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



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




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.

Anxiety is Boring

Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety. Anxiety.

I am somewhat annoyed with it at the moment. When I’m not merely stuck in frozen fear of… nothing, incapable of thinking thoughts that make any sense.




Seriously, most of the time this is the best my brain can come up with. I’d do something mindful, but I can’t concentrate right now.

Today I was going to tackle a small part of the living room and move towards decluttering again. I’ve been working on my mental state so thinking it should be easier and now I feel too anxious to start, and too anxious because I’m not starting.

Insert manic laughter here.

Today I am doing nothing again. I can’t think which book to read next. I’m distracted by the messy piles – which one first? I’m distracted by my brain buzzing with nonsense.

I thought I’d update my book spreadsheet. That’s usually a calming exercise for me, but looking at the books on my Instagram feed and the thought of typing all those words…

Words. Words. Words.

(What do you read, my lord?)

… the thought of typing is so tiring. I’m typing this. Somehow freehand (freefall?) is easier.

I’m in the middle of The Wolf Wilder. I forgot. Maybe I can finish that. Maybe a bath will soothe me enough to get unstuck.

My real thoughts are more scattered than this. I am concentrating to get words out, so the focus is better.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

I used to be good at that. I used to be good at a lot of things.

Didn’t I?

At my counselling session she said I should make “I am a worthwhile human being” my mantra for the week. I’ve never had much self esteem, but when did it get so low?


Apparently writing this nonsense helps. I’m thinking. I’m focusing. I’m breathing.

Do I publish? It’s a random mess of nonsense.

Oh well, why not?

Executive Function

Trigger warning: depressed thoughts

I’m struggling with life at the moment. I’m sick of feeling depressed and anxious, and I want to make little achievements that I know will improve my life. But I can’t seem to work out how to do it.

It’s not that I don’t know the theory, I just have a huge mental block on action. I want to live in a tidier house. The mess depresses me so much. I don’t want a show home, or minimalism, or anything Instagram or Pinterest worthy (I Instagram my mess anyway, but I’m odd). I just want tidier. Less crap.

I’ve written lists. I’ve broken tasks into tiny bits. I’ve sketched room layouts. I’ve categorised the “stuff”. I’ve thrown everything on floor and surfaces into bags in the garage so there’s less to deal with in the house.

I’ve stared into space. I’ve read novels. I’ve taken up doodling. I’ve completed Plants vs Zombies. I have a level 7 town hall in Clash of Clans. I’m on level 170-something on Candy Crush Soda Saga. I sleep during the day. I cry. I rock.  I procrastinate. I perseverate.

I know I waste hours and hours but I’ve forgotten how to live. I feel like I’ve done it all so many times before that trying again is pointless. Life is pointless.

I’ll try again. Of course I will. I always will. I’ll look for my diary/planner and break the tasks up again. I’ll get there. I have to get there.

I wish I knew where there was.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst by Griselda Heppel

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst: Griselda Heppel (Matador Books, 2015)The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst

Author: Griselda Heppel
Cover: Hilary Paynter (wood carving)
Publisher: Matador
Original Publication Year: 2015
Edition reviewed: PB 2015
Source: Author

About (from Matador):
In the shadows of Walton Hall a demon lurks. His name: Mephistopheles. In 1586, young John Striven struck a bargain with him in return for help against his murderous foster brother. Nice work for a demon – or it should have been. Because somehow, his plan to trap the 12-year-old went wrong. All he needs now is another soul, in similar desperation, to call on him.

Enter 13 year-old Henry Fowst. A pupil at Northwell School, Henry longs to win the Northwell History Essay Prize. Exploring the school’s sixteenth century library, he stumbles across the diary of a boy his own age beginning this 20th day of Januarie, 1586… Soon Henry is absorbed in John Striven’s struggles with his jealous foster-brother, Thomas Walton, who, it seems, will stop at nothing to be rid of him.

Then matters take a darker turn. Battling to escape his own enemy, Henry finds his life beginning to imitate John’s and when the diary shows John summoning ‘an Angellick Spirit’ to his aid, Henry eagerly tries the same.

Unfortunately, calling up Mephistopheles lands both boys in greater danger than they’d ever bargained for.

Griselda Heppel’s first book, Ante’s Inferno, was one of my favourite reads from 2012 and I eagerly awaited her second title. My knowledge of classics is fairly limited – I’m aware of the Faust legend in the sense that it involves someone making a pact with a devil – but no prior knowledge is assumed and this Fowst has more chance of redemption, if he can best Mephistopheles.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is told from three viewpoints, mostly modern-day Henry and Tudor John but with the odd malevolent musing from Mephistopheles itself. Starting in the sixteenth century, we learn about John Striven and his murderous foster-brother; skipping forth and back to modern day where the Hall John Striven lives in is now a school (the same one attended by Antonia Alganesh in Ante’s Inferno) where Henry Fowst is on a scholarship.

Mephistopheles is attracted to both the boys’ misery and attempts to entrap them. Connected across the centuries by the old library of the Hall, Henry finds John’s old diary and willing to try anything to escape his bully (and protect his family from shame) he repeats the ceremony John tried to summon the devil…

Aimed for 10/12+, the novel is gripping and more-ish. Skipping between past and present leaves you needing more of each story, and wondering how they combine. I admit I couldn’t understand why Henry was so willing to summon Mephistopheles without finishing reading John’s diary first, but I’m no longer twelve and choices can seem a lot more limited when you’re being bullied. My children are a little young to read this yet, so this is from my viewpoint only, but I’m glad there was redemption available and the novel shows how it is possible to change from bad choices, even when things seem helpless.

With a mix of history, modern day, spooky school buildings, secret hiding places, supernatural goings on, and a tie-in to the previous novel (although each stand alone), The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is an absorbing read. I look forward to the next novel (I hope there is a next novel!)

On a final note, there was one tiny scene that made me giggle when I read the book two months ago, and now I know it will make today’s children giggle too. Henry’s sister is singing in the bath: “She’s the top – she’s fantastic – she’s the strongest, she’s the smartest, Rachel FOWWWST!” – which of course I instantly heard to the tune of Danger Mouse. With the new Danger Mouse series, it’s even more spot on. Griselda’s writing is full of tiny observations that add up to a believable world. Highly recommended.


My life is full of knots. Actually, it’s full of nots.

Not blogging every day (because my thoughts bore me, let alone anyone else)

Not writing reviews (because I need to face the fear of getting it all wrong and just write)

Not tidying the house (because I put everything on the floor into sacks into garage weeks ago so I could concentrate on what’s left, and there’s still too much. And I still don’t know where to start. And I still can’t expect my children to be tidy when they’ve grown up in this state. And I don’t know how to do it. And I’m always so very very tired.)

Not walking (because getting washed and dressed seems like too much effort so I drop the children off with jogging trousers and a fleece over whatever I slept in, and eventually shower just before I collect them. Leaving the house for anything else is just too much.)

Not leaving the house (because I’ve not showered, and I have a mental block about going out without a shower, although I am now capable of dropping children off to school in the morning without one.)

Not eating properly (because cooking requires a set of complex skills that I can’t quite manage. Bread and pizza are just about do-able. As is chocolate.)

Not booking a doctor’s appointment (because then I’d have to book it, and get there on time.)

Not replying to emails (because I start to hyperventillate just starting to think about all the things I should be doing.)

Not reading (because I can’t think. But I’ve read two books this week, because I had to do something to start; to stop; to whatever I need to do.)

Not living (because I don’t know what I’m doing at the moment.)




So I guess it will be upward from now. Because as soon as I manage to put things into words, it usually means things are improving. But I thought that before. And before.

And before.

I think I’ll go have a shower and try to wash out the knots.

13 Spooky Reads for Halloween

With Halloween on the horizon, here are a selection of spooky reads for any age from birth and up. The lower age guides are not exact, every child is different, and there is no upper age limit for books as far as I’m concerned.

Most of these books were published this year, but I sneaked in a couple extra.

Boo!: Fhiona Galloway & Jonathan Litton (Little Tiger Press, 2015)0+: Boo!: Fhiona Galloway & Jonathan Litton (Little Tiger Press, 2015)

This colourful board book uses gradually decreasing eye-holes on each page as a variety of (extremely cute) spooks try to work out who said Boo! With rhyming repetition and bright colours this should catch the eye of babies. Toddlers will love the chunky pages (and that you can turn pages using the eyeholes!) and I can see this being one being quoted regularly. Danger Girl (6) also loves this, and the text is simple enough for her to read too. Not just for Halloween, a very cute not-all-that-spooky introduction to ‘scary’ staples (pumpkins, cats, witches, bats…) Did I mention it’s cute? 🙂

Ten Spooky Skeletons: Garry Parsons (Little Tiger Press, 2015)0+: Ten Spooky Skeletons: Garry Parsons (Little Tiger Press, 2015)

Glow in the dark alert! We all love a glow-in-the-dark book in the Chaos household, and spooky skeletons are even more of a hit. Not only the cover, but the final spread are glow in the dark. And not only that, but there are peek-through sections on every page too. This book is just too much fun! Garry Parsons is a fabulous illustrator, and his adorably cute skeletons rhyme and count bouncily through the pages. DG (6) and MG (8) both still enjoyed this book, though it’s probably aimed mainly at 2-5 year olds. I can’t recommend this one highly enough – will keep small ones amused for hours. (Note: a torch held near the glow in the dark pages in a darkened room recharges the glow quickly and is such fun. If you’re children aren’t scared in the dark, make sure the last pages have been left in bright light to ‘charge’ first, and then read by torchlight…)

Fright Club: Ethan Long (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2015)3+: Fright Club: Ethan Long (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2015)

That gorgeous front cover drew me into my local bookshop, and although I didn’t mean to buy anything, I was shortly walking out with a copy (I say ‘shortly’ – actually there was a lengthy look at the shelves as usual, and an even lengthier chat about books, phone apps, and life with the fabulous bookshop people…) DG (6) was similarly drawn to this book first when I laid out a few suggestions for a bedtime story, although she did complain that it wasn’t scary enough! The monsters really are adorably cute (and, though it’s a shame I need to mention this at all, they are an actual equal mix of male and female characters – WOOHOO!!) and this is one we will read over and over. The story is funny, as a cute bunny tries to join Fright Club, and inclusive. Extremely gorgeous illustrations, fabulous layout, eye-catching cover. We love Fright Club.

The Ride-By-Nights: Walter De La Mere & Carolina Rabei (Faber & Faber, 2015)3+: The Ride-By-Nights: Walter De La Mere & Carolina Rabei (Faber & Faber, 2015)

Making classical texts accessible to the very young like this, allows an increased vocabulary to permeate into their minds. At least, that’s what I think, and I don’t think you can get more accessible than this beautifully illustrated poem. The pictures show both traditional witches flying through the stars (a basic introduction to constellations is in the text) and children trick or treating in a village. I was completely put off by ‘literature’ at school, but find this beautiful and compelling. I could read it over and over, and it makes a perfect bedtime story. DG (6) asked lots of questions as we went through it, and it’s a book that works as well wordless so toddlers and non-readers can pour over the pages alone too. Personally, I want the “And surge pell-mell down the Milky Way.” page as a print to put up. Beautiful.

Seen and Not Heard: Katie May Green (Walker Books, 2014) 3+: Seen and Not Heard: Katie May Green (Walker Books, 2014)

In Shiverhawk Hall, in the light of the moon, the children come out of their pictures and run riot. Although not described as ghosts, the children have a very ghostly feel in their old fashioned attire. Beautifully illustrated, this is less creepy and more fun (but if you think of them as ghosts, it can feel a lot spookier!) and children of any age will love the naughty things these children get up to. The text is full of lyrical phrases that are a joy to read aloud (Sticky ringlets, jammy ribbons, fizzy tummy, “I feel sick.”) and the muted palette shows their night time antics well. A gorgeous book, not just for Halloween.

No Such Thing: Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books, 20143+: No Such Thing: Ella Bailey (Flying Eye Books, 2014)

Often in stories you find children who see shadows and sudden noises as signs of something spooky, which are then shown to be completely ordinary. Georgia in No Such Thing sees simple explanations for things moving round the house, getting broken, or going missing. It’s the pets, or her little brother, or something like that, because honestly who believes in ghosts?! There’s no such thing! But… If you look closely at the pictures, maybe you can spot the ghosts hiding? And in case you missed them, they might appear at the end too! Fabulous fun for children who want to believe in (gentle) spooks, and for keen spotters. A lovely autumnal read, for any time of year!

Mortimer Keene Ghosts on the Loose: Tim Healey & Chris Mould (Hodder Children's Books, 2014)6+: Mortimer Keene Ghosts on the Loose: Tim Healey & Chris Mould (Hodder Children’s Books, 2014)

Mortimer Keene books are a well loved series in the Chaos household, with five madcap adventures so far from Slime to Aliens to Dinosaurs to Robots. Ghosts on the Loose was the second in the series to be published, and might just be my personal favourite. Told in rhyme, this tale follows another of Mortimer Keene’s inventions gone wrong, with a host of horrific ghosts portrayed with aplomb by the extremely talented Chris Mould (who looks like he’s had a lot of fun inventing fiendish ghouls to fit descriptions including Hooded Black Monk and Victorian Hangman…) Designed to attract reluctant readers, the fun rhyming, copious illustrations, and clever links of characters between books (we like Mr Bevan, who teaches Shakespeare to Year Seven…) and including extra pages of plans, A-Zs, and tips, Ghosts on the Loose is a perfect Halloween read.

Pablo & Jane and The Hot Air Contraption: Jose Domingo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)6+: Pablo & Jane and The Hot Air Contraption: Jose Domingo (Flying Eye Books, 2015)

I cannot help but love a book which includes dialogue like:
“Muuum, Pablo and I are going out to explore that ruined creepy house on top of the hill, the one that’s filled with monsters and where the radioactive meteorite crashed!”
“Okay darling! Try not to die before dinner time!”
And this is following a page with a map of their local area including the haunted orphanage, the old graveyard, and the abandoned sawmill. Not only that, but this is in wonderful comic strip form. Bliss!

The first 15 pages Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption are a comic strip story, leading on to twelve double spreads packed with creepy critters and things to spot, finishing with a final six pages of comic strip story. This book can be poured over, delighted in, and absorbed for many hours. I find the picture search pages quite overwhelming in detail, which may be because of my aspie brain, but my children happily pour over the pages. I cannot do this book justice, so I recommend you read Mat Tobin’s wonderful review (and grab a copy as soon as you can!)

The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom - Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing, 2015)6+: The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom – Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing, 2015)

Bewitched pirates, hoards of gold, sea hags, and the magical interweb… “Hubble, flubble, toil and trouble, Lanterns burn and cauldron bubble. Bring us pirates on the double!” The Jolley-Rogers return in their second full length adventure, this time bewitched by sea hags with only Bones the dog left to take a message for help to Matilda. The scary hags have a cave full of gold – and bones. Shudder… Can ‘Tilda and a pint-sized Jim Lad get out of this dastardly dilemma? This isn’t a specifically Halloween story, but it’s spooky enough to count, and Jonny Duddle’s pirates deserve a place on any bookshelf. Packed with delicious illustrations, and some pretty spooky moments, one for pirate fans of any age.

Dixie O'Day and the Haunted House: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Random House, 2015)6+: Dixie O’Day and the Haunted House: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Random House, 2015)

Dixie and Percy are well loved characters in the Chaos household and in this, the fourth book of the series, the daring duo set off for a fun camping trip. Sadly anything that could go wrong appears to go wrong, and they end up escaping from a soaking wet tent and a grumpy farmer to a spooky old house where a friendly old lady offers them a bed for the night… This is a proper old-fashioned ghost story, with a familiar spooky twist for adults but a great introduction to the style for young children. As ever Shirley Hughes writing and Clara Vulliamy’s illustrations are a delight and the pages are also packed with maps, interviews and a quiz. Perfect as a read aloud, an early reader for confident youngsters, a tempting read for reluctant readers, and a joy for any age. Comfortably spooky, with a very friendly ghost.

Once Upon A Zombie Book One The Colour Of Fear: Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson (Toon Studio Publishing, 2015)8+: Once Upon A Zombie Book One The Colour Of Fear: Billy Phillips & Jenny Nissenson (Toon Studio Publishing, 2015)

Zombie Princesses. Zombie. Princesses. I don’t think I need to write any more to sell this! Once Upon a Zombie is a line of dolls, in the vein of Ever After High / Monster High, but also in the vein of Ever After High, the novel shows well realised characters and an interesting alternate world concept. Being able to travel to fairytale worlds via their writers’ graves is a new concept, and gives the potential of truly global appeal. This particular story starts in London, with two American sisters, and stories of chickpeas appearing in graveyards around the world… The start drags a little if you’re a 6yo (younger than the recommended 8+) so I summarised when reading aloud and DG (6) really liked the concept even though the writing style of the book was too old for her. There are some fun creepy videos on YouTube to promote the book, and the dolls are also available. Will appeal to children who love their fairy tales with a darker twist.

The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2008)10+: The Graveyard Book: Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2008)

I’ve not read this for years (when it was published in 2008), but I couldn’t exclude it from a list of spooky books. The Graveyard Book is the tale of Bod, a boy raised by ghosts, and the ghosts who raise him, and the man Jack who means to find him and finish his job of killing Bod’s whole family. It starts with a knife, and Neil Gaiman is not one to shy from the creepy for children. It’s suitable for any age that can read, but some parents might find it a little scary.  For me, anything written by Neil Gaiman is worth reading, and this is one of his best, and Chris Riddell is a master (again, some parents might find the illustrations a bit scary!) A book I’d put on every child’s bookshelf.

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst: Griselda Heppel (Matador Books, 2015)10+: The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst: Griselda Heppel (Matador Books, 2015)

With a mix of history, modern day, spooky school buildings, secret hiding places, supernatural goings on, and a tie-in to Ante’s Inferno (although each stand alone), The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst is an absorbing read. Skipping between past and present leaves you needing more of each story, and wondering how they combine. I’m glad there was redemption available and the novel shows how it is possible to change from bad choices, even when things seem helpless. Griselda’s writing is full of tiny observations that add up to a believable world. Full review here.

Disclosure: Some books received as review copies, others own copies.