Review of The Dandelion Years by Erica James

Published: 26th February 2015
Publisher: Orion
Pages: 416

Blurb: 

Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl. A rambling pink cottage on the edge of the Suffolk village of Melbury Green, its enchanting garden provided a fairy-tale playground of seclusion, a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.

Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and as a book restorer devotes her days tending to the broken, battered books that find their way to her, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages. When she discovers a notebook carefully concealed in an old Bible – and realising someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own – Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love…

Review:

Thank you to Orion for kindly sending me a review copy.

Saskia lives with her Father (Ralph) and her two Grandfathers (Oliver and Harvey). The opening chapter sees Saskia waking up on her 32rd birthday, still living at home, still as happy and content as ever. Readers learn very early on that all four main characters have suffered three great losses which can never be forgotten but are always remembered on special days with a glass of champagne. Due to her sad circumstances, Saskia’s family is extremely close and I really liked that aspect as I knew it would continue throughout. Her personality was unique and she shone rather brightly until the very end.

“More often than not, she preferred the company of a room full of books to a room full of people.”

When the plot moved into Ralph’s point of view, I was particularly pleased as it was a move away from the obvious (a love interest and Saskia only telling the story). I really enjoyed hearing from the Father and the two Grandfathers throughout as it was rather interesting to hear from different generations. As other characters are brought into the narrative, it is clear that the theme of old and young played a very big part throughout and seeing the relationships was a sheer joy.

“It was all about routine and tradition at Ashcombe.”

I hadn’t given the title much thought but within ten per cent or so of the book, we were introduced to The Dandelion Years. I hadn’t read the blurb (as I had a proof NetGalley copy) and therefore, I was just able to sit back and allow the notebook to tell me all about World War II.

“…she had to keep a tight hold of her heart to keep it safe from being hurt.”

Erica managed to convey all the characters voices very well despite the narrative being told in third person (he/she) rather than in first (I, me). The plot itself was rather dense, full to the brim with description and a large range of emotion within every single chapter. I really enjoyed how family came first in the plot as it’s not always like that when there is a love interest. Saskia was a wonderfully sweet main character who was a pleasure to read about. A book like this is fantastic to read over a weekend break away.

Twitter: @TheEricaJames

 

February Book Haul

2015BookHaul

Books From Publication Houses

IMG_3937

Summer At Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan via. Little Brown
Creature Comforts by Trisha Ashley via. Avon
Pretty Thing by Jennifer Nadel via. Little Brown

IMG_3939

The next two sets of books were all sent from Orion as part as their Valentines Package
and the three above will be donated to Cancer Research so thank you Lucy!

Shades of Jamie Dornan by Jo Berry
That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay (Already Reviewed)
Ridley Road by Jo Bloom

IMG_3941

Wild Oats by Veronica Henry
The Affairs Of Others by Amy Grace Loyd

IMG_4123

The Glam Guide by Fleur De Force via. Headline
The Life Intended
 by Kristin Harmel via. Quercus

Books I’ve Purchased

IMG_3946

That’s Not My Tiger by Fiona Watt & Rachel Wells via. Amazon
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury via. Amazon
– My youngest nephew is turning 1 in March so these are his birthday books which I’m certain he’ll enjoy..

PicMonkey Collage

Second Life by SJ Watson via. Waterstones (Gift Card)
– I met SJ in mid February and as a big fan of this book,
I couldn’t pass on buying a hardback copy

January & February Favourites

tumblr_ltsby5usFb1qb1us9o1_500

I want to break the blogger norm. Instead of posting a Monthly Favourites at the end of each month, I’m going to post one every two months; February, April, June, August, October and finally December (as well as a big Yearly Favourites as I’m a sucker for those!)…

My blogging friend Katy (www.littlemisskaty.co.uk) has a regular post every single Monday (without fail) and it’s all about 10 things which she’s loved that previous week – these range from dates with her boyfriend to events to finding a new cafe which do incredible pancakes. I’ve taken some inspiration from Katy *credit is well deserved* and decided to do the same *kind of, not really* and post 10 things (in no particular order) which I’ve enjoyed about the past two months.

Let’s get crackin’…

1. Seeing Jessie J

IMG_3341

I won’t go into much detail about how utterly magnificent she was (and she certainly was) as I have done a blog post. What I will say is that after seeing Jessie in 2011, I didn’t think her voice could improve, but two more albums later, she certainly has. Showcasing her hits such as Masterpiece (my absolute favourite!), Price Tag, Sweet Talker and Bang Bang, it felt more like one big party than a concert.

Jessie J 

2. Meeting New Bloggers

IMG_3511

Being in the North West of the UK is sometimes a pain. London has so much more to offer than Liverpool or Manchester – especially when it comes to meeting other bloggers. But when I was invited to The Body Shop Event in late January (again, blog link below), I found myself talking to other bloggers over burgers, constantly laughing and having one of the easiest nights of my life. I say easy because it was so nice to just relax around new people, people who I felt as if I’d known for years. As well as the event, myself and three other bloggers met one Saturday in February for afternoon tea – as you can imagine, I had a whale of a time.

The Body Shop Event
Afternoon Tea

3. Gripping Reads

PicMonkey Collage

I’ve been running a book blog for almost three years now and I really enjoy it. Being a book reviewer means that when you’ve got a following behind you, you’re given the incredible opportunity of reviewing some books which won’t see a publication date for a couple of weeks, even months if you’re super lucky. In terms of books which I’ve loved this past two months, I have three; The Girl On The Train, Second Life and Thoughtful; three very addictive books, all for very different reasons.

The Girl On The Train
Second Life
Thoughtful

4. Make Up Academy Palette

MUA_PAL(3)

Since adding beauty to my blog, I’ve started spending a lot more time browsing in Boots and Superdrug. I’ve enjoyed a couple of makeup items these past few months but nothing compares to the Heaven & Earth eye shadow palette. With beautiful individual names for the colours, these have done wonders to my eyelids. I’m a brunette with brown eyes so the natural look works best on me, but with a added glitter shadow called Babylon, it gives my eyes an extra boost and sparkle.

5. Pancakes

IMG_3933

February is home to the best day – Pancake Day aka Shrove Tuesday. Since I went to Orlando in 2013, I’ve become a fan of the delicious treat and I’ve worked out that I much prefer them American style to the little flimsy ones we have here in the UK. Add rashes on bacon and a touch of maple syrup for sheer perfection. I made these with my Grandad and well, there weren’t as good as the ones I had in Orlando – let’s just keep it at that. So instead, I opted for a healthy version of the British ones.

How To; Make American Pancakes

6. Little People

IMG_4067

How precious is this snapshot of my youngest nephew (Ben) snoozing on me? While his mum was getting ready for the day after we took my oldest nephew (Ollie)  to nursery, Ben fell asleep whilst I watching TOWIE. He snuggled right into me and even expressed a few snores. TOO CUTE. MUST NOT SQUEEZE. He also took two steps as well. His 1st birthday will feature in my next favourites.

7. Candles

IMG_3209

The light evenings have slowly begun crawling in and despite that meaning more time to take blog pictures, it also means that candles don’t really glow as well as they do in Winter. Recently, I’ve been lighting two – my FCUK one which is just divine, it was in a big pamper box which I bought from Boots and the other is a Paris one (no scent) from ASDA which should have been £7 but I spotted it in the sale for £2. They just make a room feel that little bit cosier and they’re lovely to have on in the background.

FCUK Pamper Kit
How To Have A Solo Pamper Evening

8. Blog Improvements

el

I’ve taken very good care of my blog over the past few years; it’s seen a lot of changes, a lot of posts and various pages. Since Blogmas, I decided to add Beauty & Lifestyle into the mix. Now that I’m volunteering at a school four days a week, I don’t have an awful lot of time to read and review books (but I still do!), so having two other aspects on my blog means that YOU don’t miss out. It also gives me a chance to make more of my life, try new products and take plenty more pictures.

Beauty & Lifestyle

9. Meeting A Best Selling Author

IMG_3912

In mid February, Katie and I headed into Liverpool where we met the author of Before I Go To Sleep and Second Life, S.J. Watson. He very kindly signed my copy of Second Life which I just adored (and I’m still in shock over!)… Naturally, that meant Katie and I could have a nosy in a few shops afterwards so no complaints from us. Free events at Waterstones are a bonus when you want to meet an author whose work you’ve admired, but also paying a couple of pound to sit in on a Q&A is also a win!

10. #HarryPotterBookNight

hp

If you can’t already tell by my blog header, I’m (kind of) obsessed with Harry Potter and if you know me very well, you’ll be able to smell the sarcasm from the words kind of! On the 5th February, everyone around the world came together to celebrate the magic that is Harry Potter. I curled up all day and reread my favourite book; The Prisoner Of Azkaban and it was sheer bliss. Same again next year? Count me in!

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment. There are many more to come!

What have you been enjoying these past two months? Let me know in the comments below!

EL xx

Review of How To Fly With Broken Wings by Jane Elson

Published: 5th March 2015
Publisher: Hodder Children
Pages: 304

Blurb:

Twelve-year-old Willem has Aspergers Syndrome and two main aims in life: to fly and to make at least two friends of his own age. But all the other boys from the Beckham Estate do is make him jump off things. First his desk – and now the wall. As his toes teeter on the edge, Sasha Bradley gives him a tiny little wink. Might she become his friend. Bullied by Finn and his gang the Beckham Estate Boyz, Willem has no choice but to jump. As he flies through the air he flaps his arms, wishing he could fly and escape into the clouds. Instead he comes crashing down and breaks his ankle. Sasha, angry with herself for not stopping Finn and his Boyz, is determined to put things right. And soon, while the gangs riot on their estate, Willem and Sasha form an unlikely friendship. Because they share a secret. Sasha longs to fly too. And when Magic Man Archie arrives with stories of war-flying spitfires, he will change the lives of the kids on the Beckham Estate for ever. And perhaps find a way for Willem and Sasha to fly…

Review:

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for kindly sending me a review copy.

A young boy; Willem Edward Smith (aged 12) pretends he can fly and nobody knows, until he is forced by the school bully to jump off a wall. I thought the opening was really strong and shows how the victim as well as the bully feels in that type of situation. I read the book knowing nothing about the plot or that Willem has Aspergers Syndrome (fascination with intense interests).

“My dad will ban you from my life for the sixth time this year.”

I really liked that Jane began the first two opening chapters with very similar sentences. You must do what Finn says or you’re dead. It is clear from the beginning that Willem and Sasha have more in common than they think but for now, only Sasha knows it until she’s ready to talk. Throughout the duration of the plot, Jane made sure that time was written really well and I thought she did a brilliant job as very quickly, the narrative changes from a school to hospital to things getting out of hand.

“I do not think the riot people wanted to read books.”

I was interested to see how the plot would change as well as certain characters – would they remain the same or opt for a better outcome in life? It was ironic that the very first sentence appeared at the end, but not how you would expect it to and I really liked that. Jane’s writing style is unique and I think people will enjoy this book, especially over a weekend.

“Some things are more important than winning cups and maths tests.”

Twitter: @JJELSON35

Having Internet Friends

Hi everyone!

We’ve all heard the saying “don’t meet up with any one from the Internet,” right? In reality, it can be quite dangerous, but in my reality, it’s been really nice and I’ve certainly made friends for life.

My first experience of having an Internet Friend was way back in 2005 when Shayne Ward won the X Factor and on his website, there was a forum. On that forum, I met a girl called Amie-Rae who to this day, I’m still very good friends with. As well as Shayne, we talk about personal issues as well as our joint love for Jessie J. We planned to meet in September 2012 when I visited the Harry Potter Studio Tour, but due to her other half making plans, we sadly couldn’t go through it with. Next time, I’m in London – I’ll be seeing her!

I was kindly invited to a blogger event at the end of January which you may/may not have seen, but I met up with some very funny beauty bloggers! We all had a wonderful evening, bonded over discussions of Pretty Little Liars, our big meet up in March and of course – make up!

IMG_3511

IMG_3500

photo

PicMonkey Collage

My experience of having friends on the Internet and meeting them in real life has been really lovely – watch me jinx it now.. Ha! I’m certain more times will come with these lovely bunch of people including this Sunday so stay tuned for that post.

How has your experience been? Let me know in the comments below.

EL xx

Review of I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Published: 29th January 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children
Pages: 288

Blurb:

I Was Here follows eighteen-year-old Cody Reynolds in the months following her best friend’s shocking suicide. As Cody numbly searches for answers as to why Meg took her own life, she begins a journey of self-discovery which takes her to a terrifying precipice, and forces her to question not only her relationship with the Meg she thought she knew, but her own understanding of life, love, death and forgiveness.

Review:

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for kindly sending me a review copy.

The narrative begins with an email from Meg to Cody; informing her she’s gone and it’s too late. The pace of the book moves very quickly into the funeral process so readers are never really given a chance to see how Cody reacted to the news. When Cody talks of how she didn’t want to visit Meg in Seattle; my initial thought was of how they weren’t really best friends and if they were, they’d want to visit one another as much as possible.

“I’ll be home for dinner. Not that there’ll be dinner.”

The guitar playing, handsome singing young man Ben was a great addition to the plot. Meg was the only thing they had in common at the beginning but as the plot grew, they opened up and it was really sweet to see their friendship form. When they team up to solve the mystery of Meg’s death, the plot really came alive. Alongside the jigsaw solving plot, there is an underline of a difficult subplot regarding her poor excuse of a mother – would this plot be solved as well? Would Cody’s mother feel anything when her child was put in danger?

“It’s almost like she’s protecting someone.” 

As the plot continues, it’s Meg’s laptop which holds the information which Cody is very desperate to have. Despite not knowing what any character looked like (apart from the small description very late on), the descriptive words from Gayle were enough for me to build my own imagery of them.

“When you die, you’re not a person anymore and privacy kind of becomes a moot point.”

Gayle’s writing style is simple, straight forward and easy to get caught up in. Within a couple of hours, seventy per cent of the book had vanished before my eyes – I wasn’t hooked, but I was certainly interested in what would happen towards the end. I found that as the plot did come nearer the finishing line, the plot remained at the same pace; there was no real fight to discover the truth from any of the characters and that was a slight let down.

“That’s the difference between you and me: I learn from my mistakes.”

The ending of the plot revealed the truth; a piece of information which would have saved Cody from making a big trip and putting her own life in danger. Seriously? Overall, I liked the narrative but the ending was a big let down for me. There was no conclusion, no real fight, no passion in hunting out the truth and that’s a real shame because it could have been a truly magnificent book.

Twitter: @gayleforman

Taking Pictures: Canon vs. iPhone

vs

Hi everyone!

Today’s post is all about quality pictures – does an iPhone do the job or is it worth investing in a proper camera?

Since adding Beauty & Lifestyle to my blog, I’ve had to take a lot more photographs than I usually would. When I attended The Body Shop Event at the end of January, only two bloggers (myself and Katy) were using their iPhones… Everyone else looked like professionals with their big cameras. With that in mind, I teamed up with my life-long friend Laura and together, we took some pictures with my iPhone and her Canon camera. I will link her Instagram below because it is AMAZING!

Disclaimer: None of these photographs have been edited – I’ve just simply put them into a collage with a black frame around the edge. These are our own products.

So, which is which?

iphoneleft

flower

book

coconut

owl

TREE

leaves

Did you guess correctly?

The iPhone pictures are ALL on the left and the Canon ones are, of course, on the right!

Laura’s Instagram: lhounslea

EL xx

Q&A with Beth Reekles

Beth Reekles – the name rings a bell, right? She’s the girl who penned her first novel when she was fifteen! Not only that but once she had uploaded it to the well known writing site Wattpad, she found herself to have over nineteen million people reading it. How insane? I’m lucky enough to sit down with the beloved author to talk about all things Young Adult…

Q. First of all, your success is HUGE! How did you feel when your Wattpad stories where reaching so many people?
A. It was kind of hard to believe! Writing was always something I’d just done for fun, but I didn’t think I was very good at it. When I saw how much people loved my book on Wattpad though, it was overwhelming! I owe my Wattpad readers a lot for their support, it was invaluable.

Q. You’ve been named as The Dickens Of The iPad Generation which quite possibly one the best comments an author can receive. When you began writing, did you ever imagine your stories would turn into all of this?
A. I was definitely pleased to be referred to with that title, haha! I honestly never expected this much to come of my writing. I only uploaded to Wattpad in the first place because I thought, ‘Why not?’ but I didn’t even expect ten readers, let alone the millions of hits I had! Sometimes I still find it hard to believe.

Q. You’ve been on a panel about writing sex in Young Adult Fiction. What are your overall views on this?
A. I think it’s really important that we do have an honest representation of sex in YA – it’s not like teenagers don’t have sex, and when you get to a certain age you start to become curious about it. You want honest answers rather than glorified erotica. Personally, I was aware that I didn’t feel comfortable writing anything explicit, and was also aware that had a younger teenage audience as well on Wattpad, who might not have wanted that sort of content anyway.

Q. Your three books; The Kissing Booth, Rolling Dice and Out Of Tune are flying high on Amazon with plenty of reviews. Your latest book came out last summer, what can readers expect from you this year?
A. I’ve got a short story coming out this March, actually! It’s called Cwtch Me If You Can and is being published on March 16th as part of the Quick Reads scheme. Having published all three books of my three-book contract with Random House, I signed with literary agent Clare Wallace from Darley Anderson last summer and am trying to get plenty of writing done alongside university this year!

Q. With your Twitter following of 4,560 (and counting) and the honouree blue tick – do you ever feel pressured to keep your writing going after the success you’ve had so far?
A. I’m trying to keep writing as a hobby, rather than hard work. It’s always been something I’ve loved and been passionate about so I don’t want it to become too stressful. Of course sometimes when I’m writing I think there are expectations now – but I try and forget about that and concentrate on writing the story I want to write.

Q. With how you’ve been portrayed as the Dickens of our generation, would you use your status in the literary world to write about serious matters i.e. panic attacks, depression etc?
A. I’d really like to tackle some more serious issues in my writing, but I’d want to make sure I was absolutely confident about these issues before writing about them. Illnesses like depression and anxiety deserve to be portrayed properly – I wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to write about them and represent them all wrong. But I’d like to tackle them at some point in the future.

Twitter: @Reekles

Review of Thoughtful by S.C. Stephens

Published: 24th February 2015
Publisher:
Little Brown
Pages: 560

Blurb:

The only place Kellan has ever felt at home is on stage. Gripping his guitar in a darkened bar, he can forget his painful past. These days his life revolves around his music and his band mates, and that’s the way he likes it. And then one woman changes everything…

Kiera is the kind of girl Kellan has no business wanting – she’s smart, sweet, and dating his best friend. Certain he could never be worthy of her love, he hides his growing attraction… Until Kiera’s own tormented heart hints that his feelings might not be one-sided. Now, no matter the consequences, Kellan is sure of one thing: he won’t let Kiera go without a fight.

Review:

Thank you to Little Brown for kindly sending me a review copy. This is Kellan’s side of the first book, Thoughtless. After reading all three of the other books, I was intrigued to see how this one would pan out…

Kellan is much more than a pretty face and a man with a musical talent; he’s damaged and not in the way which you’d expect. His flashbacks continue throughout the entire plot and some aren’t easy to read about. With strong themes of violence, pain, brotherhood and rejection, it really gives the readers (old and new) a chance to see how Kellan has become the man he is today.

“He’d stepped in front of the hit for me, taken any pain..” 

The connection between Kellan and Kiera is instant and I’m pretty sure everyone can feel it. We already know how Kiera feels from Thoughtless, but if you’re a fan of love triangles constantly going back-and-forth, you’ll love this one! When they’re together, the book excels with sheer brilliance and when they’re apart, a dark cloud forms. I found myself wanting them to be together (despite already knowing the outcome) and when things moved forward, you just know they’ll eventually take ten steps back.

“I had Kiera on the brain twentyfour/seven.”

S.C. Stephens has a gift; one which will leave you completely addicted to her books. She has created a very deep main character within Kellan and that is an aspect which I really admire as she’s made him to be three-dimensional rather than all about the good looks. What allowed me to enjoy Kellan as a character was the use of his thoughts (in italics) as they give readers more of an idea who he truly is and what he really wants out of life.

The characters are all family to one another; they have one another’s backs and that really gave the narrative an extra boost. You’re surrounded by these characters who you may/may not have met before and for me, it was as if I were coming home.

“I saw the way she cared about me in her shy smile.”

The back and forth motion of the love triangle was intense and at first, I wasn’t sure how it would pan out with it being from Kellan’s point of view, but as expected – it was brilliant! The saucy scenes were very well described and it brought you closer to knowing what Kellan wanted. As much as I did love this book, I did prefer Kiera’s point of view in Thoughtless; perhaps it’s because it was a fresh story then and now, I knew what was happening? Either way, I highly, highly recommend and if you read this before Kiera’s – let me know what you think!

Twitter: @SC_Stephens_

 

Review of That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay

Published: 10th February 2015
Publisher: Orion
Pages: 240

Blurb:

When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. Their friendship blossoms against the backdrop of Jackson’s colorful, but ultimately unsatisfying, love-life and Eve’s tense relationship with her soon-to-be married daughter. As each of them offers, from behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris–a meeting that Eve fears can never happen.

Review:

Thank you to Orion for kindly sending me a review copy.

The narrative begins with a simple, kind gesture from Eve to Jackson, which doesn’t go unnoticed and soon enough, their friendship begins. The chapters aren’t divided between the two main characters and in actual fact, we hear from them both within the same chapters which is an aspect which I really enjoyed. Back-to-back thoughts sometimes work better than waiting until a fresh chapter to hear what the other character thinks. Straight away, Deborah gave off a strong sense of comfort and it instantly reminded me of It’s Complicated with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

The relationship between Eve and her daughter, Izzy was particularly awkward. Most of their scenes together gave me the impression that Eve continuously had to walk on egg shells around Izzy which obviously isn’t the best form of a mother/daughter relationship. I did hope that Deborah would give them a back story as to why they’re like this with one another in order for the reader to understand and slowly, yet surely, the pieces were put together.

“Like a bird, whose heart gives out before the cat has killed it.”

The general pace of the plot was a little bit slower than I had expected and I hoped that if the narrative moved to Paris, that it would hopefully pick up a little bit. I thought the overall idea of the book was a wonderful one and in my eyes, it was nice to read how two middle aged people could become friends over their love of cooking. Deborah’s writing style can be poetic at times which didn’t really work for me as a reader. I had hoped that I would find this to be a cute read as I love reading books based around cooking, but sadly, it simply wasn’t for me.

Twitter: @YourAuntLola