Tuesday, 30 December 2014

A Month in Books: December

I cannot believe that we've come to the end of December already. This was a pretty busy month for me work-wise, but I'm happy to say that I still managed to find time to read four books (so pretty much a book a week!).

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue (2008, Picador)
Donoghue's 2010 work Room seemed to have been universally adored, and I really enjoyed it. This novel was published prior and is a historical work focusing on a divorce scandal based on real life events. On the face of it, this should have been massively compelling but I just found that this book really dragged. Whilst the central three characters were fairly well drawn, especially Helen the woman at the heart of the scandal, the supporting characters were really 2D. Also there was a load of info-dumping about the early women's rights and suffrage movements in Britain through endless conversations between characters that weren't that central to the plot, and just served as a reminder of how problematic early feminism was. If you are unaware of how bad it was to be a woman in the 1900s who wanted out of a marriage then I'd recommend this, but apart from that I can't say I'd advise rushing to pick it up.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (2002, Vintage)
I read The Secret History in 2013, and was excited to read Tartt's next work, basically so I can justify buying The Goldfinch which was one of the year's big releases. This novel is set sometime in the late 1960s, early 1970s, in Mississippi. Harriet's older brother was found dead on Mother's Day several years ago, and one summer Harriet takes it upon herself to try and find out who killed her brother. Tartt's writing vividly brings to life the town of Alexandria and the stifling heat and the sinister atmosphere this brings with it. All the characters are brilliantly drawn as well, from Harriet to her great aunts to the family of criminals Harriet comes to interact with. However, this novel was over 500 pages long and didn't really need to be, in my opinion. This meant that it did drag somewhat, and then massively sped up in the final few pages. Also, if you need a neatly finished plot this really isn't the book for you. I still love Tartt's writing, however, and am excited to pick up The Goldfinch soon.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (2014, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
This novel received so many positive reviews on BookTube on its publication that I simply had to pick it up. It is narrated by an unnamed inmate in a maximum security prison, on death row. He is telling the story of The Lady who is attempting to have an inmate named York's sentence changed to life imprisonment, as opposed to death. The novel is pretty slim but Denfeld's writing is incredible. I sympathised with the narrator despite myself, probably due to his obsession with reading, and the other characters as well. There is something of a love story weaved into the narrative as well which is really beautiful. The only reason that this isn't a five star read for me is that some of the 'magical realism' elements didn't really work for me and I also guessed at some of the twists and turns present. But I do really, really recommend this.

The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (2005, Delacorte)
Me and Lockhart have such a rollercoaster relationship and this is where I think I can say 'It's not you, it's me'. Ruby Oliver is a teenager suffering from pretty severe panic attacks. She begins to attend counselling sessions and her therapists asks her to write a list of every boyfriend, almost-boyfriend of wish-he-was-my-boyfriend she's had; after noticing guys coming up a lot in her conversations. Ruby herself then narrates each chapter which is named after one of these guys. Lockhart gets anxiety down so very well and Ruby just feels incredibly real. However, I did find this book uncomfortable to read, just because some of what Ruby experiences with regard to Jackson, her ex-boyfriend, felt a little too close to comfort to some of my own experiences with both boys and anxiety. This is the start of a series, which I may well continue as it would appear Hot Key Books is reprinting Lockhart's early works. However, I think we need a bit of a break.

That's it for this month of reading, and for my reading in 2014 in general. I read 54 books this year which I'm pleasantly surprised by. Keep your eyes out for a 'Best of' post soon.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

It was the end of a decade, but the start of an age

I've spoken about my complete love of Taylor Swift before and when I saw this 1989 tag on Charlotte's blog, I couldn't really resist it.

1. Welcome to New York // If you could live in any city, what would it be and why?
It's a definite tie between London and Birmingham. London is such a buzzy city and I love everything about it from the architecture to the shopping to the fact that it's pretty much the home of the arts and political scene in England. However, Brum will also have a place in my heart as it was the city that I lived in and worked in during university and I miss it a hell of a lot.

2. Blank Space // What is something that everyone thinks is true about you but is actually false?
Probably that I'm super together and organised and unflappable, This is laughably inaccurate.

3. Style // What is one item in your closet that makes you feel unstoppable?
Just one?! Probably one of my (many) playsuits. Or my black lace Monki underwear which always gives me such a boost.

4. Out of the Woods // What is one thing that you are afraid of?
Fire. I literally get nervous lighting candles and hated working with bunsen burners when I was in school.

5. All You Had to Do was Stay // Who is someone you wish was still in your life?
I wish I still lived with my housemates? But really, I'm kind of good with people not being in my life who don't deserve to be.

6. Shake It Off // What is something that you have had to shake off?
General negativity and anxiety from myself about my future. 

7. I Wish You Would // What is something you'd like to happen right now?
I'd like this weird crush I'm developing to maybe go somewhere? Maybe?

8. Bad Blood // Have you ever had someone stab you in the back?
Hasn't everyone?

9. Wildest Dreams // What would you like to be remembered for?
Being a semi-decent person who bought more happiness to others than sadness.

10. How to Get the Girl // What is your favourite chat-up line?
I  reaallly don't like chat-up lines, just say hi.

11. This Love // What is something you got back that you never thought you would?
My desire to write. I definitely lost it in my teens and throughout my time at uni when I just told myself that nothing I had to say mattered when compared to these Great Writers. And now I have a diary and a blog and little novel ideas and it's wonderful.

12. I Know Places // Where is one place that you always feel safe?

13. Clean // What is an important lesson you have learned in life, and how did you learn it?
That I am enough being the person I am ("You are enough, you are so enough"). After years of poor self-esteem and then a break-up that left me feeling like a piece of poop I was really not in a good place. However, over the past year I've had a long look at myself and those around me and come to a place of self-acceptance that I didn't think I would ever achieve.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

A Month in Books: November

So as I started working in full force this month, this should really just be called A Month in Book. Fortunately, it was a good one!

Selected Diaries by Virginia Woolf (2008, Vintage)
Virginia Woolf is an author who has a really special place in my heart. My GCSE English teacher was a massive fan of Woolf, and gave her books to me to read. Mrs Dalloway is a firm favourite, A Room of One's Own is an absolute must-read if you are interested in feminism and the wonderful book & film The Hours wouldn't exist without her.

Sadly, Woolf is probably best known for the fact that her life ended early when she committed suicide, and these selected diaries chart her life from 1912 until her death in 1941. Although this is a long period of time, there are frequent gaps in the diary due either to ill health, general business (her and husband Leonard ran a printing press in addition to both writing) or travelling abroad.

Woolf's descriptions of her day-to-day life are really interesting, and as she was a member of the famous Bloomsbury set she seemed to hang out with all the movers and shakers of the time period. These included the authors EM Forster and Aldous Huxley, and the influential economist Maynard Keynes. She even has tea and attends the funeral of classic author Thomas Hardy, who I assumed had been dead a long time.

Whilst there were times when I felt disappointed with Woolf (especially in terms of her attitude towards women of lower class), it is worth remembering that we've all put problematic stuff in our diaries. This book offers a really interesting insight into her life and writing process (it's unbelievable how quickly she wrote such brilliant works) and I'm really interested to get my hands on her letters soon.

Have you read any Woolf? Or diaries of any other famous people?


Thursday, 27 November 2014

2014 Throwback: Cumbria

In August, my Dad's parents celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary and to celebrate a whole load of us de-camped to the Lake District to spend a few days in the area near to where my Dad and his brother & sister grew up.

 We spent a lovely weekend playing giant jenga, eating delicious food, relaxing in front of real fires, introducing my Gran to Cheeky Vimto (seriously) and falling a bit in love with my family's adorable dogs, especially Molly the puppy.

Really, the one thing that I just constantly couldn't get over is how gorgeous Cumbria is. The landscapes around the lakes are just stunning and so atmospheric. I can only imagine how amazing it must be in the snow. It's definitely a place that I'd love to revisit.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

2014 Throwback: Italy

(View from Torre Civica delle Ore, Lucca)

Italy has been on my travel bucket list pretty much since I discovered Italian food. It is definitely my favourite and Italy as a country has so much history that I've been desperate to see with my own eyes. So when a family trip to Tuscany was a possibility, I grabbed it with both hands. Whilst there were a couple of downers (the weather was freakishly awful with horrendous storms; me & my brother had our luggage stolen before our flight home); I really enjoyed my time in the country and I really want to go back.

We stayed in the hills outside of Camaiore, a small town in Tuscany. It's a really lovely town with little clothing shops, cafes and restaurants. A little further afield was Lucca, which is really gorgeous. Notable things to do in the town (aside from eating obviously) include climbing to the top of the Torre Civica delle Ore, which has gorgeous views from the top; walking the wall's which encircle the town and walking through the grounds of Palazzo Pfanner. The composer Puccini was born in the town and you can visit his house, which is definitely something I would like to do should I visit again.

Another day was spent in Florence. Right off the bat I'll say that this is definitely a city that probably needs to have a couple of days to explore as it's pretty massive and there's so much to see. The day we went the weather was pretty bad in the morning so it was a good job we'd booked to go to the Uffizi Gallery, one of Italy's famous galleries which includes the original 'Birth of Venus' painting. Worth a trip if you're into art, but be mindful of massive cruise parties literally taking up entire rooms and taking photos of every. single. piece (bit annoying). Then there's the Duomo, which is huge and gorgeous and beautiful inside. Then there's all the little streets and alleyways to explore packed with cute shops and cafes. We got the train from Lucca and the Italian train system is really A+ (just one ticket for four people rather than having to juggle millions of bits of paper!).

Before me and my brother flew home (my parents stayed an extra week) we stopped in Pisa to visit the famous Leaning Tower. This was definitely one of those surreal moments of seeing something so famously photographed in real life. There isn't that much else to do in Pisa, so you don't really need to spend too long there. Plus don't leave anything on show in your hire car. At all. If you ever want to see your belongings again (still a teeny bit heartbroken about that).

Despite the iffy weather and loss of ££ worth of clothes, I really enjoyed my week in Italy. It was really great to explore a new country, mangle a new language and eat some *truly* delicious food.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

2014 Throwback: Graduation

In the spirit of #TBT as this is a new blog I figured I would do some posts about the best bits of 2014 up to now. Obviously one of the biggest moments of the past year was completing my degree and graduating.

I went to the University of Birmingham, and graduated with a 2:1 in International Relations & Political Science. During my time there I fell in love with the university, the city and many lovely people I was lucky enough to meet.

There always seems to a be lot of worry around what you should wear to graduation (I certainly went back and forth many times), however as you can probably see the gown pretty much covers everything anyway. I wore one of my favourite LBD's from Forever 21 which is figure hugging but in a smart way and a pair of amazing red court shoes from Next as a way to inject colour to the outfit, though they weren't super carpeted-stair friendly.

The night before the ceremony me and my family headed to one of my favourite places in Birmingham, The Lost & Found, a really quirky bar/restaurant which does amazing cocktails and is really worth a visit if you're ever in Birmingham.

Looking at these photos has really made me miss Brum all over again! Have you graduated recently? How are you dealing with the post-uni blues?


Sunday, 9 November 2014

A Day in London

I've been an official single pringle for quite a while. And whilst sometimes this can be a little bit of a downer, I think it's super important to still feel able to do all of the things that you may feel like you 'need' another half to do. Whilst there are some things I am yet to conquer (ordering in a 'proper' restuarant by myself, still can't shake the fear of a 'table for one'), I feel pretty good about doing things independently.

A couple of weeks ago (life has been a little mental, which is why I've been a little absent) I took myself to London mainly to attend a careers seminar, but figured I might as well make a day of it. 

The main reason for me heading in early was to get the chance to see the poppies that have been placed in the moat of the Tower of London to make the centenary of the First World War. Each individual poppy represents one British death during the four year conflict; giving the whole thing a really poignant beauty. I was there during half term week, so it was a little bit uncomfortably busy, especially at the Tower Hill tube station but it was very much worth it. Also its position gives you a gorgeous view of Tower Bridge and across the river to HMS Belfast.

My next stop (after a bit of a trek through the City to avoid Tower Hill station) was the Nordic Bakery in Soho.

I've wanted to go since a former colleague uploaded a picture of their baked goods onto Facebook and it looked delicious. At first I regretted not also getting one of their salmon on rye bread as well as a cinnamon bun, but the bun was surprisingly filling. I'm used to the Americanised version of the treat which is more bread/cakey whereas this was actually pastry (so did require a little bit of attack with the knife and fork). The bakery is in a really nice bit of London as well, although close to Piccadilly Circus it's all pretty calm and the coffee was good too.

As the careers event was at the National Theatre, I ended my day on the Southbank, somewhere that I haven't really been before. I didn't really get much of a chance to hang around, but I loved the look of the secondhand book & record stand, and of course the famous skate park. There are also loads of restaurants and bars in the area, making it feel really buzzy.


The poppies are at the Tower of London until the end of November; more information about them and the Tower itself can be found here. The Nordic Bakery has a couple of other locations in London and more info and their menu can be seen here. The event I attended was part of a new initiative by the National Theatre at their Learning Centre, and upcoming events can be found here.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

A Month in Books: October

I love reading. I read cereal packets, adverts on tubes...anything I can get my hands or eyes on. Since 2011, I have taken part in the 50 Books Challenge which is what it says on the tin-attempting to read 50 books in a year. This year, I am currently on 49 books, so I'm really excited to make the goal this early!

I thought I would do wrap-ups of the books I've read each month so you can get some recommendations, or know what to avoid! In October, I read 8 books, and you can find out about them below.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (Harper Perennial, 2014)
Bad Feminist is an essay collection by Roxane Gay who first came to my attention as a columnist for The Guardian. This collection covers everything from Scrabble tournaments (seriously) to sexual assault, and Gay's voice is fantastic throughout. Whilst there are a few cultural essays that might get lost in translation across the pond, this collection is really worth a read. It was really eye-opening for me to get a perspective on feminism from a woman of colour, something that much of popular feminism has been lacking of late.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre, 2014)
This was my most anticipated novel of the year. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is one of my all time favourite books so getting my hands on a new work of his was something I could not resist. The Bone Clocks is twisty and spans decades, using the life of Holly Sykes as its centre to tell a story of immortality. Mitchell's ability to create character and place is fantastic. If you like your books twisty then you'll love this. And the cover is glorious.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (Disney-Hyperion, 2008)
Lockhart's name may be familiar to you as she wrote this year's much hyped and wonderful We Were Liars. I adored that book, and so instantly bought her other works and sadly this novel really fell short of what I expected. Frankie Landau-Banks is a student at an elite school who becomes super hot one summer and lands an eligible boyfriend; but she is upset when he refuses to include her in his all-male society. Lockhart is clearly trying to make some important points for young girls throughout the book but it didn't really fly with me. Frankie's boyfriend and his friends were incredibly annoying and Frankie was the sort of girl who looks down on others for enjoying baking. Perhaps worth looking into if you know a 13-year-old who likes Bella Swan a little tooo much, but not great.

Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (Penguin, 2007)
I've owned this book since *2008* (which should give you an indication of my book-buying habits) and sadly it really wasn't worth the wait. Ferris set his debut novel within an advertising office which is obviously rich with opportunity (hello Mad Men). Sadly, I found this book really boring and could not connect with any of the characters. There is a lovely bit in the middle of the novel, where Ferris really focuses in on one of the characters and the writing is gorgeous-but unfortunately the rest of the novel didn't follow.

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith a.k.a. J.K. Rowling (Little Brown, 2013)
After the previous two books, I was definitely a little dubious going into this-especially as reviews of Rowling's post-Potter books have been mixed. However, I really enjoyed The Cuckoo's Calling. In case you don't know, the novel is about Cormoran Strike, a private detective who is hired to investigate the apparent suicide of a famous supermodel by her brother. Yes, at times it was definitely a little predictable. Yes, Cormoran Strike did possess weird abilities to get people to tell him everything. Yes, occasionally Rowling's writing was a little unnecessary flowery. But all in all, the book was fun and fast-paced and I loved some of the inside fashion-industry jokes (cats called Viktor and Rolf-amazing). I'm definitely going to pick up her second Strike novel The Silkworm soon.

Where Rainbows End/Love Rosie by Cecelia Ahern (Harper Collins, 2008)
I picked up this novel because the gorgeous Sam Claflin is starring in the film adaptation (with Lily Collins and Suki Waterhouse [!?]), and I was intrigued by the fact that it is told mainly through letters. The book is about childhood friends Rosie and Alex who are meant to be together but can't be, for various plot reasons. The novel reminded me of One Day, only I found this waaay more frustrating. The writing style meant that we frequently got weird info-dumps in the middle of 'emails' and we had to get through an awful lot of random exposition about Rosie's friends. It's definitely cute and the ending did make me a little teary. Apparently the film is only loosely based on the novel anyway, so I'm definitely still going to give it a watch.

It by Alexa Chung (2013, Penguin)
I am an unashamed fan of Alexa Chung. Her sense of style is so en pointe, I love her hair and her overall attitude is just so great. I've wanted to get my hands on It since its release so I was super excited to get my hands on the paperback version in Waterstones. I was a little disappointed by this book, just because having read Chung's work for Vogue and elsewhere it is obvious she is a talented writer which isn't really shown here. I literally read this in an hour on the train, but will be keeping it because I love her writing about heartbreak and style in general.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (2007, Penguin)
It's always nice to finish the month on a bit of a high. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a pretty skinny volume so I don't want to talk too much about it. But, the novel follows Changez, a Pakistani migrant to America who thrives at university and in his finance world job, but after 9/11 his rose-tinted glasses with regard to his  home country are thrown off. Brilliantly written, with an almost-gasp inducing ending, this is worth reading in order to gain a greater understanding of the dangers of some of the West's actions in the Middle East.

What books did you read this month? If you're a user of Goodreads you can add me here.


Wednesday, 29 October 2014

It's a Love Story: Taylor Swift & Me

Now, unless you avoid television chat shows and all newspapers and magazines, you probably know that Taylor Swift has released a new album 1989 this week. I feel like now is as good a time as any to dedicate some (nonsensical) words to my relationship with Taylor.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

In the Beginning

It would honestly be embarrassing if I admitted to how many blogs I've set up over the years.

Myspace, Blogspot before it was Blogger, Wordpress, back to Blogger; little bits of me all over the internet.

And here we are again, with me nursing a broken heart over Thom Evans being voted off Strictly.

I'm 21 and a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham (I don't mind putting this out there because it was the *best* three years of my life). I am now back in the family abode in the Middle of Nowhere, struggling with rural transport and a provisional driving licence. I recently gained a job in stock management at a well-known British retailer and am pondering returning the hallowed halls of education to study in September.

Despite being on every social media channel imaginable, I've been getting the twinge to write longform so here I am.

I expect I'll be writing about everything from lipstick to politics, and I really hope you enjoy reading my witterings too.