Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Christmas Book Haul

Firstly, I want to wish a very Merry (belated) Christmas to you all!

This Christmas, I was lucky enough to get many fantastic gifts from all my family, but to save boring you, I shall just stick to the books I received. However, I shall briefly mention a fantastic sort-of Christmas present. Just before Christmas, I received an offer to study medicine at Plymouth university!

~The books I received for Christmas~

1) Eragon's Guide to Alagaesia  by Christopher Paolini

Although I've only read the first two books of The Inheritance Cycle (the other two       remain on my ever increasing TBR shelf), I am a huge fan of the world Paolini has created. I saw this at a Garden Centre in Autumn and so got my parents to put it back for Christmas.

2) Illustrated Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Initially, I wasn't that sold on the idea of my favourite book series being illustrated. I enjoy the magic of using your imagination to picture the story, and was worried that the images would make me feel as if my version was 'wrong'. However, as soon as I saw the book itself, it instantly became one of my presents from my grandparents.

3) Wars of the Roses: Bloodline by Conn Iggulden

Although I wasn't a huge fan of the first in the series, as you can see from my review here, I absolutely loved the second book, Trinity. Because of this, Bloodline was a must-have Christmas present and again was a book I chose for my parents to give to me.

4) Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan

I'm a big fan of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, and all his other series have been on my to-buy-to-be-read list for ages. I'm also a huge Thor fan and, because of that, I have wanted to delve into Norse mythology a little more. When I stumbled across this book, especially a signed edition, I knew I had to have it!
I've actually started this one already and so far, I love it! It even has a special dedication to one of my favourite authors Cassandra Clare regarding the name Magnus. Also, it has a small appearance from one of my favourite characters from the Percy Jackson series too.

5) The Company of the Dead by David Kowalski

Growing up, I had a fascination of the Titanic, which probably rubbed off from my brother who loved it. This was a cover buy late this year, which ended up being put back for Christmas. I look forward to reading it!

6) The Kane Chronicles

As previously mentioned, all of Riordan's books have been on my TBR list for a while now, so The Kane Chronicles was one of the series that made it's way onto my Christmas wishlist for my family to choose presents from. Despite the fact I knew I could end up with the series as a present, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that they had found a nice hardback box-set of the trilogy.

7) The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

I really enjoyed the first of the Magisterium books so The Copper Gauntlet also made its way onto my wishlist this year. It was a good book, proven by the fact I've already read it. Find the review here!

8) The Enchanted Forest Postcards by Johanna Basford

At first I was sceptical of the new trend: adult colouring. Growing up, I found the task boring and repetitive, always preferring to do things more mentally active such as reading or doing puzzles or jigsaws. However, I did warm to the idea as I heard a lot of good things about how relaxing it is.
As some studying six A-levels whilst battling depression and anxiety, as you can imagine I find it quite hard to relax most of the time. My family took this into consideration, along with my occasional mention of these adult colouring books, and bought me one as a surprise Christmas present.
So far, I've only done a little, but I am really loving it! I've bought some new pens and pencils to keep with it, and I am thoroughly enjoying spending a few minutes here and there colouring to take a break from everything else. I really recommend it to anyone who finds it hard to relax for any reason, especially the postcard sets as they are much smaller and less daunting than a huge, blank page needing to be coloured. They can also fit in your bag so you can take it with you on the go. The only downside is that some bits are extremely tiny and fiddly, but that only makes it more fun!

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Book Review: The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Copper Gauntlet – Holly Black & Cassandra Clare

*Warning – may contain spoilers*
Author: Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Scholastic Press
First published: September 2015
Cover: Hardback with dust cover
Pages: 264
Blurb:    The enemy is close. Very close.
                                Callum Hunt’s summer break isn't like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren't heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall.
                                It’s not easy for Call…and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc.
                                Call escapes to the Magisterium – but things only intensify there. The Alkahest – a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic – has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes – and come closer to an even more dangerous truth.
History of my copy: I received this book for Christmas this year (2015) from my parents. I’ve been eagerly anticipating it since reading The Iron Trial not long after it came out.

This book, and indeed the entire series, has received a lot of negativity for being too similar to Harry Potter. I am an enormous Harry Potter fan and yes, there are some similarities – a man character with black hair (and containing the soul of the enemy), a magic school – but that is about it. The Copper Gauntlet and the rest of the Magisterium books deserve credit in their own rights. After all, J.K. Rowling wasn’t the first to have a school for wizards. All authors gather inspiration from other places, and you could spend hours comparing books with others to find parallels, or you could just enjoy them for what they are.
Plot: The Copper Gauntlet carries on right where The Iron Trial finishes off, which was a little difficult at first as I have forgotten some things that happened in it, so I would recommend re-reading it before starting this one. It follows Call and his friends through the summer and the beginning of the new term as they hunt down Alastair who has the Alkahest. It is a relatively short story, but a decent length for the plot it contains. Black and Clare kept the plot fast paced and interesting and, although there were a few places where they could have expanded the story a little more, they did a good job of not dragging it out and making it boring.
Setting: The Copper Gauntlet is set in numerous places from the eerie caves of the Magisterium to the extravagant house of Tamara’s family. The new settings were described fairly well, although more words could have been dedicated to re-describing the school, and perhaps adding a little more to Alastair’s barn and the tomb at the end of the book.
Characters: This book focussed a bit more on the background of Callum and his two friends, Aaron and Tamara. Although known that Call’s father, Alastair, hates the Magisterium, it still isn’t really explained why. However, the book shows a drastically different relationship between father and son than before.
                One downside of this series is that none of the characters stand out as particularly special. Yes, the main trio have both their good and bad sides, but their personalities aren’t really described.
                One problem I do have with the main character, Callum Hunt, is that for the first half of the book he is just full of angst about who he is, which does get a little dull after a while. Also, even though it is addressed by Tamara at the end of the book, Call is severely angered by Tamara lying, despite the fact he is hiding an even bigger and more dangerous lie from them all.

To read or not to read: Read. Despite my dislike for the lack of development of the characters, I did enjoy the plot and story of The Copper Gauntlet and thoroughly enjoyed the read. Don’t bother if you disliked The Iron Trial as I wouldn't say it gets better, but do try it out if you liked the previous book.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder – Marissa Meyer

*Warning – may contain spoilers*
Author: Marissa Meyer
Publisher: Puffin Books
First published: 2012
Cover: Paperback
Pages: 387

Blurb:    A forbidden romance.
                A deadly plague.
                Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…
                Cinder, a gifted mechanic in New Beijing, is also a cyborg. She’s reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s sudden illness. But when her life becomes entwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s she finds herself at the centre of a violent struggle between the desires of an evil queen – and a dangerous temptation.
                Cinder is caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal. Now she must uncover secrets about her mysterious past in order to protect Earth’s future.
                This is not the fairy tale you remember. But it’s one you won’t forget.
History of my copy: As mentioned in my review of Throne of Glass, Cinder and the rest of The Lunar Chronicles are books that are hugely popular in the Instagram book community. Because of this, I knew I had to give it a try.
                                      It is now custom in my family to buy a new board game each Christmas to play over the festive period and throughout the year. This year, to save having to pay postage, my mum allowed me to get Cinder as it wasn’t on my Christmas list.

I will admit that after my disappointment with Throne of Glass, I was a little bit apprehensive about this book. However, despite how predictable the book is (which is expected as a version of Cinderella), I really did enjoy this one!

Plot: I’m sure almost everyone is familiar with the story of poor old Cinderella, the burden of her step-family, who strikes lucky and ends up falling in love with the Prince to live happily ever after. As based on that story, there are, of course, many parallels. There’s the outcast, Cinder, who is both cyborg and later revealed to be Lunar, hated by her stepmother and Pearl (although adored by her other stepsister Peony). There’s the beautiful Prince Kai. There’s the ball and ‘pumpkin ride’ (Cinder’s rescued car), and there’s the infamous ‘glass slipper’, although in this case it is Cinder’s too small foot.
         On top of the fairy tale likeness of this book, there is the deadly plague and the imminent war with the Lunars, giving twists to the familiar story in each and every chapter.
Setting: Another fantastic thing about this book, is that it is set in the futuristic New Beijing after the fourth World War. This really does transform the traditional fairy tale into a whole new story where technology has really advanced, and where wars with alien species is a real possibility.
Characters: This is one of the few books where I have genuinely loved the main female character. Much too often they are written unrealistically and too perfectly, yet Cinder remains relatable, funny and really gets you to feel for her. She also represents how stereotypes are all to present, even in the future. Cyborgs and Lunars are outcast for what they are, before people even know who they are.
                Moving on to another main character, I will admit that I don’t like Prince Kai too much. Although I will praise Meyer for avoiding the trap of ‘perfect’ female characters, she has created the generic flirty, pretty boy that just gets on your nerves. Yes, his thoughts are well constructed and there certainly is a charm to him, I’m just getting sick of boys who just need to flash a smile to get a girl to fall in love with them.
                One of my favourite character in this story isn’t a person at all, but is Cinder’s droid Iko! She is funny and sweet, kind to Cinder and has her heart (or personality chip I suppose?) in the right place, even if she should probably think before she speaks sometimes. I was as devastated with her ‘death’ as I was Peony’s (which means I shed a tear or two), but I can’t wait to see Cinder put her chip back into another droid to bring her back.

To read or not to read: Read. Although, as mentioned before, the story is rather predictable (for example, I guessed the real identity of Cinder quite early on in the book), it is also different enough from the original fairy tale to keep you hooked, wanting to find out just how the events will play out. I really do recommend this book, especially for anyone who loves stories with a twist.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Gift Cards

Whether it be Christmas, birthdays, or any other celebration, gift cards are always labelled a terrible gift (usually along with socks).
I can, to a certain extent, see why. Yes, they seem unoriginal and perhaps like you barely know the person. Furthermore, they also tell you exactly how much that person has spent on you, either making you feel unappreciated or perhaps like they've given you a lot more than what you spent on them.
However, I personally feel like they are wonderful gifts! A friend of mine gave me a £10 Waterstones one for Christmas, saying that she didn't potentially want to get me the wrong book, and I'm okay with that. As long as you get someone a gift card for something they enjoy (it would have been stupid to get me one for a clothes shop for example), it means that you avoid any chance of buying something dreadful. As I read so much, it would have been really difficult to get me a book that I haven't already read, without risking it being something I wouldn't like. This way, I can pop along to Waterstones after Christmas and buy anything that takes my fancy - it also avoids the stress of buying presents for the giver!
Of course, family or a significant other should probably warrant a little more than a gift card, but for friends and colleagues, I do believe that gift cards are a fantastic idea and require a bit more thought than just slipping a £10 note inside their Christmas card.

All I need to do now is to decide which books to spend it on!

Saturday, 12 December 2015


Back in July, I managed to convince my parents to take me up to the University of Cambridge for their open day. We left at the ridiculous time of 4:30 a.m. and didn't get home until past 2 a.m. the following morning in an attempt to visit as many colleges as possible.
Fast forward a few months and, after achieving brilliant AS results and getting predicted straight A*s for next year, I found myself applying to Cambridge. I had four colleges in mind: Magdalene, Sidney Sussex, Selwyn and King's. Eventually, I got down to just Magdalene and King's and finally sent my application off with King's being my chosen college.
Skipping a few more months, having already had two interviews at Plymouth and Cardiff, I was over the moon to receive an e-mail inviting me back up to Cambridge for two interviews!
This time, we decided we would stay the night before so that I wouldn't be insanely tired for my interviews. Luckily, we have family in a town just outside the city who allowed us to stay with them. It was great to catch up with them, and fun to stay there (plus they have a parrot which is hilarious!)
To get to Cambridge from their house, we took the guided bus. It was so strange! Basically, the bus follows set tracks, a bit like a tram or train, for part of the journey and then returns to a normal bus to get through the city centre. Even stranger was that it had normal road signs on the tracks and even traffic lights!
The guided bus
The first thing we did when we arrived in Cambridge was find our way to King's college (made easier by all the signs directing tourists to the famous chapel) where we found all the film crews busy filming in the chapel. Throughout the day, we did a little bit of shopping. My parents bought me an owl as a 'good luck' gift, I bought a Christmas bauble in John Lewis, which was a bit of a novelty as we don't have one near us. I also bought a King's college mug just in case I don't go back. The last things we bought were lots of Funko Pops, which were 3 for 2 in Heffers. I already have Ron Weasley and a Thor keyring so I picked up Harry in his quidditch uniform and Emma Swan and Captain Hook from Once Upon A Time.
My gifts from Cambridge (original photo here)
The interviews themselves were really enjoyable. Although nervous and a little apprehensive as to how difficult they would be, they were like miniature lessons where you work through things using your own knowledge. The questions were difficult, but with the prompting and by applying previous knowledge, they were fun to figure out and, even if I don't get a place, I will always remember how much I liked the interviews. I even got a chance to discuss my local bookshop with one of my interviewers as she had been there before!
It was a fantastic couple days away. Now all I have to do is keep my fingers crossed and wait to hear back from all my unis in the new year.

If anyone is interested in knowing a little more about the interviews, leave a comment and I'll let you know

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Christmas Music

For over 5 years now, I've been playing electronic keyboard (with some dabbling at other instruments, mostly piano) and I reached Grade 6. However, this year I had to give it up to focus on my A-levels as even I'm not stupid enough to tackle 6 A2 subjects whilst being out of the house from 7a.m. to 5:30p.m. every day because of school.
To be honest, the lack of music lessons and not working on a grade hasn't made much difference to my life, as I still just pick up music books and play whenever I feel like it, and being a pretty good sight-reader has helped that.
Earlier, I was feeling really Christmassy and went to play some Christmas songs so I went to my music collection and started digging out all the Christmas song books I have and I realised in horror that I have very few - I used to borrow the majority from my music teacher!
I must admit I was rather devastated but, luckily, my grandparents were out so they picked me up two books and I've just spend the past couple hours playing all the Christmas songs to my hearts content and now, if possible, I feel even more festive!

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Doctor Who Finale

I was unable to watch the final episode of the current series of Doctor Who last night as my grandparents came out. However, I watched it this morning and my initial reaction was 'wow what an episode!'
Unlike many people I know, I am a huge Clara fan and have loved the way her character has developed, and the way her relationship with the Doctor has really evolved over the past two series with Peter Capaldi. I was absolutely devastated when she died a few episodes ago, and I will admit that a few tears were shed.
This episode really delved into how different Capaldi's Doctor is compared to the previous of the modern Doctors. He was willing to risk everything to save his Clara as he blamed himself for making her reckless.
The fact the Doctor has lost all his memories regarding Clara is a bit of a let down, as it will feel to an extent that the past few series have never really existed, but it does open up a possibility of an episode, or even series, where Clara returns and the Doctor re-discovers his memory of her. Furthermore, I can't have been the only one who felt the ending opened up a possible spin-off series? (Although I severely doubt it will ever happen.) And I can't have been the only one to have laughed at the possibility of an American Diner flying through space and time. Also, I don't think I was alone when my heart clenched at the mere mention of dear Amy and Rory.
I only found two let downs in this episode. One being that I really hoped for another appearance of Missy, who I was really expecting to be in the final episode and even somehow a course of Clara's death. I also expected the Doctor's return to Gallifrey to be a bit more meaningful and special. However, perhaps that shall be explored more in the next series?
All I can say is that I am so excited for the Christmas special and eagerly anticipate the next series!

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Book Review: The Finisher by David Baldacci

The Finisher – David Baldacci

*Warning – may contain spoilers*
Author: David Baldacci
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
First published: 2014
Cover: Paperback
Pages: 506
Blurb:    Enter a village imprisoned by its fear of the unknown. Where curiosity is discouraged, and no one has ever left – or wanted to. Until now.
                Then a mysterious bequest turns one teenage girl’s life upside down. A curious map and a ring which connects Vega to another time lead her to discover an unknown world beyond the perimeter walls. A world filled with possibilities, and creatures beyond her imagining. But before Vega can experience it, she will be forced to fight for her freedom. And unravelling the truth of what exists beyond the confines of her village may cost Vega her life…
History of my copy: I picked this book up at Tesco as part of their 2 for £7 deal a while ago, and it was entirely a cover buy! I had heard of David Baldacci and knew his books were well-received, which further fuelled my purchase.

I started this book the day I bought it, but had only read the first couple of chapters. Since then, it has resided on my ‘currently reading’ shelf until I picked it up a few days ago and finished it off.

Plot: Meet Vega Jane, a 14-session old Wug from Wormwood. Her village is surrounded by The Quag, a place where no-one is allowed to go, and neither do most want to. This story follows Vega as she works as a Finisher at Stacks, coming to terms with living without her parents and discovering that most things she has been told about her village are a lie. She starts to piece together the truth, along with her friend Delph, but she is arrested for possessing a book about The Quag. Rather than spend a lifetime in Valhall, or be beheaded, she must fight in the Duelem for her freedom. She also must battle against Morrigone, a seemingly nice Wug on the council who is a mixed character – she saves Vega’s life, but also tries to kill her, as well as taking Vega’s brother John to help build a wall to keep the Outliers out – or keep the villagers in. Vega must use Destin, a magical chain that helps her fly, the Elemental, a magical staff, and her dog, Harry Two, to defeat the evil in wormwood and allow her and Delph to escape and discover the outside world.
Setting: The entirety of this book is set in the village Wormwood. Setting isn’t a strong point, and I kept losing track of where Vega was at some point. There isn’t much description on what a lot of the places look like either, so you have to use a lot of imagination.
Characters: I must admit that no characters stand out as particularly interesting. Most of the villagers are nasty to Vega, and she has many enemies. However, there are, of course, a few Wug’s that are on her side.
                Delph, Vega’s best friend, is perhaps the most interesting character. He starts with a stutter, caused by Morrigone, but Vega helps him overcome this. He is fiercely loyal to both his father and Vega. He helps her learn to fight for the Duelem, and just generally fits the ‘male best friend and possible future love interest’ that the majority of female main characters have.

To read or not to read: Don’t read. I was really disappointed by this book, especially as I was so eager to read it. The plot was slow, then everything happened all at once, and it didn’t all link together or make sense. Furthermore, the world had the potential to be engrossing, but it just didn’t work. I may eventually try to read the next book in the series, but it would be at the bottom of my ‘to read’ list.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Christmas Books

Over the past few weeks, I have seen many fellow bibliophiles get excited about Christmas reads. I feel almost embarrassed to admit that I have never read a festive book! Sure, I've read countless chapters around the Winter season but never a book solely based around my favourite part of the year.
As I am always on a book buying ban in December due to Christmas (nothing is worse than opening a gift from someone and having to force a smile then quietly tell them later that I already own it), I've never had the chance to buy a Christmassy book. 
However, I would love for this to change! If you would like to recommend me any of your favourite festive reads, I'd be happy to look them up and purchase them in the new year ready for next Christmas (or maybe perhaps sneakily buy a couple in the next few weeks).

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Book Review: Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Princess – Cassandra Clare

*Warning – may contain spoilers*
Author: Cassandra Clare
Publisher: Walker Books Ltd.
First published: 2013
Cover: Paperback

Pages: 565
Blurb:    Danger and betrayal, secrets and enchantment in the breathtaking conclusion to The Infernal Devices trilogy.
Tessa Gray should be happy - aren't all brides happy? Yet as she prepares for her wedding, a net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London institute. A new demon appears, one linked by blood and secrecy to Mortmain, the man who plans to use his army of pitiless automatons, The Infernal Devices, to destroy the Shadowhunters. Mortmain needs only one last item to complete his plan. He needs Tessa. And Jem and Will, the boys who lay equal claim to Tessa's heart, will do anything to save her.
History of my copy: A friend of mine got me into City of Bones and the rest of The Mortal Instruments series a few years ago, and since then I've been hooked on the Shadowhunter world. The Infernal Devices are a fantastic prequel series that I picked up not much longer after getting into the Shadowhunter books.
This is the second time I have read The Infernal Devices, and I am still so in love with them! Cassandra Clare is a fantastic author, and her Shadowhunter world is beautiful and believable. I am a huge fans of books that fit a fantasy world around the real world, such as Harry Potter and The Infernal Devices, because it makes them just that little more believable.
Plot: As the final instalment in The Infernal Devices, I’m not going to delve into the plot too much as it will make little sense unless you have read the previous two novels. Basically, this book ties up Mortmain’s story, ultimately leading to his death and the downfall of his clockwork army, which have been made even more deadly by tying them to demons thanks to Tessa. Also, this book concludes the heartbreaking decision of Jem or Will in the most surprising way possible.
Setting: One of my favourite things about this series is that it is set in Victorian London, a setting I find always improves every book. The only other main setting is the ironically chosen Cadair Idris. Clare describes the settings well, allowing you to really feel as if you are really immersed in Shadowhunter Britain.
Characters: The development of Will Herondale throughout the series has led to him being one of my favourite all time characters. Funny yet kind, honest yet seemingly cold to all the world but Jem and Tessa, he really is the dark-haired, blue eyed boy you fall in love with.
                Another of my all-time favourite characters appears in this book, despite being introduced in The Mortal Instruments, is Magnus Bane. As a warlock, he is extravagant, wise and unique. Despite trying not to, you can see he really does care about the London Shadowhunters, especially Will and Tessa, and he is a pivotal character, along with Henry Branwell, in making the Portal.

To read or not to read: Read. I would recommend any Shadowhunter novel to everyone, as they are fantastically written and you really do get lost in their world.