Thursday, 30 July 2015

A Month in Books: July

This edition is definitely a bit of a bumper one for me. I'm not very good at just lying around when I'm on holiday so I always make a bit of a dent in my TBR. Though it definitely was a reminder of how hard it is to read a Kindle Fire in the sun.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013, Abacus)
The Goldfinch was one of the most raved about books of 2013, in part due to the fact that Donna Tartt hasn't written a book since the early 2000s. This novel tells the story of Theo Decker, who survives a bomb attack as a child which kills his mother and leaves him in the possession of a famous piece of art. The novel then traces his journey to adulthood. I'd really enjoyed both of Tartt's previous novels, and I probably enjoyed this one the most. Tartt's writing is excellent-there is a section of this set in Las Vegas which is pretty close to perfect-and Theo is a great, complex character to follow.

Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (2014, Random House)
I really wanted to like this book, as I do think Lena Dunham is an interesting voice. However this just didn't really win me over at all. There were moments that were funny, and Dunham's journey to self-acceptance was nice to see. However, there were lots of other times where valid moments were undercut by casual homophobia or racism. Plus, I was slightly weirded out by her relationship with her sister. If you're a mega fan of Girls, you will probably like this.

Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson (2001, Picador)Them is essentially a work of investigative journalism in which Ronson spends time with a variety of people with 'extreme' views, all united by the belief that some kind of shady group is running world affairs. Ronson is gifted with an ability to make people very human, until they inevitability do something to undo the portrait he has drawn for them. Them is also super readable as it begins to look like, just maybe, these people are really on to something.

After Eight by Meg Cabot (2006, Macmillan)
After Eight is the eighth installment of The Princess Diaries, which is a series I really want to finish as I'm desperate to read Royal Wedding the 'adult' conclusion. This was definitely a book that reminded me that I'm sometimes a little too old to be reading some Young Adult novels. The central theme of this is Mia and Michael attempting to deal with the fact that he is moving abroad, and the epic misunderstanding that results from this. I do still love Mia, but I just wanted to give her a shake this time around!

Underground Time by Delphine de Vigan (2009, Bloomsbury)
I loved No & Me, de Vigan's YA novel that dealt with homelessness in Paris. Underground Time is an adult release which follows Mathilde who is being beaten down by a hideous boss and Thibault who is finally breaking out of a toxic relationship. This had a lot of promise, but I'm not sure if the translation let this down, as the prose felt really repetitive and clunky which is a shame.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed (2012, Knopf)
This is another book which has been hugely popular, and the release of the film adaptation finally spurred me to read this. Wild follows Strayed's decision to walk the Pacific Crest Trail alone after her mother's death sends her in a downward spiral. Whilst I didn't love this as much as Tiny Beautiful Things, this was a good read and made me feel (for a brief moment) that I could do go on a solo hike.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (2013, Penguin)
Yet another hyped book from a few years ago, The Rosie Project is about Don Tillman, a genetics professor (think Sheldon Cooper) who devises a wife project to scientifically find a perfect partner. Then Rosie, who is the opposite of everything he thinks he wants (of course) and chaos ensues. This has some very cute moments, but I'm not entirely convinced it deserves all the hype that it's received.

A Room with a View by EM Forster (1908, Penguin)
I took this book with me on holiday as it's set in Italy, namely Florence where I spent a day. It tells the story of Lucy Honeychurch who travels to the city with her companion. Whilst there her path crosses the lower class George Emerson and when she returns to England has to face the choice between societal expectations and her heart. This is a pretty fun summer read, despite it's 'classic' tag, with Forster poking fun at everyone. I only wish we spent more time with the central couple, as I wasn't really that connected to George-though Lucy was great.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker (2014, Maclehouse Press)
I knew pretty much nothing about this novel, my Mum bought it with her to Italy, and it's received acclaim from across Europe and has been translated into numerous languages from its original French. It tells the story of Marcus Goldman, a promising novelist suffering from writer's block whose mentor respected writer Harry Quebert is accused of murdering a 15-year-old girl 25 years earlier. This is twisty and turny and kept me plowing through despite it being fairly chunky. Whilst there are occasionally creepy Lolita-vibes, Dicker is excellent at playing with the reader's preconceptions.
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014, Fourth Estate)
This is essentially a slightly extended version of Adichie's TED talk which is famous for being sampled by Beyonce. It's probably not a must buy, but Adichie is passionate about her beliefs.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (2013, Vintage)
We Need New Names is the story of Darling growing up in a shanty town in Zimbabwe against the backdrop of repressive government crackdowns; and her subsequent move to America. This took a while for me to get into, but once I really fell for the character of Darling it really got me hooked. I feel like despite the fact that everyone knows Mugabe is terrible we don't hear a lot about what goes on there, so this was eye-opening. Whilst sometimes it felt that Bulawayo was trying to pack too much into the book, this was a good read to end the month on.

What have you been reading this month?

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Clicklist #5

So remember how I said I was going to make these more frequent and then dropped off the place of the planet.... here's my bumper crop of stuff on the internet that I enjoyed reading/watching and think you would too.

Karlie Kloss has a YouTube channel, and I am 100% on board.

I think I've mentioned Amy in every clicklist ever, but I love her style and this is her Paris lookbook

Peanut butter and chocolate donuts. Need I say more.

Perhaps due to the fact I'm moving soon, I feel a little overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I have. Meg's words on the subject are ace.

15 Things That Will Instantly Fix You

Joy's 7 Rules of Compliment Club

Alexandra Silber is a fantastic actress and also runs a great blog. Her post on 'trusting your struggle' focuses on a career in the arts but has plenty of valuable advice for all of us.

Why 'Real Jobs' are the Most Bullshit Thing About Your 20s

Johann Hari makes some very interesting points about addiction and the way we treat it in this TED talk

Hannah's reflections on a year off her anti-depressants are wonderful

Kate's trip to Barcelona looks perfect

I love Amber's blog and her posts on dumb age rules for fashion, why she's not keen on Facebook anymore and why she loves fashion are all great reads

Back to Hannah's blog, and this excellent post about body confidence

I've wanted to go to Betty's since my North-dwelling uni housemate bought us all a cake from there and Jen's post has only increased that desire.

I just loved Haley's post on women supporting women

Speaking of which, I love Taylor Swift but she had a major misstep in her response to Nicki Minaj's complaints to the VMAs (she felt her video was snubbed); this article does a good job of pointing out the problems that happen when 'feminism' is used to derail valid discussions

Meg's birthday post makes me want to indulge in some serious cocktail drinking (also she looks lovely)

I'm trying to get into eating tomatoes having fallen in love with bruschetta, and this super simple but delicious looking recipe looks like a good place to start.

Amandla Stenberg wrote about black female beauty standards in response to an increasing trend in white female celebrities (well...Karadashian Jenner's) co-opting black women's natural features, which have been shunned for years

How a Tweet Can Ruin Your Life. If you've read anything about Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, this won't be new but if not watch and be horrified.


Friday, 24 July 2015

The Italy Diaries: Pietrasanta

Pietrasanta is a place where 'la passeggiata' comes into it's own. This is an Italian tradition where couples, families and individuals just make their way through their town's streets in the early evening. In Pietrasanta people really embrace this, decking themselves out in their finery for a walk before dinner or drinks. After dressing ourselves up, me wearing my new Sephora purchase (which survived all night much to my delight) we parked ourselves at one of the buzzy bars on the main square for a bit of people watching.

After a few glasses of prosecco, a mojito (amazing) and seeing a fair few dresses that I wished I could buy we headed off to find somewhere to eat. We ended up in Ristorante Quarantuno, where we first shared some antipasti and a baked cheese with asparagus and I then had seabass with an aubergine crush. It was probably my favourite individual course of my holiday.

Following dinner, we tracked down some gelato and went for a wander around the piazza to have a look at the latest sculpture installations. The piazza was dominated by giant statutes of angels with parts missing, say legs or heads. Also wondering past the church there was a small collection of sirens which were really beautiful.

That's it for my Italy posts. I really loved my stay, and I desperately want to go again. And to Milan, and Rome, and Bologna....

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Italy Diaries: Florence

Florence is a city that I still don't think I'm done with. I said last year that I felt like it's a place that needs multiple visits and I'm still convinced of that. Last year, we 'did' the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo and whilst I'm sure they're worth second visits it did mean that we could keep to the side of some of the more intensely crowded areas. We headed straight to Forte de Belvedere, an old defensive fort built  in the late 16th century and currently hosting Anthony Gormley's Human exhibition. It also offers some stunning views over the city itself.


Playsuit from Zara (fave summer purchase)

The fort was surprisingly quiet and felt like a real oasis. After taking advantage of the shady bar, we made our way back into the city through the Boboli Gardens. These are the huge gardens of the equally huge Palazzo Pitti, built originally for the Pitti family but ultimately falling into the hands of the Medici's. The gardens are beautiful, for 10 you can stroll them to your hearts content, in addition to getting access to a couple of the museums in the grounds and house. 


After exploring the museums, we headed back across the Arno in search of food. We settled on I Ghibellini, a family-run restaurant in a relatively quiet (for Florence) square. Whilst I did slightly regret not getting a pizza with cheese on, my seafood pizza was really fresh and the tirmasu that followed was wonderful. Post lunch, we decided to spend as much time wondering cool streets and sipping cold drinks (I had the best vodka & proper lemonade) as the temperature was climbing to almost 40 degrees.

Again, this was another day that just seemed to go too fast. I'd love to check out the archeology museum where the 'real' David lives, and the area around the university. And the other museums in the Palazzo Pitti. And the Gucci museum. Somehow I think I'll definitely be back.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Italy Diaries: Lucca

Lucca is an ancient walled town in Tuscany which stood a very real chance at one time of usurping Florence as the central power of the region and is the birthplace of the composer Puccini. Today, it's one of the wealthiest towns in the region thanks largely due to the silk and olive oil trades.

When we visited last year, we climbed the Torre Civica delle Ore, from where the above photo was taken. It offers amazing views across Lucca to the dramatic countryside beyond. We also explored the grounds of the Palazzo Pfanner.  This year, armed with a handy €1 map acquired in the car park, we decided to just wonder the many streets of the town.

One of the piazza's that you're sure to find yourself in is Piazza Saint Michele, which is dominated by its church. The builders who altered the church in the 14th century ran out of money, which is why it's stunning facade towers over the actual roof. There are plenty of cafes and restuarants that surrond the square, so you're able to while away some time just watching the world go by.

We then headed up to Piazza dell'Anfiteatro. This has literally been built in the place of the Roman amphitheatre and is literally a perfect circle of buildings which photos can't really do justice to how cool it feels to stand in. It's now full of shops and restaurants which really add to the buzzy feel of the piazza.

The best thing about wandering the streets of Lucca is that you come across churches and piazzas almost around every corner. We headed along Via Fillungo, the main shopping street of Lucca where we ate gelato and I stepped foot in a Sephora for the first time. It was great to look at high-end make-up without being mobbed by counter assistants and I left with that liquid lipstick. We then headed to a bar for prosecco and snacks. The ambience was slightly marred by the fact that the piazza had been fenced off as the venue for the Lucca Summer Festival, similar to BST Hyde Park and well worth checking out if you're in the area during July.

We then headed to Osteria via San Giorgio which my parents had previously eaten at and was delicious. It's popular, but for a reason. I began with toasts with a variety of toppings-I especially liked the pate and the marinated artichokes; followed by sea bass and then essentially a giant jam tart all of which was great. My Dad tried out the regional delicacy bistecca fiorentina, essentially a gigantic steak.

We walked our meal off by walking along the walls that encircle the town, some of which date back to before Christ and are now popular walk and cycle routes.

Lucca is about 30 minutes drive from Pisa International Airport
It has an excellent train service connecting it to Pisa and to Florence
This website gives you virtual tours of key landmarks and a list of places to stay

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Italy Diaires: Metato & Camaiore

This is a view I could never tire of. My parents and I headed back to Italy to the lovely hills of Metato which is nestled in a hill (mountain?) in Tuscany. With a population of just 63, it is the idyllic mountain village that people tend to picture when you say the word Tuscany. We stayed in a converted farm house in a small cloister of other holiday villas/houses. Whilst there are other holidaymakers in the area it never feels overlooked, the houses all have their own outside areas but there is a handy cantina which has extra wine and other items that works on an honesty system.

Next to this cluster is a B&B named Salvia e Rosemarino (literally Sage & Rosemary). This looks like the perfect place for a romantic couple of days (and that seems to be what Italian couples use it for) and they serve an excellent dinner each day. For £25 you get an antipasti, pasta, main and dessert course plus coffee and wine. Whilst the menu is set (though I’m sure they’re accommodating if you have specific dietry requirements) the food is fantastic. Last year, I’m pretty sure I had the best lasagne ever and this year on my final night we were there at the same time as a big family gathering for a golden wedding anniversary. This meant we were treated to a seven course fish based meal, featuring an amazing risotto and delicious sardine bruschetta.

The nearest town to Metato is Camaiore. This is a fairly large town when you include the beach resort of Lido di Camaiore, but the town centre itself is relatively small. It is, however, packed with cafes, bars and restaurants in addition to numerous small shops. We didn’t venture to the coast, as most of the beaches are private and regimented. It is great for breakfast, and whilst I completely forgot to make a note of the cafes we visited (bad blogger), you’d struggle to find a bad cup of coffee or pastry. I'd recommend anything with custard in or sugared croissants.

In the evening, having drunk some excellent prosecco and been plied with canapes (a lot of bars in Italy include a small buffet of antipasti with the price of your drinks) we headed to Osteria Cecci (I believe that’s its name-it has no website because it had only been open a grand total of four days). We had a lovely meal, with excellent service and whilst I’m pretty sure I won’t be trying raw meat again after this holiday (tartare seems to be a go to in some antipasti) the seafood gnocchi that I had was truly delicious and I hope this restaurant stays around for a while.

You can have a nose at the houses in Metato here and my parents booked our first stay through Essential Italy (this year we were in Terrazinno)
It's pretty essential to have a car (with some engine power) to get to Metato, although there is a bus service from Camaiore it's pretty limited.
Camaiore is a 45 minute drive from Pisa International Airport and a bus service connects the town to Viareggio and its train service  


Monday, 20 July 2015

Life Lately #1

So it's been a little while, hasn't it?

I've been pretty busy since the start of the month and have some exciting things to share with you so I thought I'd do a quick catch-up post as I haven't done anything 'lifey' since my flat trauma post.

After working many a 12-hour shift in June I was very very excited to be going to see Taylor Swift in Manchester with my brother's girlfriend and my slightly less enthusiastic brother. I'm a bit of a late convert to all things Swift, having fallen in love with Red after a break-up (cliche, much) and then buying her complete discography. 1989 is a total party of an album, and getting to see it live was a real treat. Taylor performed for two hours and it was probably one of the most fun couple of hours I've had from the ace wristbands (which I know aren't new, I saw Coldplay on their tour when they used them and honestly more stadium acts should get on it) to the sheer excitment of the crowd to be there it was a blast. Plus, it also allowed for a trip up to Manchester, a city I'd never visited and was really pleasantly surprised by.

I then spent the hottest days of the year alternately at work (where working with a giant chiller was never so lovely) and looking at flats (and I found one-more on which soon). I then returned to Birmingham for an early induction to my new job (I don't start until August, but it was nice to meet some other newbies). I managed to time my arrival with a thunderstorm so ran up to my Premier Inn (which as far as cheaper hotels go is fab-comfy bed, nice bathrooms, free tea) and sat around taking selfies and watching Hercules whilst I waited for my suede shoes to dry out. I then trotted out to the Bullring to fill my burger craving. Despite living in Brum when it opened, I'd never tried out Five Guys, and was keen to give it a try. And I'm a little on the fence. The food is fresh, servings reasonable and if you like tons of toppings on your burgers this is your place and they literally have every type of Cola imaginable. However my regular burger, small fries and drink was more than £13 which just felt a tad overpriced. Although thinking about it now is making me pretty hungry.

More recently, I had my last shift at Marks and Spencer. I am actually quite sad to be going, mainly because the girls I worked with were lovely and gave me such a nice send-off. Though not having to worry about the stock files or newspapers or tickets is pretty damn great. And I've thrown in a bonus picture of my cat who I'm going to miss more than I should really admit.

I've also just got back from a holiday to Tuscany with my parents which I will definitely be writing about in the coming days (the short of it being I am in love with Italy).

How are things with you?


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Month in Books: June

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (Penguin, 2013)
Jojo Moyes is my go-to 'women's fiction' writer. Her books are moving and well written, and leave you with the warm fuzzies (or ugly crying in the case of Me Before You). The One Plus One is the story of Jess, who is working two jobs whilst caring for her teenage stepson who is being bullied and her daughter who is potentially a maths genius. Her path crosses that of Ed Nicholls, a disgraced technology businessman, and when he offers to help transport the family to a maths competition, the plot really starts. This is just a really nice book, with enough emotional punch to keep it grounded. I am so, so looking forward to the sequel to Me Before You coming out soon.

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Fourth Estate, 2009)
I really enjoyed Americanah, the last of Adichie's novels that I read and so I was excited to check out this collection of her short stories. Each story explores race and gender in Nigeria and America; I especially enjoyed 'A Private Experience' where agaisnt the backdrop of war a Muslim woman and a Christian woman shelter together, 'Jumping Money Creek' where African writers have their work critiqued by a white man and 'On Monday of Last Week' about a young woman's experience being a nanny in America. My main issue with this collection was the fact that for the most part there wasn't much of a divergence in narrative voice. However, if you haven't read any of her novels yet I would recommend checking out her short stories to see if her style works for you.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Jonathan Cape, 2006)
I was very excited to read this as the musical adaptation has been kind of a big thing (more on that here). This graphic novel tells the story of Alison's discovery of her own sexuality in the wake of her father's death, after which it is suggested that he may well have been gay. In terms of art, Fun Home is a really great experience with Bechdel weaving through all sorts of 'artefacts' in her story. My personal interest in the musical adaptation meant that many of the emotional plot points were not new to me, so if you don't know that much about the story of Bechdel's life and you are interested in LGBTQ issues I would very much recommend this.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (Vintage, 1997)
This was my favourite read of the month. The novel opens with the description of a ballooning accident which ends in tragedy. When Joe, picnicking with his girlfriend Clarissa, meets Jed in the aftermath, the latter develops an obsession. As this deepens, Joe himself begins to become more unhinged. McEwan's writing is excellent, and this is essentially a really solid literary thriller. I really recommend this; I think McEwan has a reputation for being 'difficult' but he really isn't.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld (Black Swan, 2013)
One of Sittenfeld's previous novels American Wife, a look at the life of a fictional first lady, is one of my favourites and I also enjoyed Prep. However, I found Sisterland pretty disappointing. It's the story of twins Daisy and Violet who happen to genuinely have physic abilities. However, despite being identical twins they live very different lives. Daisy changes her name to Kate, abandons her gift and settles into a normal suburban life. Violet, on the other half, embraces her gift and lives a far more unconventional life. The novel starts with Violet predicting an earthquake and that's pretty much all that happens. The novel looks back at the twins' life, but we see this through the eyes of Kate who is pretty dull. Sittenfeld is good at developing a sense of place, and some of the side characters, but being stuck in Kate's head really made the reading experience difficult.

That's all for June. I'm currently making my way through the chunkster that is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and it's so good so far. If you'd like to see longer reviews of any of these books, follow my Goodreads link below.