Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Top Ten Holiday Gifts Under a Tenner

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So I started doing this list with lots of cool things, but I stopped and thought, who can afford this stuff, really? So I changed my mind and found you ten bargain items that are £10 or under.

Peropon Drinking Animal Planter

Do you always forget to water your herbs? Well these super cute plant pots make watering fun! Fill up their saucers and their little tongues will suck up the water and stop your plants getting thirsty without drowning them. The small size are £9.99 @ Firebox, with seeds included, and come in panda (basil), frog (mint), dog (clover) and cat (wild strawberry) versions.

Property of Hogwarts Mug

Primark have loads of Harry Potter stuff in at the moment, from muggle socks to "waiting for my letter" bedding, but this mug is an absolute bargain at £2.50, and mugs are always useful. I have also seen a polyjuice potion, hipster-style, glass mug in store.

Stranger Things Colouring Book

This unofficial colouring book is pretty cool, and as there's not much merchandise about it's a great gift for a fan of Stranger Things. Plus it's only £7 on Etsy.

Wooden Bookmark

IngrainedInc have loads of these bookmarks in their Etsy shop but I think my favourite is the giraffe. It costs £7.50 and can be personalised on the back.

Pokeball Grinder

If you know someone who likes cooking and Pokemon, this could be the perfect gift. It's £9.89 on Etsy and will grind herbs and spices

Microwave Penguin

These microwavable bean bags are pretty handy if you feel the cold and a little less hassle than a hot water bottle. Perfect to snuggle up to whilst reading. This one from New Look is pretty cute and is currently reduced to £8.24.

Hip Flask

To help get anyone through the holiday season. If you've got money to spare, give your friend something to fill it up with too. This Sass & Belle adventure flask is £7 @ ASOS

A Dragon!

Can't afford the real thing? Paperchase have a selection of plastic dragons at £6 each.

A Hand-Picked Book

Duh! Of course you know books are great presents, but rather than me telling you books I like, you should always pick a book based on what the recipient likes. If your dad loves epic fantasy, but you never read it, find a blogger you trust to give you some ideas. It's great if your family and friends have the same taste as you but if not, don't fall into the trap of just buying them something you love.

Personalised Book Token

National Book Tokens can be used in bookshops all across Britain including chains. Earlier in the year they introduced personalised book tokens which you can get to look a bit like a Penguin Classic, as well as other designs (or create your own). It costs a bit extra to get a custom one, but they can be topped up so your friend/family member can use it for their book shopping forever if they like! I have seen codes (maybe on O2) to get a personalised one without the fee, so do look around.

Monday, 28 November 2016

#NonficNov: Wishlist Additions

I've enjoyed spending the month pootling round new blogs and hearing about many interesting books. There's a mix here of books bloggers have recommended, ones I've just stumbled across this month and a few from the Goodreads Choice Awards lists. I'm sorry I haven't linked to the blogs I found these on here, but my laptop's been blue screening and I've just not had the time. But if you see a book your mentioned in your posts this month here, be sure that you influenced me!

I've come to realise that US and UK non-fiction is much more separate than fiction for some reason. There's a few books I've added to my wishlist that are US only and I'll be keeping my eyes out for UK publishers picking them up.*

This week is hosted by Emerald City Book Reviews.

Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation by Judith Mackrell
Adrift: A Secret Life of London's Waterways by Helen Babbs
They Can't Kill Us All: The Story of Black Lives Matter by Wesley Lowery

Empire of Booze by Henry Jeffreys
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich
Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

The Wonder Trail: True Stories from Los Angeles to the End of the World by Steve Hely
Truffle Boy: My Unexpected Journey Through the Exotic Food Underground by Ian Purkayastha
Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm - from Scratch by Lucie B. Amundsen

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard
Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Under-Rated Organ by Giulia Enders

On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope
The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head is Really Up To by Dean Burnett
I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong

*Yes, I know it's fairly easily to get books imported these days, but the exchange rate is pretty awful right now.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Inaugural Ninja Book Box

The first Ninja Book Box arrived on Monday along with my Kickstarter rewards. The box supports independent publishers, giving you a chance to discover books off the beaten track. It's also put together by the amazing Bex @ Armchair by the Sea. If you don't want the contents spoiled, stop reading now!

The theme of the fist box is "Slightly Surreal" and I'm assuming the gifts have a connection to the book in some way. As part of the subscription, you are also invited to the Ninja Book Group to discuss the book after you've read it. And the first book is... Star-Shot by Mary-Ann Constantine, published by Seren Books. You get a bit more information about the book and publisher in the box. Seren is a small, Welsh publisher specialising in English-language writing from Wales.

Part fable, part mystery, Star-Shot is a stylish debut novel set in and around Cardiff's National Museum in a time that is almost, but not quite, our own.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Yes Please

Most of the recommendations I got for Yes Please were from people who had listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by Amy herself. I was tempted, but I still have loads of unlistened to audiobooks which I have failed to get into, so I went for the book. I wonder if I would have enjoyed the audio version more, although I did like some of Amy’s old photos which are included.

I really only know Amy from her role in Parks and Recreation, which I love, but there is something about her which is very likeable, indeed the blurb on the book says everyone wants to be her friend. It’s definitely a feeling I got from her more personal chapters, which are more essays on life in general than specifics about her career.

The chapter on saying sorry was touching and on the point. So often a sorry comes with a caveat, we make it a selfish thing for ourselves than a real act of apology. Sometimes we are too angry to even think we should apologise. Her example is something I’m sure we’d all regret and I sniffled a bit at the final response.

Sometimes we get defensive about what we feel guilty about.

Other good bits are on the positives of getting old; you get superpowers! She reveals how bad a sleeper she is and pitches her ideas for books on divorce rather than talking about her own divorce. She reveals she is a kind and dedicated mom who makes parenting work with her career, at the same time pointing out how much women can be really down on other women who are doing the opposite.

Fighting aging is like the War on Drugs. It's expensive, does more harm than good, and has been proven to never end.

I’m not that familiar with Saturday Night Live and there is a lot about that. It came across a bit name droppy and was a list of this happened one time, and this happened another time. It was lacking the general charm displayed in other areas.

She does go on a bit at the start about how hard it is to write a book. I’m not doubting that, but in places it does feel like maybe she was going through the motions. Maybe if she hadn’t felt the need to “cover her career” I would have fallen in love, but I did find myself skimming some of it.

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Also reviewed @ Lit Addicted Brit

Book Source: Purchased

Monday, 21 November 2016

#NonficNov: Be the Expert

This week, Nonfiction November is hosted by JulzReads.

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Be the Expert - Biology

Whilst I am far from an expert in biology, it is the topic I seem to read the most of when it comes to non-fiction. I'm generally fascinated at how the human body works. It's amazing we're all here, reading the internet, when you think about it!

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code
by Sam Kean
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus
by Bill Wasik + Monica Murphy
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery
by Henry Marsh

These three books look at aspects of biology from different angles, I'm not really the kind of person who reads a lot on a very niche subject, I like to spread my learning around! The first book looks at the basic building blocks of life on earth; DNA. Sam Kean manages to make something very complex a lot easier to understand whilst taking an alternate trip through history.

I've mentioned Rabid already this month, but reading about deadly diseases appeals to me somehow. Maybe the more I understand it, the less I have to fear? Although rabies is a pretty scary virus and I'm glad I live in a country that is (mostly) free of it. This book looks at the virus from a cultural view as well as a biological, which adds a bit more material.

My third pick is the memoir of an NHS neurosurgeon. The brain is such a mystery yet every day surgery is carried out on it. People put their most precious organ in the hands of fallible human beings. I liked both the technical and the personal aspects of Henry's book.

Sunday, 20 November 2016


Taking part in Nonfiction November encouraged me to seek out some non-fiction books to spend my birthday vouchers on this month. You may have noticed I've read some of these already and some of the reviews are already up on the blog. Which makes me sound all organised and efficient but I am anything but at the moment! It's good to sometimes buy a book and just read it straight away though.

I'm looking forward to the third Invisible Library book and whilst I know Ben Fogle's Labrador isn't meant to be the best book in the world, I think it will still be interesting to read now we have one.

For Review:

Dark Made Dawn by J.P. Smythe
The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman (Tor)
You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (Vintage)
After the Crown by K.B. Wagers (Orbit)*


Yes Please by Amy Poehler
One Summer by Bill Bryson
The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks
The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen
The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Lying About Last Summer by Sue Wallman


...And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne
Labrador by Ben Fogle

*Unsolicited titles

Thursday, 17 November 2016

...And a Happy New Year?

...And a Happy New Year? is a follow-up special to the Spinster Club trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

It’s the first time since the girls left for college that the Spinster Club has met up and Amber’s throwing a New Year’s Eve party. They’re all looking forward to the countdown to midnight with their boyfriends with them. But distance has put a strain on their friendship and they are all keeping secrets from each other.

Happy endings aren’t forever. I loved how this book showed how the girls’ lives went on after their books and that not everything is perfect. I’m particularly pleased to get this follow-up novella as I wanted to know what happened with Lottie’s Cambridge application.

It also looks at the very real experience of drifting apart from your friends as you grow older. They go away to different cities to study or choose other paths, and it’s often difficult to keep things as they once were. Some people might feel they are being left behind.

Lottie’s not having a great time in London, but as far as her friends are concerned she is, so much so that that they think they’ve lost her to a better life. It’s pretty common for people to put on a happy face and pretend they are doing better than they are, but all it ends up doing is alienating people.

Evie is finding her relationship straining under their combined mental illnesses. She thought Ollie was doing OK but he seems to be relapsing. She still has her bad thoughts and she’s worried that confiding her problems will only result in one answer.

Amber’s also got a secret, but how does she find the right time to tell her friends. Everyone’s fragile and New Year’s Eve is meant to be fun, right?

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Book Source: Purchased

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dark Made Dawn

Dark Made Dawn is the concluding book in the Australia trilogy and therefore this review may contain spoilers for the previous books.

The star of a less than truthful book about the girl who fell to earth, Chan is now working for the police alongside Rex. Her enemies are now her friends, but how far can you trust anyone? Determined to find Mae, Chan must do what she can to earn the information. Until the day a line is crossed and she must make a choice. Do they ever have any chance of a new life, one without violence and uncertainty?

You make people live somewhere you've neglected, treat them like they're worth nothing? Sooner or later, some of them are gonna prove you right.

Whilst Way Down Dark and Long Dark Dusk were quite different books, Dark Made Dawn is more of a continuation of Chan’s story and an ending which is certainly not as bleak as I have come to expect from James.

I can imagine a lot of people would love to have something like Chan and Rex’s ending given the current political climate. There’s a lot of talk about the people being left behind by the establishment, and you get a little of that from the people Chan chooses to spend time with. Their future society definitely doesn’t work for everyone. Australia was an example of this, bundling criminals off into orbit where no one has to think about them.

Be selfish, my mother's voice says to me from nowhere at all, and I know that I am. I absolutely am.

The trilogy began with Chan’s promise to be selfish, to survive. As the story comes to an end she must reconsider her mantra, that maybe it doesn’t mean the same thing now. Her mother never expected her daughter to live on Earth, she would have forgiven Chan letting her promise slide.

Despite everything that happened between them on Australia, Chan and Rex have become genuine friends and I loved their friendship. Rex’s previous behaviour was clearly a result of her environment, a desire to survive and having to do something she didn’t want to.

There's always a choice. You just have to make the right one and stand by it. That's getting harder and harder.

I was a bit confused about Hoyle’s motivation. Had he been so augmented that he had lost some of his humanity? Or was he just doing his job? Sometimes he really seemed to care for Chan but I couldn’t resolve that with the way he handles everything. There was no higher force that I knew of that was ordering him to act such a way.

Whilst not my favourite book in the trilogy I did love the way it ended. Definitely read this if you're a fan of the first two!

Dark Made Dawn is published by Hodder and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

Monday, 14 November 2016

#NonficNov: Book Pairing

This week's Nonfiction November prompt is hosted by Sarah's Book Shelves and the topic is book pairings, matching fiction to non-fiction books. I often seek out books on a topic covered by a novel, even if I don't get round to reading them! Here are two pairs I really do recommend though:

If you read The Ballroom by Anna Hope...
...try Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England by Sarah Wise.

It's really quite shocking how asylums were used to lock people away, for all sorts of reasons. The Ballroom follows a couple in a Yorkshire asylum and the doctor with very Victorian ideas on what should be done with mad people. Sarah's Wise's well researched book on the same subject, follows lots of difference cases of lost liberty and using madness as an excuse.

If you read Am I Normal Yet? by Holly Bourne...
...try The Man Who Couldn't Stop by David Adam.

Am I Normal Yet? actually does an amazing job at dispelling myths about OCD but it's also eye-opening to read David's memoir, where OCD took over his life. He tries to explain how unwanted thoughts happen and, in the case of OCD, spiral out of control, as well as his coping mechanisms.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Paw Post

Scully's 16 week birthday was marked by the arrival of her first Paw Post box. Out of all the pet subscription boxes I looked at, I liked the sound of this one the most because they include natural, healthy treats and also try to source products from smaller companies. When you sign up, you enter your dog's age and size, and the box is tailored to that. So you may see different Paw Post contents in other people's November boxes. They also do a treat only box and one for cats.

"Is this for me?"

First up, Scully enjoyed chewing on the cardboard rip strip to open the box. Typical. However once opened she went straight for the Beco Bone. It smells of vanilla (and rubber), is hollow on the inside for hiding treats, is pretty bouncy and is chew proof. Considering Scully is approaching teething age, more tough chewable items can only be good.

Obviously, once she discovered there were treats in the box, she abandoned the toy and engaged Laser Stare. The box included two packs of Alfie & Molly's low fat treats; Scrummy Liver Oaties (gluten free) and Lamb Buttons (grain free). So far Scully has only tried the lamb ones, but they smelled good enough for humans to eat too, like lamb and mint sauce! Scully thinks they are super tasty and would like to eat the whole pack.

The treats are pretty large in size, but break up reasonably easily to use them for training. I wedged one in the Beco Bone which kept Scully occupied for ages but she couldn't really get to it. I'd suggest using smaller treats if you want your dog to get to them eventually!

I'm a bit cautious about giving Scully the Alpha Spirit Ham Bone just because I've heard so much about dogs injuring themselves with bones. However it does have a layer of meaty goodness on it, so we'll save it until she's a bit older and supervise her gnawing.

It's actually the bone from an air-dried serrano ham. Not only is it posh food for dogs, it's also repurposing what would otherwise be a waste product.

The last item is some Shoo Cedar-Wood Natural Dog Shampoo which is human friendly too. Normally we just wash Scully with water, but this will be useful to have on hand if she rolls in anything hideous! I don't think this shampoo is readily available in the UK either, so nice to have something that you couldn't just buy in the shops.

The contents of the box would cost around £26 to buy separately. I signed up for a 3 month plan which works out at £20.95 per box plus postage. If you only want to try one box it's £22.95 but if you pay for 12 months in one go, it works out at £17.95 per box. So I wouldn't use it to save money but it's a nice way to try new things.

We'll try to video the next one!