Thursday, 30 July 2015

Book Review: Jesse's Girl by Miranda Kenneally

AD* | Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.

But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart - and go solo?

I've read a few books with a similar set-up to this - Billy and Me by Giovanna Fletcher and Finding Flynn by Alexandria Bishop immediately spring to mind - but I still love the idea. I think it appeals to that dream most teenage girls have at some point, of being swept off her feet by a gorgeous, talented celebrity. Right?

Now I'm not really into country music unless you count Lady Antebellum and old-school Taylor Swift, but that wasn't an issue for me. I seem to have picked up a lot of romances recently where the main character falls in love with a charming southern guy, so by now I feel like I get the whole country guy thing because I'm so used to it.

The plot was pretty predictable, but then it always is in these kind of books. That doesn't matter though because you don't pick up a romance for a thrilling plot that needs a lot of concentration. You pick up a romance for a fun, warm, light-hearted read - and that's exactly what Jesse's Girl was.

I stayed up till 2.30am the night before I was due to start my new job (because I'm clever like that) just so I could finish this book. I didn't plan to read it in one sitting, but you know what it's like when you can't stop reading because you have to get to the end. Just one more chapter...

One thing I particularly loved about Maya and Jesse was that their relationship was real. No unrealistic falling in love forever at first sight here - the fact that Kenneally allowed their relationship to develop slowly and naturally spoke volumes to me. They're sweet together, and it's lovely that we can see how they both not only needed each other but were good for each other too.

However, I also liked them as individual characters too. They're extremely driven and passionate about what they love to do, yet the fact that both are willing to potentially sacrifice that and put family first was really sweet. Despite this, the thing that I liked most about them was that they're both proudly independent and want to work hard to achieve their goals without having to ask others for help. It's refreshing for characters to have such a strong work ethic like that, but it really pays off for Jesse and Maya.

Personally, I felt the ending was a little weaker than the rest of the book, but not by a big margin. I still enjoyed it, but I just didn't connect with it quite as much. However, I liked that the plot was taken slowly rather than rushing along at breakneck speed - we got so much detail about everything that it felt like I was really there watching the scenes unfold. The little details of their day are what really made the story, and I'm glad the author kept them in the book.

If you're looking for a heart-warming book to curl up and relax with, this is definitely the book for you. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to check out Miranda Kenneally's other books!

Rating: 4 stars.

Jesse's Girl is available to buy now.

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

Are you a fan of Miranda Kenneally? Will you be reading Jesse's Girl? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Film Review: Ant-Man

Ant-Man is the latest in the long line of blockbuster movies from Marvel Studios. Following hot on the heels of Avengers: Age of Ultron, people seemed to be in two minds over Ant-Man before the film's release.

The movie follows the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), a thief just released from prison. Upon his release Scott is recruited by the mysterious Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who wants to use Scott's talents to stop his former protégé Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). Armed with a suit that gives him superhero powers and trained by Hank and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly), Scott becomes Ant-Man. He must put his new skills to the test to prevent Cross from using the same technology for evil.

Compared to the usual action-packed blockbuster movies we've come to expect from Marvel, Ant-Man is more like a heist film. Scott, as the main character, isn't our typical Marvel hero either. Without the suit he's just a plain old criminal with a fierce love for his daughter. With the suit, he becomes the superhero. Yes, I know that sounds a lot like Iron Man, but the characters of Scott and Tony Stark are completely different. Stark is (in his own words) a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, and Scott is, well, just Scott.

The Ant-Man suit is pretty cool in it's own right, but compared to Cap's shield or 'Hulk Smash' or Mjolnir, it's a lot more subtle. After all, when it comes down to it, the ability to shrink isn't exactly the most exciting superpower a hero could have. That's why the action takes a backseat and allows the characters to take the lead. Don't get me wrong, the action scenes are impressive, and funny too at times. But the characters (with the exception of Cross, who is surely one of Marvel's finest cardboard cut-out villains) are what really make the movie.

Strangely, the fact that Scott has an army of ants as allies is actually kind of sweet and heart-warming. If nothing else, Ant-Man does a brilliant job of showing people with myrmecophobia that ants aren't all that bad after all. The CGI is clever and fun, with the differences in size and perspective allowing the world to shift and adapt around the characters, making for some interesting plays on scenes from different character's points of view.

At just under two hours, this is a fairly short and sweet movie that definitely doesn't outstay its welcome. It has a good pace building right to the end, and a continued focus on the characters and their development throughout. One thing I would say is that it is a bit science-heavy at certain points and a lot of the technical terms went right over my head, but that didn't detract from the movie as a whole.

All in all, Ant-Man feels like a slightly different movie compared to the rest of the MCU films. It isn't their best, but it's still fun, enjoyable, and worth watching.

Have you seen Ant-Man? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

App Review: Bullet News

Bullet News is a new app for Apple and Android devices. It gives you the latest news from around the world in under 10 seconds, pulling stories from trusted sources like Reuters and Sky News.

When I first started trying out Bullet News, the thing that appealed most to me is the fact that you can personalise it. All the stories on the app are categorised into different sections - world, sport, entertainment etc. This way you can easily flick through to find what you want to read when you want to read it. You can also edit your news feed, delete specific sources, or choose to only show stories from specific sources.

Because it's optimised for phones, this makes Bullet News perfect for those with a busy lifestyle. It's ideal for catching up with the latest news on the go.

The articles are also set out in a really easy-to-use layout, with a simple style that makes the app clutter-free and accessible. This also makes the stories easy and fast to read, meaning you don't waste time waiting for it to load like some other news apps. All the stories are reduced down to the basic facts and bare bones using bullet points (hence the name). Because the design and interface are so simple it also looks really appealing. The colours are minimalist and don't detract from the point of the app, which is to efficiently deliver personalised news stories to the reader. Everything is short, simple, and to the point - this is the news app of the future, optimised for the age of tl;dr.

Bullet News is informative, easy to use, and best of all it's free, so there's no excuse not to download the app!

Have you tried out Bullet News? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Book Review: The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

AD* | It's the accident season, the same time every year. Bones break, skin tears, bruises bloom.

The accident season has been part of seventeen-year-old Cara's life for as long as she can remember. Towards the end of October, foreshadowed by the deaths of many relatives before them, Cara's family becomes inexplicably accident-prone. They banish knives to locked drawers, cover sharp table edges with padding, switch off electrical items - but injuries follow wherever they go, and the accident season becomes an ever-growing obsession and fear.

But why are they so cursed? And how can they break free?

I have one word for this book - wow! And that's it, that's the review.

(Just kidding).

But seriously, The Accident Season is definitely one of the best books I've read for ages. It's technically a children's book but I found it involving and intriguing throughout, so I wouldn't limit it to that. It's got elements of all the genres I love - YA, mystery, suspense, the supernatural and just a dash of romance. And for a debut novel, it's fantastic.

I was invested in the plot straight away and I had to know what happened - I read the whole book in one sitting. Although the beginning was good, it didn't really fully come alive until the end. Tension and suspense built throughout the entire book, slowly but surely winding its way into the story ever so subtly. By the end the tone got darker and entered into an almost dreamlike state, which suited the plot perfectly. The writing was excellent and highly visual, as all this weaving of genres and multi-layers of story was complex yet still easy to understand. At no point did I lose the plot thread or get bored, which speaks volumes about the quality of Fowley-Doyle's writing.

The concept in itself is unique and different to anything else I've read. It's rare to come across a new idea that works so well, but the author has managed to do exactly that. The twists were exciting and (mostly) unpredictable, especially towards the end. I managed to guess a few of the minor twists early in the story but the major plot points all came as surprises to me.

The characters were intriguing and wildly different for siblings, yet they all had secrets to hide and at times were also similar, just like the differences and similarities between real siblings. The sub-plot of the love story was sweet and realistic, despite being potentially forbidden and all the problems that would arise from that. I also particularly liked that the characters didn't have to conform to expectations - they weren't afraid to be different and they weren't afraid of what others thought of them. In YA fiction especially that was really refreshing, and it allowed the diversity and originality of characters like Bea to really come alive.

The Accident Season is a strangely captivating book; one that I'm sure will stay with me for a long time.

Rating: 5 stars.

The Accident Season is available to buy now.

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

Will you be reading The Accident Season? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Book Review: Shadow of Deception by Sophia L. Johnson

AD* | A horrific plane crash kills all five hundred and forty-two passengers except one. Kazumi comes out of the wreckage physically unscathed but wiped of all memories. Her miraculous survival attracts the attention of the Sarcomeres, a secret society of genetically advanced humans. Their heightened physical abilities and high-tech gadgets are not the only things that fascinate Kazumi, Finnegan O'Riley, a fellow Sarc also gets her heart racing. When she discovers that she possesses the genetic potential to become a Sarcomere, she welcomes the chance to train with them in the hope that she would recover her memories.

Meanwhile, thirty years after the Great War that almost destroyed the world, a centuries-old nemesis of the Sarcomeres begins to stir in the dark. Just when Kazumi thinks she can help protect her new found home, past memories surface to threaten her new identity. She soon realizes that layers of deception run deep and everyone has a secret agenda, including herself. Who can she trust when she can't even trust herself? One wrong decision could bring forth consequences worse than death. Is Kazumi ready to face her destiny?

The thing I liked the most about this book is that the science behind all of the events was explained fully and explained well, which sadly a lot of sci-fi and dystopian lacks. We find out why the genetically advanced humans are better than us, and all of the characters are mysterious and intriguing. The story being told from Kazumi's point of view helped with this because it meant we were always learning something new as she was learning - it felt more real and organic this way.

The world is another strong point. The book is set in the year 2153, where the world is divided into three major countries - The UNNA (United Nation of North America), The Republic of Europe, and Greater China. It's set 30 years after the Great War which ended up almost destroying the world, hence the dystopian aspect.

The plot was good, with an unexpected twist towards the end that made it even more exciting. But despite that it wasn't too fast-paced, and overall it was a fun, entertaining read.

I really enjoyed this book and I read it really quickly because I had to get to the end and find out what happened! One warning though - if you do read this book you will become addicted! The next book in the series can't come soon enough.

I also interviewed the lovely Sophia as part of Shadow of Deception's blog tour. If you missed that, you can catch it here.

Shadow of Deception is available to buy now.

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

Will you be reading Shadow of Deception? Let me know in the comments below!

Interview: Sophia L. Johnson

To kick start my stop on the blog tour for Shadow of Deception by Sophia L. Johnson, here's my interview with the author herself! The review is also up and can be seen here.

Firstly, tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Sophia. I'm a Chinese Canadian living in Toronto with my husband and daughter. I have a degree in International Business Management but after working in the corporate world for three years, I decided that's not the place I belong. So I packed my bags and went back to school for Massage Therapy and did some writing courses on the side. So now I'm a massage therapy instructor by day and a published author by night.

When did you first become interesting in writing?

Ever since high school I was always interested in writing. I had a failed attempt at writing a novel back when I was in grade nine, but high school and boys got in the way so nothing was accomplished, writing wise. Then life got even busier with university, my first job, wedding planning, first mortgage, and so on. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I finally had the chance and inspiration to buckle down and make this happen for real.

How do you get inspiration?

The first idea I had was Kazumi as a character. She popped into my head one night out of nowhere and I knew then that I had to write her down and give her a world where she'd be challenged. As I was writing the book, I also drew inspiration from my research. I couldn't be an expert in every aspect of the story, hence I had to do a lot of research ranging from weaponry, to fighting sequences, to how airplane engines work. I've actually learned a lot of random knowledge while writing this book.

What draws you to writing sci-fi?

I've always been a fan of sci-fi/fantasy settings. These are my go-to genres for books and movies. When reading, I like to be swept away to a foreign land that I could never otherwise visit. In writing, I love the fact that I'm creating a world that no-one knows about and I'm the director for everything that happens in that world.

Do you have any plans for the rest of the series yet?

Yes I have actually. The general story arc has been mapped out in the next two books. I'm currently working on book 2 where all the pivotal scenes are concocted - I just need to get them on a computer screen. Hopefully it won't take four years this time around!

I saw you’re donating all profits of the book to charity. What made you decide to do that?

I think it's important to give back to society. There's a lot of under-privileged people who need help and we should do whatever we can to give them a helping hand. When I finished the manuscript for Shadow of Deception, I knew then that I wanted to do something special with this book.

Why did you choose Covenant House?

The college campus I used to teach at was very close to one of their shelters. I got to witness their work in helping at-risk, abused, and homeless young people, and I was impressed by their tireless effort. Also in my teaching, I came across some under-privileged students who tried really hard to make something out of their lives despite the difficult circumstances they were in. I was touched and really wanted to help and encourage them. So when Shadow of Deception came to be, there was no doubt that Covenant House would be my charity of choice.

What’s your writing process?

Because I'm still relatively new at this, I don't think I have a set process that I follow religiously. Although one factor is certain, I need complete silence to write. I get distracted easily with noise. When I first started writing, I tried doing it at coffee shops and even book stores because I thought that's how writers do it. I wasn't a writer yet but I still wanted to look the part, you know. The result was a lot of eavesdropping on people's conversations and very little writing accomplished. So I learned quickly that I should stay as far away from people as possible if I want to write anything constructive.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Writer's block, hands down. I experience that from time to time and it is beyond annoying. Especially when an important scene is done and suddenly you don't know where to go from there. I once sat in front of my laptop for two hours with nothing on the page. Then I learned a trick from an experienced writer where I'd stop in the middle of a scene so the next time I came back to it, I already have something to build on. It works like a charm for me.

What do you love most about writing?

I love that I have the ability to bring characters to life. I began dreaming up characters and scenarios in my head at a very young age but now I realize that wasn't enough. They need a world where they can interact with other characters. They need challenges and obstacles to learn and grow from. They need love, hate, jealousy - a rainbow of human emotions to make them real and relatable.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

I want to tell them that I was in the same boat not too long ago. The publishing industry is evolving, especially with the help of self-publishing and e-books. If you have a good story to tell, don't hesitate because there are a lot of resources out there to help you. The biggest obstacle is yourself. Stop giving excuses. Sit down and start writing. Also don't jump the gun. Don't go looking for agents and publishers before your story's finished. Focus on making your story compelling and the rest will fall into place. One step at a time. You can do it!

What’s your all-time favourite book?

I have so many favourites. If I have to choose, I'd pick one particular series that I can't seem to forget. It's an older series called Incarnations of Immortality by Piers Anthony. His spin on our belief of what is Fate, Death, Mother Nature and so forth was brilliant and creative. It was such a fun series to read. 

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?

Definitely traditional books. I've never read an e-book. I much prefer the weight of a paperback and the action of flipping a physical page. It feels more substantial. Besides, I love to collect bookmarks. I wouldn't want them to go to waste.

What are you reading at the moment?

I'm reading an award-winning debut novel called The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It's a coming-of-age high fantasy. The writing is beautiful.

To find out more about Sophia and to keep up with her latest news, you can like the Shadow of Deception page on Facebook.

Are you a fan of Sophia L. Johnson? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Interview: D.A. Roach

Continuing my stop on the blog tour for Rarity, I got the chance to interview the author, D.A. Roach. If you missed my review of the book, you can find it here.

To begin - tell me about yourself.

I grew up in a south suburb of Chicago and my parents were immigrants from Lithuania. Fresh out of college I spent a short time as a retail pharmacist and later as a college professor before settling down and starting my family. In what little downtime I had while caring for my kids, I became an avid reader and eventually tried my hand at writing...and I fell in love with it.

How did you first become interesting in writing?

Honestly, I was in the dentist chair and the hygienist asked where we were headed for vacation. I told her we were going to Tennessee to visit a woman that we befriended over thirty years ago. How we met the woman was an amazing tale and when I finished telling it the hygienist said, “My god, you have to write that story down.” So I did. I self-published my first book Trusting Strangers. I enjoyed learning about self-publishing and seeing the sales and reviews it received. It made me want to continue pursuing writing.

How do you get inspiration?

My books so far have been inspired by stories and characters based on people I know. But I write down ideas that evoke emotion in me. I might listen to the news and hear about a rescue that happened in a nearby town, and I think about the emotions the victim or rescuer felt and try to create characters based on this real life drama. I may not build a story around them but they may appear to help a story along.

What draws you to writing romance?

Romance stories are full of emotions and drama. There can be jealousy, sorrow, happiness, and passion. Love and passion are powerful emotions. I love exploring those emotions with my characters. I also enjoy reading romance and getting lost in the ebb and flow of a book relationship. Sounds like the perfect afternoon to me.

Tell me about Rarity.

Rarity is more than your typical teen drama/romance book. It’s told through the eyes of Brogen, a junior at Stanton High. Brogen is an empath who is very sensitive to other people’s energies. She closes herself off and only confides in her closest friend, Meg. As the school year begins, Stanton High welcomes two new juniors. Jay is the handsome new guy who is so charismatic and friendly that he befriends the whole student body instantly. How can anyone be that nice? Brogen can’t get a read on Jay’s energy to see if he’s genuine or fake and so she is intrigued by him. She studies his actions and interactions, while consequently finding herself attracted to him. The other new student is Becca, the gorgeous blonde who climbs the social ladder rapidly. She does not care who she steps on to get to the top, and she wants Jay by her side. To achieve this, she plots to ruin Brogen and her reputation. But as fate begins to set the course of their relationships, one of the main characters is diagnosed with a rare disorder. The news is life altering and it changes everything. Rarity is a glimpse into the world of people diagnosed with a rare disorder.  It transports you into their difficult days, moments of sorrow, and their joys of triumph.

What inspired you to write Rarity?

Two years ago my son was diagnosed with a rare collagen disorder, Vascular Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. His condition is sort of an invisible illness. He looks normal but his body is so fragile. The first geneticist misdiagnosed him and we were left thinking he didn’t have anything wrong with him. A year later we saw a different geneticist and a blood test proved he had a devastating and potentially fatal disorder. Since the diagnosis, I’ve “met” so many affected by the disorder, and they are some of the bravest people I know, but they also have some of the saddest stories.

I was devastated by my son’s diagnosis. I mourned the loss of the hopes and dreams I had for him and mourned the sadness and medical issues that his new future held. My husband looked at me one day and said, “I think I’ve lost you.” I knew what he meant. There was no happiness inside me anymore.

But life wasn’t over. I was still a mom, sister, daughter, friend…I needed to rise above this and fight for a better future for my child and others affected by this disorder.

I created a bucket list of what I needed to accomplish so I would have no regrets if something terrible arose. The list included taking my son to the top doctors, increasing awareness of vEDS, and raising money for research. Rarity is a fictional tale but it’s based on real life events. My hope is that Rarity will teach others about vEDS and evoke compassion for those with invisible disorders.

What’s your writing process?

I email myself any new ideas and characters. This way, no matter where I am, I can manipulate them if I have a moment to work with them. Then I prewrite. I create my characters including their backstory. Next I decide the setting and overall mood of the book.  Then I consider the conflict and resolution of the story. And finally I start writing. The rest seems to fall into place once I have the bones of the story mapped out.

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

The darn writer's block! I experienced it for the first time with Rarity and it scared me. It was as if I travelled through a maze and came to a dead end. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get the story through it and I’d have to scrap it. I finally backtracked and took a different path with the storyline and found my way to the end. I knew I was through it because once I took the new path, the story practically wrote itself. It was an amazing learning experience but terrifying. I truly thought Rarity was a goner.

Which authors inspire you?

Nicole Williams, she does an amazing job building characters, and Rebecca Donovan left such a mark on me with her Breathing Series. Both are outstanding writers.

Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?

Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you are good enough to publish a book, just take the leap. Read your story out loud before sending it to a publisher or editor. Have a good editor edit your book before publishing. A good editor can help take your writing to a new level. And once you finish your first book, pick up your pen and start the next one!

What are your ambitions for your writing career?

I would love to write a book that reaches a larger audience. There are so many authors and so many books, many have yet to be discovered. It’d be nice to be a larger needle in the haystack.

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

I think I’d make a good psychologist. I love listening to other people’s problems and helping them see it from other viewpoints. Plus if I get bored of that, I’ll have great material for writing future books.

Do you prefer e-books or traditional books?

I prefer e-books. It’s nice to have my phone with me and open my kindle app to read a book. Then at night I grab my laptop and open kindle, it syncs and I’m right where I left off. I’m shocked at how many people feel like they need to own a kindle to read e-books. You don’t, just download the free app or kindle for PC and you can start reading.

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

I really have enjoyed traditional. It set the bar higher for me. Limitless holds a high standard for their books. The covers are sleek, the editing is thorough, and they have some amazing authors on board. It’s like becoming part of a family. We all support each other.

What are you reading at the moment?

Waking Up Blank by Sara Schoen and Grey by E.L. James.

To find out more about D.A. Roach, visit her blog or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Are you a fan of D.A. Roach? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: Rarity by D.A. Roach

AD* | Brogen Mathers can’t deal with teen drama… As an empath, she is constantly bombarded with other people’s energies. Despite coping techniques taught by her psychologist mother, it’s often too much to bear, forcing her to avoid most activities a typical high school junior would enjoy.

Jay Wilken won’t let his past define him… A dead mother and an alcoholic father brought Jay to Stanton, but he doesn’t want pity. His good looks, charisma, and friendly nature quickly win over the whole student body, but he has his eye on one girl…Brogen.

Brogen can’t believe anyone could be so genuinely nice. It has to be an act, right? But when Jay literally saves her from deadly jaws, she has to admit he’s exactly what he appears, and he’s worth risking the potential emotional upheaval.

“Drama” might as well be Becca Grant’s middle name… Another newcomer to Stanton, Becca’s blonde beauty and abundant attitude shoots her straight to the top of the popularity charts—and she believes Jay belongs right there beside her. Accustomed to getting exactly what she wants, she launches a relentless mean-girl campaign to shake up Brogen and claim Jay for her own.

Everything changes with a devastating diagnosis… When Jay learns he has a rare and potentially fatal disorder, he keeps it secret and begins to push Brogen away to spare her future pain—which is exactly the sort of opening Becca is waiting for. As Jay’s well-meaning deception unravels, Brogen realizes there is much more than her heart at stake… But how far is she willing to go to fight for someone she loves?

Rarity is pretty unique among the contemporary YA I've read. It starts off pretty normal, featuring the usual romance and coming-of-age storyline, with the standard and expected love triangle between Brogen, Jay and Becca. But then it all changes following Jay's diagnosis of the chronic illness. It's important to get the word out there about rare disorders like vEDS, and fiction is a brilliant way to do that. The author handles it well, with care and respect, and you can tell she has definitely done her research. It's a subject close to her heart, as she explained in her interview with me.

That means the author is an expert in drawing on the reader's emotions because she's experienced it all herself. She knows how to make you laugh and cry, feeling for the characters and understanding what they're going through. The characters are all relatable and you really feel as if you know them. It's a credit to D.A. Roach's writing that she manages to pull on her reader's emotions through the plight of the characters. Jay especially is a particularly strong character, not least because his story will help to bring hope and encouragement to people suffering from vEDS, and other illnesses, in real life.

The developing relationship between Brogen and Jay is also written beautifully. It's refreshing to see a relationship developing slowly and naturally, with the pair being friends first before anything else. However, their relationship doesn't really take off until we see their reactions to Jay's diagnosis. It's honest and full of emotion, and really takes the book to another level. I also loved that Brogen stuck by Jay through it all - it's sweet and full of hope in the face of a situation like this.

Rarity is definitely worth reading, if for no other reason than to increase awareness of vEDS. If you're looking for a new twist on contemporary YA, this is the book for you.

Rarity is available to buy now.

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

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

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Gig Review: McBusted - Alive @ Delapre

Pop supergroup McBusted kicked off 2015’s Alive @ Delapre 3-day festival in a spectacular fashion on Friday night. Fresh from their MEAT (Most Excellent Adventure Tour) earlier this year, and a support slot on One Direction’s recent world tour, the boys were on top form as usual.

McBusted is comprised of all four members of Mcfly (Tom Fletcher, Danny Jones, Dougie Poynter and Harry Judd) and two of Busted’s original line-up (James Bourne and Matt Willis). The group was formed back in 2013, and was a massive risk for both bands. Luckily that risk paid off, and two sell-out tours and an album later, the boys are still going strong.

Friday night was the second time I’d seen the supergroup live, and it was definitely different to the first. The initial time I saw them was on the first night of their two nights at Nottingham’s Capital FM Arena on their MEAT tour. If you went to that tour, you’ll know what I mean when I say it was a proper show. If not, think primary colours, retro gaming, a flying DeLorean, crazy props, a ‘wedding’, lots of lights, effects, and (of course) the music.

In that respect, this show was completely different. Friday night went back to the roots, completely stripping away all the staging, gadgets and gimmicks, and returning to a more traditional concert with nothing more than just the boys and the music.

Support was in the form of Irish boyband HomeTown, trying to promote their latest single ‘Where I Belong’. The band performed a half-hour set comprised mainly of covers, but didn’t seem to be much of a hit with the audience. They looked a little lost on the stage as well – six members and not one of them was playing an instrument. Still, they seemed nice enough, even though it was obvious they were just the self-styled Irish One Direction.

The show followed the same setlist as the MEAT tour minus a few songs, including ‘Riding On My Bike’, which was probably dropped due to the logistics of actually getting a bike on stage. There was a good variety of classic Busted and Mcfly hits, drawing on the bands’ extensive combined backlist, as well as a few original McBusted tracks thrown into the mix. This delighted both older and newer fans, as it ensured everyone was kept happy!

Right from the outset with opening track ‘Air Guitar,’ the boys put on a fun-filled, energetic performance. From the moment they came on stage they were bouncing around like a band half their age, even starting the show by coming on and leapfrogging over each other. This energy drove the entire show, encouraging the audience to join in and have a great time alongside the band.

The segments in-between songs were just as crazy and random as I’ve come to expect, with jokes between the band and the crowd. As Friday was Tom’s 30th birthday, we all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. Some of the crowd also threw presents and gifts onstage for him, which was a nice touch. However, things started to get a little out of hand when James noticed the donut stand at the back of the field and jokingly asked someone to go and get him a donut. Unsurprisingly, this request ended up with everyone throwing anything they could get their hands on onto the stage (including plenty of donuts). Someone then threw cake onto the stage, which Matt threw back, and this resulted in a mini cake war between the boys and the fans.

Due to the cake war, the band ended up running over time for their last song, ‘Year 3000’. Nobody seemed to mind though, and by the time the last chord ended the crowd were all screaming for more. Although it was a fairly short set, it was definitely a great night. The longevity of McBusted may not be certain, but I for one hope they stick around a while longer.

Are you a fan of McBusted? Were you at the show too? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Book Review: Blood & Ink by Stephen Davies

AD* | Kadija is the music-loving daughter of a guardian of the sacred manuscripts of the ancient city of Timbuktu, Mali.

Ali is a former shepherd boy, trained as a warrior for Allah.

Tonight, the Islamist rebels are coming for Timbuktu. They will install a harsh regime of law and tear apart the peaceful world within the mud walls of the city. Television, football, radios, even music, will be banned.

Kadija refuses to let go of her former life. And something in her defiance draws Ali to her.

Which path will he choose?

Going straight to the point, Blood & Ink has to be one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Picking it up, I don’t quite know what I expected, but it certainly wasn’t this. Blood & Ink isn’t the sort of book I’d normally read. I don’t know much about the genre, and I know virtually nothing about the events or the culture it features. But having read it, I’m definitely glad I took a chance on it.

Before reading the book I’d never heard of the author, Stephen Davies. However, this just proves how many great undiscovered writers are out there, as I was really impressed with his writing. He has a really involving writing style, descriptive yet still fast-paced, which drags you right into the heart of the story. Davies’ writing helped me to picture everything so vividly that it seemed as if I really was there in Timbuktu with Ali and Kadija. Considering I’ve never been and, as I said, I know very little about the city, that’s pretty impressive.

One thing I would say – don’t base your expectations of the book on its blurb. It’s categorised as YA, though I personally think it should have a much wider appeal, and the blurb makes it out to be little more than a romance. In actual fact it’s much more than that. Blood & Ink is full of passion, belief and hope. We know that the path Ali follows is wrong, but the strength of his belief is overwhelming, really allowing you to see things from his point of view. That’s partly why I like that the book has two narrators, because it’s integral to the story that we can experience and understand both points of view. The main character’s love is also handled masterfully – it’s subtle and complicated, but not the focus of the story.

The characters are all complex, with different emotions and clashing desires and loyalties fighting for dominance within them. I particularly like that aspect of the characters because it really brings them to life. I know they’re fictional characters, but in this story they’re real people. Plus they’re both flawed - defining the ideals of the antihero.

The fact it’s based on true events, real places, and some real people only serves to make Blood & Ink even more impressive. It’s historical fiction at its best, and it’s not ancient history either which is a refreshing change in the genre.

The treatment of women under Redbeard’s misconception of sharia law really got to me. Mistreatment of women and unequal rights is something I feel very strongly about, and men like this who twist religion to suit their own purpose are definitely not acting in the name of God. But anyway, that’s a whole different topic.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Although set in 2012, it’s still such a current issue that the message it has becomes even more powerful. If you can – get yourself a copy. It’ll be worth your time.

Rating: 5 stars.

Blood & Ink is available to buy now.

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

Will you be reading Blood & Ink? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Book Review: The Notting Hill Mystery by Charles Warren Adams

AD* | The Notting Hill Mystery was first published as an eight-part serial in Once A Week magazine in 1862, under the pseudonym Charles Felix. It’s credited as being the first ‘modern’ detective novel, a title which many wrongly believe belongs to Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, though in actual fact The Notting Hill Mystery predates Collins’ work by several years.

The story begins in London, where the wife of the ominous Baron R** dies after drinking a bottle of acid, apparently consumed while sleepwalking in her husband’s laboratory. It appears to be a tragic accident, or at least it does until insurance investigator Ralph Henderson discovers that the Baron had previously taken out numerous life insurance policies on his wife. Henderson investigates further, uncovering not just one, but three suspicious (and convenient) deaths.

The novel is presented through Henderson’s evidential findings - diary entries, letters, reports, interviews, maps… The Notting Hill Mystery is the first to display features of this kind, which would later become commonplace in detective and crime fiction from the 1920s onwards.

This is a new book blogging experience for me because I’ve only previously reviewed ARCs or newly released books. At over 150 years old, The Notting Hill Mystery is definitely not either of these. But a book is still a book regardless of when it was written, and once I realised that this review suddenly became a lot easier to write!

To start with this book reminded me a lot of The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. Obviously the language and writing style are similar because they were both written around the same time, but they both also omit the full surname of people they are talking about. I’m far from an expert on literature of this period, so I’m not sure if that was a common thing at the time, but it definitely jumped out at me in both books. To start with it’s a bit confusing, but once I got used to it I just started referring to the Baron as Baron R in my head anyway, rather than whatever his full name would have been. Plus the format of the two is also similar. As the name implies, The Diary of a Nobody is written in the format of a diary. The Notting Hill Mystery, as explained above, is told through evidence and Henderson’s findings. These are similar, and from what I gather, pretty revolutionary stylistic choices for the time.

The structure is very different and possibly even unique compared to other detective/crime fiction I’ve read. As it’s told through Henderson’s perspective layered over the facts, it comes across as very clinical in its approach. I know that sounds boring, but I actually really liked it. I also liked that parts were told from different witness’ perspectives because that made it sound much more like a real, genuine crime case rather than a work of fiction.

Some bits seemed to be fairly repetitive, but then it’s a fairly complicated plot so I suppose that makes sense. Plus certain elements would be repetitive if this were real life, with different witness statements covering the same points. You also have to remember that it was originally published as a serial, so the author would have had to regularly remind readers what had already happened.

It also took me quite a while to figure out what was actually going on. The beginning wasn’t difficult to understand, on the flipside it was actually pretty involving, but it just jumped straight in with loads of characters at once. That made me get a bit lost, but soon enough I managed to start figuring out what happened even before Henderson did. I’m not sure if that was intentional and the reader is supposed to know the twist already, but I did and it didn’t detract from the rest of the story for me.

It was nice to leave the ARCs and go back to the roots of modern fiction for a change. The Notting Hill Mystery was a good, involving read, and was definitely unique. I’m glad I got the chance to read it!

Rating: 3 stars.

The Notting Hill Mystery is available to buy now. 

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

This has got me thinking… Should I start reviewing older books and classics on TWG as well as newly released ones? Let me know your opinions in the comments!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Blog Tour: Baby Girl box set by Elle Klass

Baby Girl series box set by Elle Klass 

Tour hosted by Ashley's Addictive Book Promotions 
Box set release date: July 13th, 2015 
Find it on Amazon

Follow Cleo on her epic saga which begins when she is abandoned by her mom aged twelve. She has no other family which she is aware of, and in order to survive she leaves her home and lives on the streets. She meets interesting characters and gets into amusing predicaments all in the name of survival, such as jumping trains, being chased through the woods by a crazy man with a loaded shotgun and witnessing an unspeakable crime. After a few months on the streets she runs into another group of kids. Einstein is the oldest and the leader of the group, and they form a family of sorts. For survival and money they lean towards a life a crime which inevitably breaks up their family and sends Cleo and Einstein spiralling into their own adventure. Eventually they settle into a “normal” life, but the past can’t be hushed forever… 

Follow Cleo as she transforms into the glamorous Justine and falls into a life of unimaginable wealth when Didier, the owner of a hotel empire, is beguiled by her mysterious and naïve charms. Her life becomes one of luxury and fame beyond anything she could ever have imagined. But remnants of her past continue to haunt her and a new threat appears - is her latest peril related to her past or someone else’s? Someone who has become a large part of her new life...

Follow Cleo, who has once again changed her identity. This time she is Shanna Nu, an orange mop-headed homely girl, or so she tries to portray, as she travels to San Francisco seeking employment with the La Tige Detective Agency. La Tige, a hard man, lacking in social graces, manages to worm his way right into her heart. Finally entering adulthood, Cleo realises who she is inside. Through La Tige and a few other friends she finds that true affection is forcing her to desperately pursue the answers to the mystery surrounding her birth and biological family.

Cleo, masquerading as Shanna, is hot on the trail of learning her identity. After spending a lifetime living lies she now finds her biological family, and learns the truth about her birth. Why she was kidnapped at the hands of Perdy and why Slug hunted her down, killing her one true love.

Box set includes:
  • In the Beginning
  • Moonlighting is Paris
  • City by the Bay
  • Bite the Big Apple
Abandoned at 12, Baby Girl is forced to face the harsh realities of life and struggles to find her path. She forages for sustenance, steals from the wealthy, and sleeps in any dark hole she can find. A ‘family’ of sorts forms between her and a band of other youngsters. Together they fight for survival, friendship, and love, but that is only the beginning. Life throws her one curve ball after another until secrets are revealed. The search for her true origin begins and ends with the powerful truth.      
Author Bio 

Elle was born in Redwood City, California and spent her childhood growing up in the fabulous San Francisco Bay Area. She is an avid San Francisco 49ers fan. She has raised two beautiful daughters, and currently resides in Florida. For fun she reads, spends time at the beach, travels, and enjoys time with her friends and family. She is a night-owl, known to be a hermit during rainy days as she has a love for sun, and is mostly found poolside over the hot, humid summer months.

Have you read the Baby Girl books? Do you want to read them? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Book Review & Giveaway (CLOSED): Clariel by Garth Nix

AD* | Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. And in Belisaere she is forced to follow the plans, plots and demands of everyone, from her parents to her maid, to the sinister Guildmaster Kilp. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. It seems too that the city itself is descending into chaos, as the ancient rules binding Abhorsen, King and Clayr appear to be disintegrating.

With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her - and it is herself she must question most of all.

I’ll be honest – Clariel is the first Garth Nix book I’ve read. Yes, I know that’s surprising given my love for fantasy and the popularity of the series, but at least I’ve read one now, right?

Given that, unsurprisingly it took me a while to get into the book as I had no background knowledge of the series. But now, you’ll be pleased to know, I’m definitely interested in reading the other books in the series – they’re already on my to-read list!

However, Clariel was definitely a slow starter. The middle was the best bit, because the plot had been established and we were getting to know the characters more. Surprisingly, my favourite part was Clariel’s first day at The Academy with the tea ceremony and the introduction to the other students. I also felt the end was a bit rushed. Too much happened too fast, and as a result the book didn’t have the most satisfactory ending. However, I did like the framework of both starting and ending with Marral. This gave the book a nice feel – I’m a sucker for a neat framework like that.

Much as I hate to say it, in places it reminded me of Game of Thrones. That’s not just because they’re both in a similar fantasy genre, but also because of the plot threads. Similar to George R.R. Martin’s writing, at points certain aspects of the plot are just left hanging or not fully resolved. Without giving away spoilers, what happened to the rest of the Academy students? And that event in the middle of the book definitely draws comparisons to the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones.

The characters were probably the best bit of the book, alongside the world-building. A good fantasy world should be involving and feel as lifelike as possible within the confines of the story, which Garth Nix does brilliantly. It was complex, especially for YA, but once I got the hang of all the characters, places and ideas I did really enjoy it.

However, the main characters seemed to have a habit of annoying me. Again trying to avoid spoilers, we all knew nothing good would come out of Clariel being in contact with free magic creatures, yet of course she goes and does it anyway. I also wondered why she was so quick to befriend Mogget when she’d only just met him. Thinking about it, there was a lot of characters making stupid decisions, but then I suppose that just makes it more lifelike because everyone has motivation to achieve their goals. On a side note, Bel was by far my favourite character!

Reading back over this review, it sounds pretty negative. I should add that I wrote the notes for the review as soon as I’d finished reading the book, but now I’m actually writing the review my opinions have shifted. Having had time to reflect on it, I think I enjoyed Clariel more than I originally thought.

I did enjoy reading Clariel (especially the middle section) though I suppose if I’d have read the rest of the series previously it would perhaps have made more sense to start with as I wouldn’t have been going in blind. But regardless it’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re a fan of YA or fantasy, and it’s an essential read if you’re already a Garth Nix fan!

Rating: 4 stars.

So it’s just as well I’ve got another copy to give away to one lucky reader, thanks to the lovely people at Hot Key Books. If you’d like to win yourself a copy, just enter via the Rafflecopter widget below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Terms and conditions:
1. Giveaway closes on 26th July 2015 at 11.59pm (GMT).
2. The prize consists of one paperback copy of Clariel by Garth Nix.
3. Upon confirmation of the winner's address, the prize will be posted to the winner by Hot Key Books, 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.

If you don't want to risk your chances in the giveaway, Clariel is available to buy now.

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

Are you a fan of Garth Nix? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Interview: Henry Maybury

Henry Maybury is a singer/songwriter who travels around the UK visiting schools and prisons to share his music and educational story. He says his aim in life is to help others through music and the Lost Days campaign, which he set up to help those struggling with addiction.

This week Henry took time out of his schedule to chat to me about his music and the campaign.

How did you first become interested in music?

I’ve been interested in music since I did my first musical at 6 years old. But rugby took over my life, especially when I was playing for my local club, my county and school. But when I was 14 I got struck down with arthritis and rugby started to fade out of my life, so music became bigger than ever.

Who are your influences?

I’m a massive fan of Robbie Williams and I’ve been listening to his songs from a very young age - I used to sing along to his CD’s when I was in my early teens. But the biggest influence in my life is rugby player Jonny Wilkinson. I just credit his determination, his work ethic and how he’s such a good role model to the younger generation.

What’s your favourite song?

That’s a tough question! There are so many great songs out there, but I do love listening to ‘Little Things’ by One Direction.

What music are you listening to at the moment?

At the moment I’m listening to some Ed Sheeran, and I just watched McBusted and One Direction live in Cardiff and they were amazing!

Do you have a favourite lyric?

One of my favourite lyrics is by the legend Eric Clapton, from his song ‘Tears in Heaven’ - "Time can bring you down, time can bend your knees."

Describe your music in 3 words.

Powerful, meaningful, educational.

Which of your songs is your favourite?

I think 'Great TV' is one of my favourite songs just because I was testing myself to see how quickly I could write a song. I wrote it in ten minutes, whilst watching the end of the X Factor. When I released the song on YouTube and submitted it to BBC Introducing, it was played nationally a week later.

How do you get inspiration?

My inspiration usually comes from things that have happened in my life. Music is like therapy for me - whenever I feel down I put pen to paper.

What are your interests outside of music?

I’m a massive rugby fan and love to follow the sport. I’m especially looking forward to the rugby world cup in England this year. I also love acting and would love to think in the future I could possibly do some work in the acting world.

What would you say was the best moment of your career so far?

It’s been an amazing journey so far and it’s really tough to choose one thing, but I would have to say performing at Castlefield Arena in Manchester in front of five thousand people.

Tell us about the Lost Days campaign.

Basically I’m hoping to raise as much money as possible for addiction charities globally, via the sale of my debut single ‘Lost Days’. The song was written for my brother Tom, who died in 2013 aged just 29 as a result of alcohol addiction. I wrote it to show the impact his addiction had on both himself and the family.

I started the Lost Days Charitable Trust with my mum and now have a committee of leaders and influencers involved, one being John Kelly, the first professor for addiction at Harvard University. My mum, the committee and I all decide which addiction and recovery charities globally will benefit the most from the money.

What made you decide to start the campaign?

I decided to start the Lost Days campaign because I hope to help those fighting addiction but also those living with addiction in their families. I also hope to raise awareness about the potential dangers of alcohol and educate the younger generation as I don't want anyone to follow in the same footsteps as my brother. 

Do you have any upcoming shows or tours?

I’m currently doing a Prison Tour around the UK, where I go into prisons, share my story, show the music videos and perform. In September I’ll start visiting schools again around the UK. Also my song 'You're Beautiful' is being used for the soundtrack of a play which is going to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

Henry's new single 'You're Beautiful' is out now. The song has another powerful music video, featuring the legendary actor John Challis (Boycie from Only Fools and Horses) and Falklands war hero Simon Weston OBE.

Stay in the loop and continue the journey with Henry by following him on Twitter or Instagram.

Are you a fan of Henry Maybury? Let me know in the comments below!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Review: Snapfish Summer Gifts

Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to review some of the lovely products from I decided to go with the theme of summer for my gifts, seeing as we're in the middle of a heatwave and the holidays are just around the corner!

Snapfish is an online photo service, offering not only prints but also photo-related products and gifts - everything from photo books to cards to wall art. They're well-established across the world - Snapfish UK was voted 'best overall printing service' by The Gadget Show, and their photo calendar was voted a Which? Best Buy in 2009.

The best thing about Snapfish for me is how easy it is to create unique, personalised products and gifts. With Snapfish you can let your creativity run wild, using almost anything for inspiration. You don't just have to use digital photos in Snapfish projects - you can use scans of pre-digital photos, drawings, letters, quotes... The list goes on. Basically - whatever your creative vision, the Snapfish team will do their best to make it come to life.

So with that much choice, which products did I choose?

After much deliberation, I eventually opted for a photo book and a photo panel. Plus, since it was my first order with Snapfish I got 20 regular photo prints for free. Even better!

Photo Panel

Around the time I was ordering, it was Father's Day. This gave me an idea - why not create a gift for my dad using Snapfish? I decided on the photo panel because I thought it would be perfect for him to take to work and put on his desk, to remind him of family and holidays while he's working.

When it arrived (very promptly, I should add) I was impressed. The panel was good quality, with a nice finish to the photo. The only thing I would say is that it came out a bit darker than the original. I'm not sure if that's due to the method of printing or anything, but regardless it doesn't detract from the quality of the gift. Needless to say, my dad was very happy with it!

Photo Book

I'll be honest, creating the photo book was the part I was most looking forward to. I chose my theme (summer), decided on my product, and set to creating my photo book. There are loads of inspiration and ideas on the website for you to peruse, but I decided to use my imagination and come up with my photo book on my own.

The part that took the longest was deciding which photos to use. I'm one of those people that takes a camera (or at least my phone) everywhere - and I definitely take a lot of photos. It was lucky I could only use photos taken in the summer, because if I hadn't had the theme I probably would have been choosing photos all day! In the end I decided to use photos only from the summers of 2010-2014. That way I could include more photos from individual holidays and events from those four years, rather than trying to cram too much in.

Next came the arrangement of the photos and actually putting together my photo book. The first time I did it, I'd literally just finished and was just about to submit it when the website crashed and lost my afternoon's work. I'll admit, that was more than a little frustrating, but the second time the process went smoothly without any glitches!

I chose the watercolour backgrounds in various colours (I tried to choose colours which complemented the main colours of the photos on each page) but elected not to include captions. I also liked the ease of choosing individual designs for each page, and the range of photo patterns and frames was also really good.

In the end, this is the book I ended up with.

I'm really happy with the quality of the book as a whole and the individual photos. I had no issues like the photo panel coming out darker, as all the photos printed perfectly. I purposely included a few lower-res photos (which the photo book builder points out to you) to see how well they printed, but they all printed so well I can't tell the difference between them!

I'm happy with both products, though I'd definitely recommend the photo book the most. So next time you're looking for a unique gift, try a photo book from Snapfish - I don't think you'll be disappointed!

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