Sunday, 31 January 2016

A Month in Books: January

January has been a surprisingly great reading month. I think it's partly due to the weather finally getting wintery, and my desire to not do much more than snuggle up with a book. That, and the fact that I've had a fair bit of travelling this month. So, without further ado...

You by Caroline Kepnes (Emily Bestler Books, 2014)
You is a seriously creepy thriller which is told from the perspective of Joe Goldberg, an independent bookseller who becomes obsessed with Beck, a young woman who visits his bookstore. The novel is told in the second person, meaning that it feels as if Joe is addressing the reader directly and on the whole it is really well written with a really dark streak of humour throughout. I would also agree with the many reviewers who have pointed to the similarities between this novel and some romantic fiction; with characters with traumatic pasts who are possessive of their love interests but Kepnes (rightly) shows this as being completely destructive and scary. Whilst I found the book engaging, I did feel like the plot was far too unrealistic for me to truly believe in the characters-and I also didn’t find Joe the charming protagonist that many seem to think he is.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St Martins Press, 2013)
I’d heard so many great things about Fangirl, which the internet adored due to its embrace of fan culture and the fact that Rowell places an introvert in her protagonist Cath front and centre of the novel. The book focuses on Cath, a dedicate fan and fanfiction writer of the ‘Simon Snow’ fantasy series, who is struggling with the move to university. Her twin Wren doesn’t want to live with her and embraces college social life; she has a mildly confrontational roommate Reagan who seems to constantly be accompanied by her boyfriend Levi; she’s trying to find her feet in a fiction writing class; she’s dealing with anxiety disorder and worrying about her Dad who is also dealing with mental health issues. If that seems like a lot of things to cover in a book, that is because it is. Rowell does deal with Cath’s anxiety really well, and there are many moments in Cath’s behaviour that felt very real and very familiar. However, there are certain aspects of the plot that didn’t work quite as well for me. I didn’t love how the characters that enjoy the social side of university get either punished in some way or are depicted as stupid; and I did feel that the love interest was a little too adorable with literally zero conflict at any point. But if you are after a light, fluffy read, it’s worth checking out.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Penguin, 1952)
I first read John Steinbeck at school, and Of Mice & Men is one of my favourite novels. East of Eden is widely believed to be his masterpiece, and is the sprawling tale of a variety of families living in the Salinas area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It especially focuses on the Trask family; the novel opens on Adam and Charles as young men who are ruled over by their veteran father Cyrus, and whose relationship is poisoned by Charles’ conviction that Cyrus loves Adam more than him. It is further complicated by the arrival of Cathy Ames, a mysterious, cold young woman, who ultimately gives birth to twins to Adam before abandoning their home. These twins, Cal and Aron, seemed doomed to repeat the events of the past. As with the other Steinbeck novels I’ve read, the descriptive passages were lovely and felt incredibly real; as did the majority of his characters. I just felt like I admired this novel more than I really enjoyed it, and I did feel that sometimes Steinbeck’s writing was a little heavy-handed to make his overall message clear. But I’m glad to have read this and look forward to reading more of his work.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner, 2014) 
From one Pulitzer Prize-winner to another, All the Light We Cannot See has got to be one of the most raved about novels of recent years. It tells the stories of a blind French girl and a young German orphan in the WW2 years, whilst the former deals with the coming occupation and the latter is drafted into the Nazi war machine. I really liked the insight into life in Germany and France during WW2, as I always tend to, especially the weird Nazi-training school that Werner ends up in. There are passages that are written really beautifully as well, but I just felt a little disconnected from the main protagonists, and wanted to spend more time with the side characters. This also meant that certain events, whilst upsetting, didn't hit me as hard as I think they should have done. I just generally didn't really get why this book has had so much commercial and critical acclaim. I do recommend it if you're in the mood for a quick, 'intelligent' read, as Doerr writes in an almost thriller style, and  the chapters are all super short which makes it a very readable experience.

After You by Jojo Moyes (Michael Joseph, 2015)
I was very nervous about reading this sequel to one of my favourite 'women's fiction' titles Me Before You after the early reviews were less than kind. However, I actually really enjoyed this. We rejoin Lou Clark, who is working at a dodgy Irish bar in an airport and still reeling from the events in the last novel. Moyes is so brilliant at capturing Lou's grief and complex feelings and I just loved being back with her. Whilst certain plot machinations didn't exactly thrill me, and there were certainly moments when it departed the realism that made Me Before You particularly good, Moyes just has a wonderful way with words and characters that means her work is always (for me) worth a read.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty (Faber & Faber, 2013)
This novel has been on my Kindle for ages, so it felt right for me to finally read it. The novel opens with the protagonist, Yvonne Carmichael, in the docks at the Old Bailey at the point where she realises that she is about to be convicted for whatever crime that got her there. It then flashes back over the events that got her there, all hinging on a moment when she decides to engage in an affair. Yvonne is a middle-aged, successful woman which was a refreshing change of protaganist. I also liked the way the novel discussed female sexuality in varied ways. However, I wasn't expecting it to be quite so erotically charged, and I felt like it dragged until the final 1/3, and I was mildly disappointed that the final crime wasn't anything more interesting. But it's a pretty page-turning read all the same!

All in all, this has been a pretty good start to 2016!

Twitter | Instagram 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Choosing Hope

Birmingham is my much-loved adopted home.

When I first walked onto the University of Birmingham's campus I remember getting this buzzy feeling in my stomach and just felt like I totally belonged there.

In my second year I started working at two of the city's wonderful concert halls and loved working in the heart of it all.

After graduating, I headed back to Lincolnshire and mourned the loss of a city where so much stuff was happening; where I could get a train and a bus wherever.

Getting a job back in Birmingham last year was a complete dream, and living and working in the city centre has made me very happy. I love being in a city where people actually smile at you and are approachable and generally have pride in a place which still gets a bizarrely bad rap despite the fact that it has changed remarkably over the past 30 years.

One of the things that makes me proudest to live in Birmingham is the fact that it is a massively multicultural city. A place where people of all faiths and races live and work alongside each other.

However, sadly there are some people out there who are seemingly scared by the idea of people living harmoniously. That for whatever reason, people who do not look like them or practice the same religion as them are not worthy of a place in our country.

Pegida are a group that were originally founded two years ago in Germany, and are essentially neo-Nazis. Tommy Robinson, a co-founder of the English Defence League, has decided to bring this hate group over to the UK. On the 6th February, Pegida are planning to march through Birmingham to protest the presence of Islam, their first march on UK soil.

It would be fantastic if you could sign the Hope Not Hate pledge against them here. Groups like Pegida and their hateful messages have no place in the Birmingham that I know, or a country that I would be happy to live in.


Sunday, 17 January 2016

Clicklist #12

Eek, so somehow getting back into the groove at work has really sucked my time away. I will say that I have had a really good start to the new year and have some new projects to work on and a exciting/scary training course coming up which has made me feel really positive about where I'm going over the next few months.

As I'm writing this, winter has finally arrived and I'm having a weather mandated duvet Sunday (which I never do) and will probably be watching the final few episodes of Making a Murderer. If you too are trying to keep warm this January, here are some things that you could read/watch from the comfort of your duvet. Especially if you need cheering up after a week of pretty unremitting bad news.

As I've mentioned before, I love Hamilton and so I really liked this interview with Leslie Odom Jr who plays Aaron Burr who is something of the 'villain' of the piece

22 Things Every Woman Should Know How to do for Herself 

After my New Year's Eve experience, I'm still in the 'I'd rather not' camp when it comes to alcohol, but these Salted Caramel White Russians look delicious (make one and let me know)

And then, when you've drunk too many White Russians, you can make these delicious looking Gingerbread Pancakes

In defence of having a messy Instagram feed

I really liked both Michelle and Sarah's reflective posts on what they learned in 2015.

Winnie's recipe for festive pastries are technically for Christmas leftovers, but I'm sure you can make them any time really (and then you could follow them up with these fudgy bourbon balls or these peanut butter brownies).

I love this collection of gorgeous views from across the world.

31 Outfits to Inspire You in January 2016 

It's not secret around these parts that I'm a big fan of ballet, so I really liked this insight into Marianela Nunez, a dancer with the Royal Ballet's, life.

Michelle's post on Brighton has made me ever more keen to visit the internet's favourite place.

Star Wars Women: Kicking Ass Since 1977 [spoilers for The Force Awakens which I loved]

One of my favourite things about the internet is when you rediscover someone's blog that you loved and then mysteriously dropped out of your bookmarks bar; Chels & A Book is so worth checking out, here's her December review

I know that a lot of people are trying out Veganuary, or just want to reduce their intake of meat in general so these two recipes might be handy; Thai Noodle Lettuce Wraps and Secretly Vegan Salted Caramel Cookies (with a nod to Rosie for the link)

101 Lies to Tell So You Can Stay Home & Read

Emma Pickles is a make-up magician, and I love this fairytale-esque look.

Leena's YouTube channel has been one of my favourites for years, and she's currently on a complete roll with her videos on all sorts of things. I especially liked this chat about three very popular books.

I don't think I've made it a secret that I am not happy with this government, and I'm distraught about how easy it should be whack them and how Labour (the current opposition) are more occupied with infighting rather than tackling the Conservatives. Owen Jones' video is an excellent six-point policy plan.

Finally, The Michalaks should win an award not just for having gorgeous, film-style vlogs, but also for making me melt whenever Grayson comes on screen.


Monday, 4 January 2016

Top 5: Books I'm Excited for in 2016

Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer (September, Hamish Hamilton)

New Jonathan Safran Foer!! Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is one of my all-time favourites and I've been (im)patiently waiting for a new novel for him since 2011. We still don't know too much about this novel, but it appears to be about the life of a Jewish American family whilst the Middle East is in turmoil. But to be honest it could be about paint drying and I would read it.

The Hamlet Retelling by Gillian Flynn (Vintage)
Continuing the theme of fave authors releasing new stuff, Gillian Flynn is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare re-tellings and I'm looking forward to all of them, but especially this one. I'm not actually sure if this is due in 2016 or 2017 but I'm excited for it all the same.

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (February, Houghton Mifflin)
I've heard people on one of my favourite book press sites Book Riot talking about The Queen of the Night for what feels like most of the year. It's the story of a famous soprano who finally gets the chance to originate a role in an opera, only to find that the story is based on an event from her own life. A theatrical historical mystery sounds so up my street so I'm eager to get my hands on this.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (April, Borough Press)
Sisterland aside, I generally love the books that Sittenfeld writes, so this updating of Pride & Prejudice really rings my bells. She has a really dry sense of writing characters anyway, so I feel like the modern Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy are going to be really well-done. I'm also one of those strange people who loves adaptations of P&P despite not actually being a massive fan of the original novel.

Speak by Louisa Hall (February, Orbit)
Again, another Book Riot recommendation, a novel that focuses on the creation and destruction of a new breed of Artifical Intelligence. Apparently it explores life and science and sounds a tad bit David Mitchell-y which I am always up for.

Are there any books that you're looking forward to coming out this year?

Saturday, 2 January 2016

2016 Resolutions

So, now that I've passed the jaded New Year's Day haze (yesterday's post was scheduled, I was not feeling too fresh), I figured that now is a good time to think about what I want to achieve over the next 12 months.

1. Budget Properly
To some extent I do this anyway, as I'm in the awkward position of having my rent money go out before I get paid, so I always have to essentially half my balance when I get paid so I don't overspend. However, I could probably do with getting a handle on exactly what is going out of my account when so it's not a weird surprise when I check my bank balance at the end of the month.

2. Keep building my very fledgling career
The only thing that makes me a little (lot) anxious about 2016 is that my current work contract expires in the summer and I'm not 100% at the minute about where that will leave me. No matter what happens I want to not let it derail me from continuing to think positively about ~the future~

3. Get more inventive when cooking
I have about 60 recipies saved in my Bloglovin Things to Make collection. And even more in my bookmarks but I've probably only made a fraction of them. I enjoy cooking (most of the time) as a way to unwind after work so I'm eager to get properly into this in 2016. I bought myself a pair of cooking scales with a gift voucher I got for House of Fraser (which is probably a sign that I am getting old) and treated myself to Simply Nigella (because Nigella) so I'm eager for 2016 to be a cooking year.

4. Stress less
One that is definitely easier said than done, but I want to try and be a little bit more calm about life. Whether this is achieved through just being a little kinder to myself, by actually getting into Pilates properly again or embracing the colouring book trend in the evenings is something that I'm not sure about-but I definitely want to be a tad more chilled this year.

5. Read 50 books
This is something I've done every year since 2011. This year I'd like to also be mindful of the Read Harder challenge set by Book Riot, which focuses on expanding your reading horizons.

6. Don't buy any books until March 2016
I have an embarrassing number of unread books in both physical and ebook form and I want to try and nip this in the bud, because I do sometimes get a little overwhelmed when I think about just how many books I have to read. Therefore for the first couple of months I want to just focus on reading the books that I have (March is my birthday month so....)

7. Write in my diary more
This was a resolution from last year that fell by the wayside but I definitely want to do this. I like writing things down so I definitely want to record more things.

8. Keep blogging
This is a relatively (very) quiet part of the internet but I'm enjoying working out what my 'voice' is. I'd like to write a few more posts like my General Election one as well.

Here's to 2016!


Friday, 1 January 2016

A Year in Books: The Best Books I Read in 2015

Happy New Year! I can't quite get my head around the fact that it's 2016 already. Like last year, I thought I'd do a round up of the best books that I read in 2015.

To be honest, this hasn't been the best year I've ever had for reading, whilst I completed my 50 book reading challenge, my average rating on Goodreads for these books has been just 3.3 stars. However, there were definitely books that stood out as being ones that I couldn't stop thinking about.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel (2014, Picador)
Station Eleven was one of the first books I read in 2015, and it is one that I just haven't stopped thinking about. It's more speculative fiction than anything else, and follows the world after a devastating super-virus. It has a real The Walking Dead vibe, but is so much more than a dystopian novel; focuses on the arts and what it means to be remembered.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958, Penguin)
I wasn't at all sure what to think going into this, but this was a really pleasant surprise. One of the first novels written by an African about the African experience, Things Fall Apart deals incredibly well with the perils of toxic masculinity and also explores the impact of colonialism on a community in Nigeria. I'm very keen to pick up more of Achebe's work.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013, Abacus)
It's always good to have the longest book you read in a year to also be one of the best. The Goldfinch is the story of Theo Decker who after a tragic event ends up in possession of a piece of art which will change his life. Theo is an endlessly endearing character, who I never stopped rooting for, and Tartt is a phenomenal author. Her characterisation and descriptions of place throughout this novel are excellent. I'm really looking forward to her next novel (which will probably not be out for a decade).

Slade House by David Mitchell (2015, Sceptre)
A seriously creepy short novel set in the same world as The Bone Clocks, which I loved last year, this is the story of a house which appears every nine years and its visitors are never seen again. Chilling and Mitchell is a master at creating fascinating characters in very few pages.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (2014, Oneworld)
A book that I would have never read had it not won the Man Booker, I'm really glad I read this. Whilst A Brief History of Seven Killings is by no means an easy read but one that I feel is really important. It's the story of a really fascinating part of Jamaican history and whilst this might not be for everyone it's really worth trying out if you're a fan of programmes like Breaking Bad.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2015, Picador)
A late entry, but one of my favourites from the year. I don't want to repeat my December post too much, but this is a book that really makes you consider the way you behave online.

Honourable Mentions: The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson,  Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

Biggest Surprise: Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant which I knew next to nothing about and really enjoyed

Biggest Disappointment: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, when you read so many reviews saying a book is life-changing, anything less is going to be a disappointment