Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A Month in Books: May

Despite the fact that it feels like I've been living at work this month, I managed to read about a book a week this month-including my most anticipated release of the year.

The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht (2010, Phoenix)
I've owned this copy of The Tiger's Wife since it won the Orange Prize in 2011, so it was good to finally read it this month. I'm really glad I did too. The Tiger's Wife follows Natalia, as she travels to deliver healthcare to children in the wake of the Balkan war and the death of her grandfather. The novel also ties in the tales of the Tiger's Wife and the Undead Man, fables or fantastical stories that her grandfather lived through. If you like Carlos Ruiz Zafon, who is a favourite of mine, you will definitely like this, as it has a really similar gothic/fantasy/historical tone.

May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes (2012, Granta)
Another Orange Prize winner that has been sat on my Kindle, I was pretty optimistic about reading May We Be Forgiven. However, this was one of the cases where I felt like I just missed...something. The novel focuses on Harry, who after a violent tragedy, is forced to take care of his more successful brother's family. It has promising moments, especially in terms of characterisation of the teenagers who felt very 'real', but it's slide into surrealism completely lost me. And I'm very upset that it beat <i>Life After Life</i> to the crown, speaking of which...

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015, Doubleday)
I was so excited to get my hands on this novel. A God in Ruins is the companion novel to Life After Life, following Ursula's (that novel's protagonist) younger brother Teddy. The novel follows both his life and that of his family's, in particular his daughter Viola and her son Sonny as they live both remarkably unremarkable and remarkable lives. As with Life After Life, Atkinson's war writing in A God in Ruins during the time in which Teddy flies Halifax bombers is incredibly moving. All her characters, even those who appear for just pages, are vividly created and it is easy to gain an attachment to them (well, almost all of them). This novel made me laugh and cry, and were it not for the ending it would probably be my top book of the year. I still very much recommend it.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993, Fourth Estate)
My first Eugenides experience was The Marriage Plot, which I didn't love. But everyone raves about The Virgin Suicides, and I've wanted to watch the film adaptation for years so when I was looking for something to read on the train after I forgot to pack a book this made the cut. It's told from the perspective of men, looking back at a time when they were teenagers when the Lisbon sisters all committed suicide, and trying to understand what pushed them to do so. The central notion of the book is one that has been discussed frequently-how well can we really know those we claim to. However The Virgin Suicides looks as this in a far more unsettling way, and is frequently an uncomfortable experience to read the obsession of a group of boys with some girls who were enduring hardship but whom no one seemed to want to help. I am definitely keen to watch the film, which seems to really capture the ethereal tone of the writing; and I'd like to tackle Middlesex as well.

So, this was a pretty good reading month for me! Only one disappointment. Did you read any good books this month? Also, if you've read A God in Ruins-please tell me how you feel about the ending!


Sunday, 24 May 2015

Clicklist #3

-I love mint ice-cream and the idea of being able to drink it; especially as a breakfast is incredibly appealing.

-My family holiday for many years was to Spain (specifically Moraira on the Costa Blanca), and The Everywhereist's post on sweet treats from the area really led me down memory lane. Farton's are delicious.

-Amy's travel posts seem to be appearing in every clicklist so far. York is somewhere that has always been on my 'to visit' list, and isn't a very long train journey from where I live so I don't have much of an excuse. Her post has definitely inspired a visit.

-I love the feeling of this piece.

-25 Things All Girls Secretly Do. It's crazy to think the amount of time I've been convinced that I'm a creepy weirdo, only to realise that I'm definitely not alone.

-I also love reading people's letters to their younger selves (Dear Me is great). Michelle's letter to her 18-year-old self is so good, and just adds to how inspiring I find her.

-Returning to drinkable delicious sounding food; marshmallow milkshake.

-I really, really like Meg's post on changing the conversation we have when we talk about our bodies.

-This Buzzfeed article on Sports Direct and zero hours contracts is eye-opening to say the least

-Carrie went to Aix-en-Provence, and the streets are just so beautiful

-Changes may well be afoot in my life fairly soon (hopefully, currently at the mercy of the slowest HR department ever), so this post by Anna about meal planning and The Financial Diet's piece on food shopping were really interesting. Though I lived away from home at uni, a year away from solo food shops is quite a long time.

-Rose went to the Chelsea Flower Show, and I love her photos of the displays. My personal faves were the Chatsworth garden, Kazuyuki Ishiara's garden and The Beauty of Islam garden.

-Michelle also went to the Hello Kitty restaurant in Hong Kong, where dim sum is literally shaped like Hello Kitty. Amazing.

-21 Things Young Women Shouldn't Be Afraid to Ask For

-And another travel guide. This time for Amsterdam, a place which features frequently on my Tumblr, but somewhere that I'e never actually been.

I cannot believe that we're knocking on June's door already! And that I've been graduated for almost a year. Time is really flying.


Monday, 18 May 2015

Podcast Recommendations

Podcasts seem to be gaining more and more of a presence of the internet these days; rather than being a simply ways to catch up with radio programmes there now seems to be a podcast about literally anything you can think of. I'm a big podcast listener-they've kept me going through many an essay or job application-and so I thought I'd let you know some of my favourites.

I listen to an embarrassing amount of book podcasts, mainly because I like to live vicariously through people who can read a scary amount of books a year. The downside to this is that I have an ever-growing wishlist of books that I want to buy (despite perhaps owning 70+ unread books [I know]).

My top favourite is the Book Riot podcast, presented by Jeff O'Neal, Rebecca Schinsky and Amanda Nelson. Book Riot as a website is a bit of a book nerd's paradise; and their podcast covers all the latest book news. They're especially good at discussing the importance of diversity in publishing, and are in no way snobby

I'd also like to give a shot-out to Overdue. This podcast is basically two friends, Andrew and Craig, discussing classic or popular books they 'should have read by now'. It's really funny, they're Fifty Shades episodes made me properly laugh out loud.

Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo's podcast from their BBC Five Live film review show is probably the first podcast I really listened to. It tends to feature an interview with an actor or director, followed by the UK Box Office Top 10 and then Kermode reviews the week's new releases. The two presenters have an excellent rapport, having worked together for over a decade, and there are tons of in-jokes within the regular listeners. It's a great way of sounding way more educated about film than you actually are as well.

Another of my long-time loves has been the theatre. A podcast which has lasted the years has been This Week on Broadway. This is obviously an American podcast, but it looks at developments within the New York theatre area and beyond (which tends to be a lot more inventive than here). Whilst there are times that they're older dude opinions can make me a tad uncomfortable (especially when they discuss female characters), Peter Filichia and Michael Portantiere have a vast knowledge between them. I have just discovered As Yet Unnamed, which is an English equivalent.

I'd also give a shout-out to The Ensemblist and Theatre People, both of which are interview based podcasts-the former focusing on ensemble performers in musical theatre and the latter interviewing key theatrical performers.

If you get frequently frustrated at the fact that HBO refuses to allow much of John Oliver's videos be watchable outside of the States, then The Bugle is the podcast for you. Along with Andy Zaltzman, this is a regular satire podcast covering the UK and global affairs.  Probably not one to listen to on public transport due to pretty high snorting possibilities.

Serial seems to be the podcast that really took off last year, and was truly fantastic (if you haven't listened go. now). It started life as part of the This American Life podcast, which is a magazine show with each episode having a set theme and stories feeding into this. The stories have made me laugh and cry so far and I would 100% recommend it.

If you have any recommendations, please let me know!


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Thoughts On: #GE2015

So, after weeks of everyone assuming the UK would have another five years of Coalition government, the Conservative Party managed to gain enough seats to form a majority government. Whilst polling companies everywhere are probably scratching their heads about how they managed to get their predictions quite so wrong, I feel that what the entire internet needs is yet another article on the election's fall out...right?

1. The number of women in parliament has increased
(via BBC)
This is my favourite thing about the election, as this has been a real area of interest for me for years; to the point that I wrote my dissertation on it. The number of women has risen to 29%, just shy of the magic 30% that some academics claim is the 'tipping point' for real solid recognition of gender issues. Plus, as they are across all the parties (including the youngest MP for generations, 20-year-old Mhairi Black) they haven't been given any patronising moniker (i.e. Blair's Babes or Cameron's Cuties). Yet. 

2. The Red Wedding for the Left?
Once it became clear that the Lib Dems had been largely wiped out, and that Labour would most definitely not be a contender for government; the news featured back-to-back resignation speeches from Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Additionally, numerous political heavy-weights from these two parties have found themselves unemployed. This has in turn been followed by an awful lot of hand-wringing about what these parties should do next. 

Criticism levelled at the Labour Party seems to be focused on the fact they have become too left-wing; which considering they were committed to continuing to make 'savings' (read: cuts) and manufactured mugs cheering on immigration controls seems a little rich. Personally, I feel that their issue was one of communication-their policies never really seemed overly clear (even when engraved in stone); they never really successfully countered the 'financially irresponsible' narrative and nor did they attempt to challenge the idea that a Labour/SNP coalition would be an unmitigated disaster. When it comes to the Liberal Democrats, I was surprised by how much they were apparently punished for being part of the Coalition, especially as many of their seats went to the Conservatives. I guess what is clearly key for much of the electorate is trust, the Lib Dems reversed on tuition fees and despite the fact that they probably prevented some of the less centrist legislation passing, it seems that that decision dogged them to the end.  

3. Our parliament isn't that representative 
Aside from the fact that the majority of MPs are white men, when it comes to the logistics of voting, our government doesn't really represent what voters really wanted. The Lib Dems received more of the popular vote than the SNP, but were reduced to just 8 seats whereas the other party holds more than 50. Similarly, Ukip polled third overall, but hold just one seat. Regardless, of whether you agree with party policies, it is little wonder that many feel alienated from Westminster when their voices are unheard. Despite some vocal demands for electoral reform on social media, this is unlikely to take place under a government for whom the current system works, but it's definitely something to bear in mind for future manifestos. 

4. So what happens now?
Five years of Tory slim majority rule, basically. Cameron has had a reshuffle, but most of the key players remain in their former posts. This article neatly summarises the key policies that are likely to happen, especially without the presence of the Lib Dems. The current key issues that are creeping out are plans for the EU referendum, scrapping the Human Rights Act (the appointment of Michael Gove to Justice Secretary all but confirming this) to be replaced by the British Bill of Rights as apparently we have different rights to the rest of Europe and re-legalising fox hunting. Cameron is likely to have issues, not only surrounding Europe, but also on facing Scotland's rather tangled relationship with Westminster and dealing with rebellious backbenchers. And we all get to experience this all over again in 2020. 


Friday, 8 May 2015

The Classics Tag

I'm not entirely sure where I saw this tag but I felt like it could be an interesting addition to my blog. Between the ages of 15 and 17, I went through a phase where I literally just read classics (yes, I was pretty unbearable), and they still form a sizeable amount of my TBR.

1) An overhyped classic

Great. Expectations. I studied this at school and by the end of it kind of wanted to kill Pip. Whilst his slightly wimpy voice was understandable in the early parts of the novel where he is a child; but 20-something Pip really needed to just get a grip. Whilst Miss Havisham is obviously one of the most well-known characters in literature, the novel is kind of ruined by the protagonists voice. Although having recently DNF-ed Bleak House for similar reasons, I'm beginning to think that maybe me and Dickens are just not destined to get on.

2) Favourite time period to read about

In terms of historical fiction, I will read about pretty much any time period, I especially like novels that are set outside of the standard white Western experience of world events. In terms of classics, the majority of my favourites are written in the 1920s or 1930s; or throughout the 19th century.

3) Favourite fairy-tale
Whilst I remember reading some Hans Christian Anderson when I was younger, I haven't read any fairy-tales for a very long time. I know that retellings are having a real resurgence, so if you have any recommendations do let me know!

4) What classic are you most embarrassed not to have read?

I don't really go in for feeling embarrassed about not having read books. However, Les Miserables is one of my favourite musicals and so I should probably get around to reading its source material. Even though it is a tome.

5) Top 5 classics you want to read soon

6) Favourite modern book/series based on a classic

This is another area where I don't have that much reading history, especially because I've found the companion novels to classics that I have read have been disappointing. However, I do love Bridget Jones's Diary which is of course based on Pride & Prejudice. I also very much want to read Wild Sargasso Sea.
7) Favourite film/TV series based on a classic
Controversial perhaps? But I do really love the 2005 adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. I know that technically these Bennets are a bit too poor but I just love this. Matthew Macfayden is great as Darcy, especially in that first proposal scene and I thought that Rosamund Pike as Jane and Simon Woods as Bingley were adorable. Plus Dario Marianelli's score is beautiful as well.

8) Worst classic to movie adaptation
I do tend to stay away from adaptations that sound awful so this is a bit of a tough one. Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein is certainly an experience...but is so camp that it's almost good.

9) Favourite editions you'd like to collect more of

I do love the Penguin Clothbond classics, and I already own two so I'd love more. I also think the Barnes & Noble classics are just beautiful as well.

10) An underhyped classic

Anne Bronte has got to be one of the most underrated writers full stop. Both her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, are well known and Anne deserves to be up there with them. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall combines the best aspects of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. When Helen Lawrence, a young widower moves to a local stately home with her son, the community is rocked. Gabriel Markham becomes fascinated by her and the novel gradually reveals her back story. Helen is a great character, and deserves to be known alongside Jane Eyre.

I tag you!


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

April Buys

After last months bonanza, I was a lot more restrained in the month of April, despite it being similarly rubbish. Although this post doesn't include the amount of chocolate/sweets/coffee that I've been buying as they don't really bear thinking about.

I only purchased one clothing item this month in the shape of these jeans from Marks & Spencer. They're really comfy and whilst the fit isn't really at Topshop level for me (the Joni's are my ultimate fave), these are a great everyday jean. Though I chose a size down and I would recommend you do the same, especially if you're at the smaller end of your size.

This next product is the only real miss of the month, and I am gutted. Jess at Foolish Oats uses this BB cream and really sold it to me, especially as Gosh is one of the very few high street brands that is cruelty free. It has a really silky texture and gives a nice sheer but buildable coverage. But the day after wearing it I woke up with the sort of spots I haven't had in ages so I doubt I'll be wearing it again. Worth checking out if your skin is less wimpy than mine.

I've previously mentioned this product in my I Love Spring post, but I was lured into buying one of the Bourjois Aqua Laque's. It's a really pretty pink colour on the lips and I love that it does feel very 'aqua', and not at all drying. It just doesn't really seem to last all that long.

Again, this is another product that has been previously mentioned, but I do really like these nail polishes. You do need a basecoat and topcoat to try and make them last longer than a day, but the polish does really dry super quickly.

This product only arrived in the last days of the month so I haven't had that much chance to use it. However, my lips are a bit of a disaster at the moment and I'm trying anything to make them look less sore and chapped. This certainly feels nourishing and smells pretty first-aidy so I've got my fingers crossed.

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Disclaimer: Although I currently work for M&S, I paid for those jeans with my own money. And I missed out on Double Discount by a day, d'oh.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Thoughts On: The Politics of Fear

I'm sure you may have heard that in the UK we are just days away from the General Election, where (hopefully) millions of people will 'go to the polls' and have their say about who the want to run the country for the next five years. The past few weeks have seen the political parties filling the airwaves with their respective soundbites. But the real thing that has stuck out to me is the amount of scaremongering, and fear that has dominated the election rhetoric.

A lot of this has centered around the rise of the UK Independence Party and their pretty single-minded anti-migrant sentiments. As far as UKIP are concerned migrants can be blamed for everything from lack of jobs and lack of housing, to a rise in congestion on our motorways (seriously). This would be laughable, had it not been a sentiment reflected by some areas of the media and thus also by the more 'mainstream' political parties. This means that a lot of this election has been focused on emphasising the importance of British jobs/homes/healthcare/education/roads for British people as opposed to for those scary evil migrants.

However, it's not just issues around immigration that have seen unabashed scaremongering, but also certain parts of the electorate. Namely, anyone considering voting for a smaller party or Scottish people. The sheer amount of hatred that has come from areas of the press towards the Scottish National Party, and indeed the mere idea that Scottish people should be represented in Westminster is pretty frightening. To the point that the Conservative Party are encouraging people to vote for them simply to stop the SNP gaining influence in government so Putin doesn't go nuclear on us all (again, seriously).
And there's the problem. Scaremongering by our politicians and our media does not lead to an informed electorate making decisions based on what they really want. Scaremongering instead leads people to have incredibly skewed perceptions of what the country actually looks like. For instance, an Ipsos Mori survey showed that people believed that recent migrants made up 31% of the population as opposed to just 13%. The same is true of benefit claimants (another group of people that continually come under fire from all sides of the political spectrum for not 'doing the right thing'), thanks to both the press and television programmes such as Benefits Street, people believe that benefit fraud represents about 25% of social security spending. The actual figure is less than 1%. The creation of this non-reality that many people believe they are living in can be blamed squarely on the media and politicians, for allowing easy scapegoating to take the place of acting to achieve real change.

Because for politicians, it is change that is scary. So long as people are busy worrying about there being too many people speaking different languages in their supermarkets; they are not thinking about the constant yo-yoying of education policy; they are not thinking about the long-term implications of changing our relationship with the European Union; and they are certainly not thinking about the weirdly close relationship between our government and a great many of the businesses whose corporate tax payments have been pretty pathetic.

In my mind, politicians should be scared. They should prove to us why they are worthy of gaining positions of power, not through just attacking their candidates, but by showing us what they will do to make the UK a better place to live for all its citizens. Not just those who can pass them a hefty cheque.

You can find out more about party policies without the hyperbole here and here.

Whilst I know this has been a bit of a negative nancy post, I still believe it is vital that you vote on Thursday if you're eligible. The only way any of this is going to change is through making our voices heard.


Saturday, 2 May 2015

A Month in Books: April

This reading month started really well, but kind of hit a bit of a slump with two books that were a bit long and a bit of a struggle to get through. However, I still managed roughly a book a week and I'm on target for my 50 books challenge, so that's good.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (2015, Transworld)
This is probably one of the most talked about new releases, accompanied by the typical comparisons to Gone Girl. The Girl on the Train follows Rachel, a woman who gets the same train every day and who has created a perfect fictional life for a couple, 'Jason and Jess' she sees every day. One day, however, she sees something out of the norm and when Jess then goes missing she feels she needs to tell someone. However, Rachel is an alcoholic with her own attachment to the area which puts her reliability into question. The novel is told from Rachel's perspective, in addition to Meg (the 'real' Jess) and Anna, the woman Rachel's husband married after their divorce. The plot is gripping and all three female characters-but in particular Rachel and Meg are excellently drawn. I will say it goes a little bit too outside the bound of reality in the final few pages, and I did see the solution a mile off, but still a very fun read.

None of the Above by Rick Edwards (2015, Simon & Schuster)
So, if you live in the UK, you may be aware that there's an election happening. Whilst the deadline for registration has now passed, None of the Above is still well worth a read between now and the 7th May as it very neatly and even-handedly breaks down the policies of the main five UK-wide parties (so the SNP and Plaid Cymru are excluded). It's especially designed for 18-25 year-olds as in the last election less than half voted, and Edwards is not patronising but his passion for empowering young people is clear.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (2009, Bloomsbury)
Burnt Shadows on the surface should be my ideal novel, as it's a multi-generational look at some of the biggest events of the past century. But I just didn't really connect to a lot of the story., there were definitely times when I felt that I should be feeling more than I wasA couple of characters did stand out for me; Hiroko who survives the bombing of Nagasaki and Raza, whose life is tinged with the most unjust tragedy.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009, Fourth Estate)
One of the most hyped releases in recent years, Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies have won tons of awards and have been adapted into an acclaimed play and television series. It follows the reformation of the Church in England, as Henry VIII seeks a divorce from Katherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, particularly focusing on the role of Thomas Cromwell. Mantel's writing about human feelings is really brilliant, and I enjoyed her particular takes on the historical figures. However, it did feel like a bit of a slog to get through, especially when you know exactly how the book ends. Mantel has a habit of being so descriptive it gets annoying, as did constant reminders that Cromwell wasn't like the other lords because he was from ~Putney~. I'm glad I read it, but the other books in the trilogy aren't exactly high up my list to read.

What did you read this month? Next month brings the new Kate Atkinson novel and I'm very excited.