Why Plain Jumpers Are Worth Celebrating

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

I was wandering around H&M at the weekend and debating with myself whether anything was worth buying. I'm on a sort-of spending ban and although there are no real rules to it (I'm just being even stingier than usual), I wasn't going to break it by buying any old crap. Luckily H&M was totally on my side here and had made all the nice stuff in either horrible fabric or at a weirdly cropped length, thus rendering it unbuyable to me. Cheers dudes!

Then I saw a lovely navy jumper and I genuinely went "Ooooh!"

Cos who doesn't love a good jumper?

Yes, it's very sensible and very plain and I'm sure lots of you wouldn't be caught dead blogging about something so boring. Well sod ya. I'm blogging about it.

Check out that photo above. It's an actual appropriate length!!

And it has nice cuffs!

And it fits well under my big coat. Hurry up spring.

I don't even care if navy jumpers aren't interesting. Clothing that makes you happy is always worth celebrating.

I was away from my proper camera today so you'll have to accept hastily snapped iPhone snaps of it. My selfie game was not strong. Soz.

Jumper and stackable rings - H&M
Jeans - George
Coat - F&F via charity shop
Shirt - Toggi

My Favourite Podcasts: The American Invasion

Friday, 13 March 2015

I've written on here before about how much I love podcasts. Recently, my horizons have expanded across the pond and I've been working merrily through a whole heap of American podcasts. My UK based favourites are still going strong (Answer Me This, Wittertainment, Empire, anything by Radio 4) but the voices in my headphones at the moment have a decidedly more American twang to them.

I'm going to start off with one that's really quite English but bear with me here, there's a trail to follow:

Helen Zalzman from Answer Me This launched a new solo podcast this year called The Allusionist. It comes highly recommended by me: short, snappy 15 minute etymological discussions that are both fascinating and great fun.

Try it: If you're fond of a good swear, Detonating the C-bomb is excellent.

The Allusionist is part of Radiotopia, a collective of the best story-driven shows on the radio. Once I'd heard Helen talking about it, I listened to it, loved it, and thought "Ooh, maybe I should try some of the others and see if they're as good." 

What came next?

99% Invisible is like crack to me. I listened to every episode in the iTunes feed in a scarily short space of time. Two reasons: the voice of Roman Mars (I could seriously listen to that man all day) and amazing stories. It's a podcast about design and that doesn't immediately sound that interesting, does it? Well it's brilliant, trust me. Each episode touches on something about design, architecture or the invisible things that shape our world but the important thing is the story that it has to tell. I would seriously encourage everyone to give this a try. You learn about things you genuinely never knew existed.

Try it: Wild Ones Live (ep 91) is very unlike a standard episode but it's brilliant and features a song called Dear Sir which absolutely entrances me. In more standard format, I have a personal liking for Walk This Way (ep 126) but basically, pick one at random and see if you like it.

Criminal features stories about crime, both big and small. It's not a documentary in the vein of Serial, it's shorter, more intimate and off-beat tales that are all loosely connected to the overall theme of crime.

Try it: check out the first and most recent episodes, Animal Instincts and Poster Boy.

I'm yet to try all of the Radiotopia podcasts and I've definitely ruled out a couple - The Theory of Everything isn't for me and The Truth, although good, features fictional stories whereas my taste is very much for factual ones. Mortified is good for a cringey giggle though!

As with anything internet based, once you've teetered on the edge of the rabbit-hole, you usually end up diving straight into it. Such was the way with American podcasts.

I came across This American Life ...actually, can't remember how I did, but I did. Blimey, it's good. Hard to describe, but good! They basically run with a loose theme each week and the show is made up of three or four stories/investigations/mini-documentaries that fit within that theme.

Try it: Cops See It Differently is a two parter about race and policing in America and it's genuinely shocking. For the more usual format, try their favourites page.

A spin-off from the team responsible for TAL (and probably more well known than it over here!) is Serial. You've probably heard of it. It was everywhere a few months ago and although I came to it a little later than others, I enjoyed it so much. The investigation into a true-life crime is utterly compelling listening from start to finish.

Try it: start at the beginning.You really need to.

If you liked Serial, Reveal is also worth a listen. It's produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting and uncovers hidden stories. There aren't many episodes so far but it's really good.

NPR (National Public Radio) has some good ones too. There are probably many many that I haven't got round to yet but I'm giving Pop Culture Happy Hour a double thumbs up. The contributors are all so deliciously nerdy and enthusiastic about anything and everything that falls under the pop culture banner. Two main topics per episode, plus a roundtable "what's making us happy this week" feature. I always get very happy when British things make an appearance in the latter section.

Try it: find an episode that features something you like and take it from there.

Despite the fact that it's somewhat like stepping foot into a different world, I rather like Wait Wait..Don't Tell Me!, their weekly current events quiz, as well. It would probably make a lot more sense to me if I was actually American but I enjoy it nonetheless!

If you've discovered any gems recently, let me know. There's always room for another podcast in my life.

Being Less Of A Bitch...To Myself

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

I can't stress this strongly enough: I am not a person who has any time for self help shit. I see posts about mindfulness and loving yourself and I cringe/roll eyes/immediately enter the sarcasm zone/scoff loudly/all of the above. I'm sure they're meant with the best of intentions and they do genuinely help people, they are just not for me.

Two things happened on Friday night.

I was in my sickbed, reading blogs and simultaneously glomming series 2 of My Mad Fat Diary.

First things first: blogs. Becks linked to this post from Christa, which I'd missed at the time. Digging back into the mists of time and memory, I actually think this poem was in my GCSE English Lit anthology. No doubt I made some vaguely cringey teenage notes about it at the time.

I read it now and it makes me simultaneously envious and a bit sad. Cos I would love to be able to proclaim

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

Who wouldn't love that level of self-confidence? But I don't have it and I never have had. Can't dance either. I'm always far too self-conscious about who's looking at me. 

Second things second: My Mad Fat Diary. Should you wish to split a bottle of wine with me and fangirl extravagantly about it, I am totally up for that.

Both series of this show have hit me right in the feels but the last episode of series 2 really made me cry. Actual boo-hooing took place. If you haven't seen it and have no idea what I'm on about, the lead character's therapist gets a bit cross with her and says something along the lines of "Close your eyes. Tell me what you don't like about yourself, be honest. Imagine a 10 year old version of yourself. Tell her those things. Tell her she's fat. Tell her she's ugly. Tell her she's an embarassment, because that's what you do every day when you tell yourself that."

He also comes out with such gems as this. I like Kester.

If that piece of advice about the 10 year self had been trotted out to me in some sort of inspirational quote, I'd probably have nodded my head and carried on being mildly horrible to myself. Watching it on screen? It really resonated. Painfully so (hence the messy crying). I am very good at telling my friends not to be so self-critical but shockingly bad at taking my own advice.

You know what? I wouldn't dream of being so cruel to 10 year Alex. She was cool. Mad keen on ponies and books (some things never change), owned a snazzy line in Sweater Shop jumpers, coped well with moving halfway across the country, managed to carry off a massive fringe with a certain amount of innocent panache. She wasn't fat and she wasn't ugly.

I wouldn't even be mean to teenage Alex. Cos although she should have ditched the fringe already and suffered the misfortune of growing up in a time where it was genuinely acceptable to wear an Adidas three stripe tracksuit top with an otherwise normal party outfit, she was cool too. Still being completely pony-mad kept her out of trouble and gave her some of the best friends she'll ever have. I'd give her a hug and tell her not to hide so much.

31 year old Alex is cool too. Even when riddled with cold, wearing no makeup and sporting an inadvertent 80s side ponytail. I should stop being such a bitch to her.

Remember, folks: wanky self help = bad. Poetry and pop culture revelations = good.

A Blogging Good Read - March

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Hello bookfans!

The two awesome ladies joining me for A Blogging Good Read this month are Becks from Just Me and Sally from Queenie and the Dew. We all managed to select rather weighty tomes so bravo to us for getting through them! Want to know what they are and whether we liked them? Read on...

I chose The Night Circusby Erin Morgenstern:

I first read this book a few years ago and it's remained in my brain ever since as an almost indefinable whirlwind of circus tents, magic and illusions. It's hard to explain the appeal of it - I think you either love it or it just won't work for you at all and either way is fine. My tolerance for magical realism and similar genres is quite low, courtesy of a dreadful A level experience with the similarly named Nights At The Circus(words cannot express my loathing of that book), yet this completely captivated me.

The Night Circus is, well... a circus that only appears by night. Not your typical clowns and performing animals sort of circus either. This is entirely more magical with a whole host of unusual and sometimes unbelievable sideshows. Celia and Marco are groomed by their magician mentors into a rather deadly competition with their rivalry being expressed via more and more complicated magical achievements at the circus. The plot spins and tumbles and weaves around on itself in the same way that the magic does. I find it an absolute delight.

What did Becks think of it?

The wheels came off for me with this book. I really wanted to like it, and at the beginning I did. I started it on the plane home from Barcelona where I had been away for work and I was absolutely eating it up. And then I just kind of stopped. That means I started this book on the 15th January and we're now in March and I still haven't finished it. That's not like me at all and I feel absolutely terrible that I haven't finished this book in time for the review. This is like not finishing your homework in time and I am mortified.

I can't explain why I haven't read it because it really did begin in such a promising way. I was drawn in, I was intrigued, who were these two people and what was this magical battle going to be about? And then The Night Circus was born and it began and I loved reading about the various tents created and then.....blah blah blah. It just ran out of steam for me. I kept waiting for something big to happen and so far nothing really has it's just gone completely off the boil.

Of course I could be in for a huge surprise because I'm still only three quarters of the way through the book but I'm genuinely at a point where I don't really care. Maybe it's because I'm anticipating what the ending is going to be and already feeling disappointed by it.

Sometimes not everything adds up when you're reading a book and for me, this book is just missing the X factor. It hasn't taken me at all and I might even do the (for me) inconceivable and leave it unfinished, putting it in very rare company indeed as I find it almost impossible to abandon a book. But given the time spent reading it and the enjoyment taken out of it I have to question if it's worth it.

How about Sally?

My penchant for all things magical, fairy-like and Victorian meant The Night Circus would be a sure hit for me. Sure enough, I was captivated from beginning to end. Erin Morgenstern has crafted one of those rare stories that truly captures your imagination, leaving you with the smell of popcorn in your nostrils, half expecting an acrobat to begin swinging from the lamppost on your journey home from work. The book lends itself to being transformed into a stunning screenplay, and I can’t wait to see it on the big screen (if it can at all do justice to the magic of the book). Erin paints a truly vibrant, enchanting and colourful picture in your mind – the mark of a talented writer and someone I can’t wait to read more of.

Sally picked Molly Fox's Birthdayby Deirdre Madden:

I’ve read so many books with dramatic storylines – the kind that have you squinting under the glow of a lamp long after bed time, your hands gripping the dog-eared pages and your eyes racing along the lines of text to see what happens next. Once finished, you’ll chat about it for weeks, even months after, before stowing it back on a shelf somewhere, never to be picked up again.

Then there are the books I tend to come back to time and time again, which have a far calmer ebb and flow; a poetic intricacy that needs several reads in order to unpick the many layers. I first read Molly Fox’s Birthday several years ago, and was drawn to the quiet strength of the book. There’s something about a deceptively simple novel that calls you back, and my second reading gave me so much more insight into both the characters, the power of memory and Madden’s perceptive take on relationships and acting. Beautifully written and thought-provoking.

One of the real joys of BGR for me is that it helps me discover authors and books that I'd never normally pick up. This is the sort of low-key book that's been out for long enough to pass straight under my radar and I doubt the front cover or the blurb on the back would necessarily have drawn me in either if I'd come across it in a bookshop or library. But it came my way courtesy of Sally's recommendation and I absolutely loved it.

  It's quite a short, quiet, introspective sort of novel. Therein lies the beauty.  It doesn't need a sweeping plot or grand cast of characters to be effective, it's just extremely well written and incredibly insightful into the workings of people's minds. I'll definitely be going back and rereading this and I'm very glad I've discovered Deirdre Madden as an author. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Did Becks like it?

I'd never even heard of this badger so I was pretty keen to get stuck in and immediately downloaded it for my Kindle. And I really thoroughly enjoyed it - I enjoyed it even though it kept bringing up questions for me. Not questions about the story but big 'life' kind of questions. Normally I would shy away from books like this, I like to keep my reading more entertaining and less thought-provoking but this naturally brought up questions for me in a way that didn't feel forced, they just left me pondering.

One quote in particular stood out to me - "You won't let me know you".

I found that so enormously interesting. How well do we ever know other people? How well do we ever really know ourselves?

The main protagonist - it only dawned on me halfway through the book that you never get to find out what her name is - stops going to therapy when it becomes difficult, she doesn't actually want to get to know herself, despite all her bemoaning at how much Molly Fox keeps back from those around her. The fact that we don't know her name really resonated with me. We only know anything about her in relation to the other characters and that's something that I have particularly struggled with at the moment, separating who I am from who other people think I am, or want me to be.

It's not often that a book comes along that is a pleasure to read and also leaves you feeling like you've had a brain workout, without making you feel incredibly dumb for not 'getting' the theme that the book is driving at so I have to say well done to Deirdre Madden for that.

Becks chose Shantaramby Gregory David Roberts:

Despite the fact that I am generally curious about the world about me, I have never ever felt the urge to travel the world. The thought of backpacking just doesn't appeal to me at all and I've never really understand the allure that the East has for some people. Maybe it's for that reason that Shantaram has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for about six years. Or maybe it's because that weighing in at 944 pages it just looks too bloody daunting to pick up.

Well I am now kicking myself for not having read it sooner. I was completely swept away from the first chapter of Gregory David Roberts' book and the only thing that I found difficult about reading the book was how to physically hold it open whilst I was in bed and not risk breaking my nose if it fell on me.

'Shantaram' is the name given to our main character - a guy with a colourful past - he is an ex-heroin user and armed robber and has escaped from prison in Australia and found his way to Bombay, which is where we meet him at the beginning of the book. He has an almost other worldly experience - learning Marathi and going to stay at a remote village with his new friend Prabaker, going to live in a slum and setting up a health clinic, joining the local mafia, spending time in a Bombay jail, oh, and smuggling himself into Afghanistan to fight with the Mujahedeen against the Russians. Obviously.

About a fifth of the way into the book I thought to myself "I cannot believe how good this guy is, he's making it all come so alive, I don't know how he does it." It was only then that I realised I was being a thick idiot in not having read the back of the book properly and realising that it was based on his real experiences. So of course he was good at making it come alive.

There's a lot made of this element - just how true the story is that he is telling. Lots of people saying "This couldn't have happened like that." or "He's exaggerating this, that and the other." For his part, he has never claimed the book is a true story or a memoir, just that it is based on his experiences. And actually I think to get caught up in that whole debate is a mistake because it's really beside the point whether or not he actually did any of these things, the fact is he is a magnificent story teller. And I really do mean magnificent.

You could be forgiven for reading the back of the book, taking in all the things this one person is supposed to have done, partaking in a huge eyeroll and putting the book down to one side, never to be read again. But when you're reading it, none of it feels fantastical, the tale didn't feel ridiculous - you were aware of the ridiculousness of the situation, but you were so caught up in the story that you are just swept along with it.

The theme of trust is long running through the book, and is at times a little laboured, but I can forgive him that, in a book this long it would be easy to lose themes along the way. But his storytelling is vivid. At times it is a little brutal, the recounting of his time in a Bombay jail is particularly harrowing, but it all feels so real. I wanted to be there, among the hustle and bustle of the streets - smell the sea air, wander in the slums, meet the people.

I salute you Gregory David Roberts. You made this person who has never wanted to travel, go all the way to India.

What did Sally think of it?

Seeing Shantaram on the list had my heart doing a little skip. I knew nothing about the storyline, but I’d previously seen a couple of quotes from it that had left me nodding vociferously and balancing it right at the top of my (teetering) ‘to read’ pile:

“I don't know what frightens me more, the power that crushes us, or our endless ability to endure it.”

“Sometimes you break your heart in the right way, if you know what I mean.”

I just knew Shantaram would be one of those novels that would have me buying copies in bulk for every friend and family birthday. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a veritable tome: over 900 pages, but captured within those pages is a story of such magnitude, wit, suffering and strength that I clung to it in the hopes it wouldn’t end. The novel goes through moments of breathless, magnetic pace, interspersed with pockets of belly aching humour and soul-splitting sadness. It captures beauty, wretchedness, brutality, sorrow, absurdity and repugnance in one perfect package.

I'd like my review of this book to be as glowing as the other two but rather shamefacedly, I must admit that I didn't finish Shantaram and so I can't write a proper review of it. I'm entirely blaming it on the fact that I've totally lost my Kindle and that meant I had to try and read this on my phone during a very long train journey. At 900+ pages, that's far from ideal! I hate not finishing books that are due for review but this month has been tough and I just couldn't get back into it. Becks has described it beautifully above though and if her description of it has piqued your interest even a little, do yourself a favour and read the book.

  What I did read, I enjoyed.  If I'm being entirely honest, I wasn't expecting to because I have a bad tendency not to enjoy fiction that goes into raptures about foreign climes (note to self: stop being so parochial in your reading tastes!). There were certain elements of Shantaram that were a little bit irksome in that respect but it's a truly impressive achievement: vast in scope and brutal and beautiful in equal measure.

Thanks ladies! What a good month of books that was. Pat yourselves on the back for managing to read and review them! I will finish Shantaram, I promise...

Next month we'll be reading Guards! Guards!by Terry Pratchett, Notes on a Scandalby Zoe Heller and A Cup Of Teaby Amy Ephron.

All The Florals

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

I realised the other day that we're now into March and I haven't bought any new clothes since before Christmas last year. Not particularly by choice. I'm not on a spending ban or a no-new-clothes ban or anything. I'm just poor. Fun eh?

Ah well, I was never much of a shopper at the best of times and haul posts tend to make me feel a bit icky nowadays. I'd rather read about why you've bought something lovely and how you've chosen to style it up rather than seeing quite how mad you went in Primark.

This stuff is all old. Also mildly inappropriate for work but why break the habit of a lifetime?

Look, it makes me awkwardly happy to look like an accident in a soft furnishings shop.

Jumpsuit - Wallis
Blazer - Matalan
Tapestry wedges - present, via Office

Hello Boys

Saturday, 14 February 2015

I still don't give a shit about Valentine's Day.

Howevs, it's quite the tradition around these parts to perve heartily at attractive men at this time of year. Not that I need any particular excuse to indulge my love for Mark Ruffalo.

A Blogging Good Read - February

Thursday, 12 February 2015

It's book time! Joining me for BGR this month are two return reviewers, Emma and Lee. You can find them on Twitter as @OandtheFoxes and @iodo_rice respectively.

Without further ado, onto the books:

Emma chose Solar by Ian McEwan:

I adore Ian McEwan for all his biting real characterisation. He's a master at emotion, brutally honest with it at all times. He's not afraid to create horrid protagonists. Michael Beard, the star of Solar, is the picture of an unlikeable man. I know a lot of people struggled with this book, and struggled with McEwan's drifts into scientific detail and overly descriptive passages but I've always liked this of him as an author.

There's something Pinter-esque for me in almost all of his work. It's the drama of everyday life that pleases my brain. I enjoyed Solar, not as much of his other work (it's too comic at times). It's not the perfect introduction to McEwan if you've never read him before, but if you have then it should certainly be on your reading list.

What did Lee think?

This book is split into three sections (2000, 2005, 2009) and I found I especially struggled with the first third of the book. I found it hard to engage with, so much so I had a few failed attempts to really get started with it, I was determined to persevere. I have to admit that I did manage to engage with it more as it progressed, and the characters became more defined, outside of the work that they do. One of the reasons the work they do put me off is that I found the language really dense and technical.

The central character in this book Michael Beard, is a largely dislikeable, lazy figure, who acts on selfish and greedy impulses. He is more concerned with how he is treated by the people around him, as opposed to concern over how he treats them. Therefore, my biggest shock in reading this book was at its conclusion, while never growing to like Beard, I actually found I did not want his world to implode around him. Like so much that is uncertain in my response to this book, I cannot fully say why this was the case.

Even now as I jot down these thoughts, I am not fully sure how I feel about this book, maybe it will come to me randomly in a few months’ time and I will think of the perfect description and find myself saying ‘that is exactly what I wanted to say in this post!’. As it is I will have to stick with ‘unsure’ as my defining impression. As a final note, there is an unnecessarily graphic description of a snow related injury that I could happily never have read, and believe there should be a disclaimer a certain section can be skipped *shudders*!!

Oh lordy, this was quite the slog to get through. Made much worse in a way because I really wasn't prepared for that reaction to it. I've read a couple of McEwan's other books (namely Atonement and On Chesil Beach) and I really enjoyed both of them! I even chose the former for a previous edition of BGR. Then, the main criticism of the writing  from the reviewers was that they found it overly wordy and slow and whereas I didn't agree with it then, I really do think it applies to this book. A slow paced novel is fine by me as long as I'm enjoying the world or the characters or the plot line. In this case, none of those things applied and it felt like a long, vaguely depressing trudge instead.

The prevailing tone of the book is mopey. Doom, gloom and an unpleasant, miserable, cuckolded protagonist are what you get clobbered with for the first few chapters and although things do improve slightly when the plot eventually kicks in, it wasn't enough to change my overall impression.  All of the praise of this book mentions the biting satire and black humour but being entirely honest here, I really didn't find it a funny book. I like McEwan's writing style a lot but in this instance it didn't work for me. I can admire the prose and the ideas but I can't pretend it had the desired emotional impact on me and I did not enjoy it.

My pick was Cotillion by Georgette Heyer:

Continuing with my one-woman mission to convert the world to the joys of Georgette Heyer, I went for Cotillion as my choice for this edition of BGR. Fake engagements and Regency makeovers ahoy!  This is far from being mere historical chick-lit though. If you haven't encountered Heyer's unique blend of light comedy, beautifully drawn characters and serious historical research, you are in for a treat. Cotillion is a truly enjoyable read and one of my very favourite Heyer books.

It starts off in a country house where several male cousins have gathered together at the behest of their great uncle, to rapidly discover that he's made his ward, Kitty, his heiress, on the sole proviso that she marries one of them. The obvious candidate is Jack, the tall, dark and handsome one. But then Freddy arrives. Ahhhh, Freddy. There's a distinct touch of the Bertie Wooster about him. Amiable, rich, not over-burdened in the brains department but genuinely charming and a thoroughly good egg.

Kitty is desperate to escape her rural isolation so she persuades Freddy to fake an engagement so they can escape to London for a month or two of socialising and shopping. Bless the man, he goes along with it. What happens then is a rather glorious romp through Regency life with a cracking cast of minor characters. Freddy's father, Lord Legerwood, is an absolute joy and it's a real toss-up as to whether I enjoy their interactions the most or the frankly laugh out-loud sections where Dolph (one of the many cousins) strikes a conversational blow.

This book could very easily be described as frothy and I don't see that as a bad thing - reading is meant to be fun and enjoyable! However there are real depths to all of Heyer's work and this is no exception. Take a quick look beyond the comedic dialogue and romantic historical settings and there are themes and topics that lesser authors wouldn't touch. Dolph breaks my heart. "I don't want a fortune. I want horses." Me too, Dolph, me too...

I'm always wary of putting my very favourite books up for review on here because oof, it can really hurt a bit when people don't like them. Here's hoping Emma enjoyed it!

One of the many things I love about taking part in this book review blog is that it nudges me towards reading more. And often it's towards books I've had my eye on, such was the case with Cotillion.

I've read a ton of Georgette Heyer crime novels though never any of her hugely successful regency romances. I foresee I'll read a ton of these now too, because they are brilliant. Packed full of funny, bright characters, they're a total escapist joy and utterly transport you to the era. Expect love hexagons, lots of laughs and strong characters abound.

What did Lee think?

Well, I know that Alex is a massive fan of this author, but I must admit had never read any of Heyer's work, so was intrigued to see what this book had in store. Upon reading this novel I totally understand why she is liked so much.

Firstly I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I found the style of writing very inviting, soon finding myself wrapped up in the world of the central characters and intrigued to know how the story would play out. I must admit, I did feel the middle section of the book dipped a little, and I did not find it as compelling as the beginning or end, but by the time the last few chapters came around I was truly engaged again. I found myself wishing for the best outcome for a number of my favoured characters & cheering internally as things came together for them. Speaking of the characters, I found those created by the author to be extremely well rounded, and this was one of my absolute favourite things about this book: characters always setting the tone for whether I truly engage with a work of fiction emotionally. While they were not all likeable, Camille, Dolph, Hannah, Hugh, Jack, Olivia and Mr Penicuik et al fully came to life on the pages of this book.

One of my favourite aspects of this book was the evolution of the relationship between Kitty Charing and Freddy Standen, who form an alliance based on friendship, which grows into attraction as they are increasingly exposed to the qualities possessed by the other. Freddy may well be one of my favourite recently read characters, he is by no means your stereotypical hero, but I found him compelling, likeable, if a little vain. I was totally in his corner for the majority of the book and wishing for him the best resolution (who didn’t cheer at an enjoyable resolution to a conversation with Jack near the end of the novel?) Some of the highest praise I can give this book is it had moments where I actually laughed out loud through some of the descriptions of the more absurd actions of its characters. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to people & I am tempted to buy the parental a copy for Mother’s Day.

On a final note, I have this book to thank for bringing the expression ‘dick in the nob’ into my life, oh what a joyous phrase (it means silly btw). I refuse to let people to corrupt it into something sordid. Thus, I am now on a one man mission to bring it back, so if you are in Edinburgh and you overhear someone saying it, I would like full credit (via Heyer of course!).

Lee went for The Blood of the Fifth Knight by E.M Powell:

When taking part in BGR previously, I focused on books that have held great significance for me over a number of years. This time I wanted to try something different and include an example of a recent book that I found myself totally caught up with and found I was recommending to others. I first read this book straight after reading its predecessor ‘The Fifth Knight’ and felt both books were equally as good. Thus, I was intrigued to know, could people pick it up as the second book in a series and enjoy it as a standalone novel? As I thought this book did an excellent job of summarising keys events of the previous novel to remind a reader of the backstory, I also thought it did a good job of summarising them to a new reader, so prior reading was not essential.

The book focuses on the key characters of Sir Benedict Palmer and his wife Theodosia (illegitimate daughter of Henry II) living their life away from court and trying to keep their identities secret to the neighbours. The book starts from a period where King Henry is doing penance for the assignation of Thomas Beckett and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is imprisoned. An assassination attempt on Henry's mistress results in Henry calling Benedict (his fifth knight) to protect Rosamond from danger. As Benedict is embroiled in these events, Theodosia is left at home to care for the children, hiding the truth of her past life, her mystery allowing her to become chief suspect in the suspected witchcraft on the landowner’s estate, and dealing with the sudden reappearance of Benedict’s sister Joan.

One of the reasons I particularly enjoyed this book is that it offered a very balanced weight to all its characters, I do not feel any story element was sacrificed for another. Both Benedict and Theodosia were heroic and likeable protagonists but the characters around them felt fully written and explained so you had a full sense of the characters and their motivations that were at play. I very much liked the pace of this novel. Too often I find books with multiple plots suddenly cram too much resolution into the final few chapters and here the author wrapped one plot strand up before the final few chapters, therefore allowing the story to focus on a particular thread as it reached its conclusion.

I also enjoyed the focus on a slightly different time period for historical fiction. While I am a huge fan of Alison Weir (seriously who is not?) the Tudor period does seem over represented in this genre. The lives of Henry, Eleanor and those around them is perfect for further exploration. I will definitely return to this world that E W Powell has created, and while I do not think I would term this book as a new ‘favourite’, I think my willingness to continue with the world and the characters created within is high praise indeed.

I liked the fact that this was the second book. This issue pops up quite often when I'm considering my own BGR choices: I can adore a series but it's fairly common that the first book isn't the best one. Do you pick the weaker book for the sake of scene setting, or pick a later one and hope it works as a standalone? Lee obviously went for the latter option here and I really think it worked well. I enjoyed this book a lot and thought it made perfect sense - the backstory was nicely woven in without being too clunky but you never felt like it was assumed that you already knew it all.

Right from the visceral opening scenes I was swept back in time. Powell does a great job of making the period really lively and realistic and as it's not a historical era that I'm hugely familiar with (I've read a couple of books about Eleanor of Aquitaine but that's all), I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent there. The mystery element of the plot is great too and it all sweeps along very nicely indeed. I'll definitely go back and read the first one but not because I need to do it in order to make sense of this, just because I'd like to spend a bit more time in this world with these characters.

Did Emma like it?

I have to say I'm still at conflict with my thoughts on this one. It took me a while to bond to Palmer and always felt I was missing out having not read the prequel first. Despite that it's a pacy read and again like Cotillion you feel that you're getting a well researched piece of historical fiction brought to vibrant life. 

You get to play detective as the narrative unfolds though I was a little disappointed that I'd sussed a couple of things out early on. Still I'm not here to give the game away, but I recommend you read The Fifth Knight first.

Thanks to Emma and Lee for taking part this month! I'll be back next month and the books for that edition of Blogging Good Read are Molly Fox's Birthday by Deirdre Madden, Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Shantaram clocks in at almost 1000 pages and I haven't started it yet...I'd best get a move on!