid and The Somnambulist - and if you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know I'm a fan of historical fiction. This particular story is set in the 19th century and focuses a lot on the Koh-i-Noor diamond which was stolen from India, recut and then given to Queen Victoria when she became known as Empress of India. Another famous story which is heavily influenced by the theft of the Koh-i-Noor is Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, which is one of my favourite classics, so I thought I was going to really enjoy The Goddess and the Thief.

Sadly, though, I felt as though this was a book with so much promise that just seemed to dwindle on the edges of a great story. I got around half way through the book when the plot took a turn which I felt was unbelievable, so it annoyed me, and after that I just sort of skim read the rest. 

This book does have great ratings on Goodreads, however, so maybe some time in the future I'll have to go back to it and try rereading it. Perhaps I missed something!

by Suzanne Collins

My Rating: 

Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss's family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans--except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss's willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels' Mockingjay--no matter what the personal cost.

Lastly, in April I reread the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy for the first time since I originally read it back in 2012. I'd forgotten a lot of the smaller details since my first read so it was good to revisit the final book, even if the story is heartbreaking, plus it counted as my final book for the Hogwarts House Reading Challenge. 

Katniss is one of my favourite YA heroines and I really enjoy reading from her point of view; she goes through a lot of crap, and I love that the final book is as horrifying as it is. This is a trilogy about war, so I'd be annoyed if Suzanne Collins tried to convince me it's actually a story about Katniss and Peeta.

I can't wait for the film later this year!

That's everything I read in April. What did you read this month?

Friday, 25 April 2014

Review | Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

by Jane Nickerson

My Rating: 

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Jane Nickerson's Strands of Bronze and Gold falls into several categories: it's a piece of YA, a piece of Historical Fiction, and a fairy tale retelling all rolled into one.

It was an interesting take on the Bluebeard myth; I haven't read any other retellings of that particular story, nor do I think I've ever read anything set in the "Deep South", so that's something I'll have to change!

In this retelling, seventeen year old Sophia "Sophie" Petheram travels to live with her godfather, the wealthy Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, after the death of her father. All her life he has sent her lavish gifts, and when she arrives at his estate he spoils her. Soon, however, Sophie realises there is a much more sinister side to her godfather than she ever could have imagined.

Before I say anything else, there will be spoilers in this review, so please don't read on if you haven't read this book yet - I don't want to be responsible for ruining it for you!

Personally I felt as though de Cressac, our Bluebeard, was too obviously dodgy from the start. Perhaps it's because I'm familiar with the Bluebeard myth (though I believe many people are) but I just couldn't understand how Sophie wasn't more suspicious of him sooner. After all, when she arrives she discovers that not only has he failed to mention that his wife has died, but that he's managed to get through four wives, all with red hair like her own.

Having said that, when Sophie did finally come to the conclusion that de Cressac had murdered his previous wives she came to it far too quickly. I'm not trying to say that finding six human teeth in your godfather's bedroom is normal, but in reality they could have been anyone's! I was hoping the book would build up with a slow, sizzling tension before Sophie finally found the bodies of the previous wives in de Cressac's chapel. In the original myth I'm fairly certain the heroine doesn't know for certain that her husband is a murderer until she finds the bodies.

Sophie herself I found a little boring at first, but as the novel wore on she developed much more of a personality of her own. One thing I really loved about her, though, was that Nickerson didn't try and make her 'bad ass' to pass as a YA heroine. She's very feminine and 'girly', but that doesn't mean she doesn't possess a different kind of strength to the strength of, say, Katniss Everdeen. Personally I think we need more feminine heroines in YA - a heroine shouldn't have to adopt stereotypical masculine traits to be taken seriously as a protagonist!

Sophie is also one of the few, if only, YA heroines I've read who's openly acknowledged a faith of some kind. I'd describe myself as agnostic, but I love that Sophie isn't apologetic for her belief in God, in the same way that she isn't apologetic for being feminine. I can understand why there isn't a huge amount of religion in YA - at least not that I've come across - because it can alienate some readers from the book, but personally I find religion fascinating; if it's used tastefully, and not as a way to try and convert readers, then there's no reason why we shouldn't see more of it in YA.

In fact religion is such a big part of Sophie's life that her love interest is a preacher! I quite liked Gideon; he was the complete opposite of de Cressac, and sweet in a dorky, 'boy next door' kind of way, which was a refreshing change for me. Lately all of the YA I've come across has involved love interests who are dark and/or brooding in one way or another. 

However, at times he and Sophie almost felt too good. I expected the retelling as a whole to be quite a bit darker than it was given its original source material; I honestly expected Sophie to marry de Cressac a little earlier in the novel and then discover his awful secret. This would have been a nice change from all of the YA in which the heroine meets her 'true love' when she's still innocent and virginal and all those things which, sadly, we associate with young women.

I did love, however, that Nickerson chose not to have Gideon or one of Sophie's siblings save her from de Cressac; instead he ultimately got caught in one of his own traps. A small part of me wanted Sophie to kill him herself, but if we're being honest she doesn't seem like the kind of heroine who could kill anyone, and there's nothing wrong with that! I'd rather have an ending where the protagonist's actions were believable than sit back and watch them do something I couldn't imagine them doing.

Though I enjoyed the book on the whole I was still left with some unanswered questions at the end. For example we never really found out how de Cressac came to be Sophie's godfather in the first place; a few times it's mentioned that he had a fondness for her mother, whom Sophie takes after, but his relationship with her parents is never really expanded upon.

I also would have liked to see more of Odette, Sophie's handmaid and eventual friend. I guessed quite early on in the book that she was some sort of relation to one of de Cressac's previous wives, and I wanted to know more about this woman who'd had the guts to enter this dangerous man's house and investigate for herself. In fact I was rather disappointed that Nickerson chose to kill her; I think she had a lot of potential as a character.

The issues concerning slavery also seemed a little too ghosted over for my liking. I appreciated that Nickerson chose to include it in the novel, especially as it is a piece of Historical Fiction, but sometimes it felt as though she'd put it there as an afterthought; as though she'd just remembered that black people were enslaved in the South of America at this time.

There were a few times in which Sophie even compared herself to the slaves who worked for de Cressac, and while I certainly felt sorry for Sophie and the dire situation she was in, I'm fairly sure de Cressac's slaves suffered more than she did.

That being said, the end of the novel was full of hope for the future. I loved that Sophie inherited her godfather's wealth and that she intended to use it to free and help de Cressac's slaves, and I appreciated that, though she agreed to marry Gideon, she would do so in a year or so after she'd had more of a chance to enjoy her independence. 

All in all it was an interesting retelling. I liked it enough to read all of it; it's not the best writing I've ever come across, some sections were a little melodramatic, but I recommend it to anyone who likes retellings. I'll definitely pick up Nickerson's next retelling, The Mirk and Midnight Hour, some time in the future.


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

What's Up Wednesday! | 23/04/14

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk as a way for writers and readers to stay in touch!

What I'm Reading

Over the past week I've read Neil Gaiman's Stardust, finished making my way through a collection of John Donne's poetry and sort of finished Essie Fox's The Goddess and the Thief. I say 'sort of' because I got about half way through it and realised that I was bored, and the story took a turn that annoyed me a little, so I basically skim read the rest. Perhaps I'll have to go back to it at a later date, because everyone else on Goodreads seems to have given it 4 or 5 stars - I must be missing something!

I'm still reading Maria V. Snyder's Scent of Magic. I'm taking my time with it so that, when I do finish it, I can hopefully go out and find myself a copy of the third and final book in the trilogy. I found the last book in Cardiff when I went there the other week, but it wasn't the same size as the other books and I couldn't have a book that wouldn't match its predecessors! I also just started Feed by Mira Grant, the first book in the Newsflesh trilogy, and I'm really enjoying it so far - it's been a while since I read something involving zombies!

This week is also the final week of the Hogwarts House Reading Challenge! This week the challenge is to read a book with a raven-haired protagonist. Initially I was going to carry on with the Study series and read Maria V. Snyder's Magic Study, but after watching Catching Fire at the weekend I'm really in the mood to reread Mockingjay. I haven't read it at all since the very first time I read it and, if I'm completely honest, I can't remember a lot of the details. I can remember the big events but I just can't really remember reading the book all that much, so I'll be starting it today or tomorrow!

What I'm Writing

This week I'm back to novel writing. I'm hoping to work on one of the novel's first flashbacks, in which my protagonist tries to cope with PTSD and meets her husband.

What Inspires Me Right Now

Honestly right now I feel a little more overwhelmed than inspired. It's just been one of those weeks where my stress levels have been high and my head feels like it's full of heavy fluff.

Having said that, my lovely best friend Laura is pretty inspirational. She's in her final year of uni so she has a lot of work to do, which she manages to keep on top of while also maintaining a part time job and voluntary work. She's also always there for me when I need a good rant.

What Else I've Been Up To

It was Easter at the weekend - Happy Easter! - so I spent my weekend eating chocolate and watching Catching Fire with my Dad. Turns out he's something of a Hunger Games fan!

On Easter Monday my poor Mum had to work, but my Dad had the day off so the two of us went to Abergavenny for the day, purely because neither of us had been there before. What's left of Abergavenny Castle is there, as well as a little museum, and all of the entry's free. It was a lovely day, so we had lunch (and an ice cream) and my Dad was nice enough to treat me to a couple of books when we discovered Waterstones were doing a "Buy One Get One Half Price" deal. 

I picked up copies of Feed by Mira Grant and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent - I've been after a copy of Burial Rites since December!

Other than that I've been looking into some freelance work, signing up for the 10th Bout of Books read-a-thon, and getting ready to go back to university this weekend - my Easter holiday seems to have flown by!

What's new with you?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Read-a-Thon | Bout of Books 10

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 12th and runs through Sunday, May 18th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 10 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team. 

Hello book lovers!

Monday the 12th of May until Sunday the 18th of May will see the 10th Bout of Books read-a-thon, and this time around I can finally participate!

For as long as I've been aware of the read-a-thons they've always come at a time when I've just been too busy to join in, but now that I'm a postgrad I have more time to read for pleasure than I did when I was an undergrad. 

Right now I don't have a specific list of books I'd like to read for the read-a-thon, though I wouldn't mind trying to get through the rest of the Dust Lands trilogy - Rebel Heart and Raging Star - and Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I'm probably going to post a TBR nearer the time!

If you'd like to take part then follow the link to the Bout of Books blog above! Are any of you participating?


Monday, 21 April 2014

10 Books That Changed Me | The Angry Aztecs by Terry Deary

Last month I talked about the first of my influential books, The Magic Finger. You can find that post here if you're interested!

This is probably a bit of a weird choice, and it probably says something about me that what first drew me to this book, when I was around 8 years old, was the promise that it was going to teach me about human sacrifice...

A lot of you probably know by now that I love history, and I've loved it since I was very small, so it's only natural that I grew up reading this series. I can still remember the first time I came across them; they had their own little rack in a Wilkinson's that my Mum went into a lot. One day she found me looking at these, so she told me if I picked one she'd buy it for me.

I was torn between The Angry Aztecs and The Incredible Incas, and to this day I'm still not entirely sure why those two in particular caught my eye. I knew practically nothing about the Aztecs or the Incas - which might be why they interested me - but I think it might have simply been that their covers caught my attention.

Whatever the reason I chose The Angry Aztecs when the back of The Incredible Incas told me the Incas used to eat guinea pigs. I had a guinea pig at the time, and somehow I felt like he'd know if I brought home a book about the people who ate his ancestors.

I devoured The Angry Aztecs and every Horrible Histories book my parents bought me afterwards. I was hooked.

I loved the way these books didn't shy away from teaching children, or anyone else who wanted to read them, the nitty gritty parts of history that you don't get taught in school. In fact these books taught me that there was history outside of school I wasn't being taught (something we obviously know when we're older, but I was only 8 at the time!) and that I could learn about it if I wanted to, simply by reading the right books.

These books encouraged my love of history, and encouraged me to do my own reading and research in my own time if school didn't answer the questions I wanted answering. The skills I learned from reading these books are especially important now; writing a Historical Fiction novel means research has become a regular activity for me, and I'm so glad I was able to start with the basics thanks to this series.

I suppose I could have chosen any Horrible Histories book, but it felt right to put the very first one I read on this list. If I hadn't read this one I wouldn't have read the others, and there's no knowing if I might have picked them up at a later date.

What about you? Did you read these books when you were younger?

Friday, 18 April 2014

Review | Cress by Marissa Meyer

by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: 

Rapunzel’s tower is a satellite. She can’t let down her hair—or her guard. 

In this third book in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles series, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army. 

Their best hope lies with Cress, who has been trapped on a satellite since childhood with only her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker—unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice. 

When a daring rescue goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing stop her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only ones who can.

In the third book of The Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer puts a whole new spin on the story of Rapunzel. Meyer's Rapunzel - Cress - is a fantastic hacker who has been kept in a satellite since she was small by Mistress Sybil, Queen Levana's right hand woman. 

She has been given the task of tracking down Cinder and her accomplices, but instead of revealing their whereabouts she has been hiding them instead, and admiring a certain Captain from afar. When the runaways make contact, Cress finally has the chance to escape and pursue a happily ever after of her own.

Before I say anything else I just want to take a minute to say that there will be spoilers in this review. I try to keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but Cress only came out in February and I know a lot of fans of the series haven't read it yet. If you're one of those people then please stop reading now! I don't want to be responsible for ruining such a great book for you.

(And if you're interested in seeing my reviews of Cinder and Scarlet, you can find them here and here!)

As you can see by my rating, I loved this book. It's definitely the best installment of the series so far.

One of the best things about this series is that they're both brilliantly original and a wonderful homage to their original source material. Finding the references to the original fairy tales throughout this series is like finding little Easter eggs, and in Cress it's no different.

I loved the details such as Thorne's blindness (not to mention his name!), the desert he and Cress find themselves cast into, the way Thorne liked listening to her sing, and Cress's name, too. I pretty much grew up on the Grimm's Fairy Tales, so I love it when retellings reference them so much.

Cress herself is an endearing heroine. Unlike Cinder and Scarlet, poor Cress has lived the majority of her life in a satellite with only her screens for company, and because of this she's far more naive than our previous heroines. One of the things I love most about this series, however, is just how different each of our heroines are from each other. They're all such different kinds of women with different strengths, but not a one is 'better' than the other; there's a heroine for everyone in this series, and I love that!

Cress's relationship with Thorne was a lot of fun; it had a Tangled-esque feel to it, and I loved Tangled, and their dynamic even reminded me a little of the relationship between Evie and Rick in The Mummy, another film I love. I appreciate that their relationship wasn't a love story in the same way that the relationship between Cinder and Kai or Scarlet and Wolf is; while reading this I really got the feeling that these two still have a little more growing up to do before they're ready to be together, but they're adorable all the same.

Cress's other major, but brief, relationship in the novel was heartbreaking. Until I started reading Cress I had no idea she was going to turn out to be Dr Erland's daughter, and it was so painful to see them reunited only to be parted immediately afterwards. I have conflicted feelings when it comes to Dr Erland, in fact I still haven't decided if I like him or not, but he definitely broke my heart in Cress.

Cinder continues to grow into the kind of heroine the rest of the world needs her to be, while also staying true to herself. That she was accepted by the people in Africa was lovely, and I was so relieved when she and Kai were finally reunited and he finally discovered her true identity. Finally!

The scenes where Cinder and co. abducted Kai from his wedding were so much fun to read - my only criticism was that it was Cinder who defeated Sybil Mira. I couldn't help but feel that Cress should have been the one to face her in the end, but on the other hand Cress doesn't seem like the kind of girl who could have defeated her (she was, after all, locked in a satellite for the majority of her life) and Sybil Mira's downfall gave Cinder the chance to grow into her own power.

Poor Scarlet had a pretty rough time in this installment; the scene in which she was questioned by Levana and Sybil Mira had me on edge the entire time. Though it was awful to see her taken prisoner, I loved that through her we finally met Winter, Levana's stepdaughter and our Snow White. It's safe to say that now I'm even more excited for the release of Winter than I was before!

I'm looking forward to seeing more of Winter and finding out what her role in the story is going to be. She's been scarred by Levana - I love that Meyer's retelling of Snow White appears to be just as dark as the original tale - and yet the two of them appear to be on rather good terms with one another. At least that's what they've made us believe so far. I'm curious to know what Winter really thinks of her stepmother.

I've heard quite a few people say that Cress was a little too long for their liking, but honestly I have nothing bad to say about it. I loved it and I was so disappointed when it ended, especially when we have to wait until next year for the finale!

Thanks for reading! J.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

What's Up Wednesday! | 16/04/14

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk as a way for writers and readers to stay in touch!

What I'm Reading

At the weekend I finished my first Shirley Jackson novel, The Haunting of Hill House, and I really liked it; I'm really eager to read more of her work now, particularly her short fiction - I still haven't read The Lottery!

I'm also currently reading three other books: I'm still reading Maria V. Snyder's Scent of Magic, I'm about a third of the way through Essie Fox's The Goddess and the Thief (which is a great read for fans of Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone) and I've just started Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, for the third challenge in the Hogwarts House Reading Challenge! I've been meaning to read Good Omens for a while now, so I'm really excited to have finally started it! 

What I'm Writing

Honestly I've been a bit naughty this week because I've barely done any writing. I've started to realise that the LGBT retelling of Beauty and the Beast I've been working on could be stretched into something longer than a short story, but I don't want to start writing another novel when I'm still working on Bloodroot and Bracken.

I've also been making notes on a shiny new idea I've had this past week, which is also historical/paranormal fiction. I can't seem to be able to break away from the genre, but I don't care!

What Inspires Me Right Now

Again, reading! So far April's been a great reading month for me, and there's nothing more inspirational than learning from published writers!

What Else I've Been Up To

On Friday I went to see Noah. It was... interesting. It wasn't the worst film I've ever seen but it wasn't spectacular either; it was nice to see the story of Noah being portrayed in a darker way, it is basically an end of the world story after all, but it felt as though the director had had too many ideas that he simply mashed together, meaning that the end of the film felt like the end to a different film than the one I started watching at the beginning.

Before I went to the cinema I had a look in The Works and came out with three books for only £5 (how could I resist?). I got myself copies of Stephen King's The Green Mile, Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, and Charlotte Brontë's The Professor. I'm not a big fan of Stephen King's novels but I really like the film adaptation of The Green Mile, and I've heard great things about the book.

Then on Saturday I met up with two of my friends in Cardiff, neither of whom I've seen for quite a few months, so it was lovely to catch up! I always enjoy going into Cardiff - the shops are great - and while I was there I bought myself a little jar that looks like a honey pot (it's so cute!) so that I could make myself a TBR jar.

I've been wanting to make a TBR jar for a while now, and the bonus challenge for Ravenclaw in the Hogwarts House Reading Challenge is to make a Ravenclaw-themed book jar. So after I bought my jar I bought some blue paper to write all of my unread books on (shockingly, I own 128 unread books!), and then I made a blue and 'bronze' easter chick; I'll just pretend they're eagle chicks!

And of course I'm still watching Game of Thrones and Hannibal, and they're both so good! The latest episode of Game of Thrones was just brilliant, whereas the latest episode of Hannibal broke my heart a little bit. Poor Dr Chilton, he's grown on me. 

I've also started watching The Crimson Field, which is a historical drama about a group of women who journey to France during the First World War to work as volunteer nurses. I've only watched the first episode so far but I really enjoyed it, and I highly recommend it!

I feel like I could use their expertise myself, the past couple of days one of my wisdom teeth has been really sore, so it looks like I'm going to have to go to the dentist and see if it's growing through like it should be or if I need to get it removed. Hopefully it feels worse than it is!

What's new with you?