My Favourite Healthy and Cheap Student Meals

Hello All!

This is something completely different to anything I’ve ever blogged about before, but in light of the recent Free School Meal situation going on in the UK, I was thinking about some of the meals I ate whilst I was in student accommodation and I thought I could share a few recipes that got me through university on a VERY tight budget.

I am not currently in a position where I can donate to a foodbank, or donate anything financially to charity. I am hoping this little blog post of a few meal ideas will be able to help some people out and give them new ideas for cheap and healthy meals. I am not a dietician or nutritionist and I don’t have any qualifications in the subject, this is all just from my personal experience as a university student wanting to eat healthily, and cheaply.

One little disclaimer: I generally try to avoid excessive amounts of dairy and soya due to intolerances and I will eat pretty much anything except fish. Whilst at university, I did almost all of my shopping at Aldi or Lidl, and was able to make a week’s worth of meals for around £10. To keep the prices this low, I usually had vegetarian meals throughout the week and only ate meat on a weekend.

Here are some of my favourite meals I made for myself whilst at university!

Breakfasts:

Porridge is probably one of the cheapest and most filling breakfasts there are, you can also have it with lots of different ‘toppings’ (is that the right word? Probably not). I have my porridge with almond milk, but you can also use regular milk or even water. Some of the things I had with my porridge included: chopped banana, defrosted frozen mixed berries, a spoon of peanut butter, a dollop of jam, or even just a spoonful of sugar.

Overnight oats. I think this was the breakfast I had most during second and third year. It takes a little bit of forward thinking as you need to make it the day before, but it’s really worth it.

You will need:

  • Oats
  • Plain natural or Greek style yoghurt (I used fat free, but that was just my own preference)
  • Frozen mixed berries

Method:

In a sealable tub add a layer of the oats, followed by a layer of yoghurt and a layer of berries and repeat until you’re happy with the size of the portion. I use 2 layers of each ingredient. 

I never used any actual measurements for this as I always used the same mason jar and knew that filling it near to the top was a sufficient meal for me.

There are loads of different ways you can make overnight oats and you can google hundreds of recipes, but I found this to be the easiest and cheapest for me. A bag of frozen mixed berries can seem quite expensive when you buy it, but it will last ages!

Lunches:

Most of my lunches were actually left overs from the night befores dinner. (Just so you know, I’m northern and call it ‘tea’, so saying ‘dinner’ makes me feel very uncomfortable). I was particularly good at accidentally making enough food to feed the whole street, and so I often ended up with a few extra portions of meals. Some of them I was able to freeze and keep in the freezer for a later date. I struggle to eat the same meal day in, day out and like to switch things up. By freezing portions, this meant I could keep the food shop costs down in future weeks and it also meant no food went to waste.

My absolute favourite savory food is couscous and I practically lived off packets of flavoured couscous for my lunches. Having a packet of flavoured couscous is quite a bit more expensive than buying plain couscous and adding things to it, but it was more convenient for me whilst at uni as I just had to add boiling water, wait a few minutes, give it a stir and it was ready to eat. Some days I just ate a full packet, and other days I had half a packet and added half a tin of mixed beans to it. This meant it would last for 2 lunches and only cost about £1 in total.

Another couscous favourite was couscous stuffed peppers. I took a whole red pepper, chopped the top off and pulled the seeds out and then stuck it in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it started to go soft. Whilst it was in the oven, I prepared the couscous (you can add any left over veg to this. My favourites were courgettes and mushrooms). Take the pepper out of the oven and stuff it full of the couscous, add a little bit of cheese to the top and pop it back in the oven until the cheese has melted. I think I ate this for my dinner at least once a week for the entire 3 years of my degree.

Pasta is also a great lunch. You can buy a 3kg bag of fusilli pasta for £2.85 in Tesco and it lasts forever. I weigh out my pasta when I cook it and have 100g per portion. This means that you could get 30 portions out of the bag of pasta for less than £3! I love pesto with my pasta. It’s simple and it’s cheap. There are also a few different types of pesto, meaning you can switch it up. A jar of pesto lasts a while too! If you want to add meat to it, you could add some ham or chicken.

Jacket potatoes. Cheap, simple and versatile. With most students doing university online this year, it’s much easier to cook a jacket potato for lunch than it was when I was doing my undergraduate degree. There’s loads of different toppings you can have but my favourites were just plain and simple baked beans, cheese or baked beans with a little bit of paprika added and chopped up mushrooms.

Dinners:

Since leaving student accommodation and moving in with my boyfriend, I’ve been eating a lot more meat than I did whilst I was a student. I used to eat vegetarian meat substitutes whenever I could afford them, but I developed a soya intolerance and now avoid them and eat meat instead! Most of these recipes I’m going to suggest contain meat, but you could always use a different type of meat, a meat substitute, or just avoid meat all together!

Pasta, a tomato based pasta sauce, veg and chicken sausages. Okay, so chicken sausages from Aldi are one of the best food items I discovered. They’re a little bit more expensive than regular pork sausages (I think they’re £1.90 for 10), but I noticed when I grill them in my George Foreman, that no fat comes out of them whatsoever. In terms of veg, I buy most of my veg frozen. It’s way more convenient as it doesn’t go off quickly, you also get WAY more for your money than buying it fresh! I just threw in whatever veg I had – you will come to realise that I love love love vegetables). If, like me, you accidentally make a boat load of the pasta sauce, you can always freeze it for another day. This is super convenient if you’re getting in from class late and can’t be bothered to make anything!

Another chicken sausage favourite is having them with sweet potato chunks and green veg. Green beans and broccoli are my favourite greens and they go really well with sweet potatoes! I liked to put a little bit of olive oil on the sweet potato chunks and then add a little bit of paprika or salt before putting them in the oven. Keep an eye on them whilst they’re in the oven though, I found if I cut the chunks too thinly that they burnt really easily! This is also a good meal to have with a chicken breast. I have recently discovered bags of frozen chicken breasts and they have changed the game completely! As a student, I tended to avoid fresh chicken breasts as they were SO expensive for what they are. I wish I knew about frozen chicken breasts whilst at uni – you get so much more for your money.

Chilli con carne. This must be a firm favourite in most households! This was something I didn’t eat too often as mince can be quite expensive, especially if you’re choosing the lowest fat options. But you can get some great deals on bigger packs of mince with higher fat content, or frozen mince. Something that is a little bit more expensive than beef/pork mince is turkey mince, but it’s delicious! If you have mince, you can also make spaghetti bolognese. These are meals that you can freeze extra portions of to have another day. Some meals might seem a bit expensive at the time, but if you’re able to get 3, 4 or more portions out of them then they’re definitely worth the money when you divide the cost of the ingredients per meal.

Chicken dinner. A frozen chicken breast, frozen veg, a potato (mashed or made into roast potatoes), yorkshire puddings and some gravy is a really easy and homely meal. I didn’t actually realise how easy it was to make a roast dinner if you’re using frozen veg. You can pick yorkshire puds up for 50p or less in Aldi and they will last you a few roast dinners!

Stir fry. This is probably one of the cheapest dinners you can have. Aldi sells packets of stir fry veg, dry noodles and stir fry sauces. They’re easy to make and still full of vegetables.

Snacks:

Fruit. Bananas are less than 20p each in Aldi. Aldi also has the Super 6 where each week they choose a selection of fruits and vegetables to be extra cheap. The other week I got a packet of 6 plums for 40p!

Sliced apples and peanut butter. Delicious.

Rice Cakes / carrot sticks / celery sticks / chopped peppers and hummus.

Hints and tips for eating healthily as a student:

A few of these things I’ve probably mentioned already, but I think they’re super helpful and need reiterating!

  1. Buy frozen vegetables. Obviously this is dependent on your freezer space. But if you can, it’ll save you lots of money in the long run!
  2. Buy frozen meat. Same as above
  3. If you make too much, have it for lunch/ dinner the next day, or freeze it for a day when you’re short for time. Having something in the freezer is really convenient and will prevent you from potentially eating out and spending extra money!
  4. Aldi and Lidl are your friends. You can get 95% of items from Aldi or Lidl (when compared to a bigger supermarket brand). Despite being cheaper, the items are still good quality.
  5. Give yourself a spending allowance for your weekly shop. Also it might be worth deleting takeaway apps from your phone, so you’re not tempted to grab a takeaway when you can’t be bothered to cook.
  6. If you don’t have an Aldi or Lidl nearby, head to your local supermarket when they start to reduce products at the end of the day. You can pick up some yellow sticker bargains there.
  7. Potatoes and eggs are versatile. You can make so many different variations of food out of them. They are both really cheap to buy too.
  8. PLAN YOUR MEALS. This for me was one of the most important things. Write a plan of everything you’re going to eat throughout the list and write yourself a shopping list accordingly. This will prevent you from impulse buying and spending extra money when going around the supermarket.

I hope this blog post is helpful. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it is something completely different to what I’ve written on here before but it seemed like it was something relevant to big topics in the UK at the moment. This is also just a few of my favourite meals, I have SO many more. So if anyone wants to know of any other ideas, then just let me know. I find most of the recipes I use online, so again, let me know if you want me to send you the recipes I use!

Have a great week,

Leah  

September Reading Wrap Up

Sorry this is so wonky!!

A bit like August’s wrap up, I’m coming with my September wrap up a little bit late. My life (more specifically, the inside of my brain) is completely hectic at the moment. I’ve harped on about it enough, but if you didn’t know in September I started my Masters degree and ever since that moment, my brain has just been goo. This wrap up is coming so late, that I can’t actually remember a single book I read in September (brb whilst I consult my Goodreads).

I’ll be honest, this is going to be quite a boring wrap up. After such an amazing month of reading in August, I was hoping it would continue into September.. However I ended up being asked to do some extra work, and I did a bit of extra sleeping, so I only read 4 books, and two of those were about buildings (for university), but here goes:

1 STAR:

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

Ah so this book.. As you can tell by the star rating, I wasn’t a fan. The main character, Colin, did my head in. He had had umpteen girlfriends all called Katherine and all of them had dumped him. The storyline itself was pretty bland, nothing of substance happened – it was SO boring. I can’t actually remember anything that happened. Luckily it was a short book and I was able to fly through it quickly. If it was any longer, I would have probably DNF’ed it. I understand that it was a YA book, but there were a lot of ‘alternative’ swear words in it, and they really made me cringe. ‘Fug’, ‘fugger’, ‘fugging’ etc. IF YOU’RE GOING TO INCLUDE SWEARING, JUST INCLUDE THE REAL WORDS.

Something I didn’t pick up on at the time of reading, but I’ve just noticed now, is that Colin’s surname is ‘Singleton’. That mildly amused me, I must admit. Poor (annoying) Colin.

I feel bad for hating this book as much as I did, but it had very very split opinions from people on Goodreads too. I read A Fault in our Stars a few years ago as my annual holiday book and I recall enjoying that. You wouldn’t think that both books were by the same author. I have Paper Towns on my bookshelf, and I’m hoping that has a better outcome when I eventually get around to reading that.

3 STAR:

The Eve Illusion – Giovanna and Tom Fletcher

This is book 2 in the Eve of Man trilogy. I read Eve of Man last year and I rated it a 3 star as well. A bit like with An Abundance of Katherines, nothing really happened (I really did pick some riveting books this month didn’t I?!). At the end of Eve of Man, I commented on the fact that Eve annoyed me. I’m glad to report that in this book she annoyed me less. One thing I have really enjoyed about this trilogy so far is that the books are told from multiple perspectives. In book 1, it was told from two perspectives: Eve and Bram. To provide a bit of background information so this makes sense. Eve was the only female to be born in 50 years (or something like that), and the Extinction Prevention Organisation (EPO) took it upon themselves to save Eve, and the human race. They created a city within a tower for Eve to live in and be ‘protected’ and she is cared for by a group of women who have dedicated their lives to Eve, called the ‘mothers’. Bram’s father owns the EPO and in book 1, he works as Holly, a female hologram who is Eve’s friend. But obviously, with Eve being the only young female on the planet, Holly has to be controlled by males.

In the second book, a third perspective is added. Michael. Without trying to spoil too much, shit hits the fan at the end of the first book, and Michael is another employee of the EPO. His perspective becomes almost a neutral perspective, showing what’s happening inside the tower when things are a little bit crazy. The storyline of The Eve Illusion is basically a huge conflict of interest between what Eve wants, and what everyone else wants for Eve.

UNRATED BOOKS:

As I’ve previously mentioned, any books I read for university I will be counting in my total books read for the year, but I won’t be giving them a rating. I’m saving the ratings for books I’m choosing to read for enjoyment, rather than the books I have to read.

The two books I read for university in September were:

How Old is Your House? By Pamela Cunnington and Traditional Buildings of Britain: An Introduction to Vernacular Architecture by R. W. Brunskill.

Well friends, that’s it for another month. I’m trying my best to keep reading despite my brain being mush. In September I started reading A Game of Thrones, but I’m only about 200 pages into it. Maybe I’ll finish it before the year is out. Who knows.

I also want to try to fit in time each week to write blogs. I’m still trying to find my groove with having a routine and being back at university, but I will get there eventually I’m sure! I apologise for not being very consistent at the moment, but hopefully once I have this routine down to a tee that I will be reading most days and having at least one blog post up a week. Here’s to wishful thinking.

The Wilde Trilogy – Louise Pentland

**PLEASE NOTE: THIS REVIEW WILL MOST LIKELY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS. I’VE BEEN TRYING MY HARDEST TO KEEP IT SPOILER FREE, BUT WITH IT BEING A REVIEW OF A TRILOGY IT’S QUITE DIFFICULT TO REVIEW IT WITHOUT GIVING SOME THINGS AWAY!**

Not too long ago, I wrote a review of Louise Pentland’s non-fiction book MumLife. I actually read the first book of her fiction trilogy ‘Wilde Like Me’ a year ago.. It has taken me a year to read 3 books. I never know with book series whether to read them one after the other, or to space it out. On this occasion I spread them out, but I think in the future I’m going to read them consecutively! (I am saying this now, but I have just started the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and the books are FAT.. so I will probably spread them out a little bit for my own sanity.) I’ve never written a review of a trilogy, mainly because this is the first trilogy I’ve ever read, so I apologise now if this ends up being a hefty blog post.

Book #1 –  Wilde Like Me:

I read Wilde Like Me so long ago that I can’t really remember much from it, so I’m writing this review based solely on my Instagram book review of it (which was one of the first reviews I ever wrote).

Wilde Like Me is about a single mum called Robin Wilde and her six year old daughter Lyla. Lyla is such a great little character and is one of my favourite people in the whole series – she gets so much better (and funnier) as she grows up. The book explores a year in Robin’s life as a single parent with all the highs and lows she encounters on the way. One thing I can remember from the first book is that I felt like it resonated a lot with Louise’s life; having a child, getting divorced, being a single mum, not having her own mum there for support (in the book Robin’s mum is alive, but just doesn’t want much to do with her daughter) etc etc. I did actually really struggle with this as I was reading the book in Louise’s voice. In the first book, I also found Robin to be quite whiny and annoying (constantly wallowing in self-pity) and I wasn’t overly keen on her as a character. I found the other characters in the book (Lyla, her Auntie Kath, her best friend Lacey), were much better and more developed characters.

At the time I gave this book a 4 star, but having read the other two books and considering them to be a lot better, I think it’s fair that this book deserves a 3 star rating. This book was one of the first I’d read when I started reading again, so I didn’t have much to compare it to! It was a nice, lighthearted and easy read, but thinking back to it now, there wasn’t much substance to the storyline.

Wilde Like Me: ☆☆☆/5

Book #2 – Wilde About The Girl:

With book 1, I found that it resonated too much with Louise’s life. If you’ve never watched Louise’s Youtube videos, then this wouldn’t be an issue, as you wouldn’t know anything about Louise, but as someone who’s watched her videos for years, I could tell straight away that it was quite vaguely based on her own life and experiences. I enjoyed the book nonetheless, but it certainly wasn’t my favourite. In book 2, Robin really starts to become a character of her own. I wouldn’t be lying when I say I ADORED this book. It was genuinely one of my favourite books of the year so far and I actually cried when I finished it because I wanted it to carry on (I mean, it did… into book 3… but I didn’t want it to all come to an end so soon, so I left it a few months!). I can’t remember whether it was at the end of book one or the start of book two, but Robin starts to dip her toes into the world of dating and it’s all quite unsuccessful. She works as a makeup artist with her boss Natalie. In the first book I think they are quite freelance and don’t have anywhere to base themselves, but in this book Natalie has created her own company, MADE IT, and they have an office to work in and lots of extra employees. One of the brand deals Natalie secures involves her and Robin going to New York for a few days. It is whilst in New York that she meets a man called Edward on a night out. He is English but living over in the States for work. The pair of them have an instant connection. It’s all quite a fairytale honeymoon period for a little while until a fairly unexpected and horrible situation occurs (I’m not saying what but I’m sure you could guess) and this completely tears Robin apart. The situation also really affects Edward too, but he doesn’t show his emotions as much. This book did actually make me sob with happiness, and with sadness. Compared with the first book, there was so much going on, and I just found it a much better book from start to finish. Robin was less whiny and annoying, she became more of her own person rather than a fictional version of Louise, and I appreciated that a lot.

This book I absolutely loved from start to finish. I found it to be such a step-up from book 1 and it gave me all kinds of emotions.

Wilde About The Girl: ☆☆☆☆☆/5

Book #3: Wilde Women:

Like I said above, I didn’t want book 2 to end. I didn’t want to read the third and final book straight away, because I wanted the story to go on for as long as possible. At the start of this book, Robin seems to be really acing life. She’s juggling her job, looking after Lyla, running a new Women’s meeting ‘WWW’ and squeezing in time for Edward. Personally (but maybe because my organisation isn’t the best at times), I thought this was a tad unrealistic, but hey.

The second half of Wilde Women is based in New York. Robin and Natalie have another job out in New York so decide to make a big holiday out of it. Natalie and her husband, Robin, Lyla, Auntie Kath, Lacey and her newborn daughter Willow all head out to the states for a few weeks and rent out a big house. Edward is still living in the states so they meet as much as they can, though their busy schedules make this quite difficult. I enjoyed that a lot of this book was set elsewhere, as it made for more of a storyline. Also.. AUNTIE KATH. I just adore that woman. I want her as my own auntie. I definitely think she’s been one of the best characters throughout the series, along with Lyla. The pair of them definitely made the story a lot more enjoyable. Auntie Kath has her own little secret that is revealed at the end of the third book and it completely melted my heart. I love her. I didn’t like the way her secret was revealed. Lacey told the story, but in first-person from Kath’s perspective? It was a little bit confusing to read and it was quite a long reveal of the secret, as Lacey was telling it to Robin word for word with what Kath told her. I don’t think that bit of story flowed very well, or was particularly easy to read. With Lacey telling it as though she was Kath, it was hard to understand who was actually talking and when.

I did think the story was going to be a proper fairytale ending, which it wasn’t. I’ll be honest, I was really hoping for the fairytale ending and a nice end to the story, which it was (sort of), but it was also left on a cliffhanger. Knowing that that’s the end of the trilogy and how it ended provoked every kind of emotion for me. I was angry that it ended with an unanswered question, but at the same time I sort of sighed to myself and went ‘aww’.

I enjoyed this book a lot more than the first one, but not as much as the second one. I felt that some of it was a bit rushed and underdeveloped and the ending was so far from what I was expecting when I first started the final book.

Wilde Women: ☆☆☆☆/5

Series Summary:

One thing I did appreciate about this series is that quite a few ‘taboo’ topics were brought up. Things like struggling to conceive, miscarriages, loneliness, being a single parent and post-natal depression. There are probably a lot more, but these are the ones I could think of off the top of my head. Not all of them were delved into with great detail, but I appreciated how they were brought up. A lot of books tend to portray a character’s life as being perfect, but bringing these topics into it will, I’m sure, make a lot more people to relate to the different characters.

Robin definitely developed into a much better character as the books went on, though I think she went from being a ‘relatable’ mum at the start, to being quite unrealistic towards the end. Auntie Kath and Lyla both got better and better as the stories progressed. 

Overall Series Rating:

☆☆☆☆/5

August Reading Wrap Up

Okay, so it’s now 9th September and I’ve finally decided to sit down and write this blog. In August I read more than my usual 1 book a week, and I actually read 9 books. I think the massively increased number of books I read is what left me feeling a bit overwhelmed about writing this blog! I’ll be honest, this blog isn’t going to have an image to go with it, simply because I can’t be bothered!!

Something that was a little bit (very) out of the ordinary for me was that I’d actually read 3 books by 2nd August!

UNRATED:

Timber Framed Buildings – Richard Harris

I made a start at reading academic books in the run up to heading back to university and starting my Master’s Degree. I’ve said all along that I’m not going to give any academic books a star rating, as I’m not reading them for enjoyment – I’m reading them because I have to.

THREE STAR:

The Arrangement – Miranda Rijks

This is a psychological thriller novel that I read as part of a blog tour. I’ve written a review for it which you can find here

FOUR STAR:

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

So, I listened to this as an audiobook whilst at work and it was the first audiobook I’ve listened to in a long, long time. I used to really love audiobooks, and then they started to send me to sleep. The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t send me to sleep, which was good. Earlier in the year I read Vox by Christina Dalcher and Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff (both of which I gave a 2 star rating to), and I feel like both of these were based a little bit on the storyline of The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s definitely something I want to read as a physical book in the future as I feel like I’ll enjoy it a lot more than listening to it.

The Existence of Amy – Lana Grace Riva

This was the first book I read in August and it gave me Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine vibes (though I much preferred Amy to Eleanor!). I wrote a review on this book which you can find here

FIVE STAR:

I’m starting to feel like I’m overly generous with my 5 star ratings. There’s a few books here that I’ve given 5 stars to, but upon reflection maybe they deserved a 4!

MumLife: What Nobody Ever Tells You About Being a Mum – Louise Pentland

This is a book that 100% deserved its 5 star rating. But I’d fully understand a lower rating if people weren’t too sure about who Louise is or what she does (but then why would they be reading an autobiography?). I wrote a blog post for this book here!

Choices Shape, Losses Break – Nia Lucas

This is a book I’ve written a review about, but I think it needs to be read. It was something completely different to anything I have ever read about in my life. You can read my review here

Educated – Tara Westover

Okay, so here’s where I think this book possibly deserved a 4 star rating instead of a 5. The second half of this book was INCREDIBLE and I think that’s what swayed me to giving it a 5, but I really struggled with the first half. I’m not one to give half stars, I round everything up or down to a whole number, but maybe this was a 4.5%. I did at one point almost DNF it because I just couldn’t get into it. I struggle with non-fiction in general, and thought because this was a memoir that I’d be okay with it, but there were just so many people and so much to get my head around that I spent the first half quite confused. I’m really, really glad I didn’t DNF it as it turned out to be amazing, and I know the first half was all necessary to set the scene, but I did find it a bit boring and overly complicated. I think that maybe the 5 star rating was given because so many people absolutely loved this book, and I was influenced by other people’s Goodreads reviews.

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

I first read Great Expectations in year 9 at school and absolutely loved it. Having read it so long ago, I’d pretty much forgotten most of the story line so it was nice to re-read as it brought back lots of memories. This is one of the few classics I’ve read in my life, and one that I enjoyed both the first and second time I read it. It’s reasonably easy to read. Some classics (Wuthering Heights I’m aiming this at you) and I couldn’t make sense of it whatsoever. It’s nice to be able to read a book without it seeming like a complete chore because it’s so complicated to read.

The Mum-Minder – Jacqueline Wilson

I’ll be honest I’m not entirely sure why I read this other than it being a complete trip down memory lane. I used to have this as an audiobook DVD as a child. What I absolutely loved was I actually knew the first few pages off by heart because I listened to it so often when I was young. I can remember exactly how the voices of each character were read in the audiobook, and in my head I was reading it in the voices which I LOVED!! Upon reflection, it probably wasn’t a 5 star read. I read the entire thing in about 20 minutes and obviously, it’s a children’s book. I gave it 5 stars for the nostalgia more than anything.

University starts up again next week, so I think for a little while a lot of my reads will be boring, non-fiction, academic books. My plan is to read fiction whilst on the bus to and from campus, so hopefully I can still manage my 1 book a week goal! Reading so many books in August got me a little bit ahead with my Goodreads Challenge, which can take the pressure off me a little bit whilst I adjust back to life as a student!

BLOG TOUR – The Arrangement – Miranda Rijks

A huge thank you to Emma Welton at DampPebbles for reaching out to me and asking me to join this blog tour!

I always find reviews for suspense/ thriller novels the hardest to write. I always feel like there’s something that I’ll say that will end up spoiling it for someone else! I am going to try my absolute hardest to not contain anything in this review that could be seen as a spoiler (basically I won’t ruin the ending for anyone and that’s a promise), but please take this as a warning!

Synopsis:

“How well do you know your daughter?

Grace is living through every mother’s worst nightmare. Her student daughter Abi went away on a dream vacation to South Africa – and was murdered.

Overwhelmed by grief, and fighting off old demons which have resurfaced, Grace tries to make sense of it – who would want to kill her beautiful girl?

But as she learns more about Abi’s life in the UK, she realises she didn’t know her own daughter very well. How did Abi acquire all those designer clothes? And what was she doing on these mysterious trips to London?

Grace desperately needs to find answers.  But soon it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want her digging into Abi’s secret past. Someone who knows how to use Grace’s own weaknesses against her, sending her on a journey to the darkest hell.

My Review:

The prologue of the book is from the perspective of Abi’s killer. This is the only time the book is told from the perspective of the killer. For the rest of the book, the story is from the perspective of Grace, Abi’s mum.

After some digging, Grace finds out that Abi was on a Sugar Daddy website and was making loads of money from speaking to and meeting up with these older men. Grace thought she knew her daughter really well, but as she kept digging and digging into Abi’s life, she soon realised that she really didn’t know anything about her daughter at all. I liked the fact the murder took place in South Africa and the rest of it was in England, it made it more difficult for Abi’s family to get the answers they wanted.The South African police arrested someone on suspicion of Abi’s murder – a local with a history of crime, but Grace felt unsettled that it wasn’t him and there was more to it than the ‘random’ attack the police put it down to.

The stress and trauma of what’s happened make Grace slip back into some old habits she had previously broken (drinking and smoking) which I think is completely understandable, however this starts to push her other daughter away from her. As well as her own self destruction, Grace also receives threats from an unknown person. These threats were telling her to stop digging into Abi’s life and to just grieve for her loss. The threats came in the form of phone calls, a Snapchat from ‘Abi’s Ghost’, and cars following Grace and trying to knock her down. This is why she believed there was more to it than it being the random man from South Africa.

I read the book in two sittings and read about 50% of the book each time. The first half, before the plot started to unravel, I really enjoyed. I actually went to sleep that night and dreamt all night about the book and who Abi’s killer really was. In this first half I thought the plot was really strong and I was excited to see how it finished.

I didn’t not like the second half, but I did feel it was a little bit rushed. What I will say is that it did keep my brain guessing until the very last page. I had no idea how it was going to end, and the ending did come as a shock as Abi’s murderer was not who I thought they were going to be at all!

The thing I struggled the most with throughout this book was the sense of time. I was unsure how soon after Abi’s death all these events were happening, and the timings between the different events. I didn’t know whether it was days, weeks or months and that did leave me feeling a little bit lost at times.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. It was fast paced and although I’m not sure how many pages the book had, it seemed to be on the shorter side as I flew through it. The fact I was unable to guess the ending and some of the major twists and turns is also a massive plus. I’ve read similar books in the past and could quite easily guess what was going to happen, but I’m glad this one wasn’t the case!

About Miranda Rijks:

Miranda Rijks is a writer of psychological thrillers and suspense novels. She has an eclectic

background ranging from law to running a garden centre. She’s been writing all of her life and has a Masters in writing. A couple of years ago she decided to ditch the business plans and press releases and now she’s living the dream, writing suspense novels full time. She lives in Sussex, England with her Dutch husband, musician daughter and black Labrador.

Miranda is the author of Roses Are Red and I Want You Gone. THE ARRANGEMENT will be her eighth novel published with Inkubator Books.

Social Media:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MirandaRijks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MirandaRijksAuthor/

Website: https://mirandarijks.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mirandarijksauthor/

This book was published yesterday (30th August) so is AVAILABLE NOW!

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/34Nv5Ae

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3lpVJ7U

BLOG TOUR – Choices Shape, Losses Break – Nia Lucas

Firstly, I just want to thank Nia Lucas and Rachel’s Random Resources for allowing me to take part in the Blog Tour for this book and providing me with a free copy of Choices Shape, Losses Break in exchange for an honest review.

**Please be aware that this book contains challenging themes, very strong language throughout and some strong sexual content. If that’s not your cup of tea, this is not the book for you**

Synopsis:

Shunned and struggling at home and school, teenager Lorna Davies clatters into chaotic and charismatic Shay O’Driscoll and Leon Barrett at an illegal rave in 1995. As Lorna’s talent for dancing sees her unexpectedly employed in the strobe-lit heart of 90’s club culture, her world is turned on its head by her budding friendship with Shay and Leon. For the boys, their high-risk lives endanger all three of them in an association that blurs the lines between friendship and dependency.

As the risks escalate, Lorna’s best friend Hannah, her brother Dan, her bully-turned-protector Nico and her unexpected friend Rosa watch with concern as she is thrust ever closer to harm in an intoxicating new landscape. When life-threatening events threaten to separate them permanently, Lorna, Leon and Shay juggle love, loyalty, sacrifice and exploitation as their lives change beyond recognition. Will the losses they face break them all?

Lorna at the start of the book is 15 years old. She’s at an illegal rave with her current boyfriend, Gary, who ends up ditching her to go throw up and she’s left alone. She ends up becoming acquainted with Justin, who ends up taking her under his wing. It becomes clear that Lorna has a pretty natural talent for dancing and event organiser Nath (who’s friends with Justin) is impressed. He offers her a regular job as a podium dancer in nightclubs, as long as she doesn’t let anyone know her age! At this illegal rave, and through her new found friends Justin and Nath, Lorna finds herself being introduced to a pair of London lads called Shay and Leon.

Lee and Shay have both come from a very broken background, growing up in care without their parents being there for them. They frequently got themselves into trouble with the police. Despite living far away from them, and knowing they can be a troublesome pair, Lorna starts to really fancy them… both of them, right from the moment she meets them. She takes on the work with Nath in the clubs in the hope that she will get to see them again soon.

Lorna’s best friend, Han, knows about what is going on and really isn’t impressed with what Lorna is doing. Not only is she worried for her friends’ safety, there’s also the major concern that their GCSE exams are just around the corner. Lorna’s mum is super strict and quite frankly hates her own daughter. Lorna’s antics are carefully and meticulously planned in order to avoid her mum. Most of the time she says she’s sleeping at a friends house, when really she’s in a city she doesn’t know either at a nightclub doing her dancing job, or staying at Shay and Lee’s flat.

The boys learn that some drug dealers they used to know were being released from prison and they thought they’d go straight back to causing trouble. They were right. Without spoiling too much, there was a pretty major incident involving Lee and Shay that landed them both in hospital with life threatening injuries. Lorna was from a quiet suburban neighbourhood where there didn’t seem to be much trouble and the incident was something that really bothered and traumatised her.

The relationship between Lorna, Leon (Lee) and Shay is an interesting one. Right from meeting the pair, Lorna knew she wouldn’t be able to choose between the two of them, so she chose them both. As time goes on, she develops a sexual relationship with both the boys, completely neglecting to listen to what her friends have to say. There is quite a lot of sex in the book and usually I don’t enjoy reading anything like that. However, I found that in this book, compared to others I have read, the sex scenes aren’t as descriptive and smutty, so I didn’t find it too bad! I also feel it would be impossible for the characters to develop without it.

As the relationship between the three develops, the boys become much more dependent on Lorna. They don’t know how to cook or fend for themselves and Lorna very quickly finds herself looking after them. She’s thrown very quickly from high school student to someone dealing with adult responsibilities very quickly. 

I’ve read a few other reviews from other people on the Blog Tour and they’ve spoken about how the book has made them reminisce of their teenage years going to clubs and such in the 80s and 90s. However, this book was set a few years before I was even born. I have pretty bad anxiety and have never been on a night out, so I really couldn’t relate to any of that! Being born closer to the turn of the millennium, I’ve pretty much always grown up with technology in my life. I loved how this book was set prior to things like mobile phones and computers being in every household. It never even crossed my mind that people used to have to go to phone boxes to call their friends if they didn’t have a landline to their house! (how very millennial of me).

I think the characters are written so well, and you can really see how they develop throughout the novel. Lorna really develops into a feisty little redhead, who isn’t willing to take crap from anyone, including her mum, teachers and the boys. Though there were times I genuinely felt worried for Lorna’s safety (I know it’s a book, I know it isn’t real, but I was worried), I really do love the person she became. Told from Lorna’s first person perspective, the way Nia Lucas writes definitely made me love Lorna more than I think I would if the book was a third person POV. I’m just a sucker for first person, let’s be honest. Having the book first person, allowed the author to add Lorna’s thoughts which weren’t spoken aloud in and I think that definitely made the book funnier, and more witty.

I even came to really love Shay and Lee.. Lee in particular, I still thought Shay was a bit of a wild card! The final 20(ish)% of the book swaps from being Lorna’s POV to Lee’s and with this switch, it goes back a few years so you can find out a little bit more about the pair, how they met and things like that. This is mentioned earlier in the book, but I think going back makes it an important reminder that they’re completely broken souls and it’s hard for them to act like ‘normal’ people due to the things they’ve seen and experienced in their past.

Overall, I did really enjoy this book! It was a book I understood right from the very start, which is always a bonus. I often read books and have no idea what’s going on until I’m a few chapters in. I’d say that if you’re like me and aren’t usually a fan of romance and sex scenes in novels, that you shouldn’t let it put you off the book. Like I previously said, it wasn’t as horrendously descriptive as some books I’ve read and the storyline wouldn’t be what it was without it. This book is a little on the longer side, coming in at just under 500 pages, but it was gripping and it kept me wanting to read and read and read until I’d finished. (I read the majority of the book in one day).  I also know it’s been a good book when I get a little bit sad when the book is finished. It was one of those fictional worlds that I’d have loved to continue to immerse myself in!

There was a snippet of “Futures Beckon, Pasts Threaten” which is the sequel to Choices Shape, Losses Break and that will definitely be a book I read once it is released. I can’t wait to get back inside Lorna’s head!!

My rating: ☆☆☆☆☆/5

Purchase Links

UK- https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B086JD3JL4

US- https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B086JD3JL4

Follow Nia on Social Media!

MumLife – Louise Pentland

Anyone who has followed me on Instagram for a while will know that I really love Louise Pentland. I’ve followed her on Youtube for many years (I’m truly one of her ‘Oldie but Goldies’) and I’ve read two of the three books in the Wilde trilogy.

I’ll be honest, when she first announced this book, I wasn’t excited and I definitely didn’t jump to be one of the first to buy a copy. This isn’t a problem with the author, this is a problem with 1) My general disliking towards non-fiction. 2) The title of the book – I thought it would be aimed much more at mothers. I’m not a mum, and I’m not sure if I want to ever put myself through childbirth because it sounds grim. 3) I don’t ever really buy brand new copies of books, and tend to avoid hardbacks like the plague. I love buying books for 50p from the local hospice charity shop or getting 3 books for £5 from The Works and don’t like spending lots of money.

One thing I should add about this book whilst on the topic of money is that Louise has donated 100% of royalties from the book to the NSPCC charity, which is a charity close to her heart.

My best friend added me to Louise’s Facebook group ‘Wilde Readers’ shortly after the release date of the book and obviously a lot of people had bought a copy and were leaving a review. The reviews that were pouring in were positive and expressing how much they enjoyed the book. Louise also uploaded a Youtube video talking a little bit more about her book and how despite its name, it isn’t just aimed at parents. After seeing all of these reviews (from people who were and weren’t mothers themselves) and watching the video, I decided that maybe I should give the book a read.

Well I have to say that this was one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. I think I only really enjoyed this because of how long I’ve followed on social media for. She’s one of those people, that despite having never met her, I feel like she’s one of my friends.

The book is essentially an autobiography of Louise’s life. She might be successful now, but it hasn’t always been easy for her and there are some pretty tough topics covered. She lost her own mum to cancer when she was 7 years old, just a few days before Christmas Day. Not long after losing her mum, her dad brought a new woman into her life. This woman ended up abusing Louise pretty badly throughout her childhood, both physically and emotionally. The abuse is something that Louise has very briefly touched on in her videos, but in the book it goes into quite a lot of detail. She also had a pretty traumatic experience when she gave birth to her first daughter, Darcy. After having Darcy, her marriage broke down and she was left to bring her up as a single mum (though she does share Darcy’s custody 50/50 with Darcy’s dad).

When reading other people’s reviews, I thought it would be the chapter on abuse that hit me the hardest, but it was actually the chapter on losing her mum that almost reduced me to tears (I’m pretty emotionally numb due to the horror that was my undergraduate degree). When I was young, my own mum had cancer. At the time I didn’t really understand much that was going on as like I said, I was only a few years old. Thankfully, my mum made a full recovery and is still here to tell her story. Though reading this chapter hit me hard in a way I didn’t know was possible. It started to bring up a series of ‘what ifs’ in my brain. ‘What if this happened to me?’ ‘What if I lost my mum as a child’ etc.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, there’s lots of funny and positive tales Louise has to tell, including her experience whilst dating, meeting a new man and having her second child (which was a much more positive experience than with her first). She also shares a few parenting tips throughout the books, though I skipped through these as anything self help/ advice annoys me immensely.

My favourite part of the book was the final chapter where she wrote letters to her daughters. Though she vlogs some of her life, she mentioned in the book that only around 30% of her life is shared online, and she also tries to restrict a lot of the content she shares of her children for their own safety. She wrote three letters in total, one to Darcy, one to Pearl, and one to both of them, and I loved how these letters provided a little bit more insight into what her daughters are really like and I really loved that.

My rating: ☆☆☆☆☆/5

The Existence of Amy – Lana Grace Riva

“There are endless ways to engage in productive thinking. My brain rejects them all. It simply does not have capacity for those. It will of course argue it is being productive, but I fear it may have a distorted sense of what constitutes productive.”

Amy suffers from various mental health conditions, which late in the book are revealed to be depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Though it isn’t explicitly said, from the very first page you can tell that something isn’t quite right with Amy. Excessive hand washing, not wanting to touch the seats, pole or bell on the bus, mentally planning any situation that could happen whilst on the bus. Even from the first chapter I was drawn in from how scarily some of this related to my life. Though I’m not so bad anymore, public transport used to send me into a full scale meltdown. I’d be mentally planning any escape routes should the worst happen, and my head would also be running through every horrible scenario that could see me in danger or get killed. Even just thinking back to this is making me anxious.

The book is a true representation of how people with mental health conditions suffer. I myself am a serial canceller. Not just because of my chronic pain (though that is easier to blame), but a lot of the time it’s down to my mental state. When Amy’s colleagues start taking her up on why she’s cancelling again this is something I connected with very quickly, though I can imagine a lot of people reading this who don’t have a mental condition who would, like Amy’s colleagues, just think she’s making excuses or being lazy.

“It’s just not as simple for me as it is for other people.”

The book is told from Amy’s perspective the whole way through. It’s interesting as in some parts there’s very little conversation with other people, and it’s mainly just running through Amy’s thoughts and process of thinking. Some of her thinking process becomes conversation, but with the negative voice in her head who’s trying to hold her back when she wants to break free of her safety net and try something different.

“Am I ever going to be able to properly function as a human being?”

As part of Amy’s job, her and some colleagues take a trip to Sydney, Australia, to their partner office over there. Obviously from England this is a LONG flight and when it was first brought up by her colleague Sally, I thought to myself ‘nah, Amy won’t be going on that trip’, but to my complete surprise she did. I think this was about the time I found myself getting a bit too emotionally invested in Amy and I felt so proud that she was taking this big leap into the unknown and going on the trip.

I think that the change of scenery helped keep her negative demons at bay a little bit whilst they were away. One of the people who I think keeps Amy going is her colleague (and friend), Ed. Ed is just the loveliest friend that I think anyone could ask for and I did at one point think that their relationship would develop into something more serious. I was pretty shocked to find out that Ed was already married! This was about the time when the book started to really mess with my emotions.

When Ed leaves to live in Singapore with his wife, that’s when Amy hits rock bottom. She ends up taking a lot of time off work and completely disconnects herself from the outside world. This is when, naturally, people start to worry about her. Nathan, who she works with, is the person who comes to her rescue – an unlikely character as in Australia she overheard him slagging her off to their other colleagues about how unreliable she is at turning up places.

I don’t suffer from OCD, but I can’t imagine how hard it is for people who suffer with it through this global pandemic we are in. Especially with people like Amy and her excessive hand washing to try get rid of any germs that she might have come into contact with. I feel like the term ‘OCD’ is used quite loosely by a lot of people.. “This makes me a bit OCD”, “Tidying up brings out my OCD”, “I’m really OCD when it comes to cleaning”. People using the term like that really upsets me. They’re essentially belittling those who have the condition – which can be completely debilitating and can ruin your life. Having OCD sounds like an endless and mentally exhausting fight, and I don’t think a lot of people realise just how serious it is.

“I don’t want to cause anyone pain. But the magnitude of pain I feel within myself is so overwhelming. Being in my current existence hurts. It hurts so very vastly there are no words that exist to truly depict its measure. I feel so drawn to just making it stop, regardless of any consequences.”

The Existence of Amy was a powerful and thought provoking book. It’s relatively short – I read it in one sitting and I think it should be read by everyone, mental illness or not, to step into the shoes of someone who’s struggling. I found July to be quite a low point for my mood, which I’m putting down to being fed up with shielding, lockdown and every day looking the exact same and I didn’t realise how much I needed a book like this until I’d finished it. The book has a positive ending and I felt empowered by that to go and look after myself a little bit more. When you’re stuck in the midst of a mental illness, you think there’s no way out, but books like this make you realise that you can always seek help and make a recovery.

The only thing that stopped me from giving it 5 stars was that I was left wanting more towards the end. Everything seemed to happen so fast and I wish the book could have been a little bit longer and go into more depth about Amy’s recovery.

My rating: ☆☆☆☆/5

Disclaimer: Lana Grace River kindly gifted me this book in exchange for an honest review

To follow author Lana Grace Riva on Twitter, click here

July Reading Wrap Up

It’s the end of month/ start of a new month where you see people who have read 73 books and listened to 30 audiobooks in a month, and let’s be honest, that just isn’t me.

I think this month I’ve really come to the true realisation of how rubbish the coronavirus and lockdown situation is and my mental health has plummeted. Some areas near to where I live have been put on a local lockdown within the last few days, and it really wouldn’t surprise me if where I live will be locked down next. There’s also a looming uncertainty of how I will be completing my Master’s Degree from September. I was fully under the impression that I’d be actually physically attending university (and I really hope that’s the case), but it’s looking likely I will be doing most of my degree from home. As someone who has been stuck inside the house since March due to shielding family members, I’m sick of the sight of this house and I was looking forward to a change of space and scenery by going back to university. But we shall see..

This month I also stopped getting myself out books and adding them to a TBR pile. I did this in June and got myself a stack of 10 books out. When I didn’t read all of them I branded myself a failure. Having those books off the bookshelf and in front of me made me see them as a challenge and ultimately I lost interest in reading them because I knew I wasn’t reading them fast enough. I’m really struggling to engage my brain at the moment and I think it’s because my mental state is so poor. I have a few plans for August to get my brain working again but I’ll explain them after I’ve wrapped up my books for July!

I read a grand total of 3 books this month, two of which I’ve already posted reviews of on both my blog and Instagram. So this is going to be a very short wrap up to say the least!

4 STAR

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future – Ashlee Vance.

This is a very interesting non-fiction book about a very interesting man. When scrolling through Twitter I see a lot of people slating Elon and just generally expressing their dislike for him, but I quite like him. But I find the things him and his team are capable of doing really impressive and definitely world-changing. I don’t agree with people being billionaires though. I recently saw a post on Facebook about how someone would theoretically spend Jeff Bezos’ money and after eradicating global malnutrition, polio, and malaria, buying everyone in China a Big Mac meal, buying himself supercars, yachts, fighter jets, and clearing the USA’s $81bn medical debt (as well as lots of other things), that he would still have about $26bn left over. WHAT?!?!!?

The reason for giving it 4 stars is because Ashlee Vance is just retelling the story of Elon’s life and I feel it got a little bit ‘and Elon did this’ and ‘and Elon did that’. I struggle with non-fiction, I find I end up reading it really slowly because it just isn’t as captivating as fiction.

5 STAR

My two five star reads for this month were by young authors Kirsten and Aiyven Mbawa. I’ve written in depth reviews on both of their books and absolutely adore the girls. As I’ve said a million times already, you seriously wouldn’t think the books were written by authors aged just 11 and 12. Their writing is sophisticated and there’s so many words I had to Google because I didn’t know the meaning of them (that just goes to show I should have probably read a book through my teens). I’ll do a little summary of each book here but for the full reviews click the links to my review!

Sagas of Anya – Kirsten Mbawa

This is a historical fiction book based in Victorian time Cardiff about a young girl called Anya. She lives a pretty perfect life with both parents until her mother dies. That’s when Anya’s life starts to go a bit downhill. Her father turns to alcohol as a way of coping and mourning the loss of his wife and Anya ends up being quite neglected as her father is always at the ale house and never there to look after her. He eventually decides (not sure if he was drunk or sober whilst making the decision), that Anya should be sent off to London to work as a maid and make a better life for herself. Despite everything that had happened in her life recently, I feel that Anya was quite a privileged child and her becoming a maid was a complete disaster because she didn’t know how to do most of the tasks which she had been set.

Read my full review of Sagas of Anya here

Land of the Nurogons – Aiyven Mbawa

This is a dystopian adventure novel following the life of Hayden Smith who is your regular teenage boy. Everything about his life is pretty normal until he gets sucked down a black hole into a parallel universe called Nurogonia. He is able to leave Nurogonia on the condition that at some point in the future he returns. Sticking to his word, after a little while back in the real world Hayden returns to Nurogonia, but this time with his sister, Canada. They must complete quests whilst in Nurogonia to win over the Nurogons (the little green alien creatures who live there).

Read my full review of Land of the Nurogons here

I’m now officially starting to fall behind with my 2020 Goodreads reading challenge and so I have a few little plans to get that number back up for August. I’m working around 22 hours a week at the moment (from home) so I’m going to start listening to audiobooks again to get me through my days at work. I’ve been listening to podcasts whilst working but I’m beginning to tire of the the same ones constantly, so I’m going to give audiobooks another go!

With the start of my Master’s degree coming up, I have a few academic books I want to read to get my mindset back into ‘university’ mode. These books I plan to include in my Goodreads reading challenge and I will mention them in monthly wrap ups, but they won’t be getting a star rating as I don’t feel like they should be rated when they’re just books to aid me through my degree.

Finally, I have a few books this month and in September that I’ve been kindly sent to review by the authors, one of which I’ll be doing a book tour for so look out for the end of August for that!

I signed up to a read along of Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah with the #perfectstrangersreadalong on Instagram to try kick start my motivation to read some books. I also think I’m going to make a start at the A Song of Ice and Fire series – quite a bold move due to how thick the books are but I’ve been watching Game of Thrones for the first time recently (I’m not really a TV person and didn’t have a TV at all whilst living in student accommodation) and I’m really enjoying it. If I have enough time, I think I would benefit from reading a classic novel this month too

Come back in a month’s time to see how many of these grand plans I haven’t followed through with

Land of The Nurogons – Aiyven Mbawa

Land of the Nurogons was the debut novel by Aiyven Mbawa, an 11 year old, British author. It is a middle grade adventure novel which follows the life of Hayden Smith, a 13 year old boy. Ihe first 100 or so pages of the book everything is relatively normal in his life. He attends school, meets with his friends and brickers with his sister, like any young teenager would. In these opening chapters, there’s a lot of character development and scene setting which I really liked.

Everything gets turned upside down when Hayden gets pulled down a black hole and ends up in the parallel universe Nurogonia, a land run by the Nurogons – four-fingered, two-toed, freckled muddy green creatures about the size of a toddler. The concept of a parallel universe reminded me a lot of Stranger Things and the Upside Down, however Nurogonia seemed more like a place I’d be happier to visit, rather than something from my nightmares. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but one thing I will say is that I assumed once he first went down the black hole to Nurogonia, that that’s where he’d stay for the remainder of the story. I was quite surprised when he was allowed to leave and return to the real world, but told he must return at some point to complete a quest. Whilst he was in Nurogonia, the real world carried on as normal – so for this time Hayden was missing. I felt quite sorry for his parents really because he just vanished without trace, and returned like nothing had happened (and no one seemed to question it). Whilst he was ‘missing’, one chapter of the book was told from the perspective of Canada, Hayden’s older sister. This chapter was like a diary entry which I found really interesting.

Hayden has to fulfill his promise of returning to Nurogonia, but this time his sister comes along with him. In the first half of the book, the story is very much centred around Hayden, but during his second visit, the focus shifts away from him (though he’s still there), and there’s a lot more emphasis on the other characters. I liked this as you can see how the personality of all of the other characters change, not just Hayden. In Nurogonia, there’s a small team of teenagers who assemble in order to complete the quests set for them by the Nurogons.

I really enjoyed this book. It wasn’t my usual genre at all – I don’t think I’ve ever read anything like it. For me as an adult, it was a nice refreshing change from the usual books I read which tend to contain more violent or adult content. I think for a middle-grade reader it would be a fantastic read. The book has around 330 pages making it quite a substantial read for a younger reader. But there’s plenty of adventure to keep them drawn in from the beginning right to the end!

Also, hats off to Aiyven for publishing a book at such a young age! I can’t believe that she was able to write this book whilst she was still in primary school! You definitely wouldn’t think that it was written by someone so young. The language was sophisticated and varied and there were words in there that even I didn’t know the meaning of! I like the fact that Hayden is a similar age to the author, Aiyven. It means she was able to relate the characters to her own life and own personal experiences with school and friends, which made the story more convincing and that’s something that might have been missed if the author was older.

☆☆☆☆☆/5

You can find Aiyven’s book, along with her sister Kirsten’s book ‘Sagas of Anya’ (a middle grade historical fiction novel) on their website: http://www.mbawabooks.co.uk/shop-our-books/