Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden.

Hello readers!  The weekend is almost over (I hope you had a good one), and whilst that can be a bit of a bummer, a new week means new reading opportunities.  For this evenings blog post, I am reviewing The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden, the second in the Wintersong trilogy (for the review of the first instalment, The Bear and the Nightingale check out my previous post under the category ‘Book Review.’).  So what is the book about?  Let’s have a look at that trusty blurb:

arden review picFor a young woman in medieval Russia, the choices are stark: marriage or a life in a convent. Vasya will choose a third way: magic…

The court of the Grand Prince of Moscow is plagued by power struggles and rumours of unrest. Meanwhile bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. Setting out to defeat the raiders, the Prince and his trusted companion come across a young man riding a magnificent horse.

Only Sasha, a priest with a warrior’s training, recognises this ‘boy’ as his younger sister, thought to be dead or a witch by her village. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, Sasha realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

I had high expectations of this book, because I adored the first one in the instalment, but this equalled it and more, seemingly without effort.  I am a huge fan of Arden’s style of writing, and she really brings the magic and peril to life.  When it gets to the big exciting moments, such as fight scenes, it honestly becomes difficult to pry yourself away from the book and I found myself drowsily reading in the small hours of the morning, swearing to myself that I would just read ‘one more chapter.’

Vasya, the main character, develops and grows further with this instalment, and I now feel as if I know her.  She has flaws and weaknesses like all of us, of course, but she refuses to shy from these, instead constantly trying to learn from her mistakes.  I love fantasy fiction, but I find that many of the books fall into the same tropes, particularly when it comes to the lovey dovey stuff.  Not so here.  The love story running throughout both books, grows with intensity in this instalment, and I genuinely cannot wait to see how it ends for Vasya and her Winter King.

The rich folklore, and Russian culture create the most fantastical back drop to what is essentially an adventure story, featuring one badass, independent young woman who refuses to play the role society has planned for her.  Quite frankly, I cannot recommend this enough…buy immediately.

For other book reviews, and pieces of original writing, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!!

Vellum Book Box: April’s Unboxing.

vellum 3Hey Readers, Happy Hump Day!  I hope your week is going well so far.  However bad work may be, remember you are officially half way to the weekend…HOORAY!!  What better way to celebrate than with a book subscription box unboxing?  This week, I was lucky enough to receive Vellum box’s April box, and this month’s theme is Obsessions, as in all of the things us book nerds are utterly obsessed with.  So sit back, and enjoy this unboxing, and if you love everything as much as me, use my discount code MARIE10 to get 10% off your first box…you can peruse their site by clicking here.

If you are unfamiliar with the Vellum box, this is a subscription box with a difference.  vellum 2Each box contains a bookish t-shirt, perfect for every book lover to wear to the library, along with a selection of other bookish goodies, all linked to that month’s theme.  As I said, this month’s theme is around our obsessions, like finding the perfect cup of tea or coffee to compliment your newest read, and what quote better encapsulates that than this one by C.S.Lewis?  This is honestly one of my favourite quotes, by one of my favourite authors (who happens to come from Belfast, like me by the way) and its presence on this super soft, V-neck Tee, as designed by Sketchy Notions, makes me super happy.  I am so in love!!  Talk about wearing your nerdy heart on your sleeve, or um, chest…

vellum 1But enough gushing about my (awesome) t-shirt…what else did I get I hear you ask?  Well this month’s box is certainly setting me up for some excellent future reading sessions.  Whether I am in the mood for coffee or tea, I am set, with  this Komorebi organic coffee blend from Revival Coffee Roasting Co. and ‘Dragon’s Blood’ tea from The Literary Tea Company.  But what is some Tea or Coffee without a bookish mug?  Well, it would be a messy puddle dripping from between our scolding fingers, and that’s just no good at all.  Enter this fabulous Narnia mug, designed by the incredibly talented Jo Painter.  She is definitely worth checking out- her illustrations are amazing.  But a mug, filled with a hot beverage can be a dangerous thing to any work surface…your coffee table would end up all rings and stains without the shielding power of a coaster, like this EPIC Harry Potter maple coaster as hand crafted by Havoly Designs.    I know I shouldn’t play favourites in a box of goodies this awesome, but I couldn’t help it…a tiny squeal escaped by lips when I saw this (Harry Potter fans will understand).  Finally, declare your obsession with chocolate and coffee with this adorable magnet illustrated by Juliana Perdomo.  It says, ‘I love days when my only problem is coffee or chocolate’ and it makes me smile every time I open the fridge!

As always, Vellum Box has exceeded my expectations…so I find myself typing this blog, while drinking Dragon’s blood tea from my Narnia mug, resting between sips on my Hogwarts coaster!

 

My Novel ‘Broken Mirrors’ Official Release!

My Novel ‘Broken Mirrors’ Official Release!

my book IG picHey everyone!  This blog post is a very special one, because it is not a review of someone else’s book, but information about my own!  That’s right, I wrote a novel and it has officially been released today Friday the 13th.  I wanted to thank all of my lovely followers, because your support has been so wonderful.  Putting yourself and your writing out there is a very scary thing, and you guys have been nothing but lovely every step of the way.  In fact, it was the support and encouragement from my followers here and on Instagram, that gave me the courage to put my book into the world, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I would really appreciate your continued support now, as my book goes on sale worldwide…if you could buy it, that would be amazing!  If you read it, even better, and if you review it, well ten gold stars for you!!  You are the bloggers and reviewers and social influencers, and your opinion means the world to me.  It has got great reviews so far from some of the people who received ARCS, so grab a copy now and let me know what you think!!  Buy your copy on Amazon now by clicking here!

About ‘Broken Mirrors’:

When Marie moves from Belfast to London, she envisions a fresh start and an escape book IG picfrom a broken home. Once there, she meets Malcolm Carter, a charming, handsome man who sweeps her off her feet and gives her a life she could only have imagined. But Malcolm isn’t all he seems; he’s a criminal, a mobster and a murderer. Detective Fraser Duncan knows what he is, and he’s determined to take him down, but things get more complex when a rival and brutal gang leader appears on the scene, setting his sights on Malcolm’s empire. When Marie chooses to stay with Malcolm, regardless of what he is and what he has done, she starts down a path from which she can never return, and now she has been taken, Detective Duncan and Malcolm must set their differences aside and join forces in a race against time to save the woman they love.

Broken Mirrors explores the fragility of our own sense of self and the moral code by which we live our lives and hold ourselves to account.

Vellum Book Box: Unboxing.

Hey readers!  I’m sorry for being absent on here recently…I would happily read and write and blog and blog about reading and read about blogging all day and all night, but sadly bills, responsibilities and all the boring parts of adulthood keep getting in the way!  I snatch whatever time away I can, and I simply HAD to sneak some blogging time in for this particular book box, because I am so ridiculously excited about it!

vellum 3Vellum is a bookish subscription box, and despite being fairly new to the world of monthly boxes, it is taking off and I am lucky enough to have the privilege of repping for them for the next couple of months!  I have been following them since the beginning, and it has been so wonderful to watch them grow and prosper.  The premise is simple- each month you get a bookish t-shirt, perfect for us to wear our book worm hearts on our sleeves!  Along with your tee, you also get a handful of bookish goodies, all centred around that month’s theme.  Sounds awesome right?  The best bit is, you can get 10% off your first box with my discount code MARIE10!!

March’s theme is ‘Jane’s Kiss’ dedicated to my all time favourite book, Jane Eyre and honestly it is like it was made for me…everything is so perfect, I could just gush and gush!  But, I think the best thing is probably just to tell you all about the lovely goodies I got inside, starting with that stunning Tee…

vellum 4

The T-shirt is so soft, and not only features one of my all time favourite quotes, but also has this gorgeous bird cage design by Ink and Wonder Designs…I will be wearing this constantly!  If anything, it will be a way for me to discover kindred spirits out there.  If I wear the shirt and people come up to me and tell me how they too love Jane Eyre, then I know I have made a new friend. One thing for sure is, even if I have no luck in finding fellow Bronte obsessives such as myself, I will be getting plenty of compliments about the shirt anyway based on design alone.  In a nutshell…I love it!

Along with my gorgeous T-shirt, I also got a bunch of Jane Eyre themed Goodies.  First up, vellum 5is this stunning candle by Novelly Yours, made exclusively for this box.  I wish I could attach a sniffable image, because this smells divine!  I look forward to lighting it.

Next up, an adorable book of matches made by Here Forever More perfeat for lighting my lovely candle with.  They basically feature a miniature version of the book, which I honestly adore and I don’t even know if I will be able to bring myself to use them, they are that sweet!

vellum 2I also got Two stunning prints.  The first, featuring that ever so romantic quote from the book, is a print by Bibliophile prints, which is too lovely and the second is this outstanding print and matching handheld mirror by Nastja and honestly, I am so in love. I loved this so much, I immediately looked her up online and her work is incredible…I want it all.  That’s one of the great things about boxes like these, they introduce you to artists and shops you never would have discovered.  I will definitely be following this artist on Instagram!

But there is more!  I also got the yummiest Thornfield Kiss lip balm by From The Page so vellum 1I can keep my lips soft while I chatter about books!  I am a big lover of practical, pretty and bookish items such as this…You can declare you are a book worm while simultaneously tackling chapped lips!  Perfect really!

So that’s the box, and can I just say WOW!  I truly love every single item, and it is so obvious the amount of care and consideration that went into choosing every single one.  The Vellum box is a great gift for yourself or fellow book worms and I cannot recommend it enough!

Now if you excuse me, I am going to re-read Jane Eyre while wearing my new shirt, lighting my candle with my matches, using my lip balm and mirror for application and staring at the prints which will immediately find their way onto my walls!  Perfect!

Book Review: A Festival of Trial and Ember by Logan Miehl.

Happy Hump day everyone! For today’s blog post, I will be reviewing ‘A Festival of Trial and Ember‘ by Logan Miehl, part one of what will no doubt be an epic fantasy featuring fairies, battles and creatures which lurk in the shadows.  So what’s it about?  Let’s check out the trusted blurb:

festival picA dangerous summer festival. A throne left empty. A forgotten world of faeries in a time of shadow and treason. Róisín, 17-years-old, is biding her time till graduation. When the shadows around her come to life, she discovers no one else can see these strange creatures except her and her brother. Desperate for answers, she embarks on a journey into the Otherworld—a land beneath Ireland where faeries live as the descendants of ancient Celtic gods. As Róisín struggles to survive, she realizes her decisions could alter the fate of an entire Kingdom. The Festival of Trial and Ember is the first book in the compelling new Faerie Festival Series. There are games to win, promises to break, and hearts to conquer. The Celtic summer festival of Lughnasa has begun.

The book follows a familiar format: a young teenage girl, thrust into a world she did not know existed, fighting for survival.  This template has been tried and tested, and let’s face it, it works.  You see the fairies and their world for the first time, through the main character’s eyes, and you learn about their ways as she does.  The premise is introduced really well, with the action starting almost immediately, and I found myself gripped from the first page.  It builds well, and contains the right amount of action and threat to keep you turning the pages.  I was slightly disappointed by the abrupt ending, but it’s clear that this is just part one of this adventure, so realistically, it probably couldn’t have ended any other way.

As a Celt myself, I really enjoyed reading about legends I learned about as a child, as well as discovering some new ones.  I also loved that the characters had traditionally spelt, and pronounced, Irish names.  The creatures and the fairies again are familiar, but Logan presents them in a new way.  With each chapter beginning with a quote from historical books about such legends, presented almost as facts taken from a text book, it gives the story and the legends within a certain amount of believability and credibility, as if this world could truly exist unbeknownst to myself and my fellow humans.

The characters are well rounded and believable.  I will be honest though, Roisin kind of irritated me for much of the book, acting like a petulant child a lot of the time, but she discovers who she is, finds her stride and becomes pretty badass towards the end.  I look forward to reading the following books and seeing her as a more confident young adult rather than a teenager with an attitude.

Overall, I found the book really entertaining, and at points, I couldn’t put it down!  I definitely recommend it for any fans of fantasy and Young Adult fiction, and I will 100% be reading the following books in the series.

 

An Interview with New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Novak and Professional Reader’s Box Giveaway!

brenda 1I have no doubt you have heard of the author Brenda Novak.  She has written over sixty books, sold millions of copies worldwide, topped the New York Times and USA Today Bestsellers lists and won award after award, including The National Reader’s Choice award, The Write Touch award and the Beacon Award for Published Authors.  In fact, you probably have at least one of her books on your shelf right now.  But did you know that, not content with merely taking the world of literature by storm, she also has started her own Global book club, as well as a monthly subscription box?  Me neither, but that’s how I got the chance to chat with Ms Novak.

If you aren’t already aware, I am a dedicated Bookstagrammer.  Basically, I take pretty pictures of my favourite reads and nerd out with other book worms around the world.  Geeky I know, but it’s a great community (if you aren’t already a part of it, definitely give it a look, and me a follow!) and you get to meet so many amazing people.  Enter Brenda Novak.  I was approached by her wonderful daughter Alexa to publicise ‘The Professional Readers Book Box’ and of course, I jumped at the chance.  They sent me February’s Valentine’s Day themed box, and I am truly in love (wait until the end of the article for a quick run down and review of the box as well as a chance to win one of your own!).  But not content with merely discussing the box, I chanced my arm and requested an interview with Ms Novak herself, and amazingly, despite her insane schedule, she agreed!

So grab a cuppa, kick back, and enjoy….

Let’s start with a brief introduction…who is the team behind Professional Readers Box?

I’m a New York Times Bestselling author of over sixty books. I curate these “professional reader” boxes each month with my daughter, Alexa Novak.

For those of us unfamiliar with the Professional Readers Box, can you explain a bit about it?

The Professional Reader Box is a subscription box that brings two autographed books to your door each month–one big name author and one up and coming author I’ve hand selected–along with other reader-related items.

It would be remiss of me not to ask a couple of writing related questions, while I have the ear of the Legendary author that is Brenda Novak! You have written over 50 books, and sold millions of copies worldwide, tell me, what was the biggest hurdle you faced to getting your first book published, and how did you overcome it?

Getting the time to research and write was probably my biggest hurdle. I never dreamed I’d be a writer, but when I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while I worked as a loan officer, I quit my job to stay home with them myself. I still needed to figure out a way to help provide for the family, however, so I was looking for something I could do at home. My sister had given me a good book–Jude Devereux’s KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR, and I loved it. I remember closing that book and thinking, “I wonder if I could do this!” I started right away, and spent the next five years researching the Victorian area (the time period of my first book, OF NOBLE BIRTH) and teaching myself the craft of writing. Meanwhile, I had two more children to give me a total of five, so you can see why getting the time to learn and create was a hurdle!

What is your writing process? Would you plan your book out before writing it, or is it more of a stream of consciousness style process?

I’m more of a “pantser,” which is the name bandied about among writers for someone who doesn’t plot. I start with the conflict of a story–something I think would be very interesting to explore–and then I decide what kind of characters would be most challenged by that conflict. The plot grows out of the characters.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

When I first started writing I had THE GREAT IDEA. It was based almost entirely on a title that popped into my head one day—OF NOBLE BIRTH. This title lent itself to a very specific theme: whether one is noble or not depends on the heart and not the pedigree. That was the message I wanted to deliver, and I knew the best backdrop for a story with such a message would be a historical setting where the caste system was firmly in place, so I decided that my book would be a historical romance set in Victorian times,

but I soon realize that was NOT the only idea I would ever need if I wanted to make my living as a published author. In order to build my career, I needed to write another story, and another, and another. In other words, I had to develop my imagination, turn it into a deep well of ideas from which I could draw time and again.

I didn’t know how I was going to do this but, fortunately, our brains are very adaptable. The more I demanded that my imagination deliver IDEA NUMBER 2, the harder it began to search. Before long, my mind turned into a “sifter.” It sifted through everything that came my way, every conversation I overheard, every funny anecdote I was told, every movie I saw, every newspaper article I read, every true crime show I puzzled over until I could pull an attitude from one character I’d come to know via a TV show, mix it with a situation my mother had mentioned the week before last, throw in some of my personal experience and…I was off and typing.

Have you ever suffered writer’s block? If so, how did you get beyond it? If not, what is the secret to writing over 60 successful books without suffering from it?

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. But there are days when I get stuck, when my story seems to be turning to drivel or I can’t get it to hold any emotional tension. That’s when I know something is wrong. I’ve taken the story where it wasn’t meant to go, for lack of a better way to describe it. Fortunately, there are ways to get myself “unstuck.” Experience has taught me to mentally step away from the manuscript and look at it from a macro perspective, always asking myself, “Where did you go wrong?”

I start from the beginning and check the story as a plumber might check a series of pipes for leaks. I feel my way along, testing the story to see if it’s still “holding water.” I read, consider, read, consider and read some more until I find the “break” or part that isn’t in harmony with my intuition. Sometimes I do this by reading the manuscript aloud to my husband and asking for his input. Then we both look at the reasons my story isn’t coming together. Maybe I’m forcing my characters to do something these types of characters would never do. Maybe I’m ascribing a certain trait or pathology to my villain that just isn’t ringing true. Maybe I’ve veered too far away from my “core story.” It’s a bit of a hassle to go back, and definitely risks some unraveling and rewriting, but if I take the time to do this I almost always find the point that’s troubling my subconscious and interrupting my ability to proceed. Then I can fix it.

What advice do you have for young, aspiring writers?

Over the years, I have often been asked what piece of advice I would offer someone who is just starting out in publishing. I have always said I can boil it down to just one word, and that hasn’t changed even after 50+ books and nearly two decades. Believe. It’s really that simple. If you truly believe in yourself and your talent, you will be motivated to actually sit down and write the book instead of only dreaming about it.

You will be driven to seek out any help you may need (research or craft-related) to make it the best you can create. You will follow through with marketing ideas until you sell it (or self-publish it), and you won’t give up if you don’t immediately reach your goals. Belief drives the entire engine—especially through the rough spots.

Ok, back to the Professional Readers Box…What Inspired you to create this service?

Once I started my online book group on Facebook, I wanted to “add value” to becoming a member, and I did that through developing various programs. We have a Book Buddy Program, a monthly reading challenge, a commemorative pin for anyone who has read more than fifty of my novels, etc. The book boxes are just one more fun thing we offer to make it even more enjoyable to belong.

How do you go about curating each box? Do you pick a theme and then choose your book, or is the box built around a selected title?

I choose the books first. I fill out the schedule a year in advance. Then we choose items that will either go with a generic reading theme (like March’s box, which is all about reading in the tub and includes a pretty robe), or we focus on one of the books (like we did when we created our Whiskey Creek box). Sometimes we even focus on the closest holiday, like we did for our October, November and December boxes.

If an author or a business would like to collaborate with you on a box, is that something you would be interested in? If so, how would they go about arranging that with you?

Sure! I’d entertain submissions/ideas. We are very picky about what goes in our boxes, so it would have to fit with the theme and be of a certain quality, but I’m always interested in taking a look at new ideas and collaborating with others. There’s a contact link on my website, so I’m easy to reach.

How do people subscribe to the Professional Readers Box?

There’s a store right on my website at http://www.brendanovak.com. People can save a few bucks by signing up for a yearly subscription, or we have monthly subscriptions available. We even sell individual boxes, although it’s best to get a subscription because we sell out well in advance, and a subscription is the only way to guarantee getting one.

brenda 2Some invaluable writing advice from a true expert!  But what of the box I hear you ask?  Well, each box contains at least one book, often autographed, and a selection of bookish goodies chosen around that book.  My box, being Feburary’s, was all about Romance.  Along with two amazing books, All We Know by Jamie Black and The Secret Sister by Brenda Novak herself, I got some handmade chocolates from All things Chocolate in Georgia, powdered donuts (which as an Irish lass I have never actually tried this American treat, but I will definitely bee seeking them out again in the future), socks which say, ‘If you can read this, bring me chocolate’ (excellent advice), a beautiful wooden sign which reads, ‘It doesn’t matter what the question is, chocolate is the answer’, a date suggestion kit, and a make your own valentine’s card kit.  All of these goodies came beautifully packaged in peach coloured tissue paper and frankly, it was an awesome Valentine’s day gift to receive through the mail.  I couldn’t recommend the box enough, and the next one looks even better if that were at all possible.  You can check out how to order your own here.

It gets better though, you could win your own Professional Readers Box!  Just head to my Instagram to find out how to enter the giveaway!

Book Review: Death Row by Christian Sterling.

deathrowFor tonight’s blog post, I am reviewing Death Row, a novella by Christian Sterling.  The book follows Charles Colter, an inmate at Greenwood Federal Penitentiary, during his final days at the prison.  Charles is an artist, happiest when he is able to pour himself onto a canvas, and through his art and internal monologue, we see inside a man desperately trying to make peace with his life; the decisions he has made in the past which have led to this point, as well as the uncertainty of his future.

I hate reviews which include spoilers, so I will try to give my opinion on the novella without ruining it for anyone.  I will say this though, there is a twist which I never saw coming and one which I found slightly disappointing at first, but perhaps that’s the sadist in me.

Anyway, to the review:  Charles is a well developed, believable and most importantly likeable character.  For much of the book, the reader is unaware of what he did to deserve his stint in prison, something which should be of importance, but instead you find yourself liking Charles too much to care about what he did to deserve punishment.  I like the Charles we see now, introspective and regretful, so I’m not bothered about the Charles whose decisions led him to that prison cell.  In a nut shell, Sterling is great at character development.

Despite most of the book lacking any ‘action’ per say (bar one sadistic shiv wielding prisoner), being very much grounded in reality in all of it’s brilliant boredom, the storyline is genuine and compelling enough to keep you reading.  All of it takes place in a routine, a pattern from which Charles wishes he could escape, and his yearning for colour in a world of beige not only makes Charles a relatable character, but also means that simple and often overlooked details, become something beautiful and interesting.  Sterling’s attention to detail is outstanding and allows the reader to paint a vivid image in their minds.

My only negative, which I have alluded to at the beginning, is perhaps the book’s message is a little too optimistic for me.  I do however think that’s more to do with myself and my own cynical view of the world than an actual issue with what is, overall, an incredibly well written book.  I definitely recommend this as a quick and interesting read.