Wednesday, 26 October 2016

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer ǀ Book Review

For the purposes of this review I am going to be talking about the four main Lunar Chronicles books, not the additional novellas which Marrisa Meyer has written to alongside this series.

This was my first fairytale retelling series and although I wouldn't say that it is the most complex storyline or read, I found it to be incredibly enjoyable nonetheless.  I had seen it all over the book world; booktube, Goodreads, Amazon recommendations...the lot but it was only after I had a couple of people really get on at me to pick them and read them that I ordered the 4 main books.

The first book is Cinder and, as you might be able to guess, this is based around the story of Cinderella.  But with a twist.  We meet Linh Cinder who is working as a mechanic in New Beijing.  However Cinder isn't just an ordinary mechanic; she is also a cyborg (a human with additional metal/computer parts).  We have a lot of the same characters as in the original story; there is the mean stepmother, a cruel stepsister and, of course, the prince but I appreciated the spin that Marissa Meyer had put on the fairytale and the world she has created.  

So Cinder is living in a world which is slightly different from the world as we know it.  There has been a fourth world war and as such, many countries have banded together and the political system is very different and the set-up is very different.  Not only that, but there are a group of people living on the moon known as 'Lunars' who have the ability to manipulate bio-electricity meaning they can apply 'glamours' to themselves affecting what people from Earth (Earthens) see as well as controlling Earthens thoughts, feelings and actions.  As you might imagine, because of this, Earthens don't want anything to do with Lunars and are highly suspicious of them which is not helped at all by Queen Levana, who rules Lunar and is very much a dictator to the Lunar society.

Queen Levana wants to add Earth to her dominion and decides to do this by marrying Prince Kai, Emperor of New Beijing.  To add even more drama to the story, there is also a deadly disease which is making its way across Earth and which each country is desperately trying to find a cure for.  Guess who holds the antidote?  Queen Levana of course! 

I will say that I guessed the big 'twist' in the story pretty much at the beginning but it didn't take away the enjoyment factor for me.  I found Marrisa Meyer's writing style really easy to get on board with and I was soon swept up in the world and the story.  I'm not going to go too deep into what each book is about as I went in pretty blind and think that's it is much more enjoyable reading it that way; we all think we 'know' the fairytales which Meyer has borrowed for these books but it's the surprises she injects along the way which really make the books stand out.

The second book in the series was probably my favourite.  Scarlet is the Red Riding Hood retelling and as I have a real thing about Wolves (yup, I'm firmly Team Jacob) it firmly ticked the box for me and although I have heard people say that Scarlet was probably the least developed of all Meyer's characters I really enjoyed the Scarlet/Wolf story throughout all of the books.  I just used my imagination for the parts which Meyer didn't flesh out!

Cress is the third book and this was probably my least favourite, although Captain Thorne is right up there at the top of all time favourite book characters so that more than makes up for it.  Cress is the Rapunzel retelling and although I think that credit has to be given for the fact that Meyer has her stranded in a satellite for years and years she was pretty irritating. 

However, the thing that I love about books is how different characters really speak to us. I was talking with two of my good book-loving friends about this series and we each had characters that we didn't like at all and characters that we loved...and they were all totally different.  Which I think just goes to show how great it is to have a diverse selection of characters such as the ones Meyer has created; because there's bound to be some which appeal and some which don't.

The final book is an absolute beast in size and this is partly because Meyer had to somehow wrap up all the individual stories which she had created in Cinder, Scarlet and Cress.  This book is named after Princess Winter (aka Snow White) and we have all the other characters from the other three books in here as well.

Although I thought that maybe the stories wrapped up a little too nicely and neatly, I loved that they had a satisfactory ending and that we got to see what happened to each of the characters Meyer had written across all four of the books.

Overall I would say that these books are great YA reads; the stories are enjoyable with a wide range of characters and if you fancy a fairytale retelling with a twist then you will almost definitely find these books to your liking.

You can buy these books from Amazon and the Book Depository.

Currently reading:- The Well of Ascension (Mistborn #2) - Brandon Sanderson

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Exploring Brockholes ǀ #WalkWithWynsors

Over the weekend we were invited to Brockholes to join in with an event being hosted by Wynsors World of Shoes.  Brockholes has long been one of our favourite outdoor spaces and we were thrilled to be asked along.  A morning spent outside, letting the kids burn off energy?  We don't need to be asked twice!

Meg and Eli were sent some Bogs wellies for the event and they were both very excited to give them a whirl and test them out, especially in the run up to Autumn and Winter when they will practically live in them.  We love being outdoors as a family which I think any regular reader will know and the more grim the weather, the more the kids seem to enjoy it!  Living somewhere coastal we don't stop visiting the beach or the surrounding woodland just because the sun has vanished so wellies always come in handy.

When we arrived, the sky was grey and the rain was hammering down...but Meg and Eli were bouncing around with excitement and couldn't wait to get going.

First we met up with some other lovely bloggers who were also going to be joining in the event and then we set out, led by Terry, one of the volunteers who works at Brockholes and regularly leads walks around the nature reserve.  The kids were armed with some snack packs which they couldn't wait to tuck into (we barely made it up the first stretch of path!) and then we were off.

For this particular walk we were following the Meadow Trail which was 1 and a half miles long and took us through some fields, past the River Ribble and then back round to the playground and the Visitor Centre.  This was mostly flat, grassy paths which were fine for children and pushchairs although it was a little bumpy at points.

It took us about an hour and half to walk around and I thought it was just about long enough for the legs of the little people we had with us although we've explored a lot of Brockholes during our other visits and there is plenty to see if you can walk for longer.

Even though it remained overcast it was a really enjoyable walk, with plenty of wildlife for the kids to spot from slimy slugs nestling in the grass to a crane swooping over the water.  Eli even made himself a little friend; and he affectionately named it Thomas!

Just as we arrived at the adventure playground the sun decided to make an appearance which was very welcome indeed.  I love the playground area here; there is plenty of space for kids to run around and burn off all that energy, as well as different areas for different abilities.  Meg and Eli certainly had lots of fun racing about.

Then it was back to the Visitor Centre where a lovely lunch had been arranged.  After the brisk outdoor weather it was nice to enjoy some warming food and a good cup of tea whilst the children scoffed down the contents of their lunch boxes before being raring to go again.  Except for Eli...who decided to have a little lie down to let his lunch settle!

Overall we had a really enjoyable morning, exploring a part of Brockholes we've never seen before and even though the weather wasn't perfect, it was still a great opportunity to get outside and explore.

A huge thank you to Wynsors World of Shoes, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, Bogs Wellies and Brockholes Nature Reserve for hosting a lovely day out for us all.

We were provided with Bogs wellies FOC for the purpose of this event.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Ravensburger Unicorn 3D Puzzle Range ǀ Review

Whenever someone says the word 'puzzle' to me, I can't help but think back to a post I wrote in 2014 about the frustration of sitting and trying to do a puzzle with Meg.  It just wasn't in her range of skills at that time and it has certainly coloured my opinion of how much 'fun' attempting a puzzle would be with her.  However...following a recent parcel delivery in which we received three products from the Ravensburger 3D Puzzle Range, I'm going to have to adjust that view!

The three products were from the Unicorn range and Meg was over the moon when she opened the parcel and saw what was inside.  There are a number of different products and design but for the purpose of this review we were provided with a vase, a vanity box and a jewellery tree.  The products are aimed at children aged 8+.

I was pleased to see, on opening the boxes, that each product came with clear instructions and all the required pieces were obvious to spot.  The concept of a 3D puzzle sounds complex but actually with clearly marked items and puzzle pieces we soon found that it was simple enough to do.

I think the most time consuming part was sorting through the numbered puzzle pieces and trying to form some kind of system for putting them in order.

Once we had the puzzle pieces sorted, Meg had no difficulty at all in building the three items.  She is just outside of the recommended age group but she really found it quite straightforward.  I sat with her in case she needed assistance but it proved to be quite unnecessary.

Of course the best thing about these puzzles was the finished product.  The fact that the vase can really hold water and therefore really hold flowers was something she didn't stop talking about for days and the other two items also have a practical purpose which gives them that little something extra.

The three items we were sent are all priced between £10-15 which I think is reasonable for the length of time it took, the enjoyment factor and the fact that they can all be used afterwards.  I think if they were going to be permanently used I would consider gluing the pieces into place as they are quite small and I feel as though they would easily get lost if one or two were to come loose.

I'd recommend these for anyone with children in the 8+ years bracket and think they would also make great gift ideas.

We were provided with these puzzles FOC.  However all thoughts and opinions are our own.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Life Lately ǀ October

It's a sure sign when things quieten down over here that life has gotten a little bit hectic.  In fact, I feel as though I was only just saying the same thing about September a few short weeks ago.

I've had a lot of focus over on my Youtube channel recently and have finally settled into a routine with two videos going live a week (just about!) and I am loving the little community we have over there now.  I have a nice balance of book and family content and I am really enjoying the whole video making process from putting the clips together to sourcing the music and so on.  Hopefully the momentum will continue.

This month we've been a fair bit here, there and everywhere.  A couple of weekends ago we had a wonderful photo shoot for the kids with a photographer called Jo Rutherford.  It was initially going to be family shoot but I changed my mind at the last minute as I wanted some really special captures of the kids and from the brief look I got whilst we were there, it's certainly going to be hard to select the ones we want.

I am also really falling back in love with autumn again now that it's here.  I've always considered it to be my favourite season but I think I forget just how much I love it.  From the days which start out crisp and cool but then warm up with bright sunshine to those grey days when you wake up to the sounds of rain hammering against the window pane and you just want to curl up and stay in bed...the excuse to bring out the tartan scarves and rich colours of the season...the gorgeous burnt oranges, and golden yellows and leave fluttering from trees...heart and soul this is my season!

However, for some reason this season has also brought about a lack of sleep.  Namely caused by my two small people.  Between the hours of 2am-4am it seems that waking up is for everyone and they have taken to stumbling into our room and trying to get into bed with us.  For James this is fine as he sleeps through absolutely everything but I've been really struggling with the broken sleep and am rocking some pretty fantastic under eye shadows at the minute.  Hopefully it's just a hiccup and they'll be back to sleeping any day now.  Which would be pretty great actually. Ha.

Although it has given me the excuse for lots of early, cosy nights with me, myself and a good book for company.  And who doesn't love that?!

There's a lot of autumn love coming from Meg and Eli too as well actually from conker collecting to the excuse to bring out their snuggly onesies as soon as they get home from school.  

So overall we've had a pretty great start to October and although we are nudging ever close to November and I still haven't quite got my act together after the start of the school term in September, surely I'll get there sometimes soon!  Ish.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Celebrating 10 Years... ǀ Ideas for Anniversary Presents

I still find it quite difficult to get my head around but next year we will be celebrating our 10 year wedding anniversary.  So much has happened in the last decade and yet it feels like only yesterday that we were planning out table decorations, choosing flower arrangements and trying to manage the building excitement of a wedding!

Obviously 10 years is something of a milestone so we have been thinking about ways that we could mark the occasion.  It also happens to be my 30th birthday next year but I might save my celebration plans for that for another time!

Take A Trip Away
This is probably top of our list at the moment and will more than likely also form part of the birthday celebrations.  It has been a long time since James and I have taken a trip together just as a couple and although there are literally hundreds of places I would love to visit, I think for this particular trip we would love to go to Tuscany.  Not only is it wine country (need I say more?!) but it's also supposed to be a beautifully picturesque place and one we could escape to for a short time for a relaxing break together.

Buy jewellery
I'm not a huge wearer of jewellery but I think if we were to give each other a special piece, perhaps some vintage jewellery then I'd make an exception!  I know that jewellery is often a favourite choice for anniversary gifts and I would certainly appreciate anything that James had taken the time to choose for me; I think after 10 years he knows my tastes pretty well and would do a good job of selecting something I'd want to wear.

Have a celebration
We ummed and ahhed about having a celebration party where friends and family could come together but with two family weddings next year I don't think it will be possible.  It's a great idea though for anyone celebrating a milestone anniversary as, if you are anything like us, there are friends and family spread far and wide whom we just don't get to see as much as we would like to and this would be a great opportunity to gather everyone we love together for a good old knees up.

Try something new
It can be so easy to fall back on the typical 'anniversary' style options such as going to a restaurant, buying flowers etc and whilst there is nothing wrong with that, sometimes it is also nice to shake things up a bit.  I think a great idea is to try something which neither of you have done before, whether that's a dance class, a cookery course or a hot air balloon long as it's unique to the two of you then it's going to be a fun experience!

Be together...
If all else fails, then I don't think that we need expensive gifts, trips abroad or parties.  Simply carving out some time when it could just be the two of us would be perfect enough.  Perhaps we could watch a favourite movie or cook a favourite meal...even just sitting and talking about our hopes and dreams for the next 10 years would be great!

How would you celebrate your anniversary?

This is a collaborative post.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

September Reads ǀ Books

I was pretty impressed with my reading over September.  I had imagined I'd feel a bit slumpy after reading so many great books over the summer but luckily that didn't turn out to be the case and although I slogged my way through one 850 page book it was totally worth the effort.

We are moving into the colder and wetter months of the year now which (in my opinion) are the perfect months for snuggling up under a blanket with a cup of cocoa and a solid read.  But then again, when don't I think it's the perfect time for reading?!

Gray Mountain - John Grisham
This was my first read of the month and I so wanted to love it.  It has all the markings of a classic John Grisham novel.  Think small town lawyer taking on big corporation on behalf of the little people.  In this particular book it follows a coal mining town who are trying to get benefits from the coal companies for the workers who are suffering from a condition called black lung.  But it just didn't go anywhere.  There was no satisfactory resolution at the end, Grisham killed one of the main characters off right in the middle which was totally unnecessary and this book really felt like it was the first book in a series, which I don't believe is the case.  I'd say give it a whirl if you are a Grisham fan but I felt like it was a little lacking.

I See You - Clare Mackintosh
Luckily I managed to follow up Gray Mountain with a brilliant page turner.  I have mentioned I See You just about everywhere I can think of because I thought it was amazing.  It's a psychological thriller and I wont harp on about it too much here as I wrote a full review last week.  If you like fast paced books you can't put down though I would highly recommend this.

Percy Jackson and the Last Olympian - Rick Riordan
This is the last in the original Percy Jackson series.  I obviously can't go into too much detail as it's the last of five books but it basically wraps up with the prophecy which has been talked about from book one finally coming to pass.  I have slowly been making my way through these books and enjoy them as amusing middle-grade reads with a bit of mythology thrown in for good measure.

Fall of Giants - Ken Follett
This was the epic book I picked up this month standing at 850 pages.  It is set during the First World War and we follow the stories of five very different families whose lives all interconnect in some way.  I really enjoyed that we got different perspectives and saw how the war affected the families but this book was incredibly slow moving and very political so I don't think that it would be for everyone!

The Little Shop of Happy Ever After - Jenny Colgan
After reading Fall of Giants I needed something quick and light-hearted to read so I picked up this new offering from Jenny Colgan.  This is a lovely contemporary novel about Nina who decides to buy a van, convert it into a mobile bookshop and tour the villages of the Highlands in Scotland after she loses her job as a librarian in Birmingham.  This is a very warm-hearted read which will delight anyone who loves books and although I thought the love interest was predictable and everything probably tied together a little too nicely; it did everything I hoped it would and I really enjoyed it.

A Most Wanted Man - John Le Carré
Unfortunately I ended the month much as I started it with my first le Carré book.  I had heard really good things about his writing and was really looking forward to it but again, I didn't feel like this book did anything or went anywhere.  It is basically about how the small people in life get used by the 'big' people as pawns in their game against terrorism but I thought that it was stilted, that the relationships between the characters were abrupt and unbelievable and I actually originally checked that the book wasn't a translated copy as I couldn't get on with the writing style at all.  Definitely not one for me.

Currently reading: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

You can also buy all of these books on Amazon and the Book Depository.

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Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Pili Palas Nature World ǀ Day Out

There are some days out which just stick in your mind as being particularly enjoyable and worthwhile and our recent trip to Pili Palas Nature World in Anglesey definitely fulfils that brief.

We were drawn in by the tropical butterfly section but there is actually a lot more to Pilia Palas than just the butterflies.  Whilst it isn't a huge attraction, we thought the prices were more than fair and although it was busy, it wasn't so busy that we were on top of people either which is always nice.

The butterfly house is definitely the main attraction; the thing that people come for and that was a little bit crazy as it's also one of the first places that you come to.  Kids are obviously very keen to get up close with the butterflies and the heat means that it can get a bit much.  We ducked out after about 15 minutes and came back later in the day and it was much quieter.

There are numerous opportunities for children to get up close with the animals and reptiles here from stroking a python to petting a rabbit.  Again this was a little chaotic with all parents and children piling into the small space so I'd recommend leaving it to one of the later sessions if you are interested.

The farmyard section was pretty quiet when we walked by; there didn't seem to be a whole lot going on so other than a quick hello to some of the animals here we just kept on towards the playground.

We were particularly impressed with the play areas; there is an outside playground with a giant wooden castle, zip wire and assault course which is surrounded by picnic benches and a small undercover seating area too.  There is also a wooden playbarn and bouncy castle next to the cafe which again, offers picnic benches and seating for parents.  Our kids just love being outdoors and the first thing they always ask is whether there's a playground so this was a real thumbs up.  The cafe does advertise itself as having a soft play section but this is very much for toddlers.

There are a number of different indoor sections, and there were some interactive elements in the bug zone.

We were thrilled to find our very own Pascal (pet chameleon from Tangled) and there was even a Meerkat enclosure.  Meerkats are so much fun and Eli spent a long time just sitting and watching them scamper about.

There is also a nature trail which takes you right past the resident alpacas; easily Meg's favourite animal of the day.  She was fascinated and asked a number of times whether our garden was big enough to take one home!

We ended our visit with another quick runaround the playground followed by a visit to the birdhouse to say hello to the parrots.

For us this was not an entire day out; we got around 2/3 hours before the kids were itching to go and explore somewhere else.  I think at 5 and 7 they were happy to race around, do some exploring and get up close with the animals and that was fine.  Perhaps if the butterfly house hadn't been so busy we would have stayed longer as this was a particular favourite and they both enjoyed spotting the different types of butterflies and having them land on us all.

That said, if you bring a picnic (there are plenty of places to sit and eat) then it's an enjoyable and fairly cost-effective day out and we did have a great time.  Beaumaris is also not too far away and after we had left Pili Palas we headed there to the waterfront and to enjoy some ice cream, which you can read more about here.