Book review: Maya’s Notebook – Isabel Allende

Book review: Maya’s Notebook – Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende has written dozens of books, both autobiographical and fiction – mostly historical with a touch of magic realism. Maya’s Notebook is different. 

It deals with addiction, loss, first love, homelessness, desperation and renewal. While Allende has covered some of these themes, this book has a modern setting and takes place mostly on a island  (and in flashback) at the bottom of Chile – the author’s home country. 

When Allende has previously written about Chile it has been through a historical lens long before her cousin was president and her father, a politician, disappeared. Her other contemporary novels are mostly set in her adopted home of California, USA. 

Maya was raised by her beloved grandparents in a brightly coloured house in Berkeley, near San Francisco. After a family tradition the teenager begins to spiral out of control. 

The story is told mostly in flashbacks of Maya’s downward trend interspersed with her stay on a tiny island to recover. 

Wanted by the FBI, gangsters and bent coppers, her family have sent her to stay hidden with a family friend. The island and its inhabitants help her heal and deal with the past, while she also begins to uncover some of the secrets of her own family. 

Allende writes in Spanish, despite speaking English as well but the translation is smooth and the author’s distinctive style comes through. It’s a beautifully well written, compelling story and Maya is a thoroughly created character and quite the narrator. 

Perhaps because it’s her diary and there’s no audience she is honest and there are moments that shock and send a shiver through you of the terrible things Maya’s been through. 

I loved the supporting cast as well, from her slightly crazy grandmother and her Criminals Club, to the islanders with whom Maya finds a second home. 

I wouldn’t say this is Allende’s best book (that’s probably The House of the Spirits) but it’s a good read and certainly deals with some tough issues.

How to: tummy soother

How to: tummy soother

We’ve all been there, you’re bloated, your belly aches and you’d quite like to die now thank you. 

Here’s a quick recipe for a tummy soothing remedy that costs less than 50p to make. 
You will need: 

One mug from your cupboard

Hot water – a little cooler than boiling. 

A thumb of ginger root (If you can’t find any in the shops, 1/2 tsp dry ground ginger) 

Half a lemon/lemon juice from a bottle 

Pour the water into the cup and let it cool slightly so you don’t scald your tongue. 

Peel and grate the ginger. Wash and half a lemon. 

Put the grated ginger in a bowl and press down on it with a spoon to release the juice. 

Pour the ginger juice into the hot water (I use a tea strainer) and squeeze in the lemon juice. Sip. Adjust juice levels to taste. Drink slowly and in a while you should feel better. 

Ginger helps promote good digestion and soothes the bloat. Lemon is a friend to your liver and helps break down chemicals like alcohol.

If you can stomach it hot water with lemon is a great way to get your body up and at ’em in the mornings. Personally I found it smelt like pancakes but tasted horrific. The ginger version is definitely better. You could also use fresh mint in warm water as mint also helps the digestive system and has anti-inflammatory properties. Or you could buy some tea bags – whatever works for you. 
I am not a doctor or nutritionist – this is just a simple home remedy. For anything more serious please see your GP or visit a hospital. Any ongoing pain in your gut must be addressed with a professional as it could be serious. 

Why I won’t be rushing to see the new Beauty & the Beast

Why I won’t be rushing to see the new Beauty & the Beast

I remember the animated version being released – I think I was 8. We went to see it at the cinema, I had a jumper with Belle’s face on it (My cousin had the exact same one – I think my grandparents bought them), I got the video for my birthday. 

I still have a soft spot for those animated classics, there’s a fair few in my DVD collection. Of the most recent ones I enjoyed Brave, Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and even Frozen (I have some issues of its apparent origins being Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen – a very different story.) 
However I haven’t seen any of the new “live action” films – not sure how that much CGI can be considered live. 

Pete’s Dragon is one of my favourite films and nothing will replace a cartoon dragon called Elliot for me – I saw some stills of the updated version – just no. 

A CGI Baloo just won’t cut it after the delights of the animated one and Cinderella has been done to death.

Emma Watson isn’t my ideal Belle, and that’s fine – can’t please anyone. But I saw a review calling it ‘authentic’, which I can’t agree with. 1. It’s set in France, so Belle and everyone else would speak French, 2. It’s a fable – it’s about vanity and love overcoming all odds. 3. The Beast – do I need to expand. 
Like most fairy tales this had a slightly darker heart originally, the Prince becomes a Beast because that’s what he is inside – vain, selfish, cruel, monstrous. He’s cursed to learn his lesson. But he doesn’t, he becomes even worse, hence the kidnapping of Belle’s father. 

The film versions do away with Belle’s sisters – who demand jewels and furs from their merchant father, while the youngest daughter requests a single perfect rose. There’s more than a little King Lear in this tale as the youngest daughter atones for her father’s crime. 

Watson has spoken about making the film more feminist – erm, it’s about a woman who sacrifices her freedom for her idiot father and is kept prisoner by a monster – feminism didn’t exist in 15th century France (or at all) and I just don’t get how you can make this story less twisted and more feminist while keeping that key storyline. 

Anyway, I know people are raving about how beautiful it is, how they’ve kept the songs (why no Angela Lansbury?) etc. But it just isn’t for me. Rather than keep doing this  (Mulan is up next – but with no songs, fingers crossed they at least cast Asian actors) why can’t Disney go back to making fun, musical animation? 
I hear Moana is brilliant and I will be watching that next. 

If you do want a Disney film where the female characters are aces, here’s a little list. 

⭐Brave ⭐Tangled ⭐Frozen ⭐Zootropolis ⭐Mulan ⭐Pocahontas ⭐Robin Hood (I defy you not to love Clucky) ⭐Bedknobs & Broomsticks (oh Angela Lansbury, I do think you’re marvellous) ⭐The Princess & the Frog ⭐

Let me know if I’ve missed any Disney heroines who deserve to be mentioned (tbh most of the traditional princesses are a bit hopeless). 

Are you going to see this new Beauty & the Beast? Or will you be watching the 90s classic for the millionth time like me. 

Book Review: Wintersong – S. Jae-Jones

Book Review: Wintersong – S. Jae-Jones

Calling all Labyrinth fans – this book, inspired by the author’s love of the film starring David Bowie as the Goblin King is a musical journey into the Underworld.

Liesl lives with her family in Germany near the Goblin Grove deep in the forest. She dreams of being a composer and her brother, the other half of her soul, plays her compositions. 

Her music attracts the attention of the Erlkonig  (Goblin King) and his minions. Drawing inspiration from Christina Rossetti’s poems as well as the aforementioned film, as winter turns, can our heroine escape the goblins’ lair and return to the World Above before the memory of her fades forever? 

I really liked this – fairy tale retellings are a bit favourite of mine and this is a well written one. German fairy tales aren’t as widely known as they should be, especially not the darkness within. 

This book was in my most recent Illumicrate, which means it’s a bit of a lucky find – I might not have read it otherwise as there are so many great books out there. 

If you like romance, adventure, fairy tales and plucky heroines, this book’s for you. 

Wedding Wednesday 

Wedding Wednesday 

One of the most stressful things during wedding planning is working out what venue you want. It took us ages to decide how we wanted to do things and then find the right place to host it. 

Image from Wedding Wire
Wedding Wire got in touch about their fun quiz designed to help you decide. Now I don’t know about you but I love an online quiz and this one is quite fun. You can do it alone or with your partner (even if you’re not planning a wedding at the moment. 

Image from Wedding Wire
According to the quiz I should be having a vineyard Wedding, sadly North London is lacking in those so I’ll be sticking with the venue I’ve picked. 

Image from Wedding Wire

If you are planning a wedding or are already married, how did you pick your venue? Let me know in the comments. 
This post is sponsored by Wedding Wire but all opinions are my own. 

Book Tour – Ashael Rising by Shona Kinsells 

Book Tour – Ashael Rising by Shona Kinsells 

Today I’m hosting a stop on the book tour for this new fantasy novel. Read on to find out more.

Ashael is a hunter-gatherer woman, apprenticed to Bhearra, the healer and spiritual leader of their tribe. 
The Zanthar are invaders from another world who extend their own lives by stealing the life-force of everything around them. They were last seen on KalaDene 200 years ago. They have returned, looking for The Vessel, a being prophesied to hold the life-force of the land.

Iwan is a slave to the Zanthar, descendant of the folk that were taken as slaves the last time the Zanthar visited this world. He is sent out as a spy, while his mother is held hostage to ensure his compliance.

When Iwan and Ashael meet and she invites him to stay in Oak Cam, neither of them realise that she is the one the Zanthar seek.  The fate of KalaDene and all of its people rests on Ashael’s shoulders.

Author details

Shona Kinsella is a fantasy author who lives near the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, in the west of Scotland. She is a member of the British Fantasy Society where she writes reviews of indie books. Shona has a degree in Law from the University of Strathclyde where she learned a lot about narrative structure.; everyone loves a story. 
Shona enjoys spending time outdoors and much of her writing is inspired by the environment that she lives in, at the edge of Scotland’s first national park. When she is not writing, she enjoys geocaching with her husband and children and reading as many books as she can get her hands on.

You can find out more about the book and Shona at the following places. 

Unbound  Facebook Author website

 Twitter Instagram

Just to get you in the mood to read the book, here’s an extract to get you going. Enjoy. 

“All-Mother, you who gave birth to the world, watch over this woman and her child, Bhearra prayed silently. She had lost the thread of the baby’s consciousness and was deeply worried. Soraya screamed as another contraction struck. Ashael wiped the pregnant woman’s face with a cloth dipped in cool water. Bres paced the room. It was mid-afternoon and Soraya was exhausted.

‘We’re almost there now, Soraya. Get ready to push.’ Bhearra squeezed Soraya’s hand, keeping her voice calm, trying not to show her concern. The poor woman was frightened enough. As the next contraction arrived, Soraya pushed as hard as she could, gripping Bhearra’s hands hard enough to press the old bones together, and the top of the baby’s head appeared.

‘I can’t. I can’t push anymore.’

‘One more and the head will be out, and then I can help you,’ Bhearra replied with a soothing voice. She pushed a little of her own energy into the woman before her. She had been doing this for some time now and did not have much more to spare. With the next contraction, the baby’s head was out, face white and lips blue. Bhearra soon saw why: the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. Another contraction pushed a shoulder out while Soraya screamed, and Bhearra was able to get her fingers under the cord, pulling it slightly away from the baby’s neck. With quick, sure movements, Bhearra took the foraging knife attached to her belt and cut the cord, pulling the baby the rest of the way out with the next contraction. 

The baby had not yet taken a breath. Bhearra moved her out of view. She blew into the baby’s face then slapped her bottom. Still nothing. 

‘What’s happening? Is my baby alright?’ Soraya asked, gasping in exhaustion.

‘Ashael can help you with the afterbirth,’ answered Bhearra. ‘I’m just going to get the little one cleaned up.’ 

Bhearra moved towards the doorway as she spoke, Bres close behind. Speaking in a low voice, she told him what had happened. Bres looked back at his mate and began to weep silent tears.

‘Hush now. All is not lost.’ Bhearra held the baby before her then closed her eyes, once more stretching her senses out beyond her own body, searching for the lingering spirit of the baby. Nothing. Nothing… There! A spark of life floated nearby. The filidh breathed this spark in and then blew it gently toward the baby’s face. Nothing happened. Please, All-Mother.

The baby gasped and let out a great cry.

Bres fell to his knees and Soraya burst into tears. Bhearra gave a small smile, letting out a shaky breath as she moved over to Soraya and handed the baby to her.

‘You have a beautiful baby girl. What will you name her?’

‘Bhearrael. For the woman who brought her to us,’ Alayne answered.

‘Sirion bless you. You saved her life,’ Bres said. ‘How can we ever thank you?’

‘Nonsense; I didn’t save her. I just showed her the way home. She did the rest herself.” 

And as if that wasn’t enough – you could win a £20 Amazon giftcard and a copy of the book. All you have to do is click here.

Book Preview: Greatest Hits – Laura Barnett

Book Preview: Greatest Hits – Laura Barnett

Written by the author of The Versions of  Us, Laura Barnett, Greatest Hits is the story of Cass Wheeler a rock star in the form of a Joni Mitchell or Stevie Nicks. Her career has been in decline for a while and she spends her days mourning a tragic loss tucked away on her secluded farm. 
Her record label wants to release a greatest hits collection and this sparks Cass on a mission of memory – of her parents, her former band, and her past. 

Interspersed between the chapters of Cass’ life are her songs, actually written by singer-songwriter Kathryn Hughes especially for the book. 

Interestingly the two writers will be releasing an album of these songs to coincide with the book’s release in June this year. 

I really liked this book, it has great emotional writing and I found Cass very intriguing. At times there were very sad moments and I’m not ashamed to say I cried a little – really good writing hooks your feelings like nothing else. 

The book isn’t out until June 15th, which gives you loads of time to put it on your wishlist.