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.

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. 

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 review: Caravel- Stephanie Garber

Book review: Caravel- Stephanie Garber

This has been incredibly well promoted and publicised online so when I got a copy I was quite keen to see if it lived up to the hype. 

Firstly it’s a good looking book, I know you should never judge a cover but it does add something when the book looks good too. 

I’m very into books set at fairgrounds, carnivals and freak shows, I think it’s my preference for the “other” in fiction. 

Caravel is set at something between a carnival and a theatrical experience – a living theatre that has been known to drive people a little mad. 

Scarlett and Donatella are ruled by their strict and cruelty father but Scarlett’s upcoming marriage to a man she has never met could equal freedom. 

However Scarlett has been writing letters to the mysterious Legend, who owns Caravel, and shortly before she’s due to marry, he finally invites the sisters to his private island to play his twisted game. If they go, it could change everything. 

This is YA fiction and sometimes the best books come from this genre. Unfortunately I don’t think this is one of them. The premise is great but it struggles in the execution. 

At times the plot felt a little weak and repetitive, at others the characters grated slightly. It wasn’t the worst book ever, not even close, but I’m not desperate for the sequel (which is bound to be written considering the ending). 

It just wasn’t up there for me. I think Angela Carter ruined this style of Magical realism for me (Nights at the Circus is sublime fantastical writing). 

Book Preview: Red Sister – Mark Lawrence

Book Preview: Red Sister – Mark Lawrence

This ARC was in Illumicrate 6 and I didn’t so much read it as devour it in one sitting. 

I liked Lawrence’s previous trilogy The Broken Empire so I knew his style but this book was just so good I couldn’t put it down. 

It’s fantasy but it’s also a thriller. Nona Grey is given to the child-seller and sent off to the capital where her life is saved by a rather unusual (by our standards) convent. 

Nona comes to see that what makes her different makes her special. 

I desperately don’t want to spoil this for anyone but it’s really good. Lots of mystery and intrigue, great plotting and characterisation. Well written and gripping. 

It’s properly published in April but I already can’t wait for the sequel which probably won’t appear till next year. 

Illumicrate review 

Illumicrate review 

The new Illumicrate has arrived and it was a heavy one. 

The book in the box is Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones and it looks like a good ‘un. Inspired by the author’s love of the film Labyrinth yes, the one with David Bowie in those trousers. There’s also a note from the author and a bookmark. 

As well as that book, there is also a sampler from an upcoming book and an advanced reader copy of Mark Lawrence’s soon to be published Red Sister (a review of which is upcoming). 

There’s a whole bundle of other book based goodies too. 

There are fridge magnets with quotes from V.E. Schwab’s books. 

A really cute pouch featuring Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book and a Magic and Mischief lipbalm. 

There is also a Newt Scamander bookmark, as well as the usual freebies promoting some interesting looking upcoming books and discount codes at the included shops.  


I was really pleased with this box – I have already read one of the books included and am about to read the next one. 

The Pip Beauty Box

The Pip Beauty Box

This new beauty box, named after the founder’s canine chum, is all about championing cruelty free beauty. 50p from each box has been donated to Cruelty Free International. 

Inside are five cruelty free and vegan friendly beauty treats. 

Bloomtown Botanicals Nourishing Mini Soap (RRP £1.40) – made in small batches with plant oils and butters, this vegan friendly Soap comes in a whole range of scents. 

Akamuti Green Clay Face Mask (RRP £2) – sundries green clay that you mix yourself to make a purifying face mask that is suitable for sensitive and problem skin. 

Saturated Colour Lip Vinyl Liquid Lipstick in Frisky Fuchsia (RRP  £7) – a deep pink shade in a liquid lipstick – something of a recent beauty trend. 

PHB Ethical Beauty Black Mascara & Nearly Black Eyeliner (RRP £24.70) – both award winning formulas that complement each other. Made with botanical oils and water resistant, suitable for sensitive eyes. 

There are discount codes in the box for PHB and Saturated Colour. 

For a first beauty box this is well balanced in terms of skincare and make up – and fullsize items to boot.