Friday, 13 July 2018

Book Review: The Trouble With Goats And Sheep

I was recommended to read this book and in all honesty I wasn’t sure what to feel about it when the book was in my hands, there wasn’t anything that I found particularly appealing, although the title seemed interesting. It’s an unusual interpretation of life, part coming of age and part theology. Set in England, Grace and Tilly are ten years old during the Summer of 1976 which is historically remembered as the longest and hottest Summer seen in the country. The two girls occupy themselves for their Summer holidays by becoming detectives, determinedly questioning each of their neighbours in turns on the premise of being girl guides wanting to gain badges. There are a lot of characters in the book, some of which are odd, some are kind and some are funny; it’s a nice description of life down a typical suburban street but it is a long read; arguably because the heat of the Summer, this book seemed to go on and on forever. Once the characters had been established, the weather was exaggerated as a means of explaining why some characters were most unusually for themselves; the majority of us become unpleasant and irritable when the weather is unbearably hot and Joanna Cannon put that across very well; as well as how the range of characters interacted with each other, too.

The cover art isn't the most interesting, which was a little disappointing for me as I do love a beautiful cover, however the title 'The Trouble With Goats And Sheep' makes up for the plain blue cover with white accents. Having been recommended to me by a relative, I wasn't really sure what to expect; that said, they do usually recommend absolute gems to me. As much as the cover art isn't what I would usually like, there is something about the minimalist vibe that does appeal to me; the contents of the pages are left fairly open to interpretation as the cover gives nothing away and I like that. Surprises are always welcome. The main issue with this book is getting the head around the (what feels like) millions of characters, although as the book develops this becomes easier. Joanna Cannon handles having so many characters well; it never feels like two characters are the same and each narrative voice reads very differently to each of the others, not only due to the differences in age, gender or life experience; they genuinely seem very different in terms of opinion and sentence structure, which is the perfect an example of excellent writing. The writing style of this book is flawless.

In an ordinary street, where people live ordinary lives, is it such a surprise that the neighbours are hiding a collective secret? Likewise, is anyone without a secret? It is clear to reader fairly early on in the novel that there are secrets waiting to be exposed in the novel, secrets that two little girls are determined to get to the bottom of. The wonders of everyday life are spread out across the pages of this book, through each and every one of the characters. My personal favourites were the two ten year olds; Cannon managed to deliver the humour, lack of understanding and innocence that only children can have through their investigations and listening to adults whispering. The multiple characters alongside chapters alternating between 1967 (the past) and 1976 (the present) was a fantastic use of linguistic techniques to feed information through multiple timelines for the benefit of the reader. The multiple points of view was an excellent way of feeding clues through to the reader about the various goings on, but my favourite narrator was definitely Grace and seeing her character develop. She grows from a little girl, determined to boss her friend around, to still a little girl, but one who is learning the value of friendship and the differences between the people of society.

Overall, this book wasn’t a five star read for me. It was a nice read and well written, but it just didn’t have that little extra something to make it have the wow factor. However, it was a solid four star read; there is something beautiful about everyday life, but at the same time there as definitely something missing. I preferred the narrative voices of the children to the adults, not only because they have a beautiful way of seeing and understanding the world, but because of their instinctive thinking. Whereas the adults were all narrow minded and conditioned by each other to keep the secret, the children had a beautiful way of exploring and thinking outside of the box. There are so many reasons why I wish that I had loved this book more than I did; one of them being that I wanted more focus on the children, another being that the adults were all so unlikable. There are elements of this story that completely captured my heart and others that bored me; nothing to do with the writing style, which I really liked, more to do with the plot not having enough oomph to contain interest throughout the moments where events were sparse. This is a good read, one that I would recommend; I'm looking forward to reading more books by Joanna Cannon as she has a lovely way with words. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Book Review: Salt to the Sea

A fictional novel depicting a real event; during 1945, hundreds of thousands of civilians were desperate, destitute and sick of war. Running through East Prussia, attempting to avoid the wrath of soldiers from both sides, this book uses a multi person narrative to describe the event from all sides. Four young people, different nationalities and situations. Joana is a Lithuanian nurse, headstrong, confident and a natural leader. Florian is Prussian, a mysterious man who is clearly attempting to slip through the net and is hiding a lot of secrets. Emilia is Polish, young, pregnant and alone - desperate to find safety and security in another country, outside of Eastern Europe. Alfred is German, a newly recruited sailor and a lover of Hitler’s regime. Each of them are boarding the ships across countries for their own reasons, but ultimately, each of them are determined to see the war end. Freedom from war is the ultimate dream for everyone in this novel. The text was laid out fairly easily, with the narrating characters name as the title of each chapter; to begin with, it was a little confusing as you need to engross yourself in the story to understand who is who. My favourite narrator was Joana; not only because she was incredibly astute and noticed even the littlest of details, but because she was genuinely caring. She was determined to help as many people as possible, regardless of their age, race or gender whilst attempting to stay alive herself.

As the novel developed, so did each of the narrators and their acquaintances; for example, Joana was with a group attempting to hide from soldiers in the forest and escape to the ports. Alongside her were a variety of others, an elderly man, a young blind girl, an orphaned little boy and a German lady who was convinced that everyone is a spy. Emilia was saved from a soldier by Florian, who instantly becomes her saviour, so she in turn shoots a solider in defence of Florian; the pair meet the other group on their travels and reluctantly tag along. Florian in particular is not at all comfortable in being within a group, although there are benefits to travelling in numbers. Alfred’s narrative differs a lot compared to the other three, mostly due to his being in letter form to a girl from home. Judging by the way that he describes his duties, he thinks a lot more of himself than anyone else does, including the girl he writes to; even in his letters to her, they’re always in his head. Arguably, this is a sign of mental illness. Not only talking to himself, about himself, but also convincing himself that the girl he is obsessed with returns his affections. Regardless of what each of them are internally suffering, the four young people are brought together entirely by the circumstance of war. Each of them has a secret, each of which is revealed after the plot begins to shape. From the first few pages, this book gripped me. The descriptions of their hunger, fear and determination made each situation that was thrust upon them so incredibly real and heartbreaking made this book an absolute page turner for me.

Each of the characters made their own sacrifices, for their own reasons, but Emilia was the biggest surprise of all. Three of them had good arguments for why they were fighting for freedom and their narrative wasn’t only interesting but allowed for information about ordinary people, how their lives had been devastated by war. The fourth narrative voice was so difficult to read at times, it was impossible to argue with their point of view, as it was just so wrong but understandably, it was an important part of why the war was ongoing and it also added another layer to the overall plot line. One of the reasons that this book was such a pleasurable read was that although it is historical fiction, it wasn’t overrun with facts or pushing history onto the reader. Yes, history had a massive part of the telling of this story and although it is ultimately fiction, this novel genuinely read as though it was truly real life although that is because of Sepetys’ beautiful variation of true events from a fictional standpoint. She mixed truth and fiction so seamlessly, if I didn’t know better when reading this book I could’ve easily believed that all of this novel was entirely factually accurate. Which is fantastic, really. That is exactly what you want when reading a historical novel, to feel as though you are there with the character, living, breathing and seeing everything that they are. As much as this novel was brutal, vicious and cruel at times, that is what made it so perfect as that is exactly what epitomises war.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how much this book caught my attention. I’d been meaning to read it for months and kept getting distracted by other titles, which I don’t regret, but I do wish I’d given this more of a chance at an earlier point. I cannot fault the writing style of Ruta Sepetys in this novel at any point; the use of four young narrators worked beautifully as each of them had their own issues, their own past and future to fight for as well as the way that she used fact and fiction to depict a harsh reality of war using only words. I loved the short, sharp chapters and often change of narrator, it kept each situation fresh, alongside the excellently executed ending. One of the reasons why I loved this novel so much was the additional explanation of the real life event that this book represented by the author; the fact that she had researched and contacted various museums, relatives and survivors of such a horrific event truly made me understand how hard that time frame must have been. For a Young Adult novel, this is a very intense version of events, although it is also realistic which isn’t a bad thing. It’s important to remember the past and this kind of book does history justice. I read this book in around a day, I cried, I forgot to breathe but as I’ve said many times before, I love a book that makes me think. This was easily a 5 star read for me and I’d recommend it for mature young adults and above. It doesn’t read like a YA novel, so if that genre is not usually your thing, give this book a try as I promise it will be worth it.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

A Book Haul #4

Hello again guys; it feels like ages since I’ve done a book haul, which is mad considering it feels like all that I’ve done over the past few months is buy books, haha. I’m actually running out of space for all of my books to be in my house, oops. Over the past year or so reading has easily become my favourite hobby, I love being able to escape into someone else’s world for a few hours or pages or chapters. I definitely have a book buying addiction, to the point that I keep walking into every charity shop that I pass in the hopes of spotting a bargain haha. The best of this haul was literally 20p, which was so cheap it’s actually amazing! These days I often rely on goodreads to work out which books to read or buy, but at the same time I’m terrible for simply buying a book because of a beautiful cover; that can be a good or bad thing, depending on whether the writing is to my taste or not, but I’ll read anything once and I never stop reading a book, I always have to finish it even if I hate it.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Where She Went by Gayle Forman
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The list above is the author and title of each of the books in this haul. I’m particularly excited by the Hunger Games trilogy set, they’re the limited edition foil versions and I managed to snap these up for a reasonable price online and in absolutely fantastic condition too. The only book I’ve read so far is Big Little Lies and I loved it so I’m sure I’ll be rereading it at some point in the future, once I’ve got through my hefty reading list. All of the other books in this haul are books that I haven’t read but I’ve been meaning to read for a long time; I have no idea when I’ll be finding the time for these books but that’s ok, life is long haha. I have a lot more books to show you in terms of hauls and reviews that I’m planning for the next few months so I’m looking forward to getting some feedback as I’ve been having a bit of a lull when it comes to blogging over the past couple of months and so I’m excited to get back into it after a bit of an unintentional break. Have you bought any books recently? What books are you planning to read? Or is there a book that you think I’ll love to read? Let me know in the comments! :)

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

My Favourite Perfumes for Spring & Summer

Hello again guys; if you’re a long time reader of this blog then you will know that I’m an absolute perfume addict. I do buy perfume far less than I used to, although I’m still convinced that a bad day can be fixed by a simple spritz of perfume, particularly when a perfume holds good memories for you. Some of my favourite perfumes are fruity and floral scents, I’m definitely a feminine perfume wearer; I’m not a fan of musky scents on myself, but I love the smell of any perfume on others. I love smelling beautiful scents on people and I often try and hunt down scents that I’ve smelt on other people in passing.

This blog post focuses on the 5 perfumes that I swear by throughout the Spring and Summer months; sadly a couple of them are limited editions and I’m not looking forward to using them up completely as I won’t be able to repurchase, although there is always a new scent coming out, which means a potential for new favourites. Over the Spring and Summer months I wear perfume more or less everyday; it gives me a little boost, I feel better and more confident in general, particularly when the perfume is one that I’ve saved up for and really wanted. I’m also terrible for picking a perfume based on a beautiful bottle, as I love displaying the bottles in my room, much to my boyfriends annoyance, haha.
What are your favourite perfumes? Let me know in the comments! :)

Princess of Hearts - Vera Wang

I adore floral and fruity perfumes and this one is exactly that, mixing notes of both. The contained notes are jasmine, bergamot, strawberries, lily of the valley and watermelon with base notes of cedar wood, musk and vanilla. This perfume has the potential to be a little sickly, however I’ve found that the strongest notes are the watermelon and jasmine and so it creates the perfect scent for Spring and Summer as watermelons are a typically Summer based fruit. Reasonably priced at under £20 for a 50ml bottle of perfume, this perfume makes for a lovely gift. The bottle itself is very feminine, which matches the scent nicely. A pink heart shaped bottle, with Vera Wang’s signature crown lid on top of the spritzer accented by red drawn heart and white typography of the scent name Princess of Hearts across the centre, it looks cute without looking like a child’s perfume. This was actually gifted to me for a birthday from my boyfriend, so it has sentimental value for me, as well as the fact that I fell in love with the smell as soon as it was sprayed onto my skin; this perfume is one that I tend to use for special occasions, such as days/nights out, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. 

Pink Honey - Marc Jacobs

A variation of the original Honey, with a similarly rounded spotty bottle. Pink Honey was released as a Limited Edition fragrance during the Summer of 2014 and is a beautiful mix of both floral and fruity aromas. Notes of orange blossom, honeysuckle, honey, pear, mandarin, peach nectar, vanilla, wood and fruit punch create the distinctive flavour and overall its a fairly heady scent; it’s very noticeable when on the skin. The bottle is as beautiful as the scent for me; the original is a lovely honey coloured shade, whereas this version is a pale pink with black and gold detailing with white pearls. Compared to my other perfumes by Marc Jacobs, this bottle is very different in style as the Daisy range is floral and this bottle is more like a honey pot, which is cute. It’s a perfume that looks beautiful and feels great whenever I wear it, there’s something about the design of the bottle that makes it feel high end, not only because it’s a little on the pricey side; it’s a scent that adds a smile to my face whenever I use it for any occasion.

Valentina Acqua Floreale - Valentino

One of my overall favourite perfumes of all time; this fragrance has notes of bergamot, mimosa, orange blossom, heart of neroli, tuberose, amber and patchouli to create an oriental feeling scent. This is was another gifted perfume from my boyfriend, but this perfume was one that I had dreamed for owned for years; it’s not the cheapest perfume available and so for years I had been using sampled sized bottles of this perfume. The 50ml has not been a disappointment at all. I use it often and it lasts really well on the skin; once applied to the skin I’ve found it lasts for several hours, which is a blessing for a perfume. Whenever I wear this perfume I feel so classy and ready for anything, this is a perfume that I’ll definitely be using and repurchasing throughout my life (yes that is a big statement to make, but I mean it) as it truly is my go to perfume for any event, night or day. This one of the most expensive perfumes that I own and it’s easily my absolute favourite. The bottle and scent are simply a dream.

Daisy Eau So Fresh Sunshine - Marc Jacobs

Another Limited Edition Summer release, issued in 2012 and created to be a fruitier version of the original. The notes included to make up the perfume are rose and violet leaves, jasmine, strawberry, apple blossom, pink grapefruit and ending with oak, moss and amber wood. In all honesty, I love all of the Daisy range of scents, but this one is my absolute favourite. The combination of fruits and florals adds a little extra to the original version, alongside the bottle having pink perfume with orange, green and fuchsia daisies on the lid. The daisy bouquet lid is super eye catching, particularly as the colours of the Sunshine version are brights, they’re intended to stand out. I’m almost afraid to use this perfume as it’s limited status means that I’ll be unlikely to find it again, which is a shame, but I do love it and I always wear this for special occasions rather than every day throughout the spring and summer months.

Island Fantasy - Britney Spears

A new addition to Spears’ perfume line during 2013, it is intended to emulate an Island getaway using the notes mandarin, clementine, red berries, watermelon, jasmine, violet, freesia, sugar cane and musk. I’m a massive fan of Britney’s perfumes, they’re both affordable and long lasting; the reason that this one is my favourite is it has a different vibe to the others, it feels almost exotic. The bottle is the classic round Fantasy style, but in this edition the colours lime green and aqua make up the bottle with silver diamantés and a silver neck and spritzer. Even amongst the other Fantasy perfumes it stands out due to its vibrant colour, but on the skin is why I adore this perfume. It’s so long lasting on the skin and has this fantastic way of making me feel so upbeat and positive, so ready for anything and simply cute and fresh. It is limited, which is a shame as I do love it but it’s a large bottle and doesn’t need a lot of sprays to hold well as a scent, so fingers crossed this bottle will last for a good amount of time.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Book Review: The Kite Runner

An emotional story of friendship, loss and betrayal, this book is an absolute roller-coaster of a read. Beginning in Afghanistan with the story of two young boys, servant and master, yet as close as close can be to point that they are almost brothers; Amir and Hassan are two young innocents, best friends but unfortunately from different social backgrounds. Amir's father often spoils Hassan, to Amir's annoyance, however age and wisdom often come hand in hand, as the boys eventually learn. Amir is a Pastun, Hassan a Hazara, often picked on for being so, alongside being illiterate. Determined to win their local kite flying contest, the two boys work together before one betrays the other and changes the course of their lives forever. The outcome of this betrayal will haunt one of the boys forevermore. Some have assumed that this is a biography of Hosseini's life, although it is definitely a work of fiction. However, Hosseini has taken inspiration from his own Afghan upbringing, so this story may unfortunately have been a reality for someone, somewhere, which is difficult to comprehend.

As war begins to tear Afghanistan apart, Amir and his father are forced to flee to America, a dangerous and terrifying journey, one that takes innumerable amounts of courage. As Amir ages, so does the narrative and we see him as an adult, working hard to survive in a new world and forever wanting to make his father proud. The move to America is an opportunity to start afresh, to reflect and improve on past mistakes. The novel has many themes running through its pages, such as immigration, sexism, racism, abuse and relationships, each of which are explored in depth. It is a painful story, one which is fast paced (as a reader you witness the boys grow from children to men in less than a hundred pages) but also one that portrays harrowing consequences for lack of loyalty to family and friends. Hosseini is an excellent storyteller, using the past, present and future to tell a story of a life which although is not necessarily one that you have experienced, is one that you can imagine. Every moment of this book feels true, even the most upsetting points of the story, which always an excellent element to any work of fiction. 

Ultimately, this is a novel about humanity, not about war or conflict; as Afghanistan in the modern day has become well known for its conflict, sadly, this what many will wrongly assume about this book. The movement of the ruling class and eventually the Taliban does play a massive part in some of this book, but the overall message is not based upon their atrocities, it based on what makes a man. As much as it as a difficult read, there was so much to love about this book; the understanding of love and trust, how Afghan people are proud and strong and how those who are loyal remain loyal for ever. The relationships within this novel are far deeper than at first glance, which only emphasises the bond of family. This is the kind of book that demands to be read, regardless of how much heartbreak is within its pages. This was a 5 star read not because it was easy, but due to the beautifully written story which grabbed my heart.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

June Playlist

Hello again guys; I feel like I've lost my way with blogging a lot recently, although to an extent that is due to having replaced blogging as a hobby with reading, oops. I'm planning to get back into it over the next couple of months as I do miss blogging, but sometimes creativity needs a rest; plus I would rather blog less with good content than more with lacklustre content. This month I treated myself to a new iPod, a 16gb version which allows me to enjoy more music on the go without having to stress about internet or apps such as Spotify being on an iPhone; yes it's a bit old fashioned, but it works for me. I listen to music a lot when I'm making a journey, by bus, walking, etc. as I've found that it really lifts my mood. None of the songs listed below are in any particular order, they're simply the songs that I've found myself listening to constantly this month, I've been loving rediscovering old favourites at the moment alongside a couple of new loves. What songs are you loving at the moment? Let me know in the comments! :)

1. The Ballad of Mona Lisa - Panic! At The Disco
2. Finders Keepers - Mabel feat. Kojo Funds
3. Boom Clap - Charli XCX
4. This Is Gospel - Panic! At The Disco
5. Speakerphone - Rixton
6. Reggaetón Lento (Remix) - CNCO & Little Mix 
7. Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time - Panic! At The Disco
8. Unstoppable - Sia
9. LA Devotee - Panic! At The Disco
10. Crying for No Reason - Katy B
11. No One Ever Loved - Lykki Li
12. Golden Days - Panic! At The Disco
13. No Tears Left To Cry - Ariana Grande
14. Airplanes - B.o.B feat. Hayley Williams
15. The Good, The Bad and the Dirty - Panic! At The Disco

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Book Review: King’s Cage

The third installment of the Red Queen series, I had high hopes for this book due to not loving Glass Sword as much as I had wanted to; starting again from where the last part has ended, we see Mare having lost her lightning, her freedom and her dignity due to the the events of Glass Sword. Imprisoned in Maven's court, it is only his mercy that is keeping her alive. A slow beginning, detailing every element of Mare's imprisonment, however once the action begins it never truly ceases. Aveyard has a fabulous writing style that creates action smoothly; the build up is subtle, mostly using conversation and military tactics to orchestrate full scale rebellion. King's Cage ultimately describes Mare's physical predicament, but it can also refer to the world's mental predicament due to a fast becoming dictatorship. Much of this novel is centered around pain, both physical and mental, across many of the characters. The fantasy elements, such as the territories and the powers are such a massive part of the storyline and so ingrained into the text now that they're easily read without surprise or confusion, although considering this is book 3 of a quartet that's not overly shocking; at this point in the series you need to be committed to the very end. 

This is the first book in the series that has first person narrative from a perspective other than Mare's; a nice touch as it allows the reader to see the elements of the plot that Mare oversees or disregards. The second and third narrators, Evangeline, a metal wielding Silver and Cameron, an unwilling Newblood. Both of them have a different world view to Mare, as well as each other. The addition of multiple layers makes a massive difference to how various characters are perceived, such as both of the Princes and finally the Kingdom becomes more than simply Norta; the mythology deepens, providing the reader with more information on situations involving politics, ownership and the High Houses. Aveyard has created a beautifully described alternative world, one which is addictive; you constantly want to know more, to understand the workings of their everyday life. Although Mare is not as the forefront of the rebellion for this novel, the rebellion is becoming a genuine threat, a concern for all; there are no games being played anymore, the battles are being brought to be won; both sides are determined to see a victory.

I've said it reviews about the books in this series previously, but regardless: I do wish that there was more overall character development, as I feel like there are many characters and not as much understanding of all of them. That said, some characters had excellent development and Evangeline in particular became much than simply a nasty piece of work; she stands up to be the perfect anti-heroine. Cal also showed a lot of improvement throughout this book; we get the opportunity to finally see his intentions and feelings toward Mare. A massive part of this book was the relationship between Mare and Cal, although there were snippets surrounding their relationships with Maven too; as a couple, a brother, a past love. Maven is a fantastic villain, although it was interesting to see how his monstrous personality was shaped, made by his mother; proof that in the Silver world, monsters are deliberately made. His mother effectively cursed his life. The biggest flaw within the plot is the amount of characters that underestimate Maven; he is cold, calculating and determined. Mare also grew as an individual; it was good to see her feel pain, empathy, hope and fear whilst somehow managing to find strength at the exact moment that she would be expected to be weak.

Overall, the addition of two other narrators was a fantastic move; it worked not only in allowing the reader to see the world outside of Mare's imprisonment but also for adding fresh perspective. I liked getting inside the head of other characters, seeing their deepest thoughts and feelings as well as their intentions and loyalties. The relationship between Cal and Mare was nice to see, as the connection was there from the start of Red Queen, there has always been an attraction, the potential for a relationship at some point. At this point in the series, it is impossible not to be emotionally invested and so the ending was heartbreaking for a number of reasons, but ultimately due to it being not entirely unexpected because power always causes strong emotions in people regardless of their blood status. The characters all felt a lot more human in this book than they have previously; powers (or lack of) became irrelevant, it has become a war for equality and the rebellion grows ever stronger. King's Cage was a 5 star read as there are so many strong, interesting characters and I honestly can't wait to see where Aveyard decides to take the next and final installment.

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