Thursday, 31 December 2015

2015: My year in review

As always, 2015 will have been a wildly different year for every one of us. And as with every year, it will have brought a variety of things, some good, some bad, and some you're not quite sure about just yet.

It's impossible to forget some of the terrible things that have happened over the last year. But when things like these happen, it's important to remember the good as well as the bad.

Even if you have had a bad year, there must have been glimmers of good in there too. That's why I think it's important to remember all the good things that have happened over the past year. Whether it's big things like getting married or having a baby, or something as small as someone giving up their seat for you on the train, they're all important.

This year I've been fortunate to have had a good year. 2015 brought a lot of changes for me, but on the whole it's been pretty good.

These are just a few of the highlights from my year:

  • I graduated from university. Three years of hard work finally paid off!
  • I stopped putting it off and finally started driving lessons.
  • I saw my favourite band live, twice.
  • I completed my dissertation, and got a grade I was proud of for it.
  • I took part in my 3rd gishwhes.
  • I passed my driving theory test.
  • I went on holiday with my boyfriend for the first time.
  • I got an internship in the industry I hope to work in.
  • I became deputy editor of Kettle Magazine.
  • I was lucky enough to go to numerous gigs, shows and events.
  • I started my first 'real' job.
  • I completed (and surpassed) my goal of reading 50 books during the year.
  • I took on my first paid client as a professional editor.
  • I went to my first NFL American football game.
A photo posted by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on

As you can see, 2015 has been pretty good to me, and I hope you can say the same. Here's to 2016 - happy new year!

If you're reading this, take a moment to remember some of the best bits of your year. Then, why not share them in the comments below? I'd love to hear them! 

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Book Review: Traces Of Me by Tracy Kiss

AD* | As April approaches her thirtieth birthday she finally meets the love of her life but it comes at a cost. Traces Of Me is an artisanal and honest open-hearted tongue-in-cheek account of finding true love in a world now overruled by beauty, social media and selfies.

From ugly duckling to elegant swan, infused with orgasms, arguments and endearment, this is a journey to captivate and consume men and women alike. Stir your soul and hold on tight for a modern day Bridget Jones meets Fifty Shades rendition that is not for the faint-hearted.

A tale to both bless and haunt you forever.

Romance. Relationships. True love.

That's what I expected this book to be about. Everything from the description to the title to the cover lead me into thinking this, so when I started the book and found this wasn't the case, I was slightly confused.

Don't get me wrong - Traces Of Me is still a romance book, and love and sex are some of its main features. But to me, it was much more a journey of self-discovery than anything else.

Maybe not so shy after all

April, the main character, is a 'shy' newly 30 year old woman still looking for true love (I say 'shy' for reasons that I will talk about later on). She meets a man. Shaun is a sweet guy - what he lacks in looks he more than makes up for in personality. They get together; everything's fine.

Up until that point, I had no issues with this book. I was enjoying reading about April and Shaun's story (We'll gloss over the part where I was reading it on the train and a middle-aged businessman happened to look over and nose at what I was reading, just as I got to a sex scene). But then things started going downhill for me.

April randomly decides she doesn't like her appearance, so she sets about changing pretty much everything about herself. She cuts her hair, starts wearing make-up and revealing clothes, and begins behaving differently.

What happened to personality over looks?

What I don't understand is that she was perfectly happy with herself before she got together with Shaun, but as soon as she was in a happy, loving relationship she suddenly wants to change everything about the way she looks. That just doesn't make sense to me. Surely it would be the other way round - she would be content with her appearance with Shaun because he would be teaching her to love herself as she is. But apparently not, and things just got worse from there.


Then April decided she wanted a boob job. That was the last straw for Shaun, who left her. April then becomes very out of character, partying and drinking and basically becoming everything a 'shy' person isn't. Then she (literally) bumps into another guy in a club. Jay is the exact opposite of safe and reliable Shaun.


And what does April do? She decides to stick with Jay - the man who would never have looked twice at her when she was herself. She says that she's found her true self.... eugh.

This book has good potential, and I appreciate the message the author is trying to give out. It's just a shame that the ending completely spoiled the entire point of the message for me.

Rating: 2 stars

Traces Of Me is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Traces Of Me? Let me know in the comments below! 

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Book Review: Beyond The Rest Of Us by Andrew Man

AD* | Warning - mild spoilers ahead!

Beyond The Rest Of Us is a thrilling journey of the contemporary human heart, intimate, magical, and subtly architected. A retired Swiss banker is kidnapped at a Geneva hotel for crimes he doesn't understand. An Italian cruise ship crashes into rocks in the Tyrrhenian Sea. A respected American scientist disappears into thin air. And a British secret agent follows a trail of corrupt power in this gripping third book featuring Andrew Man's aging male protagonist James Pollack.

I wish I could make this into a positive review.. but I can't. This is the third book in Andrew Man's Tego Arcana Dei series, but the first I've read. This probably didn't bode well from the start, as it can be hard to get into a book when you come into it partway through the series.

A lot of authors nowadays put in a few pages of exposition at the start for exactly this reason - helping new readers to the series understand what's going on, as well as refreshing the existing reader's memories. Unfortunately, there was none of this in Beyond The Rest Of Us. The author seemed to expect the readers to be able to mind-read exactly what he was thinking when he was writing it, so of course I was completely lost.

Off to a good start

The book started off well, introducing us to the main character, James. We meet him in a hotel in Geneva and begin to be drawn into his story, setting the pace of a slow-burning thriller. Then just as you begin to get involved in the story... James' mystic Indian guardian Deepak appears. Okay, I thought, this is a bit out of character with the story so far, but I'll stick with it - I've read a lot weirder things than this.

But then we find out James is actually a time-traveller and he gets kidnapped and ends up held in an underground cell in Italy hundreds of years ago with a mad professor (who happens to be one of James' bits of skirt's pilot's father) and his Scandinavian assistant (who turns up in the future as a high-end shop assistant who can randomly read people's minds)... And that's just the start of it.

It feels like the author tried to cram about 10 books of entirely different genres into one, then combined the end result with a physics textbook to create this book. There's so much going on that by only 10% in I was struggling to keep up. By 25% I'd lost track of who was who and what was what. By 50% I'd just given up trying. I've read the whole of this book, but I couldn't tell you what happened in it at all.

Overly complicated

The science and political concepts didn't help. I'm not exactly well-read on either of these subjects, but some of the things mentioned in the book completely threw me. I glossed over pages of scientific gobbledygook and nonsensical theories, which really didn't help me when it came to the big finale at the end of the book (which I don't want to spoil, but I mean, really, what the hell was going on?).

I kept forgetting who all the characters were and what their relationship to James was, not helped by people keeping hopping about in time and space. I didn't feel anything for the characters at all - I didn't feel connected to them; I didn't care what happened to them.

All in all, I'm really struggling to find positives for this book. I was left confused, jumbled, and honestly none the better for reading it.

If you think you'll have better luck with this than I did, it's available to buy now.

Rating: 1 star.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Beyond The Rest Of Us? Let me know in the comments below! 

Saturday, 28 November 2015

10 tips to pass your driving theory test

driving-theory-testLearning to drive is a massive step towards becoming independent, so understandably it can be a stressful time, no matter how old you are when you take the test. The theory test is the first hurdle for learners so it can be a very nerve-wracking experience. But having been there and experienced it first-hand for myself, I thought I'd share some of my acquired knowledge with you. My driving theory test tips might just help you to overcome the hurdle you are facing and get you out on the road. Here are my top 10 tips to pass your theory test!
  1. Don't panic. Nerves are understandable, but getting worked up and being too nervous or anxious will only do you more harm than good. Being nervous can cause you to make stupid mistakes and forget even the most simple things you've spent days learning. Take deep breaths and focus on what you know. If you're in the right mindset you're guaranteed to give yourself a much bigger chance of success.
  2. Don't leave it until the last minute. If you leave it to the last minute and try to cram everything the night before, you won't remember anything. Plus you'll be overtired and you'll start to panic. See tip 1.
  3. Don't compare yourself to others. Who cares if your brother/sister/cousin/best friend passed with flying colours? Trying to live up to precedents set by other people only puts more pressure on you. It's not worth it.
  4. Check out where your chosen test centre is in advance, especially if you have to travel or it's in an area you're unfamiliar with. Make sure you know exactly where it is and how to get there. That way, you won't be late on the day and you won't get stressed trying to find the building 5 minutes before your test is due to start. 
  5. Ask your driving instructor any questions or things you're not sure about in advance. Don't be scared of asking seemingly obvious questions - it's their job to help you pass, after all!
  6. Make sure you know all the stats and numbers. Even if they seem boring or irrelevant, you still need to know them. Don't neglect the stopping distances!
  7. Use all the resources available to you. Study the highway code, use apps, websites and any special tools you can get access to. Do plenty of practice tests too. A few free sites I found useful were Top Tests theory and Theory Test Online.
  8. Get family members or friends to ask you questions and test your knowledge. Learning in different ways can help to reinforce what you know in your head. It will also prepare you for the test, as some of the questions are likely to be worded in a slightly ambiguous way to really test you.
  9. Don't neglect the hazard perception test. Don't be fooled into thinking it's easy; at the end of the day it still makes up half of your result. You'll really struggle to pass without practising the hazard perception side at all.
  10. Remember it's not the end of the world if you fail. You can always try again, and no-one will think any the worse of you if it comes to that. Good luck!
Have you passed your theory test? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (CLOSED): An Eagle in the Snow by Michael Morpurgo

AD* | The powerful new novel from the master storyteller - inspired by the true story of one man who might have stopped World War II.

1940. The train is under attacks from German fighters. In the darkness, sheltering in a railway tunnel, the stranger in the carriage with Barney and his mother tells them a story to pass the time.

And what a story. The story of a young man, a young soldier in the trenches of World War I who, on the spur of the moment, had done what he thought was the right thing.

It turned out to have been the worst mistake he ever could have made – a mistake he must put right before it is too late…

Michael Morpurgo is one of the biggest names in children's literature. And for good reason. He's written over 100 children's books, from picture books right up to YA, So understandably, I was looking forward to reading his latest offering, An Eagle in the Snow. 

An Eagle in the Snow is classic Morpurgo. It's well-written and well-researched, fiction and history interwoven in the way that Morpurgo writes best. It's easily split up into sections and chapters, each focusing on a different part of the story. This makes it ideal for children becoming more confident at reading on their own.

The ending is also a big surprise, it comes with a great twist that even I wasn't expecting! This is one of those books that really makes you think, and I have the feeling it will be sticking with me for a while. Morpurgo has that style of writing that just draws poignancy from the most everyday of scenarios, and the beginning of this book is a perfect example of that.

The book deals with big themes like war and consequences by breaking them down into smaller, memorable chunks. The idea that a regular soldier had the opportunity to kill Hitler but saved him with compassion is particularly memorable. If the soldier had pulled the trigger, history would have been completely different. I think moments like these really make you think about how things turn out, and how easy it is for one small event to change the lives of millions of people.

Rating: 3 stars.

An Eagle in the Snow is available to buy now. You can find out more about the author, Michael Morpurgo, and his books on his website.

If you're feeling lucky, I've also got a copy to give away! Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

NOTE: Everyone who tweeted about the giveaway BEFORE 22/11/15 - the message in the tweet was for an old giveaway but your entries will still count. The message has now been changed.

Terms and conditions:

1. Giveaway closes on 30th November 2015 at 11.59pm (GMT).
2. The prize consists of one copy of An Eagle in the Snow by Michael Morpurgo.
3. Upon confirmation of the winner's address, the prize will be posted to the winner by The Big Shot PR, NOT The Writing Greyhound.
4. This giveaway is open to UK residents aged 13 and over.
5. The winner will be randomly generated by Rafflecopter once the giveaway has ended.
6. The winner will be informed by email once the giveaway has ended.
7. The winner will have 72 hours to claim their prize. If the winner has not responded by this time, another winner will be announced.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading An Eagle in the Snow? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Interview: Mia Hoddell

This week I'm participating in the blog tour for Not Enough by Mia Hoddell. As part of the tour, I've had the opportunity to interview the author. You can also read my review of the book here.

Mia Hoddell is the Amazon #1 bestselling author of books including The Seasons of Change series, False Finder, the Chequered Flag series (coming next year from Limitless Publishing) and now Not Enough. She lives in the UK with her family and two cats, and writes mainly YA and NA romance.

How did you first become interesting in writing?

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been writing. I had my first poem published at the age of fourteen and after that I started to take things more seriously. I published my first novel at sixteen and since then I haven’t stopped. It was something I fell into and I realised quickly I loved it.

How do you get inspiration for your books?

I ask a lot of questions or I’m always observing things and thinking ‘what if’. There’s no exact way I get inspiration, it can come from anywhere, but the biggest thing I draw on is life. Sometimes themes hook me and I build on those, or a dream conjures an idea… anywhere something intrigues me there’s potential for ideas.

What draws you to writing romance?

I think it’s the escapism. Although there are struggles in most romantic novels, I like writing about people falling in love and getting their HEA. However, I will write in any genre as long as the idea intrigues me enough.

Tell me about Not Enough

Not Enough is a full-length standalone contemporary romance aimed at the Upper YA and NA markets. It’s an emotional novel about an introverted girl searching to find peace with who she is in a family of extroverts. The book deals with themes such as conflicting personalities, the consequences that come from society’s pressure to conform, and learning that it’s not worth changing who you are to please others.

What inspired you to write Not Enough?

I wanted to write a book introverts could relate to. Personality conflicts and not being afraid to be the real you are things I’ve always been interested in, and after speaking to many people in the book industry I found a lot of us shared similar experiences and thoughts. There's a common view in society that being an introvert is a bad thing and introverts should become more out-going. I wanted to challenge that view since not compromising who you are for the sake of others is something I strongly believe in.

What’s your writing process?

It really depends on what stage of the process I’m at. I write full-time so I tend to pick it up whenever the mood strikes me rather than have a structured day. Normally, I spend a few weeks planning and then once I’m writing I do a minimum of 3000 words a day until I’ve finished. That usually takes me a month and after that I start on edits and it goes to my betas, editors, etc.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Each book brings its own challenges so the hardest parts are always different. Sometimes they're emotional hurdles I need to get over, such as with Not Enough because I had to go to dark places to get inside Neve’s head. Other times they're research or character based challenges.

Which authors inspire you?

I look up to and admire all authors who started out as indies and have gone on to become traditionally published. That doesn’t mean I don’t admire others, these have just started off like me and made it work. To name a few: J.A Redmerski, Jennifer L Armentrout, Rachel Van Dyken, Colleen Hoover.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Don’t think things are going to happen overnight. Writing is a slow process and so is publishing. Take the time to develop your craft, learn about the industry, and get involved in the community. Most of all I’d say enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy what you’re writing it’ll be infinitely harder.

What’s your all-time favourite book?

Dragonfly by Julia Golding. Her books were the ones that got me hooked on reading at the age of 14, and Dragonfly is one I find myself returning to constantly. It has a little bit of everything in it.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

It changes with the seasons. In the summer I love writing outside, but in the winter I have to be curled up somewhere warm and bright.

If you weren’t a writer, what do you think you’d be doing? 

I’d like to do something creative. I also design book covers on the side so that’s probably what I’d do. I’m only 20 so I have plenty of time to change my mind.

What are you currently working on?

Back in September I signed my third contract with Limitless Publishing LLC for a new romance series called Chequered Flag. The books will be interconnected standalones that follow a group of racing drivers as they fight for love and the first book, Chameleon Soul, is releasing February 2nd 2016. I have also finished the first draft of the second book.

As well as that, on December 1st, I have a short story included in a mafia anthology titled Men of Mayhem. This is a prequel to another full-length novel I will be working on next year that will be a dark contemporary romance. It could be read as a standalone story, though.

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?

I prefer traditional books. Nothing can beat a paperback in my opinion. I love being able to hold, bend, and see the cover and pages. However, because I also review the majority of books I read are in ebook format. My bank account also prefers ebooks.

Having used both, do you prefer self-publishing or traditional publishing? 

They both have their benefits. I’m a bit of a control freak with work so self-publishing gives me full creative control. However, I’m slowly getting used to handing control over to my publisher and it’s nice to be able to just focus on writing my books while they do all of the bits I don’t like e.g formatting. Limitless have been great at including my ideas so far so that we get a product both of us are happy with.

What are you reading at the moment? 

I finish a book nearly every other day so by the time you read this I’ll have moved by quite a few books. However, at the moment I’m reading Rip by Rachel Van Dyken.

To find out more about Mia and her work, you can visit her blog, find her on Goodreads, or like her on Facebook

Have you read any of Mia's books? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (CLOSED): Not Enough by Mia Hoddell

AD* | Neve Colvin isn’t good enough. As an introvert, her life is a never-ending list of labels and criticism. Pressures to change come from everyone - including the one person she thought would love her unconditionally... her mother. All Neve wants is acceptance, but surrounded by extroverts it’s a wish that’s nearly impossible to fulfil.

For Neve there’s only one solution: anyone disapproving must go. Even if it means only one person will remain.

That person is her lifelong friend Blake Reynolds. He’s seen the fights with her mum, the breakdowns caused by attacks on her personality, and the battles for acceptance. Each time she is left shattered and questioning who she is, he’s the one to collect the pieces of her broken heart. Shielding her from the cruelty is his only concern. But how can he protect her when Neve is concealing a secret so dark?

Blake thinks he knows everything about her, and with their relationship developing, he assumes Neve trusts him fully. However, there is one memory Neve is too ashamed of to share. Revealing it will test Blake’s loyalty beyond what she could ever ask, and Blake is the only friend she can’t afford to lose. He’s the one person capable of dragging her from the darkness plaguing her, but with pressures to conform increasing, even Blake may not be enough to pull her back this time.

I'll be honest, I started this book a little dubiously. In my experience, indie authors can be very hit and miss. Don't get me wrong, I support indie authors all the way, it's just that sometimes the best indie books can get overshadowed by the minefield of mediocrity that is the world of indie publishing.

However, I was approached by the author, Mia Hoddell, with a view to participating in Not Enough's blog tour. As part of the blog tour, I also conducted an interview with Mia, which you can read here. Never being one to pass up an opportunity when it comes to books, I agreed, and got stuck into reading the book.

The thing that struck me most was how much I could relate to Neve, the main character. Neve is an introvert, a shy, quiet individual who prefers the company of herself and a select few individuals. In many respects, Neve is a lot like me. We tend to deal with things in a similar way, we react much the same, and our personalities are also similar. In short, I saw a lot of myself in Neve.

I also loved the other main character. Blake is the perfect guy to counterbalance Neve. He provides her with much-needed safety and security - he is the rock to anchor her amongst the confusion of her life. From the very first time we encounter him it's obvious where the story is going to end up, but it's still great to follow Neve on her journey to acceptance throughout the book.

Sadly some of the other characters fell a little flat - Neve's mum in particular was very one-sided and undeveloped, but one other character I'd like to hear more of is Blake's roommate Robbie. Despite not playing a major part Robbie was always there in the background, and I felt like he had a lot more to give even though he was just a minor character. Perhaps the author should do a spin-off starring Robbie? I for one would be very interested to read it!

Another thing I liked about Not Enough was the fact that it was set in England. This was a major surprise - I can't actually remember the last time I read a YA/NA book set in England, and I hadn't realised how I much I missed the subtle cultural differences until I read this book. So thank you to Mia Hoddell for not giving in to America's dominance of the genre!

I really enjoyed Not Enough for all these reasons. If you're an introvert and you need a dose of confidence, I really recommend this book to you.

Rating: 4 stars

Not Enough is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Not Enough? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (CLOSED): The Person Controller by David Baddiel

AD* | Fred and Ellie are twins. But not identical (because that's impossible for a boy and a girl). They do like all the same things, though. Especially video games. Which they are very good at. They aren't that good, however, at much else - like, for example, football, or dealing with the school bullies.

Then, they meet the Mystery Man, who sends them a video game controller, which doesn't look like any other controller they've ever seen. And it doesn't control any of their usual games. When the twins find out what it does control, though, it seems like the answer to all their problems. And the key to all their wildest dreams. At least it seems like that...

I first heard about this book when I was on the way to Cambridge to see Rae Morris perform there a couple weeks back (you can read my review of her show here). We had the radio on in the car, and who should come on for an interview but David Baddiel, the author of this book! In the interview Baddiel talked at length about The Person Controller, and, of course, my interest was piqued.

When I was offered the chance to review this book a week or so later, I jumped at the opportunity. When it arrived though and I started reading, I must admit my feelings changed.

What originally attracted me to The Person Controller was the plot. It sounded like a completely new and inventive idea, and one that hooked me just from the description alone. That's just as well though, as in the end the plot was the only thing that kept this book going for me. It was fast-paced with plenty of action, packed with all the special moves from popular video game characters.

I knew this was a children's book, but I will admit that I thought it would be edging more towards the lower end of YA. As a general rule of thumb I don't tend to review purely children's books (with some exceptions of course) - after all, I don't have children so there's not much point in me reviewing it without being able to run it past its target audience first! So with that in mind, reviewing The Person Controller has been quite a struggle.

The book is funny, with the humour obviously targeting the younger audience, though it is very literal - perfectly encapsulating Baddiel's trademark brand of humour. However, the humour is too childlike for my taste, though of course that's just my personal opinion.

No, the biggest problem lies with the characters. The Person Controller is full of unoriginal stereotyped characters, completely at odds with the uniqueness of the plot. From the various sets of peas-in-a-pod twins, to the busy and preoccupied parents, to the big, mean opposition in Fred's football match.

But the worst example of this is the bullies, Isla and Morris (more twins). Morris, being the boy, is the muscle behind the operation. He's strong, but slow and incredibly stupid. Then Isla, as the girl, is the brains. She's clever, yet tends to leave the physical side of things to Morris. And of course, they're the headmaster's children. I don't think it's possible to get much more stereotypical than that.

Despite all its flaws, I think this would still be a good book for children - especially if they're gamers! The Person Controller is available to buy now.

Rating: 2 stars

I've also got a copy of The Person Controller up for grabs, just in time for Christmas! If you fancy your chances, you can enter via the Rafflecopter widget below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and conditions:
1. Giveaway closes on 23rd November 2015 at 11.59pm (GMT).
2. The prize consists of one copy of The Person Controller by David Baddiel.
3. Upon confirmation of the winner's address, the prize will be posted to the winner by The Big Shot PR, NOT The Writing Greyhound.
4. This giveaway is open to UK residents aged 13 and over.
5. The winner will be randomly generated by Rafflecopter once the giveaway has ended.
6. The winner will be informed by email once the giveaway has ended.
7. The winner will have 72 hours to claim their prize. If the winner has not responded by this time, another winner will be announced.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading The Person Controller? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 9 November 2015

Gig Review: Imagine Dragons at The O2

When American rock band Imagine Dragons first announced details of their 2015 Smoke & Mirrors tour, I was gutted to miss out on tickets to one of the dates on the UK leg of the world tour. Luckily for me, as the first London show sold out, they added another date on the 4th November. Even luckier for me, I was right in there to grab tickets as soon as they went on sale.

Imagine Dragons are a band still riding on the success of their debut album. Night Visions, first released in 2012, propelled the boys to international fame. Since its release, the album has sold more than 2.5 million copies in the US alone, earning double platinum status. Their second album, Smoke & Mirrors, debuted at number one in both the UK and US, despite receiving somewhat less acclaim than Night Visions.

Smoke & Mirrors is more experimental than Night Visions, which was a lot more pop-rock focused. Experimental albums have a tendency to be loved by the artist and the critics, but hated by fans. Luckily for us, Smoke & Mirrors maintained enough of the sound that we love to make it a worthy follow-up album.

So, of course, along with many other fans, I was very interested to see how they transferred two massive albums into 90 minutes of live show.

Considering Imagine Dragons are primarily a rock band, you expect a loud gig. Lots of drums and guitars and headbanging fans are par for the course. Now, I'm usually more of a pop kind of girl, so without a doubt this was the loudest gig I've been to yet (if you don't count the ear-splittingly shrill screams of teenage girls at a boyband's show). Most of the crowd were standing, so it was quite nice to be in the seated section - still near the stage, but with a seat, room to breathe, and probably a better view.

The opening act were fellow rock band Sunset Sons. For a support slot they played quite a long set, which really helped get the crowd going. Although they resembled a bunch of long-haired Aussie surfers, I liked a couple of their songs. However, I don't think the backstage team had got the sound mixes right as lead singer Rory's voice was distorted and quite hard to distinguish. Still, I'm sure this wouldn't be a problem on the studio versions.

After a short wait, it was time for the main event. For once a band actually came on stage at the time they were meant to - so kudos to them for that!

Exploding onto the stage, which predictably was decked out with mirrors and smoke machines a-plenty, the band launched straight into their set. They played a mix of the biggest hits from Night Visions alongside, surprisingly, some of the lesser known tracks from Smoke & Mirrors. Some of the songs were performed as stripped-back versions which was nice to hear, yet others included the full sound you expect from Imagine Dragons.

Lead singer Dan Reynolds also did a quick solo cover of an excerpt from Alphaville's 'Forever Young' in-between songs. However, the song everyone wanted to hear was 'Radioactive', which is their biggest single over here in the UK. The band kept us in suspense, leaving it to the very end to play... though it was definitely worth it when they did. Full of solos, additional drums, and sing-along's from the crowd, it was an undeniable highlight.

I was a little bemused by Dan's wardrobe choices - he was wearing a cropped shirt that was probably a fashion statement but I just thought it looked weird! He also gave a rather long-winded speech about the current migrant crisis before performing their charity single 'I Was Me,' which I'm sure is all for a good cause but isn't exactly what you want to hear at a gig (hence the mass exodus for a trip to the toilets at that point!) However, I did think it was nice that he recognised two superfans in the audience and pulled them up to the stage to meet the rest of the band. It shows how grateful they are to their fans, a message that was repeated throughout the night.

Are you a fan of Imagine Dragons? Have you been to see them live? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Event Review: NFL International Series - Detroit Lions @ Kansas City Chiefs

As a British woman, I'm not exactly your typical NFL fan. But ever since my boyfriend got into the sport several years ago, I tried to show an interest (admittedly begrudgingly at first!) After some late night games and lots of one-sided football conversations, I finally figured out the basics of the game.

So when he asked me to go to one of the 2015 International Series games with him, I said yes. We selected the game we wanted, and after an extremely stressful morning back in early Spring trying to book tickets, we were in.

Fast forward nine months, and we're on our way to Wembley Stadium on 1st November. We must have looked a contradictory couple, him in all his Patriots gear and me in my Bears stuff (yes, I'm a Bears fan), but it seemed everywhere you looked in London there was a jersey-wearing fan. Aside from a mean glance from a Vikings fan on the tube (we were due to play them later that day) and being silently judged by a pack of Dolphins fans while waiting for my train, everyone was sharing in the game day atmosphere, regardless of what team they were supporting.

That's the thing about the International Series games. Fans of all 32 teams come along just to watch the sport and share in their love of the game. That's why even frankly mediocre teams are managing to sell out the International Series games - and it bodes well for the future of international football.

But that's a whole other story.

We arrived early to Wembley, which was just as well as it was already starting to get busy. In fact, after a detour to the frankly disappointing on-site shop and a long search for a seemingly non-existent  rubbish bin, we were sitting in our seats almost 2 hours before the game was due to start.

Seats which were, incidentally, far better than I was expecting. We were in the top tier of the stadium's three tiers, but we weren't too far back, giving us a perfect bird's eye view of the action. This was made even better by the fact that we were almost perfectly aligned with the centre of the sideline.

A photo posted by Lorna Holland (@themaxdog) on

Because we were so early, we watched the players warming up down on the field below. As we got closer and closer to kick-off and the stadium filled up, the atmosphere just got better and better.

We were treated to pre-game entertainment in the form of classic English band Madness. They only played a handful of songs, yet managed to squeeze in their biggest hits 'Baggy Trousers' and 'Our House' nonetheless. Followed by a performance from the Chiefs cheerleaders (much to the delight of all the male fans in the crowd), by this point the 83,624 strong audience were more than ready for some football.

On paper, this looked to be a pretty evenly-matched game. Going into week 8, the Lions were 1-6 and the Chiefs were 2-5. Neither team have been having a particularly great season. So as we kicked-off, it's fair to say it was anyone's game.

However, football is an unpredictable sport, and this game really proved that. Detroit were off to a good start with a field goal resulting in the first points of the game. Unfortunately, things could only go downhill from there. Kansas rallied, and by half-time the score was 24 to the Lions' lonely 3.

By this point the crowd were starting to get restless. Football games can last a long time when the play isn't great. But we stuck with it - after all, teams have come back from worse.

Unfortunately, the game continued in the same fashion during the third quarter. A further Chiefs touchdown added 7 more points to Detroit's misery. At the end of the third quarter, the Lions were getting desperate and the crowd were getting fed-up. Even further performances from the KC cheerleaders weren't helping. A lot of people started to leave.

Then, in the fourth quarter, just as everyone had given up, the Lions managed to score a touchdown at last. Even Chiefs fans cheered because everyone just felt sorry for them. Unfortunately, another couple of Kansas touchdowns meant their last hurrah was in vain. The final score was 45-10. Ouch.

The biggest problem was Detroit's complete lack of an offensive line. We joked that they might as well have had a bunch of cardboard cut-outs surrounding the QB, because they would have done the same job. I also heard one of the commentators was saying Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was Jay Cutler in disguise for Halloween...

The Chiefs, on the other hand, did a great job. Alex Smith proved his worth as a mobile quarterback, and rookie RB Charcandrick West did brilliantly stepping in for the injured Jamaal Charles.

Despite the fact it turned out to be a very one-sided game in the end, it was a fantastic experience. With the announcement of the extension of the International Series, we'll be sure to be back next year!

Are you an NFL fan? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Book Review: Magnus Chase & The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

AD* | Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers.

One day, he’s tracked down by a man he’s never met - a man his mother claimed was dangerous. The man tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god.

The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years.

When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die...

I knew this book was going to be good as soon as I opened it and saw the chapter titles.
Rick Riordan is one of my favourite authors. I loved the Percy Jackson series, so I was really excited for Magnus Chase.

And for once, my expectations were surpassed. I didn't think this would beat Percy Jackson, but in my opinion Magnus Chase is possibly Rick Riordan's best book yet.

Magnus Chase is funny. I mean, it's really funny. The humour is spot on, with Magnus' sarcasm and the overall humour of the book. You expect humour from Rick Riordan, but this takes it to a whole new level of hilarity right from the start.

Great characters

The characters are great too. The Sword of Summer is crammed full of interesting and varied characters. From the hero, Magnus, to disgraced Valkyrie Sam, to Magnus' homeless buddies Hearth and Blitz. Plus, not forgetting the gigantic cast list of various Viking extras, and the gods. Just like the Percy Jackson series, Riordan modernises and humanises the gods. They maintain their key attributes (e.g. Loki is still the deceiving trickster) but Riordan manages to debunk the Marvel myths and return to the original Nordic roots, while still adding his own fictional twist to the characters. Thus Thor becomes a TV addict, Ran becomes a hoarding bag lady, and Odin makes speeches using PowerPoint. It's a perfect example of how skilled a writer Riordan is. There are a heck of a lot of characters in this book, but he manages to write in a way that avoids confusion and allows you to figure out who everyone is with ease.

At just over 500 pages it's a fairly long book, but I didn't mind that. It allows you to become fully immersed in the story, and gives room for fun little details and detours that a more concise version would have cut. And when it's such a good story, as far as I'm concerned, the longer the better!

Unconventional YA

The pace was great, it wasn't rushed and didn't drag. The storyline picked up in all the right places, interspersing moments of action and drama with quieter time for reflection and character development. However, one thing that did surprise me was the complete lack of romance. Literally, there wasn't a single bit. In any other YA book Magnus would have ended up with Sam, but here Sam's in love with another guy. Romance just didn't feature at all, which was a bold move by Riordan considering the fact that it's almost a given in YA nowadays.

The Sword of Summer is easily a five star book, and one of the best books I've read this year. If you need me, I'll be here waiting for the sequel to come out!

Rating: 5 stars.

Magnus Chase and The Sword of Summer is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Are you a fan of Rick Riordan? Will you be reading The Sword of Summer? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Book Review: The Keeper by David Baldacci

AD* | Vega Jane was always told no one could leave the town of Wormwood. She was told there was nothing outside but the Quag, a wilderness filled with danger and death. And she believed it - until the night she stumbled across a secret that proved that everything she knew was a lie. 

Now just one thing stands between Vega Jane and freedom - the Quag. In order to leave Wormwood and discover the truth about her world, Vega and her best friend Delph must find a way to make it across a terrifying land of bloodthirsty creatures and sinister magic. But the Quag is worse than Vega Jane's darkest imagining. It's a living, breathing prison designed to keep enemies out and the villagers of Wormwood in.

The Quag will throw everything at Vega Jane. It will try to break her. It will try to kill her. And survival might come at a price not even Vega Jane is willing to pay.

Everyone knows that David Baldacci is a big name in literature. So you might be surprised to know that The Keeper was the first book of his that I've read. Because Baldacci is such a big name I had quite high expectations. I mean, he has to be that popular for a reason, right? As I'm sure you know by now, YA is the genre I like the most and I'm the most knowledgeable about. Plus it's fantasy, which is a genre I also like on the whole. And who doesn't love delving into a new writer's catalogue for the first time?

When I started this book I have to admit that I just jumped into it headfirst without really researching it. Consequently, it came as a bit of a surprise when I found out that it's actually the second in a series, The Vega Jane series, sequel to 2014's The Finisher.

Jump straight in

Luckily this wasn't a problem as it was easy to pick up on the main plot and key points of what had happened in the previous book. I imagine it would be a bit repetitive for those who have read the first book, but it enabled me to quickly get a hold on the story.

But despite that, if I'm completely honest, I didn't really enjoy this book. It felt unoriginal and lacked that crucial spark. Instead, it was full of recycled cliches from the fantasy genre. It was fast-paced, but far too rushed towards the end. And the whole idea of the five different circles of the Quag reminded me of the Quarter Quell arena in the second Hunger Games book, Catching Fire, though that's probably just coincidence.

Another thing that bugged me was the way that everything that could possibly go wrong did, then it all got happily resolved in a completely unrealistic way. The book was full of action and drama, but I just couldn't take any of it seriously because whenever the author wanted the plot to move on the problems would just get instantly, conveniently resolved within a page and we'd be zooming off to deal with the next thing.

The basic idea is what pulled me into this story, and it's probably one of the only reasons why I trudged on to the very end. I pretty much knew what was going to happen from the beginning, but something in that sparked my interest just enough to keep me reading.

Everyone loves a canine

The characters were the other redeeming feature. They were all different, intriguing people, with enough of a backstory to make me interested in them as individuals. In particular, Vega Jane's journey of self-discovery through her past, leading to finding out about her magic, was great. I found Delph to be a surprisingly complex character, and of course, who wouldn't have a soft spot for Harry Two?

But at the end of the day, I honestly expected better from an established writer like Baldacci. The Keeper wasn't terrible, but I wouldn't recommend it either.

Rating: 2 stars

However, if you're still interested, The Keeper is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Are you a fan of David Baldacci? Will you be reading The Keeper? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 16 October 2015

Book Review: Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti

AD* | Don’t call them heroes.

But these six Californian teens have powers that set them apart. They can do stuff ordinary people can’t.

Take Ethan, a.k.a. Scam. He’s got a voice inside him that’ll say whatever you want to hear, whether it’s true or not. Which is handy, except when it isn’t—like when the voice starts gabbing in the middle of a bank robbery. The only people who can help are the other Zeroes, who aren’t exactly best friends these days.

Enter Nate, a.k.a. Bellwether, the group’s “glorious leader.” After Scam’s SOS, he pulls the scattered Zeroes back together. But when the rescue blows up in their faces, the Zeroes find themselves propelled into whirlwind encounters with ever more dangerous criminals. And at the heart of the chaos they find Kelsie, who can take a crowd in the palm of her hand and tame it or let it loose as she pleases.

Filled with high-stakes action and drama, Zeroes unites three powerhouse authors for the opening installment of a thrilling new series.

I should firstly point out that Scott Westerfeld is one of my favourite YA authors. I hadn't previously heard of his co-authors, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti, but I was nonetheless excited for this book.

However, my expectations fell a little flat. I'm a fast reader, but it took me weeks to get through this book. Once I started reading I was alright, but convincing myself to pick it up to get reading in the first place proved to be somewhat of a struggle. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get into the story.

And that's a shame, because it wasn't a bad book.

Perfect YA formula

It had action, crime, romance and lots of superheroes - which sounds like the perfect formula for a book. But something stopped me from being able to fully engage with the story. There were quite a few characters and I felt a bit lost with them all. When the book starts you get thrown straight into the story with no explanations or backstory. Now there's nothing wrong with that, in fact it's a great way to get readers interested and hooked on the story, but I prefer to have a bit of grounding first so I can figure out what's going on. It almost felt like a sequel, as if the authors were carrying on a private conversation and the readers have been left in the dark.

It's an intriguing concept. I love superhero stories (hence my love for the Marvel movie franchise) and this is a great use of that. All the Zeroes have different personalities lending them varying characteristics which gives them a range of interesting superpowers. One of the things I found the most interesting was Ethan's power, because his is the only power of the group to work better one-on-one - the only person who's power goes against the Curve.

The characters steal the show

But the most interesting character of them all was Thibault. Codenamed Anon because his power makes him become invisible in crowds, I found his story more interesting than the actual main plot. I wanted to know more about Anon, his backstory, and his growing relationship with Flicker. I also thought he was the best narrator - he's smart and he has a dry sense of humour and a unique way of looking at things, which I enjoyed reading.

For these reasons I can't say that I didn't like Zeroes. For all intents and purposes I did like it, because it was a good story with some great characters. It just lacked that personal hook that you need to really get into a story, but overall it really wasn't bad.

Rating: 3 stars.

Zeroes is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Will you be reading Zeroes? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Gig Review: Rae Morris at Cambridge Junction

* First published on Kettle Mag here.

AD* | Over the past year, Rae Morris has been slowly but surely making a name for herself in the music industry.

The 23 year old songstress released her debut album, Unguarded, back in January of this year. The album peaked at number 9 in the UK chart, and brought Rae to the public’s attention. Unguarded was very strong for a debut album. It features 12 tracks of Rae’s distinctive piano-led pop, some including a twist of folk, others much more pop-oriented. You can find my original review of Unguarded here.

And now Rae is off on her own headline tour, riding on the success of Unguarded.In her own words, she’s only ever dreamed of a tour as big as this, so to make it become reality is a massive accomplishment for her. And it really shows – it’s clear to see how much it means to Rae, which makes the tour only more special.

Cambridge Junction is a fairly intimate music venue, allowing fans to get up close and personal with artists. It’s the perfect contrast to the glut of massive arena tours dominating the music industry at the moment. It also showcases talent like Rae’s perfectly.

Support came in the form of Dan Owen, followed by Roo Panes. Singer-songwriter Dan Owens got the night off to a brilliant start. His last song was especially memorable as he transformed into a one-man band, playing the guitar, bass drum and harmonica as well as singing all at once. The second support act, Roo Panes, kept on building the atmosphere. Singer/guitarist Roo Panes was joined by a cellist, forming an intriguing duo to play songs from their classic folk-pop repertoire.

By the time Rae Morris came on, the crowd were more than ready to see the main act of the night. Rae came on stage to plenty of applause, launching straight into her track ‘Skin’. Clad in a bold, patterned jumpsuit and with her trademark curls set free, she was every inch the picture of a folk-pop songstress at the top of her game.

The show continued with hit after hit from Unguarded, plus a rendition of ‘Up Again’, the track she wrote for electronic group Clean Bandit. The more upbeat numbers seemed to be the biggest hits with the audience, with songs like ‘Under The Shadows’ getting people moving and dancing along to the music. However, a personal highlight of mine was Rae’s moving performance of the emotional track ‘Don’t Go’, which has recently been re-released for the breast cancer charity ‘CoppaFeel!’.

My only criticism is that the set was quite short, especially when compared to the extensive sets of some other artists. Perhaps this was due to the high level of organisation – everything started and finished on time, and there was no messing about on the production front. To be honest it was a nice change to attend a gig where everything did run smoothly for once! It could also be down to the fact that Rae (as she admits herself) isn’t much of a talker between songs. Either way, it was still an enjoyable show and a great evening.

* I received tickets to this show in exchange for an honest review

Are you a fan of Rae Morris? Let me know in the comments below!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Gig Review: James Bay at O2 Academy Brixton

AD* | 2015 has really been James Bay’s year. At the start of the year virtually no-one had heard of him. Now, nine months later, everything has changed for the 25-year-old from Hitchin, Hertfordshire.

Over the course of one short year Bay has had a number one album, Chaos and the Calm, received the Critics’ Choice Award at the 2015 Brit Awards, and it has just been announced that Chaos and the Calm has become the biggest album of 2015.

Riding on the success of Chaos and the Calm, his debut studio album, which I also reviewed for Kettle earlier in the year, James Bay is out on tour again. Last week saw him complete a sold-out three-night residency at Brixton’s O2 Academy, before continuing on his world tour, which culminates with another three-night London residency at the Eventim Apollo in March 2016.

Now, for someone who’s currently at the top of the UK music industry, I surely wouldn’t be wrong for expecting a polished, slick performance from a James Bay show. It started off well on Wednesday night, but I was left with the distinct feeling that things weren’t quite going as planned on the technical side. In between every act crew members were scurrying around the stage, trailing wires, fiddling and testing equipment and instruments. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to enough gigs to expect a bit of this. But surely that’s what a soundcheck is for - making sure all the problems are ironed out so everything runs smoothly on the night?

Support came in the form of singer-songwriter Samm Henshaw, followed by the slightly eccentric Elle King. I’ll be honest, by the time I got into the venue I only caught the last song of Samm Henshaw’s set. But Elle King, for all her issues, was a fitting support act for James Bay. Her songs can best be described as a kind of country/pop hybrid, complete with banjo playing and a big dose of shameless American honesty.

So after that, the crowd were well warmed up and ready for James Bay. He was due on stage at 9 o’clock, but it was almost half past by the time he finally came on. By this time the crowd were restless, people kept checking their phones and fidgeting, especially those limited to a tight schedule by trains needing to be caught.

Despite this though, the actual show was great. From the moment he came on stage, silhouetted against the curtain with his guitar and trademark hat, it was worth the wait. The setlist interspersed all the best-loved songs from Chaos and the Calm with new songs and songs not on the album. He also performed several covers, which was kind of a given when you only have one album’s worth of material to pull from.

James was still recovering from a cold on Wednesday, which had sparked thankfully-unnecessary fears about the potential cancellation of the show. But from the energy he showed and the way he was leaping about the stage, you wouldn’t have guessed it. The entire show was performed with high-energy that got the crowd going. Down in the stalls everyone was dancing and singing along, and up in the circle we all defied the ‘no standing’ rule to get up and show our appreciation.

When the encore arrived, James had one more trick up his sleeve. He announced he’d be playing one of his favourite songs, a Faces cover, then proceeded to bring out no other than the legendary guitarist Ronnie Wood to play it with him. Needless to say, this made the crowd go wild, and was the perfect way to top off the night.

If you can, I really recommend going along to see James Bay live. As good as he sounds on the album, he’s even better live. I get the feeling 2015 is only the beginning for the man in the hat.

You can see James' upcoming tour dates and buy tickets here.

* I received tickets to this show in exchange for an honest review

Are you a fan of James Bay? Let me know in the comments below! 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Interview: This Burning City

This Burning City are an alternative-hardcore band hailing from Gananoque, Ontario, Canada. I was lucky enough to catch up with the boys for a chat.

Hi! Would you like to introduce yourselves?

Hey there! We're This Burning City from Gananoque, Ontario. Our band name sucks and our music’s not much better! Hahaha just kidding.

How did you first become interested in music?

We all became interested in music at a pretty young age. I can't really vouch for everyone else but I know I personally can say that it's always been a part of my life. I think everyone kind of has dreams of being a rock star while listening to their favourite band… We just took that extra step and formed a band.

How did the band come about?

Most of us met in grade school way back in the day and found ourselves liking similar music. After going to a Dead and Divine show, we grabbed some instruments and started getting together to jam. Eventually we found our direction and started playing shows and events, eventually picking up Nick on bass much later in college. We didn't know what to expect back then, or the amount of commitment and time this would end up taking, but we love every minute of it.

Continue reading:

Are you a fan of This Burning City? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 21 September 2015

Book Review: Next Door To A Star by Krysten Lindsay Hager

AD* | Hadley Daniels is tired of feeling invisible.

After Hadley’s best friend moves away and she gets on the bad side of some girls at school, she goes to spend the summer with her grandparents in the Lake Michigan resort town of Grand Haven. Her next door neighbour is none other than teen TV star Simone Hendrickson, who is everything Hadley longs to be - pretty, popular, and famous - and she’s thrilled when Simone treats her like a friend.

Being popular is a lot harder than it looks.

It’s fun and flattering when Simone includes her in her circle, though Hadley is puzzled about why her new friend refuses to discuss her former Hollywood life. Caught up with Simone, Hadley finds herself ignoring her quiet, steadfast friend, Charlotte.

To make things even more complicated, along comes Nick Jenkins…

He’s sweet, good-looking, and Hadley can be herself around him without all the fake drama. However, the mean girls have other ideas and they fill Nick’s head with lies about Hadley, sending him running back to his ex-girlfriend and leaving Hadley heartbroken.

So when her parents decide to relocate to Grand Haven, Hadley hopes things will change when school starts…only to be disappointed once again.

Cliques. Back-stabbing. Love gone bad.

Is this really what it’s like to live… Next Door To A Star?

I seem to have read a glut of books featuring a normal person falling in love with a celebrity recently - see my reviews of The One Thing, Finding Flynn, Zaryk and Jesse's Girl - so I had quite high hopes for this book. I knew this one was different to all the others, because here the main character wants to befriend the celebrity rather than falling in love with them. So therefore I was looking forward to seeing the same kind of premise explored in a slightly different way.

Unfortunately, I was left disappointed. Don't get me wrong, I love YA - it's probably my favourite genre. But this type of YA? Not so much.

The main character was an annoying, whiny girl who complained about everything and was never satisfied. She was selfish and self-absorbed, and didn't seem to mind hurting other people to get her own way. The rest of the characters weren't much better either. Simone, the eponymous star next door, was equally annoying, and even more self-absorbed. The boys were childish and immature stereotypes, Morgan and the rest of the 'mean girls' were just downright irritating.

The only decent characters were Charlotte and Asia. Charlotte was sweet, real, and charmingly childlike. She didn't care about fitting in with the popular girls and wasn't afraid to be different, which was a refreshing island in a sea of stereotypical drama. Asia's winning point was her character development. Throughout the course of the book she went from being one of Simone's cronies, to Morgan's BFF, then finally ended up as herself. The part where the girls helped set up Hadley's doll's house was one of my favourite extracts from the book, because it showed that no matter how hard they try to grow up, they're still kids at heart.

The plot was another disappointment, simply because it didn't really go anywhere. Sure, stuff happened, but there were no major plot points and nothing that made me have to keep reading. To be honest I got kind of bored about halfway through and only continued reading because I don't give up on books.

It was just too childish, with too much irritating teen drama, and it wasn't interesting enough for me.

Also, is it just me, or does anyone else think the cover star really looks like Jennifer Lawrence?

Rating: 2 stars

Next Door To A Star is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Next Door To A Star? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Book Review: Sky's Fireworks by Cynthia Bruner

AD* | Sky has one more chance to make her happily-ever-after happen, and the only thing that could stop her is the perfect man standing by her side.

Since she was a child Sky Fischer has known she’s destined to marry her next door neighbour Kevin, but he hasn’t realised it - yet. This Fourth of July, Kevin’s back in town and Sky’s found a brilliant way to get his attention. She’s brought co-worker Boone along to act as her boyfriend. But Kevin is oblivious, her brothers are determined to chase away her suitors, and worst of all, Boone might be a little too perfect for his role. What if the future she’s been planning isn’t right for her?

I've never been to Montana. I've never experienced Fourth of July celebrations. I've never even been to America. Yet having read this book, I feel as though I've done all those things.

The story is set in the fictional Willow, one of those stereotypical small American towns that literature seems to love. Coming from an entirely different background, the whole concept of knowing everyone in your town and all coming together for holidays is completely alien to me. Over here we nod politely to our neighbours and maybe exchange small talk on occasion, but apart from that we maintain our distance and live our lives privately because we're British, dammit.

Small town life

Still, Bruner has managed to capture the essence of what I imagine small town life to be like. The whole town is like one big extended family, and everyone has a sense of belonging. I can just picture celebrating the Fourth of July in a town like Willow, where everyone comes together and joins in to enjoy the holiday together. Fireworks, dancing, and cowboys abound, yet in the middle of it all is Sky.

As a main character, Sky is good. But she's also really, really blind to what's right in front of her. The basic premise is that Sky wants to get with Kevin (her childhood crush), so she brings along her co-worker Boone to make Kevin notice her and get jealous. I found that a bit weird in itself (what good would a fake boyfriend do?) but I was willing to accept it.

All's well and good till we meet Kevin. In short, Kevin's a douche. He's a slimy salesman with an alcohol problem and no respect for women. But, of course, Sky can't see that because she's still hung up on the star receiver and MVP that he used to be. On the other hand, Boone is Kevin's polar opposite. He's a computer geek with a penchant for long bike rides, who - shock, horror - is actually a really sweet guy.

The wrong man

So what happens? Sky spends the entirety of the story chasing after the wrong man while the right man is under her nose. That should be endearing, but in reality it's just kind of frustrating. It was a case of the sooner she realised, the better, in my opinion. And unfortunately it took far too long to get there too.

I should also mention that Sky's Fireworks is a novella, so if you're looking for a more substantial read this probably isn't the book for you. Still, I read it over two days, so it's perfect for a light-hearted summer story. I just wish I'd had the opportunity to read it back in July!

Rating: 3 stars.

Sky's Fireworks is available to buy now.

* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review 

Will you be reading Sky's Fireworks? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Review: Snapfish Photo Book

As you may remember, I worked with Snapfish earlier in the year and reviewed some of their products with a summer theme. If you missed it, you can catch it again here.

Now, I've been lucky enough to have been asked to work with them again.

This time the focus is memories and celebration - inspiring people to celebrate their memories through beautiful photo books, personalised gifts, and home décor. It's all about using photography to relive special moments, and simply telling a story.

The story my product tells is very simple. It's a life story. Family is one of the most important things in life, and what better way to celebrate it than through pictures remembering precious memories.

As luck would have it, this year marked my nan's 70th birthday. Therefore I decided to create a photo book featuring pictures from some of our moments together to make a truly memorable gift for a landmark birthday.

I chose photos from all 21 years of my life and sorted them into an (approximate) chronological order. This way the narrative of our life stands out and weaves the photos of the book together.

That was definitely the most labour intensive project I've done so far from Snapfish, as I had to sort through all our old family photos in order to find the best ones (and we have a lot of photos, so this took a long time!) I also had a bit of a struggle trying to find photos with both me and my nan in. Neither of us are particularly fond of the camera, so photos with the two of us in seem to be a lot rarer than I'd originally thought! When I had eventually selected enough appropriate photos, I then had to scan the older ones in to get them onto my computer so I could add them to the photo book. That sounds complicated, but it's nowhere near as hard as it sounded!

Then came the design. I chose a classic photo book with a hard cover, because I thought it would prove more durable than the soft cover one I designed for my last Snapfish review. I also liked the cut-out cover (above) because it allows you to personalise it in a classy way - perfect for a gift.

The layout was simple - photos in chronological order, interspersed pretty equally between several photos on a page in a grid pattern and single stand-out photos dominating an entire page. Again I elected not to include captions or quotes because I wanted to keep it simple and let the photos speak for themselves.

I'm really happy with the finished product. All the photos printed beautifully and were nice and sharp and clear, even the scanned ones look just as good as the later digital photos.

When I gave it to my nan she was really happy with it too. She said it brought back many memories from over the years, and she spent a long while looking at all the photos. The Snapfish photo book was a success all round!

Have you used Snapfish before? Will you be using them in the future? Let me know in the comments below!