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5 reasons you should read ‘Carry On’ by Rainbow Rowell

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Carry On. Rainbow Rowell. Macmillan. October 2015.

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen.

That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.

Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.


I loved this book so much that I don’t know how to write about it without my review turning into a 1000-word-long squeal of joy, because SIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZ.

To save you the pain of reading an essay filled with my incoherent fangirling, I’m just going to give you 5 reasons why you should read this bloody marvellous book.

DISCLAIMER: You’ll now be treated to 5 essays instead of 1, and there may still be some incoherent fangirling… #sorrynotsorry


1. Carry On is an ode to fanfiction

If you’re a fan of Rainbow Rowell’s you’ll already know that Simon and his roommate Baz appear in her previous novel, Fangirl, as characters from the fictional ‘Simon Snow’ series the protagonist Cath writes fanfiction about.

In Fangirl, each chapter begins with an excerpt from either the canon Simon Snow series, or one of Cath’s fanfictions, including her longest and most popular story, ‘Carry On’. I loved following Simon and Baz’s subplot, as the hate-charged rivalry between them intensified, eventually turning into a totally different kind of relationship (well, at least, in Cath’s version of the story!)

Carry On, the novel, is naturally a million times more polished than actual fanfiction, but it reads like a celebration of it. It’s a mishmash of fantasy tropes (a lot of which are turned on their head rather nicely – more on that later!), and there’s a strong Harry Potter vibe, as the story takes place in a magical boarding school, and our protagonist Simon is the magical world’s ‘chosen one’, not unlike Mr. Potter himself. Despite the homage this story pays to HP, it is not HP fanfiction; the world-building and characters are original (essentially, this novel is Rainbow Rowell writing fanfiction about her own characters…) and I loved them all (a lot!) in their own right.

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Image via Giphy


2. Carry On has ALL THE NARRATORS

Instead of the limited worldview first-person narration usually gives us, in Carry On, ALL of the main characters take a turn at narration, so we get to see the world of Mages through six different sets of eyes.

My favourite narrator was our protagonist Simon, because he’s an extremely likeable character, frequently sarcastic, and is obsessed with eating scones (therefore deeply relatable to forever-hungry me!), but I also enjoyed hearing from Penelope Bunce, Simon’s best friend, who is bright, quick-witted, and constantly flouting school rules by sneaking into his room, despite her ‘model student’ status.

Of course, I also adored Baz, Simon’s crotchety vampire roommate, whose chapters were full of swagger and arrogance (but in the most loveable, inoffensive way, I promise).


3. Carry On twists those tropes right up

Carry On takes tired tropes like ‘The Chosen One’ and gives them a shake-up. Magic doesn’t come naturally to Simon. He’s super-powerful, but super-bad at controlling his power, almost always causing some kind of accidental explosion whenever he attempts a spell. Basically he sucks at being The Chosen One.

Then we have our villain, ‘The Insidious Humdrum’ (isn’t that just the best bad-guy name though?!) He looks exactly like a younger version of Simon, and the way he operates is to drain magic right out of the air, leaving holes in the magical atmosphere where no spell will work, and where those with power may lose it all.

He’s not your average villain, because there’s a real air of mystery about him, unlike the blatantly obvious baddies of every other fantasy novel, whose power-lust is written all over their faces, and apparent in every move they make. What does The Humdrum want? Where did he even come from, for that matter? This story kept me guessing, and I wasn’t even close with my theory!


4. Carry On takes a fresh and funny look at magic

In the world of Mages, any words can be used to cast a spell, providing you’re waving your wand around AND connecting with those words and the ‘power’ they carry on that deep and mysterious level. Most of the spells the characters cast in the novel use clichéd little expressions, for example ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are!’ to make a lost item present itself, or ‘Hair of the dog!’ to cure a hangover. However, as ANYTHING goes where magic is concerned, we also get the odd ‘Scooby Dooby Doo, Where are you?’ (also a searching spell, obvs),  ‘Have a break, have a KitKat!’ (to, erm… break stuff…) and we finally find out where the name of the book comes from – ‘Carry oooon, carry on!’ – when the Mage (Headmaster at the Watford School of Magicks) casts himself a Bohemian-Rhapsody-based spell…

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Image via Giphy

That one really tickled me, even though it happens in the middle of a super-tense scene.


And finally…

5. Carry On has SIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZSIMONANDBAZ

I feel I’ve been very restrained waiting until the end of my review to talk about the romance between Simon Snow and Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch, but now I’m going to let it all out, because OMG IT WAS SO PERFECT! &8ahhh<3_!!squeee!!11

(The above sequence of letters and symbols was ironic, and in no way reflects my real reaction to this book… ahem…)

I have to admit that the romance is why I bought the book, and it ended up being my favourite thing about it (quelle surprise!)

We’re made to wait for it though! Baz is missing for the first 150 pages or so… Meanwhile, Simon is obsessively trying to find out what’s happened to him (totally oblivious to the fact that he’s going to so much effort because he cares about Baz, far more than he’s willing to admit!)

I loved that Simon was so convinced he hated Baz, yet devoted so much time to searching for him. When Baz finally makes his sweeping entrance into the dining hall half-way through the school term, offering no explanation as to where he’s been, the book really gets exciting, because you, like Simon, have been waiting for this moment a long, long time, and it all suddenly kicks up a notch.

Especially when Baz, not long introduced to us, casually reveals that while he was away…

“I let myself slip away… Just to stay sane. Just to get through it. And when I felt myself slipping too far, I held on to the one thing I’m always sure of – Blue eyes. Bronze curls. The fact that Simon Snow is the most powerful magician alive. That nothing can hurt him, not even me. That Simon Snow is alive. And I’m hopelessly in love with him.” 

Baz is pretty open about his feelings for Simon (at least, in his narration), but it takes Simon a lot longer to realise he feels the same way, so there’s lots of tension in the build-up (especially as Simon has considered Baz his nemesis/the bane of his existence – definitely not boyfriend material – for so long).

When they finally kiss for the first time, it was definitely a case of ALL THE FEELS (and I loathe that expression, so I don’t use it lightly here!)

I’m not sure I’ve ever fangirled so hard over a fictional relationship!

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Image via Tumblr


So, in conclusion… read this book, okay? I hope it puts as big a smile on your face as it did mine, and I hope you love it as much as I do.

Also, if you have read the book, you are most welcome to come over here and fangirl/fanboy with meeeee.

 

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The TBR Book Tag

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I was tagged to do this one (quite possibly a million years ago) by Maria @ Marwhal Reads and Ariana @ The Quirky Book Nerd! So sorry it has taken me so long!

Both of these ladies have brilliant blogs, which are well worth visiting, so please do check them out 🙂

Before I get started, another quick apology, because I am in what I believe is formally known as a BLOGGING SLUMP! 😥 Today’s post was supposed to be a review. In fact, I have a couple of books waiting to be reviewed, but I can’t articulate coherent thoughts about either of them right now, because the part of my brain that makes sentences is a melty puddle of end-of-a-long-week mush, and I am in need of ALL THE SLEEP. My review of Carry On by Rainbow Rowell will hopefully be ready by Monday, but I have never been this sleepy, so I can’t promise anything!

*** Anyway, on with the tag! ***


How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

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Image via Buzzfeed / Tumblr

I think the answer to this question would be that I don’t! My TBR pile (both physical and digital) is a sprawling mess which keeps on expanding. I have no idea how many books are on it (probably hundreds… thousands if you include all the books I can’t afford to buy!) I recently got myself a Goodreads account though, so I’m hoping that will help me become a bit more organised.


Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

I have a lot of print in my TBR, but I’d say there are more unread books on my Kindle. I prefer real books to-have-and-to-hold, but I don’t have enough space to buy everything in print. I also think e-books are less of a commitment – if something sounds like a quick, fun read, but I’m not 100% sure it’ll be a favourite for life, till-death-do-us-part kinda thing, I’d prefer to download it.


How do you determine which book from your TBR to read next?

I don’t really have much of a strategy beyond picking up whatever I’m in the mood for. Sometimes if I really get into something, I’ll read a string of similar books (e.g. this month, I have read nothing but M/M romance!) However, usually, if I’ve read a book in a particular genre, I’ll deliberately pick something completely different next time, so I don’t get bored.


A book that’s been on your TBR the longest?

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I bought this book several years ago, and I still haven’t managed to finish it. Every time I pick it up, I read the first chapter, but find I’m not in the mood for it. I don’t know why I can’t get into it – there’s nothing WRONG with it (and I know it’ll be worth it one day), it’s just I keep failing to get past the first chapter. What is wrong with ME?!


A book you recently added to your TBR?

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Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Technically I bought this book in August, but I only remembered I had it the other day, when I found it buried at the bottom of one of my precariously tall towers of books-that-won’t-fit-on-the-shelf. I picked this one up at the airport on my way to Italy, but ended up not reading it, because it’s not exactly a beachy-read, and billion-degree heat makes me too lethargic to read anyway. I might give it a go next month!


A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

Don’t get me wrong, I love me a beautiful book, but I tend to largely ignore covers – I’m more concerned with what’s inside.


A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

Let’s be honest, I’m never going to read the third 50 Shades of Grey book. I’m not even sure why I read the second one. Or the first.

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Image via Giphy / Tumblr

Also never going to finish A Game of Thrones. Too long. Too incesty. Too many characters. Sadly it just wasn’t for me… I tried!


An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

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How Hard Can Love Be? by Holly Bourne

Coming out in February, this is the second book in ‘The Normal Series’, which follows three girls – Evie, Amber and Lottie – who form a group called The Spinster Club to talk about feminist issues. I read the first book – Am I Normal Yet? earlier in the year and loved it! Book one is narrated by Evie (who is recovering from severe OCD), and the second book will be from Amber’s perspective. Holly’s writing is honest, funny and moving – can’t wait to read this!


A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Everyone in the book-blogging world seems to have read and loved this book. I had trouble getting into it for some reason, and I gave up a few chapters in. I’ve shelved it for the time being, but will give it another go one day, as I hate to abandon a book.


A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz

I think I’m cheating with this answer, as it’s not really on my TBR anymore – I just finished it! It was adorable and lovely and everything I was told it would be! ❤


A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

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A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I am so, so excited to read this book, I’m practically squealing!


How many books are in your Goodreads TBR shelf?

Only 15! I literally just got a Goodreads account, so no doubt I’ll be adding to it soon! There are 203 books on my Kindle Wishlist though… no idea when I’ll find the time to read all of those!


I tag the following lovely people:

***As always, no pressure if you’ve already done the tag/tags aren’t your thing/you are feeling as sleepy as I am right now and therefore can’t be bothered!)***

theorangutanlibrarian

thesheshe

Alex @ alextheshadowgirl

Mishi @ mytokyoblues

Ellie @ belleinfini

Luucy @ makingdaysbetter

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The Book Courtship Tag

Thank you to Erika @ Erika in Bookventureland for tagging me to do this one! You can check out her fabulous blog here.

The Book Courtship Tag was originally created by LovelyLikeLaura. I love the idea of this tag, as my love of books is bordering on romantic. ❤


Phase 1 – Initial Attraction: A book that you bought because of the cover?

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The Three by Sarah Lotz

I don’t feel particularly romantically towards this book, but I was initially drawn to it because of its striking cover! It’s a psychological thriller about the conspiracy theories which emerge when 4 planes crash at the same time in different parts of the world, and 3 children (who all start acting rather creepily in the aftermath) are the sole survivors. I really enjoyed it, however I was hoping for more answers than the ending gave me.


Phase 2 – First Impressions: A book that you got because of the summary?

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I bought One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis based on this blurb:

“An apparently happy marriage. A beautiful son. A lovely home.

So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life? How will she survive? And what is the date that looms, threatening to force her to confront her past?

No-one has ever guessed her secret. Will you?”

I was so determined to defeat this book and guess the secret! However, I didn’t work it out, and I’m glad; a good twist is an un-guessable twist, and this one completely floored me (breaking my heart in the process).


Phase 3 – Sweet Talk: A book with great writing?

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The way Manderley and its grounds are described is so vivid and atmospheric, you feel like you’ve spent time at the house, rather than simply read about it. I love Daphne du Maurier’s short stories too – a lot of them are dark and creepy, but in a subtle way; her writing makes the most ordinary things (for example an apple tree in the garden) seem sinister, and it’s just so good!


Phase 4 – First Date: A first book of a series which made you want to pick up the rest of the series?

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The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

I read the trilogy during my final year exams at uni, as a break from the more heavy literature I was revising. I finished all three within the space of a week (even though it wasn’t what I was supposed to be reading!) Dystopian YA is so addictive, it’s not hard to see why it’s basically taken over the world.


Phase 5 – Late Night Phone Calls: A book that kept you up all night?

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I stayed up all night reading Mockingjay. I desperately needed to know how the series ended! It’s not my favourite of the three (is it anyone’s?), but I think the amount of criticism it gets is unwarranted; I couldn’t stop reading (even though, as I’ve mentioned, I was totally meant to be revising at the time…)


Phase 6 – Always on my mind: A book you could not stop thinking about?

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Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (one of my favourite books of all time) affected me deeply (as I think it does everyone who reads it). This is a love story, but the overarching themes of racism and intolerance make this a powerful and devastating read. I remember reading this aged 13; it was the first book to make me think, and the first book to make me cry.


Phase 7 – Getting Physical: A book which you love the way it feels?

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I got this gorgeous cloth-bound edition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens a few Christmasses ago! It looks and feels beautiful… (ugh, I’m not normally someone who gets all touchy-feely about her books, and now I feel a bit creepy!)


Phase 8 – Meeting the parents: A book which you would recommend to your family and friends?

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The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend.

The Adrian Mole books are brilliant comfort reading – they’re light and funny, but still manage to be poignant and truthful in what they say about life and growing up. I think everyone will find something they relate to in these books.


Phase 9 – Thinking about the future: A book or series you know you will re-read many times in the future?

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I completely agree with Erika’s answer for this one; I will be re-reading the Harry Potter books for the rest of my life! I grew up with them, and hope to read them to my own children one day. I don’t think they’ll ever lose their magic.


Phase 10 – Share the love: Who do you tag?

I’ve got some award tags coming up in the next few weeks, and I’ll of course be nominating some lovely people for those, but today, I am feeling lazy, so I’m just sending lots of bookish love and hugs to you all… I’m tagging… everyone! xxx

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You can’t trust anyone in a psychological thriller… My review of ‘Things We Have in Common’ by Tasha Kavanagh

51WTUnJkghL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_Things We Have in Common. Tasha Kavanagh. Canongate Books. May 2015.

Yasmin would give anything to have a friend…

And do anything to keep one.

The first time I saw you, you were standing at the far end of the playing field. You were looking down at your brown straggly dog, but then you looked up, your mouth going slack as your eyes clocked her. Alice Taylor. I was no different. I used to catch myself gazing at the back of her head in class, at her silky fair hair swaying between her shoulder blades.

If you’d glanced just once across the field you’d have seen me standing in the middle on my own, looking straight at you, and you’d have gone back through the trees to the path quick, tugging your dog after you. You’d have known you’d given yourself away, even if only to me.

But you didn’t. You only had eyes for Alice.


Things We Have in Common was a gripping and unsettling psychological thriller. It’s not a fast-paced book, but it’s a fascinating look into the mind of a desperately lonely person, who I felt creeped-out by and sorry for in equal measure, and I was hooked from the beginning.

The story is narrated by 15-year-old Yasmin, an isolated, overweight girl, with no friends, who fantasises about Alice, a girl from her school, whom she believes is special (not like the other girls who bully Yasmin every day). Yasmin used to have friends, but after her dad passed away, she withdrew into herself, turning to food for comfort, and gradually, her friends turned away from her, leaving her completely alone. Now she has nobody, she passes her days eating chocolate hobnobs and making up stories in her head about the girl she so desperately wants to be friends with.

The novel opens with Yasmin noticing a man she perceives to be ‘watching’ Alice. Yasmin instantly becomes convinced that this man is plotting to kidnap Alice and hurt her, so she starts following Alice around everywhere in order to ‘protect’ her. However, Alice’s friends don’t see her behaviour in quite the same way. In fact, Yasmin spends most of the novel getting the word ‘stalker’ thrown at her, and it’s not entirely unjustified…

Yasmin quickly becomes deeply involved in her fantasy of ‘saving’ Alice from this man, to the extent that, in order to find out more about him, she deliberately tracks him down by stealing his dog (Bea), learning his address from Bea’s tag, and pretending to helpfully bring her back to him. After reluctantly letting Yasmin in, Samuel agrees to allow Yasmin to start taking Bea for walks, and this marks the beginning of a strange and uncomfortable friendship between Yasmin – a school-girl – and Samuel, the man she has already decided is a paedophile and would-be kidnapper. This relationship only grows more uncomfortable to read, as Alice really does go missing later in the novel, and Yasmin still does believe Samuel is responsible. Yet despite the terrible things she thinks he’s done, she doesn’t seem to be able to stay away from him.

I picked out this novel initially because I was intrigued by The Independent speculating it could become the next ‘Gone Girl success story’. I’m always wary when critics brand something TNGG (partly because, although I enjoyed the book, I don’t see it as the golden standard by which every other book in the psychological thriller genre should be measured, and partly because the comparison is used far too liberally… it’s almost as annoying as every single dystopian novel getting labelled ‘the new Hunger Games’….) However, I haven’t come across many YA novels which have been likened to Gone Girl, so I was curious to see whether the comparison was justified in this case.

I can definitely see some similarities. As with Gone Girl, the narrator of this novel is a deeply unreliable one. Yasmin’s narrative is awkward and dark and you can practically feel her breathing down your neck (which is pretty much how I felt reading Nick Dunne’s creepy descriptions of his wife’s head at the beginning of Gone Girl….) She definitely gives off a standing-too-close kind of vibe. The way Yasmin lives in a total fantasy land also gives her shades of GG’s Amy.

Yasmin gives us a blurred version of events, and we’re never quite sure which things are true and which things are merely what Yasmin desperately wishes were true. Has Samuel really taken Alice? Or is it all just part of Yasmin’s fantasy of ‘saving’ Alice from the man? Yasmin lies constantly… to her family, to her classmates… even to the police when Alice goes missing, and she neglects to inform them about the person she suspects took her, not to mention omits details from her account of her own whereabouts the night Alice disappeared. I was suspicious of Yasmin throughout, because her fascination with Alice definitely crossed the creepy line one too many times (for example, Yasmin likes to pick up things Alice has touched – her leftover chocolate bar wrapper, the hairband she drops in the changing room – and keeps them in a little Alice-obsession-box in her bedroom). The question of whether Yasmin is the one who’s really taken Alice was never far from my mind.

Despite the discomfort I felt reading Yasmin’s story, I also found myself empathising with her and liking her. There’s a heartbreaking scene where she visits her dad’s grave, and it really made me see her as a lost little girl; all she’s really looking for is the love and friendship nobody seems to want to give her. This book depicts the desperate lines a person might cross simply to put an end to their loneliness, which although disturbing, is also very, very sad.

I was gripped throughout this novel, and constantly questioning all of the characters, but I was a little disappointed with the ending. This was certainly no neat wrap-up. In fact, it didn’t feel like there was any kind of wrap-up at all; when I reached the last page on my Kindle, I was swiping the screen, expecting another chapter. We do get some answers, but they’re not explored in depth, and there’s no fall-out from the main twist. Plus, with the unreliable narration, I’m not even convinced the answers actually tell the whole story. I didn’t necessarily mind the ambiguity (I think ambiguity was the whole point of this book), but the ending did feel very abrupt, and I expected more depth to the resolution, even if there weren’t definite answers.

I’d urge you not to let what I’ve just said about the ending put you off, however, as this was still a great read. If you love psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, this book will be right up your street! It’s well-written, and the perfect blend of uncomfortable and creepy.

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Confessions of a Writer Tag

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I’ve been tagged by the lovely Aura @ Oxford Writers Lounge to do the Confessions of a Writer Tag! I’m by no means a published author, but I do love to write in my spare time, and with NaNoWriMo going on right now (which I’ve had to start a week late due to life getting in the way…) I thought I’d give this tag a go! Please check out Aura’s blog, and also her awesome book Secrets of Oxford, which is available on Amazon.

In case you were wondering, the photograph is of the beautiful antique miniature writing desk my boyfriend bought me for my birthday this year! The writing paper and quill (possibly the most pretentious purchase I’ve ever made, but whatevs) are from Scriptum, a magical little shop in Oxford full of old-timey writing goodies, which I keep forgetting the name of because I just want to call it Flourish and Blotts, tbh.


1) When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always wanted to do?

In primary school I loved writing stories, although apparently I wasn’t very imaginative, because I ended every single one of them with the same sentence; “And then, they all went to McDonalds.” If I ever finish writing a novel, I’m actually kind of tempted to wrap it up with a trip to McDonalds, in homage to little-kid me, and her authorly aspirations.


2) What genre do you write?

I haven’t finished a novel, but the short stories I write tend to be a blend of surreal/psychological thriller. I’ve posted a couple on this blog – The Crow and The Box – if you’re interested in checking them out!


3) Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

The novel I’m working on right now is a YA contemporary romance, and my main characters’ names are Calvin Rayes and Olly Branwell. I don’t have a title yet. Most other novels I’ve started have been dark and depressing, so I wanted to write something warm and uplifting for a change. I’m still in the planning stage right now.


4) What was the first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

I wrote this classic poem as a child:

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That’s copyright, y’all. No stealin’.


5) What’s the best part about writing?

Editing! I like polishing up my writing and making it sound better. I’m never happy with my first draft (but who is?!)


6) What is the worst part about writing?

The feeling of being blocked, staring at a blank page or screen and wondering how the hell you’re going to fill it with something that isn’t shit!


7) What’s the name of your favourite character and why? (This can be from another author or your own work. Book crushes are perfectly acceptable here as well.)

Bridget Jones! I love that she’s not just a humorous character, but also complex and full of contradictions; she’s constantly striving to be taken seriously, yet almost seems to enjoy playing the person everyone thinks of as a little bit ridiculous… she’s a proud feminist, yet desperately wants to find a man (and worries about whether this makes her less of a feminist). To me, she’s deeply relatable.

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Image via Giphy / Tumblr


8) How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)? How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

I struggle to write after a day at work, and I’m good for nothing when I first wake up in the morning! Weekends tend to be my most productive. I’m not good at writing in small scraps of time; I need a whole day to get into the flow of a story.


9) Did you go to college for writing? Or if you haven’t been to college yet, do you plan to?

I did an English Literature degree, but my final dissertation was in Creative Writing! I wrote a gothic retelling of the myth of Oedipus, from the perspective of the mother, set in 19th century England. If you want to read it, you’re very welcome, although it’s a bit long to post on here.


10) What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?

Spelling errors are the least forgivable, because that’s what spell-check is for!


11) What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?

Turn off your ‘inner editor’, and just write! (I am bloody awful at doing this, but it is good advice!)


12) What advice would you give another writer?

Plan before you write, and work out how your story is going to end! Every time I’ve tried to write without a clear plan, I’ve written thousands of words worth of waffle, before abandoning the story altogether.


13) What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragements?

I follow tons of authors on Twitter, and lots of them have blogs where they post writing tips; there’s so much good free advice out there!


14) Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

Blogging (I know this is also writing, but it’s a separate activity to my fiction writing), binge-watching Netflix, and sleeping.


15) What is the best book you have read this year?

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Reviewed here.


16) What is the best movie you have seen this year?

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So clever. So adorable!


17) What is you favourite book or series of all time? 

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The most devastating but beautifully written book.


18) Who is your favourite author?

Cassandra Clare! I obsessively read everything she writes and I’m in love with the world she has created!


19) What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

NaNoWriMo probably isn’t going to work out the way I’d hoped, so my goal is just to finish planning my novel by the end of November, and then get writing!


20. Where else can we find you online?

Twitter. I’ll be opening a Wattpad account soon too!


I’m not sure who to tag for this, as I don’t know how many of my book-blogging friends are also into fiction writing, but if you are, consider yourself tagged! Also, if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, let me know! I’d love to hear what you’re working on this month 🙂

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Some thoughts on ‘Life and Death’ by Stephenie Meyer

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Life and Death. Stephenie Meyer. Atom. October 2015.

Unless you’ve been living under some giant moss-covered boulder in the middle of a forest for the past hundred years, you’re likely already aware that, last month, Stephenie Meyer released a ‘re-imagined’ version of Twilight for its 10th anniversary. The re-imagining element is that the gender of every character within the book (with the exception of Charlie and Renee) has been reversed. Life and Death is not the story of Bella and Edward, but of Beau Swan and Edythe Cullen.

Love it or hate it, nobody can deny what a huge phenomenon The Twilight Saga escalated into, and how many readers it made of a generation. As a teenager, I am mildly embarrassed to admit I was a massive Twihard (but c’mon, who wasn’t?!), and these books really were my world for a good few years. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan now, but part of reading Life and Death for me was a nostalgia thing; I was curious to revisit the characters that took over my life, and made me obsessively read reams and reams of (some good, some very, very bad) fanfiction.

Before I move on to my thoughts on the book, I want to address the accusations of ‘laziness’ that have been flying  around, because we can’t deny the fact that this book is virtually the same story as Twilight, give or take a couple of scenes, and the ending. What I would add, however, is that Stephenie has been pretty open about that from the word go, and if you’re going into this book expecting something different, I don’t think that’s her fault. You can be cynical about this, call it a money-spinner (and it is), but the fact is, people are willing to part with money to read Life and Death – and I don’t think that’s due to any deception on the part of the author or publisher, but simply because… people want to read it!

I know it’s never going to be comparable with Proust or anything, but the first thing I want to mention is that the writing in Life and Death is a considerable improvement on Twilight. I noticed this from the first chapter, because although the commentary is pretty much the same (I recognised so many lines as the original book is so familiar to me), Beau’s narrative is much smoother than Bella’s. Stephenie has mentioned in her introduction that rewriting this book gave her a chance to polish up some of the parts she was unhappy with, and I think that really shows. I remember a lot of Bella’s thoughts being quite jarringly written and dropped abruptly into sentences, which at times made her voice sound unnatural, but Beau’s voice sounded more authentic. It’s strange considering his thoughts about everything are the same as Bella’s, but he really did feel like a different character with his own distinctive voice. That voice also sounds more like a teenager than a mom, in a way that Twilight itself never managed – I could always hear so much of Stephenie’s voice in Bella, yet I think Beau sounds like a real person and not the author.

This book made me think a lot about some of the issues people had with the original book, mainly the criticism of gender-stereotypes in the novel (Bella as the damsel in distress who does all the cooking.) In this book, Beau also does all the cooking for Charlie, but because he’s a guy, the question of gender-stereotyping falls away – you can see that he does it because he likes cooking and Charlie’s useless at it. The thing is, Bella does all the cooking for the same reasons, yet people find this sexist because she’s female?

Similar things have been said about Bella’s clumsiness – oh, she’s a damsel in distress stereotype, she’s fragile, always needing to be saved by Edward, etc. etc. However, seeing that same trait in Beau, we just see that… he’s a clumsy and vulnerable human. The thing is, Bella’s a clumsy person too, and it has nothing to do with the fact that she’s a girl. Girls are allowed to be clumsy, and they’re allowed to not be clumsy… Making them one way or the other does not make a writer sexist. You know what I find more sexist? Criticising a female author for choosing to portray a female character in the way she wants to portray them. Sure, Stephenie could have made Bella smooth and strong, but it would have been hard to show such a difference between humans and vampires if she had. Showing these traits in Beau, a male character, has given Stephenie a chance to show how ridiculous these criticisms of Bella are. They have nothing to do with Twilight being sexist, and everything to do with our own sexist assumptions.

Whilst reading this book, I decided Beau and Edythe are more likeable characters than Bella and Edward, and I think it’s down to their humour. As I mentioned before, most of the dialogue is the same, but there was some new material, and most of it was banter between Beau and Edythe, which softened the characters up a bit. Beau is considerably less snarky and bitter than Bella, and Edythe is less rigid and formal than Edward. The other thing I found was that some of the lines which made Twilight a bit lame were re-worked here, so they sound much more natural. For example, instead of being unconditionally and irrevocably in love with Edythe, Beau says:

“There were a few things I knew for sure. For one Edythe was an actual vampire. For another, there was a part of her that saw me as food. But in the end, none of that mattered. All that mattered was that I loved her, more than I’d ever imagined it was possible to love anything. She was everything I wanted, the only thing I would ever want.”

Okay, so still pretty cheesy, but at least it sounds like something an actual person, rather than a Thesaurus, might say.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of problems with this book. The relationship between Beau and Edythe is still unhealthy and stalky (and I know a lot of people felt strongly about this aspect after reading the original book). It’s not that I don’t see the creepiness of this, because I do (in hindsight though… at the time, I thought it was very romantic), it’s just that I also think we underestimate the intelligence of readers by saying that books shouldn’t portray these things  -that they have a responsibility not to. Crime books glamorize murder, yet the average reader of these books is not going to go out on a killing spree after reading them. In the same way, young girls (and at the time of reading Twilight, I was one, and an insecure, vulnerable one at that!) may get all fluttery reading these books, but it doesn’t mean that they will seek out that kind of relationship in real life. I certainly didn’t, and I was incredibly obsessed with Twilight back in the day.

I would recommend this book to anybody who had a huge Twilight crush as a teenager and is curious, or fancies a trip down memory lane. However, don’t go in expecting a completely different story. The differences are subtle (although they do make it a better book), and a lot of the content is very familiar.


Have you read Life and Death or Twilight? What did you think of it? I appreciate there are a lot of conflicting opinions on these books (and everyone has one!), so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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October Haul and the Belated Hogwarts Acceptance Letter

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It’s Book Haul time again! Sorry I’m late with this wrap-up; I had a busy weekend of Halloween gallivanting (and by gallivanting I totally mean attending a wild party and definitely do not mean watching Silence of the Lambs in my pyjamas whilst eating the Haribo Tangfastics that were meant for the trick-or-treaters… ahem….)

This October I turned a-quarter-of-a-century, making me yet another year too old to be a Directioner and YA literature fangirl…

To celebrate, I went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London, which was the most spectacularly magical way to spend a birthday. I was genuinely awe-struck by how much thought and creativity went into the making of these films, even the smallest of details that appear on-screen for a fraction of a second!

Here’s me and my boyfriend on Platform 9 ¾. Can’t believe I finally got my Hogwarts acceptance letter aged 25… Better late than never!

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As it was almost Halloween, they had a ‘Dark Arts’ feature on, so there were loads of Death Eaters wandering around. They were actually terrifying, because they moved really slowly and creepily, and would come up behind you every now and again to hiss in your ear. I jumped out of my skin a number of times in a totally cool and casual fashion.

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Last week I attended YA Shot, a book event held in London, organised by YA author Alexia Casale. It was a fantastic day filled with author panels and workshops, and I went to some really interesting talks on diversity, sensitive topics/trigger warnings, dystopia as a medium for exploring social issues, and the representation of female characters in fantasy. This last panel was probably my favourite, and the best moment was when Melinda Salisbury (author of The Sin Eater’s Daughter) had an awesome rant about the ‘Strong Female Character’ trope, saying we shouldn’t feel we have to give girls ‘masculine’ traits in order to make them strong – a girl who has vulnerabilities, who gets scared sometimes, is not a weaker character than a sassy badass who knows how to fight, and can still be considered a strong female character! Yes Melinda!!!!  I loved this so much, and cannot express enough how much I admire her for saying it!

YA Shot was so much fun, and we even got a goody-bag with these adorable Queen of Shadows badges. I’m kinda loving the Team Calaena one.

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I added 18 books to my shelves this month. Here’s my haul for October…


***To have and to hold***

I got lots of beautiful print books this month…

A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas

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I haven’t exactly been subtle with my recent obsessive hero-worship of Sarah J. Maas… I was very happy to unwrap this book on my birthday!

The Assassin’s Blade – Sarah J. Maas

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Another birthday present! So excited to get started on these Throne of Glass prequel novellas. I’ve a horrible feeling I’m going to ugly-cry though, given I know exactly what fate is awaiting a certain character…

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

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The third and final book in my birthday haul. I already own Fangirl on Kindle but, as one of my favourite books, I absolutely needed it in print. I’m currently re-reading this in preparation for Carry On, and feeling all warm and fuzzy inside!

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Illustrated Edition) – J.K. Rowling

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You must buy this book, it’s so beautiful! I was tempted to photograph some of the illustrations, but I don’t want to spoil the magic of opening it up for yourself. I bought this at the gift store when I did the Harry Potter Studio Tour, along with some rather fetching Hufflepuff socks… #housepride

The Manifesto on How to Be Interesting – Holly Bourne

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I picked this up at YA Shot, where I met Holly and got my book signed. I already own the Kindle version, but I really wanted to meet Holly and tell her how much I loved ‘Am I Normal Yet?

Plus, real books for the win!

Heart-Shaped Bruise – Tanya Byrne

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Another YA Shot purchase. Meeting Tanya was great, especially as I’d reviewed For Holly that morning, so she remembered, and we had a little chat about the characters! Hopefully I will love this book just as much. It’s a psychological thriller, so right up my street!

Lies Like Love – Louisa Reid

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The final book in my YA Shot Haul! This book has a very mysterious/intriguing blurb, and a beautiful cover. It was lovely chatting to Louisa! I told her about my blog, and promised I’d let her know what I thought of the book. I’m definitely expecting good things!

More Happy than Not – Adam Silvera

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I’ve heard so many great things about this book, although I’ve been warned by multiple people that it will break my heart!


***Digital Love***

This month’s Kindle buys were…

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys – April Genevieve Tucholke

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A collection of spooky stories I was supposed to read before Halloween, but didn’t have time! Will creep myself out this November instead.

I’ll Always Miss You – Raine O’Tierney

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A sweet, coming-of-age, LGBT love story/ghost mystery. Best genre combination ever! I may not have time to review this one, but I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for something heart-warming.

We Won’t Feel A Thing – J.C. Lillis

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Not-your-average love story, the premise of this book sounded so unusual and original, I had to get myself a copy!

Frozen Charlotte – Alex Bell

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Reviewed here.

Life and Death – Stephenie Meyer

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Curiosity and nostalgia got the better of me! Review coming soon.

Carry On – Rainbow Rowell

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SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE 😀 I have nothing further to add. Can’t wait to read this!

The Dreamer – E.J. Mellow

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Read a 5* review of this over at Beatricelearnstoread, and added it to my TBR straight away.

Darkness of Light – Stacey Marie Brown

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Jenacidebybibliophile wrote a great review of this book, which really made me want to read it, especially with the similarities to Mortal Instruments!

Things We Have in Common – Tasha Kavanagh

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An interesting psychological thriller (although I had mixed feelings about the ending). Review coming soon.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter – Melinda Salisbury

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I had to buy this after hearing Melinda speak at YA Shot! The premise sounds intriguing too, and I need more fantasy in my life while I’m waiting for the fifth Throne of Glass book!


So that’s my gigantic October Haul! Have you read any of these books? What have you added to your TBR this month?

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Books to read in the dark…: My review of ‘Frozen Charlotte’ by Alex Bell

Frozen-Charlotte-book-coverFrozen Charlotte. Alex Bell. Stripes Publishing. October 2014.

Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind… Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lillias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin. The girl with a room full of antique dolls. The girl that shouldn’t be there. The girl that died.


Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell was a deliciously creepy novel, and the perfect October read!

The story is narrated by Sophie, who goes to stay with her step-cousins on the Isle of Skye for the summer. Sophie’s in a bad place at the beginning of her trip, because she’s just lost her best friend Jay, and is convinced that his death had something to do with the Ouija Board app they were messing around with on the night he died…

Sophie goes to Skye in search of answers, because the spirit she and Jay were trying to communicate with through the app was her cousin Rebecca Craig, who died there when she was seven. Could Sophie and Jay’s actions have awakened a vengeful Rebecca? Is she the reason Jay is dead? And what really happened on the night Rebecca died?

From the moment Sophie arrives on Skye, it becomes obvious that the Craig family are in an unnatural state of suspension – that none of them have been able to move on from Rebecca’s death all those years ago. All of the family members give the impression of being maladjusted, stunted, like plants that haven’t seen the light in a long time, and it’s clear her death is the event which has held them all back:

From Uncle James with his paranoia about keeping the gate closed (because Rebecca fell to her death when she wandered out and over the edge of a cliff), to surly Cameron, prone to unpredictable bouts of violent behaviour… From sweet, smiling Piper, who likes to wear her dead sister’s creepy ‘Frozen Charlotte’ dolls in a string around her neck, to disturbed little Lilias, who was born after her sister’s death, yet claims she can see Rebecca playing out in the garden. All in all, there’s something not-quite-right about the Craig family. Even their parrot, Dark Tom, likes to screech out murdery catch-phrases in the middle of the night!

The family live in a remote location, up in an old school-house on the cliffs (which locals believe has been the site of several other suspicious accidents, besides Rebecca Craig’s, in its time), and they don’t seem to have much contact with other people besides one another. Because of this isolation, their relationships with their home and with each other feel weirdly claustrophobic – like they’re all trapped, desperate to get out, yet unable to express their feelings freely and naturally – to let their true colours show. There always seems to be something dark simmering beneath every word spoken – something which could boil over at any second. There are plenty of odd things going on in the Craig household, but a large number of them revolve around the strange behaviour of the family themselves, and the secrets they are each keeping. I don’t want to give anything away, but I found most of the characters extremely unsettling, which I think is a great strength in this genre… you don’t read horror for a relaxing and comforting ride with a predictable bunch of people!

The centre-point of creepiness in the novel is the ‘Frozen Charlotte’ dolls, which Rebecca used to play with as a little girl. The idea behind the dolls is that they’re based on a folk ballad called ‘Fair Charlotte’ about a girl who froze to death because she refused to wear a coat over her pretty dress on a sleigh ride. The dolls are made of china, in a chalky white colour, to represent her frozen body. More than a little macabre for a children’s toy! These dolls are a real thing (I Googled them), and this is what they look like:

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Creepy much?! Most of the ones on Google Images are sans the aforementioned pretty dress, and are stark naked, which in my opinion makes them even creepier.

The dolls, like Rebecca, are a huge fascination for Sophie, because they appear to be everywhere… strung together in Piper’s sinister necklace, lying side by side in the glass cabinet in Rebecca’s old room (where nothing, except maybe the Frozen Charlotte dolls, has moved since the day she died)… Sophie even discovers some down at the beach. Everyone has an opinion on the dolls… Piper thinks they’re sweet, Lilias is terrified of them (and warns Sophie of what they’re capable of, what they’ll do to her in her sleep)… Cameron thinks nothing of them; they’re just dolls. But are they really? Sophie is determined to find out. So determined, in fact, that she recklessly leaps into action every single time a creepy noise or sensation occurs. There’s definitely a lot of ‘DON’T GO INTO THE BASEMENT YOU CRAZY FOOL!’ moments in this novel. But it wouldn’t be the genre we all know and love without them, now, would it?!

Overall, this was a pacey, fun read – spooky and atmospheric  – with a lot of genuinely scary scenes! Read this alone, in the dark, with a single flickering candle, and you’re in for a treat of a Halloween!

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One Lovely Blog Award

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I’m very happy to have been nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award by the following lovely people:

Sumaya at Sue’s Reading Corner
Charley at Books and Bakes
Deanna at A Novel Glimpse
Alyssa at The Ultimate Book Geek

Thank you so much for nominating me!

If you haven’t already, please check out all of their rather lovely blogs!

RULES:

1. You must thank the person who nominated you and include a link to their blog.
2. You must list the rules and display the award.
3. You must add 7 facts about yourself.
4. You must nominate 15 other bloggers and comment on one of their posts to let them know they have been nominated.


First of all, 7 facts about me (I’ll try not to bore you too much…)

1) The name of my blog ‘Mud and Stars’ comes from a proverb my Grandad used to say:

“Two men looked out through prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars.”

My Grandad was always coming out with random lines from poems – he had a saying for every occasion. I thought this one was lovely, and have used it for various email addresses and blog names ever since.


2) I’m an INFJ personality type. If you’ve never done the Myers Briggs Personality Test, you should definitely give it a go – I’ve never read such a creepily accurate description of myself.


3) Austria is one of my favourite countries in the world, and if I ever become incredibly rich one day, I’d love to buy a holiday home in Kitzbühel. When I went there last summer, I decided to randomly become a daredevil for the day and go paragliding over the mountains. It was the most awesome experience of my life:

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4) I’m liberal, however I feel very strongly about not judging other people for how they vote (although I guess this might seem hypocritical because I used to do this exact thing, before I realised how judgey I was becoming.) It irritates me so, so much when people make snap assessments about what kind of person someone is based on their political views. We’re all entitled to our opinions… it’s called democracy.


5) I love Hollyoaks (for those living outside the UK, Hollyoaks is a British TV Soap about a village in Chester which has a disproportionately large number of murders and scandals going on for such a tiny place….) After I left university, the first job I applied for was a storyline writing job on this show, and I ended up attending a writing workshop there (which was basically in place of an interview). I didn’t get the job, but I did get to go around the set (I had to act like a professional and hold in all the fangirling, which took considerable effort on my part):

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6) I am an impatient person, and slow-walking people in Oxford who spread out across the entire pavement when I’m trying to get to the bus stop make me very ragey indeed.


7) In case it wasn’t already obvious, I’m obsessed with boybands, and always have been. I have been to see One Direction (x4), Westlife (x3) and Take That (x5), to name a few. People may mock, but I don’t believe in being embarrassed about the stuff you love!


My nominations go to:

Paul @ thegalaxialword

Aura @ oxfordwriterslounge

Bianca @ theultimatefangirl

Savi @ yatopia

Calliope @ calliopethebookgoddess

Sarah and Faith @ sublimereads

Stefanie @ yourdaughtersbookshelf

Jen @ mybookiejourney

Sara @ freadomlibrary

Nya @ nyareads

Dee @ thebookishkhaleesi

Magda @ maginibooks

Annelise @ anneliselestrange

Ashley @ sociallyawkwardbookworm

Paige @ pagebypaige


If you’ve already done this award tag, or tags aren’t your thing, please feel free to ignore this, but know that this is me saying I consider your blog lovely and deserving of recognition 🙂

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Lessons learned in Paris: My review of ‘For Holly’ by Tanya Bryne

41zDuNNLaCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For Holly. Tanya Bryne. Headline. June 2015.

Lola Durand hates her stepmother. It’s a cliché but it’s true.

Lola Durand can’t get through to her father. He never wants to talk about the things that matter: why they had to move to Paris, why he had to marry evil Agatha, and how they can get through the heartache of her mother’s death together.

If he won’t listen, she’ll show him. She’ll show him the truth about his new wife and then her life can go back to normal, just the way she likes it.

Lola Durand knows a secret about her stepmother. She’s going to share it.


For Holly is the story of Lola, a teenage girl grieving over her mother’s sudden death in the only way she knows how… by pushing everyone else away.  When she’s forced to move to Paris with her distant father and aloof new stepmother Agatha (whom she cannot stand), she finally has to come to terms with how she really feels… and what kind of person her grief is turning her into.

Lola spends the first part of the novel acting out – shoplifting, drinking, making sarcastic comments every time she speaks, and shouting at anybody who gets too close (or those who don’t get close enough, like her dad, who she can barely get through a single stilted conversation with these days). Although Lola screwed up, over and over again, I related a lot to the real Lola behind the front she puts up, and felt there were a lot of similarities between us – the way she thinks and worries so deeply about everything, the way she decorates her room with Paris postcards, the way she’d go crazy without space and time to herself in her favourite cafe – and she reminds me a lot of myself as a teenager. As such, I couldn’t help but feel desperately sorry for her, because I feel I would have acted exactly the same way in her situation.

I understood the spite Lola feels towards her father and stepmother, because she so badly wants to stay in London, in the house which still smells of her mother’s perfume, and where her boyfriend Pan (the one person she feels truly understands and supports her) is just next door where she needs him. Lola is ripped away from her home, and is forced to move to Paris, miles away from Pan and her mum’s memory. I don’t know if anybody could handle such a seemingly unfair situation without lashing out in some way, and although that doesn’t excuse the terrible thing Lola does later in the novel (which I can’t reveal without getting spoilery), it does illustrate the way in which messed up circumstances contribute to thoughtless actions.

An interesting angle in this novel was the way Tanya Bryne explored Lola’s conflicting feelings about moving to Paris. Although she fiercely wants to leave, something in her (a bigger part than she’s ready to admit) starts to fall in love with the city, and Lola feels guilty about all that this implies, because the minute she shows any sign of wanting to stay, it means letting go of Pan, and maybe even some of the grief she’s been holding onto so tightly.

Whilst we’re talking about the setting, this novel is beautifully evocative and made me feel I was walking the streets of Paris in the height of summer. I‘m madly in love with Paris, and as somebody who has obsessively visited this city more than any other holiday destination, I can testify that Tanya Byrne brings it to life. One thing I will mention is that, if you’ve never studied French (which luckily I have a teensy bit), you may want Google Translate next to you whilst reading, as French dialogue crops up a lot throughout the book. Although it’s generally in context/explained a little, you’ll still get more from it if you know exactly what’s being said.

For Holly is narrated by Lola herself, and from the first page, we realise that her words are addressed to a certain person, whom she has wronged terribly and is trying to explain her actions to. I guess it’s obvious from the title that this person is named Holly, yet for some reason it took me a long time to figure that out, and I felt rather silly! However, we don’t know who Holly is until roughly halfway through the novel, and I only worked it out a few pages before the reveal, so I’d say it was a well-hidden twist (though that could just be my slowness rearing its head again!) As I mentioned previously, there is no excuse for what Lola does (to Holly), yet Lola’s actions did not make me like her less – I enjoyed the fact that Lola was a flawed character, as I think a protagonist who makes mistakes leads to a more interesting character arc. I also think that guilt and consequences add so much depth to a story, and to a person. There’s a second twist right at the end of the novel surrounding these ‘consequences’, which I definitely didn’t see coming, and I think it made a great ending, which still managed to be poignant, and not simply there for shock value.

This novel demonstrates perfectly the fact that everybody grieves in their own way. Lola goes off the rails for a while and starts becoming somebody she wasn’t before. Because Lola’s behaviour affects other people, those people lose the ability to talk to Lola about how she’s feeling, because she’s determined to push them away. Everyone in this novel acts like there is a right way to grieve, and a right amount of time to grieve for (or at least, Lola perceives it that way), and everybody seems to think that Lola is going about hers in the wrong way. However, Lola’s heart-to-heart with her father later in the book was one of the most powerful scenes in the novel, because we finally see that there isn’t just one way to miss somebody, and everyone is entitled to handle pain in their own way, including those whose behaviour we’re struggling to understand (which applies both ways in the relationship between Lola and her dad.)

This was a highly readable story, written in beautiful prose, with some well placed twists, and some spot on observations about people, and how they behave when they’re hurting. I loved it, and I hope you will too.