The Shadow Keeper by Abi Elphinstone

theshadowkeeperAbout (from Simon & Schuster)

Moll Pecksniff and her friends are living as outlaws in a secret cave by the sea, desperate to stay hidden from the Shadowmasks. But further along the coast lies the Amulet of Truth, the only thing powerful enough to force the Shadowmasks back and contain their dark magic. So, together with Gryff, the wildcat that’s always by her side, and her best friends Alfie and Sid, Moll must sneak past smugglers, outwit mer creatures and crack secret codes to save the Old Magic.

With more at stake than ever before and the dark magic rising fast, can Moll and her friends stop the Shadowmasks before it’s too late?

Perfect for fans of J.K Rowling, Piers Torday and Michelle Paver.

Chaos Comments

I was late to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and all three were out in paperback before I was given the set by a friend. This was handy, because I when I ended a book with a “No! I need the next one NOW!”, I could read the next. The ending of The Shadow Keeper has left me feeling like this again, but there isn’t the next book to read now.

The world of The Shadow Keeper takes me back to the books I loved as a child, and I’m itching to re-read The Dark is Rising sequence, The Chronicles of Prydain, and The Wizard of Earthsea again now.

Following on from The Dream Snatcher, Moll and her friends are still avoiding the dark magic whilst searching for the second amulet. The stakes are higher, and the pain experienced by members of the tribe were heartbreaking. Poor Gryff! Poor… Oh, but no spoilers.

There are codes to solve too! I was one of those kids that translated the runes in the Hobbit, so codes rock for me.

I love this exchange near the end of the book, it sums up Moll’s character for me, and a fab piece of humour.

‘- and Moll wants to go after it tonight,’ Puddle finished. ‘In the rain. Without a boat. To Devil’s Drop.’

‘What’s Devil’s Drop?’ Siddy asked warily.

Moll raised her jaw. ‘A waterfall that might or might not be a little bit haunted.’

‘How haunted are we talking?’ Alfie asked.

Moll tapped her foot impatiently. ‘Dead sailors, I think.’

Siddy moaned. ‘Only you would come up with a plan as mad as that, Moll.’

Then a few pages later, Abi will break your heart. The danger is real. The trust and friendship are deep. Moll’s world is one worth visiting. I savoured this book over a longer period so I didn’t have to leave them again, and I can’t wait for the next part.

The Shadow Keeper is published by Simon & Schuster on 25th February, and The Dream Snatcher is out now.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of The Shadow Keeper by the author, and I’ve even got a mention in the acknowledgements. [Squee!!] I also think Abi is a pretty awesome person. This doesn’t affect my honesty in writing reviews. 

Bullet Journal Convert

I may have mentioned Bullet Journalling a few times recently. I’ve now been using the system for almost six weeks so am still new but I’m a convert.

What is Bullet Journalling?

A Bullet Journal is a system for organising your planning. It’s simple, infinitely customisable, and doesn’t need any special materials.

One notebook. One pen. One you.

The introductory video explains the concept, and the basic modules to start a Bullet Journal.

Anything on top of that is up to the individual. Below is an example of how a Bullet Journal can evolve over a few months of use to something beautiful.

A Bullet Journal won’t magically change your life and make you more productive. Nor will any other planner system. But the flexibility of Bullet Journalling means that it can work better for each individual than a planner designed by someone else, which probably includes things irrelevant to your life, and excludes things that are vitally important.

Why I’m using a Bullet Journal

I’ve been writing plans and sketching room layouts and making goals for years, but I haven’t got anywhere. I manage for a while, and then something happens and I forget everything and start writing new lists and new plans and never quite manage to keep up with the day to day, let alone bigger goals.

My Bullet Journal is helping because I’m using it. I’m looking at it every day, several times a day. I’m adding new things, but rereading what’s already in there to cement it in my brain.

It’s funny how having a task written down is making me more likely to complete it, because I don’t want to write it again for the next day!

But also having everything written neatly in one nice book (for me, the nice book helps me use it, so I did invest in a Leutterm1917*), is helping me flow my thought processes and break down tasks more easily.

All of these things are me making me more productive. But I find peace in looking through the pages, so I can de-stress for a few minutes doing that. I’ve always liked visualising and planning and writing lists, so the system suits me for that. Looking back at completed tasks shows me how much I’ve done, and motivates me to do more.

How I’m using a Bullet Journal

Because I like to do things my own way, I’ve been picking and choosing from what I’ve seen online to suit what I need, along with relevant lists of long term plans from old books. I’m slowly and carefully breaking these into smaller tasks, on days when I can manage. On off days, I write basic daily tasks to do, so I get mental reinforcement in using the system.

At the moment I have the following ‘modules’:

  • Index (already included with Leuchtterm1917, as are numbered pages)
  • Future Log (handwritten 2016 calendar with space for monthly tasks on two double spreads)
  • Monthly overview (currently similar to Boho Berry, but developing monthly as I discover what works best for me)
  • Monthly tracker (really not happy with the first one I’ve created for January but like the concept, so am sketching out plans to change for Feb)
  • Monthly gratitude log (an idea I’ve taken from the Bullet Journal community. Thinking of two things every day that were good. Finding two things is do-able, albeit hard on bad days. It adds up: there will be 62 positive things at the end of January. 732 positive things at the end of this year. 732 good things in a year when I usually can barely think of a handful because I focus on the negatives so much)
  • Dailies (a list of tasks I want to complete on a particular day – as well as what’s on the tracker – plus some journal notes for things I want to track, which in my case are mainly what I’ve decluttered and the books I’ve read! I don’t include weather pictures or special hand lettering!)

Modules

Specific to my goals, my ‘collections’ include:

  • List of all rooms / areas of the house so I don’t forget to declutter anywhere (including garden, sheds, and garage)
  • List of categories of ‘things’ (so far just children’s stuff and paperwork, but I categorise anyhow and it’s also in the  KonMari method – seeing how much you have of each ‘category’ helps declutter it down)
  • List of what is going to be in each room (so far just for the children’s rooms) This is to help plan where furniture etc is going to fit, but also my plan is to write everything (category-wise) that we want to keep, then anything else either needs a home created or isn’t needed!
  • List of the storage we have, to plan a place for everything…
  • List of chores, to work out when to fit them into routines
  • List of steps towards goals, that can then be broken down
  • Initial plans of routines, schedules, and timescales for goals, allowing for changes
  • Lists of books to review, books to read, books received…

Collections

I’m also using colour coded stickers, tabs, and washi tape, because – well, because I want to!

At the moment, rereading and checking my bullet journal is taking up a lot of my time, while I build habits. But this was time I’d been wasting on phone games because I couldn’t pull myself together enough to do anything. So the games playing has gone down, and I’ve been productive, and I’ve taken ‘me time’ and space so I don’t stress.

Being happy with myself has been a rare occurrence for too long. So I am a Bullet Journal convert for now, and long may it continue.

Disclosure: * affiliate link. I actually bought my book from my lovely local independent stationary shop.

Word of the Year

image

I’ve chosen words of the year a couple of times, and then not really taken much notice of them.

I don’t think I chose a word last year. I don’t think I did much of anything last year.

I wasn’t going to choose a word for the year this year, but it snuck up on me and I realised it’s what I want to aim for overall.

My word of the year is:

HAPPY

:-)

New Year. New Books.

New books are always lovely, and a book sale is an excellent time to stock up for future gifts; grow a home library; or plan for party bags. The Scholastic Book Clubs sale started on 25th December, and has books from as little as 99p. What’s more, 20% of purchases go to the school of your choice.

Our local school sends home Scholastic Book Club catalogues once a term, and they are always packed full of bargains. They also have exclusives, like the paperback version of a something only just out in hardback.

Scholastic Book Clubs asked me to choose a few favourites from the sale to share. I’m not sure if all my choices are sale books, but the prices are pretty great all year round. You can see all the books in the sale on their website.

Scholastic Book Clubs SaleMy first choice is this amazing pack of 20 picture books for only £20. At only £1 per book this would be perfect for party bags, and the quality of the books included is stunning.

The pack includes Marmaduke the very Different Dragon (review), The Pirates Next Door (one of our favourites in 2012), How to Hide a Lion from Grandma and Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion (included in Chaos Castle’s books with single dads). I’d be willing to pay more than £20 just for those four, but there are another 16 included too – something for everyone.


Scholastic Book Clubs saleSticking with early years, who can resist this lovely soft Hugless Douglas? We are huge Hugless Douglas fans, and even though MG and DG are technically a little old for this, it’s still so cute that it gets read and played with regularly. £3.99 is a £7 saving on full price, and a very cheap gift for new babies (or their toddler siblings), or any young child really!


Scholastic Book Club saleMy next choice is the latest in Claire Freedman and Ben Cort’s Underpants series, Aliens Love Dinopants. Currently still only out in hardback, this paperback is even more of a bargain at only £2.99. The Underpants series are wonderful, and each new book is still fresh and inventive (and includes little details relating to other books in the illustrations, which makes reading even more fun.)


169177-ml-1436458My final picture book choice is I’ll Wait, Mr Panda – which isn’t even published in hardback until next week, so this paperback for £3.99 is almost an essential purchase. We haven’t actually read this yet, but Please Mr Panda is amazing and Steve Antony hasn’t had a so-so book published yet. Besides, who could resist that cute face?!


Scholastic Book Club saleThe Phoenix comic is probably the best comic for kids around at the moment, and the collected strips in book form are excellent for reluctant readers, and avid readers alike. Of the three in this pack, we’ve only read The Pirates of Pangaea but are avidly waiting the next installment. This three pack is £14.99, or each can be bought separately for £4.99 each.


Scholastic Book Club sale

Jim Kay’s illustrations for Harry Potter are stunning, and this first illustrated book in the series is stunning and worth the £30 RRP – but it’s only £16.99 here so grab a bargain (and don’t forget the 20% back to your school.)

And if you don’t own any of the Harry Potter series, and have kids approaching the age to enjoy them, the full set of paperbacks (with Jonny Duddle’s gorgeous covers) are only £29.99.


156822-ml-1212677My final choice (and really there are so many more I could point out, but I’m late writing this already!) is the complete set of nine Skulduggery Pleasant books for £39.99. Okay, so it doesn’t include The Maleficent Seven or Armageddon Outta’ Here, but the main nine novels don’t need the extra two unless you get completely addicted (which I did!) The earlier novels are 9+, but later ones are 11+, so I’d recommend this pack for teens and older (up to any age!) The humour, action, twists, and fabulously imagined world of Skulduggery Pleasant is well worth losing yourself in.

I hope that’s given you some good ideas for new books for the new year, and some brilliant bargains. There is so much to browse in the Scholastic Book Clubs sale, and 20p in every £1 spent goes to the school of your choice. Wins all round.

Disclosure: My local school will receive some books in exchange for this post. I’ve been a happy customer with Scholastic Book Clubs for over five years so jumped at the chance to promote them more.

New Year. New You.

Start the year as you mean to continue.

That seems like a terrible piece of advice, as many people start the year hungover and sleeping half the day.

I half did that. I’ve not drunk any alcohol for weeks because of an annoying on/off cold/cough and alcohol always makes me feel worse. So I planned an early night and was still awake at 5am with insomnia (broken sleep/wake cycle) and slept the morning instead.

I could write that as my first gratitude of the year: being able to sleep all morning while rest of family look after themselves (thank-you Mr Chaos; thank-you awesome daughters).

I don’t make new year’s resolutions. I have goals most years, that I may or may not achieve, but resolutions seem silly. It’s just a number change, and just one system of time keeping.

When I was younger I hated New Year’s Eve. I hated the change of one year to the next. I was used to being in one year and didn’t want the number to change. Over the years that’s faded to not caring. Now I know I’ve always been autistic, that dislike of year change makes much more sense.

I used to want to make achievements within a year, and save up new things for the date change, but every day is a new day and putting so much weight on arbitrary number changes isn’t helpful.

It’s nice to have a period of reflection, and now is as good a time as any. Technically better I suppose because most people are of work and have more spare time to reflect and consider.

Unless you’re a parent. Spare time doesn’t seem to exist then.

And yet I still seem to waste hours of it.

I started a bullet journal in December, so it wasn’t a new year thing. I’ve been planning my decluttering in it over the last couple of days. Impaired executive function seems the likely reason behind never being able to declutter the house (and it’s got worse over the last four years) and I am so utterly obsessed by the mess that any kind of functioning has gone with it, so I am really really really going to try hard, and work out how to keep accountable without getting stressed and ending up in shutdown.

Baby steps.

Focus on the positive. Let go of the negative.

I’m not into anything spiritual so affirmations and prayers and things like that don’t work for me. Practical. Sensible. Logical.

Lots of lists.

Lots of doing.

Lots of reviewing.

More doing than planning and reviewing would help though.

New year. Old me. I may ramble incoherently sometimes. Most of the time.

The best thing I’ve seen this year so far is from Alex T Smith:

New year. Old you. All good.

Our Year in Books 2015

I didn’t keep up with this very well this year but more or less have an updated spreadsheet offline, but I can’t be bothered to copy and paste here.

I met my main reading challenge of 52 books, but didn’t quite meet the short reads. I also haven’t got a clue how many picture books we read!

I have done much better on acquiring books, buying 90 less than 2014; but also getting 103 less free/review books and giving away over 280 so a net gain of approx 150 books this year instead of the 400 of the last two years. Still lots of books to cut down on, but that’s a big improvement.

We had half as many review books in 2015 than in 2014, which is a good thing because my reviewing has been terrible. I will try much harder with blogging and reviewing next year, because I have missed it.

I’m keeping the same reading goals for next year. I probably could read more, but I want to channel my procrastination into writing about books to start with rather than reading more that I don’t write about!

It’s been an odd year, and not one of many achievements, but it’s the year I finally found out for definite that I am autistic; it’s been one of parenting challenges; it’s been one of building relationships. It’s flown past and I feel like I’ve achieved little in the last four years, but I’m terrible at focusing on the negative.

So the plan for next year is take each day at a time. Focus on the positives. Work on routines and making good habits. I get stressed if I’m over-scheduled, but I think I will be less stress if I work out a schedule / routine that works instead of trying to do everything all the time. My planning and goals may appear to focus on me, but there are unwritten ones for parenting. My daughters are a fundamental part of my life.

Our Week in Books in Numbers
Year progress: 365/365 = 100%
Read 52: 54/52 = 103.8%
Picture books: 120+/52 = 230+%
Short reads: 36/52 = 69.2%

Books reviewed:
Cumulative: lost track…

Books read (excl picture books): lost track…

Books added to shelves: lots…
Cumulative: 429

Library books borrowed: none
Cumulative: 43

Books removed from shelves: 150-ish
Cumulative: 280-ish

A reading challenge from http://liveotherwise.co.uk/makingitup

 

Planning

I feel like I’m letting my life slip through my fingers. Years of not knowing why I couldn’t cope with what seemed like simple things; years of on/off depression and constant anxiety; years of feeling like my life has no point whatsoever. And yet still battling on, because I feel I ought to. Then wondering why nothing changes.

Getting an autism diagnosis was an answer, but also it’s just a first step. I am still me with all my anxieties and foibles, but I feel like I’m only the rubbish parts of me most of the time.

I’ve been looking at planners for several months, considering several pre-made styles or printouts and contemplating designing my own and getting it printed on demand. I’d seen the concept of a bullet journal, but watching the intro video didn’t inspire me and I’d written it off. But then I found the #bulletjournal tag on Instagram and saw how other people were using the method to fit them, and I spent hours wasting time on Instagram and YouTube was inspired.

The person whose beautiful bullet journal really made me want to start is Boho Berry. I have a tendency to jump too far into new things and go a little overboard with collecting stuff rather than doing stuff, and New Year’s intentions always fall apart for me so I started reticulating splines (or something) and bought a Leuchtturm1917 squared journal. It didn’t have to be that brand, but that’s the one that seemed to suit what I was looking for best. It is very beautiful.

I have no patience, and I don’t believe that starting something at New Year is necessary the best, so I started for December. I’ve not got into the habit of using it every day, but I have found writing short to-do lists each day are more likely to get done and I was a little more organised for the first few days of new thing excitement!

I’ve thought about my goals for 2016, to become a better me (not a different person; me with all my faults and meltdowns but also with more structure and less procrastination) and my three main areas of focus are house, health, and blog. I’ve not included parenting because that is in every part of me, and included in specific house and health goals.

I think these are my 2016 goals. Planning and forming good habits are the basis of everything really.

A photo posted by Anne-Marie (@chaoscastleuk) on

So that’s my plan. Work on creating routines and habits that work for the family; work on creating a living space that reduces stress; work on living together as a family with all our foibles and traits; work on physical fitness alongside mental health. Keep reviewing. Keep accountable. Keep authentic.

Here’s to 2016.

Christmas Gift Guide

 

Books

Books.

Wander round your local independent book store; or huge Waterstones; or order some huge collections from The Book People; or whatever.

And if you don’t know what someone is interested in, book tokens are fab too.

Suitable for any age and any gender.

Just buy books.

Clothes Don’t Bring Me Joy

konmariI’d heard about Marie Kondo and her method, but having a personal recommendation carried more weight (given who recommended it) so after looking at the huge library waiting list I decided to buy the book.

There are good parts to this book. I definitely couldn’t follow the method exactly, but there are good points on changing your mindset to think about what you’re keeping rather than what you’re discarding.

She lost me at the point where she carelessly tore pages out of books (which she then also discarded, in her defence years later when she realised she hadn’t looked at them) but later on we made up when she said that different people got joy from different things so a book lover, for example, would keep more books. I also found it a tad sexist in its description of feminine, but that could be a cultural thing.

But I’m finding it hard to motivate me to start decluttering, because she starts with the category of clothes. Clothes bore me. It makes sense, going from less emotional things to more emotional as you work through decluttering, but I need something a bit more interesting than clothes to start me off. Besides, if I chose clothes purely from whether I felt joy when I held them, I’d have none left.

Clothes are functional. They have a purpose. I have shoes for wet, cold, and all-year and replace them once they’ve got holes through the soles. I only replace my clothes when they are no longer wearable. I don’t want to go through clothes. At the end of it I’d be so bored I’d never start on anything else. I don’t get fashion.

So I think I’ll just take a couple of ideas from the book, and keep trying to work out a method that works for me.

The book is worth reading if you live in a cluttered house and don’t want to, and it’s a very speedy read. But I wish I’d been more patient with the library waiting list, as another book would have brought me more joy!

How to depress an autistic

“Were all on the autistic spectrum somewhere. I know exactly how you feel. You just need to try harder.”

Just no.

I try hard every single day. That’s why I’m constantly exhausted.

I’m not lazy. I’m autistic.

I don’t have the words right now. There’s an excellent Tony Attwood video going round at the moment. I hope lots of people watch it.