Beautiful Blooms

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Remember when post used to be exciting? Nahhh, you're probably all much younger than me and don't remember a time before email. Nowadays I get hardly anything through the letterbox other than takeaway menus and when I do get actual post, it's all dull homeowner type bills. Bah. Being a grown up is not as much fun as it's cracked up to be. Getting a rather stylish flower delivery in the mail is a rare treat, trust me.

Appleyard Flowers sent me the Forget Me Not bouquet from their seasonal range to review and when it arrived, it was exactly as promised - a super elegant selection of blue hydrangeas, avalanche roses, white germini and alstroemeria. Perfect to brighten up my living room! An awfully nice touch too, as no-one ever buys me flowers and it's somehow not quite the same when you have to buy your own in the supermarket.

My tragic lack of romance aside, what about the flowers? It's over a week since they arrived and the majority of them are still going strong and looking really beautiful. I had to remove the hydrangeas yesterday as they'd gone a bit floppy and sad-looking but a week isn't bad at all for a flower that's notoriously tricky to keep looking perfect! The rest of the bouquet is still looking great. Two large thumbs up from me.

What makes them stand out from other companies? Well, I'm quite the connoisseur of internet flower shopping. I may have occasionally often been known to forget important dates and frantically had to organise something at the last minute (see this post - it's nothing personal if I forget your birthday, honestly!), so anywhere that does next day flowers is top of my list. I'll freely admit I'm a bit of a deal ho when it comes to choosing which company I use to send flowers though. It's always really hard to tell if what gets delivered will bear any real-life resemblance to the photo on the website so I'm more easily suckered in by a money-off voucher or Quidco cashback than I am by a pretty photo and hence I've worked my way through a good few companies.

Appleyard get top marks in this truth stakes - their photos are indeed pretty, but so are the real-life bouquets that turn up. Take my word for it: I'd tell you if they were disappointing and they're really not. Should you wish to take advantage of a discount code (and who doesn't love one of those?), use BLOG33 for 33% off their range of luxury bouquets. Bargain!! It doesn't include the flowers by post bouquets but there are lots of other beautiful options.


A Bit of Knitting

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Operation Get Less Shit At Knitting commenced a few months ago. I've dabbled before - made a scarf and some mittens and even a headband thingy - but then for no particular reason I can remember, I put the needles down and didn't feel even remotely tempted to start again. I'm a very casual crafter.

The urge came back upon me a few months ago and a scarf seemed a nice easy way to get back into the swing of things. Armed with some green wool and jaunty needles, off I went.

Did a bit.

Then a bit more.

And quite a lot more - it was as long as my legs before I eventually I ran out of wool.  I was gonna attach more wool and do the world's biggest and widest scarf but it happily ended up being the perfect snood length, so I stitched it together instead and voila!

I am very pleased with myself. It is SO COSY. Plus I can hide in it if people are annoying me or the world is getting too much.

Next up is some verra beautiful multi coloured wool (green, obviously) and I'm actually going to make a scarf this time. It's much more complicated. I have to slip stitches and pick up loops and all sorts of things that are bound to go horribly wrong when I'm not paying attention. If I manage not to cock it up then it'll be very pretty!

A Blogging Good Read - August

Friday, 7 August 2015


Summer is upon us and that means it's time for the August edition of A Blogging Good Read. Joining me this month are Sarah, who you might know as @LovelyStrumpet on Twitter and who does lovely poetical things here, and Gwen, aka @FoodieHistorian, who blogs about food and books and all good things here.

What did we read? Well, nothing particularly summery...

Sarah went for Coralineby Neil Gaiman:

This was my pick as I absolutely love Neil Gaiman and I work with children’s fiction, so it’s very much a big part of my work and home life! Saying this, Coraline works just as well as an adult story, fulfilling the part of us which never really abandons fairy tales. However, calling Coraline a mere fairytale is only true in the Grimm-est sense of the word (see what I did there? See?) as it is a tale filled with nightmarish visuals and monstrous psychological ideas, preying on the imagination and confronting your most dormant childhood fears. Coraline, like every other child at some point in their lives, gets fed up of her average, normal family unit and longs for adventure and excitement. A locked door in her drawing room which sometimes opens onto a brick wall and sometimes opens onto a dark, winding passage is DEFINITELY what she considers to be an adventure, but what we as a reader realise is the beginning of the typical Gaiman-esque twists and turns.

Entering the passageway, Coraline finds a flat and a family matching her own, except for one very chilling, unexplained difference - everyone has buttons sewn into their faces in place of eyes. The Other Mum and Other Dad shower Coraline with uncomfortable, bordering on abusive levels of affection and attempt to dispose of her real parents, and it becomes clear to Coraline that they intend to keep her trapped in their mirrored world forever. Coraline has to play a cold, calculating and creepy game of escape, with the prize being the lives of everyone she loves. Gaiman writes masterfully intense sentences, short and to the point, which manage to convey the most unravelling and unsettling ideas through the most normal of words. The pleasant and the horrible are crossed, mixed up and mirrored so often, leaving the reader in overwhelming state of suspense and fear - never quite being able to put your finger on what exactly is wrong, but knowing something horrendously dark and unimaginable has made it so.

I can’t talk much more about the MOST creepy parts or I’ll be giving too much of the ending away, but I can say that, as opposed to actual thriller and horror books, this is one of the most disturbing and the most unsettling, because it plays on the idea of normal, average lives going slightly off-kilter and yet remaining so close to what you know and expect that you can’t recall where it all started changing until it’s too late. It is a story that has stayed with me for a long time, hiding in that recess of memory which also stores that teddy bear that always looked at me funny, and the shape I always thought was hiding in the darkness as soon as my Mum turned off my bedroom light….

What did Gwen think?

I've been meaning to read a Neil Gaiman for ages so I was pleased when Coraline came up. It wouldn't have been my first choice - I tend to steer away from creepy books and this definitely fits into this category.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy it and found it an easy and entertaining read. It won't keep me awake at night but it was particularly clever (and I will be more intrigued by the noises my next door neighbour makes!). I was particularly a fan of the cat being a "goodie" - they are so often the baddies, which does disappoint me!

I'm a big Neil Gaiman fan so I was very happy to have another excuse to pick up Coraline. This time I went for something a little different and listened to the audiobook, read by the author. Well, didn't that just lend a whole level of extra creepiness to proceedings? I had to give up on it at one point as I was too flipping scared to be in the house alone in the dark with this eerie tale unfolding. I didn't want The Other Mother to appear from a doorway!

I don't think that anyone would argue the basic concept of this book is particularly original but parallel worlds are always interesting, aren't they? It's what Gaiman does with the idea of a mirror version of Coraline's small world that is so very fascinating. There's a huge amount of depth and intrigue to this book. Read it: you won't regret it.

I chose Modern Serpents Talk Things Throughby Jamie Brindle:

This book was on my Amazon wishlist for ages and I have no idea who first tipped me off to it - I was convinced it was Sarah but apparently not! Anyway, I gave it a whirl one day and for a very short book (43 pages on Kindle - it's basically a short story), it packs a lot in. Tina, our title character, is a dragon. A very modern one obviously: your traditional fairytale dragon wouldn't go to a therapist or worry about weight, would it?

The normal setup of human breaks into dragon's cave to steal hoard appears here but that's turned on its head too. Tina really doesn't know what to do with the human - she imprisons her at first but then keeps her more as a pet before they go on to develop a secretive but incredibly touching relationship. I wasn't expecting a story this short to make me cry but it has an emotional punch way beyond what you'd expect from such a restrictive page limit.

I'd encourage everyone to give this story a try as I don't think it's the sort of thing that you're likely to stumble across unless it's by recommendation and it's well worth your time. Although it's short and quirky and might not suit everyone's tastes, I really loved it.

Did Sarah enjoy it?

I was really intrigued to get this book on our picks list, as it’s something I stumbled across on Goodreads a while ago and have never found the time to pick up since! I’m a big fan of fantasy novels and love a dragon as much as the next person, so to meet Tina was a bit of a surprise – part metaphor, part anthropomorphised reptile and part work of fiction, Tina is a modern dragon, with diets, gym classes and a therapist with whom she discusses the most pertinent of subjects (how she feels ostracised from the community, how she is vilified for no reason, and why she keeps a human locked up in her cupboard, for example...)

I found the story on the whole to be surprisingly philosophical, from a ‘tables have turned’ point of view – Tina feels that the dwarves and the humans attack her and invade her space, when all she wants to do is be peaceful and enjoy collecting things for her hoard. She doesn’t like killing people, but it seems to be an unavoidable part of her genetic make-up, and she feels incredibly guilty and confused about doing so. With uncomfortably true insights into the human psyche – Tina finds humans to be sad, scared little creatures – Tina easily becomes a familiar and likeable protagonist, and the whole upside down world in which she lives (humans as barbaric lower life forms, dragons as highly developed caring and feeling creatures) makes you think about how real life society forms and grows and changes in our own world.

This is a very quick, enjoyable read (I had finished it on my daily commute) and a very sweet commentary on ideas larger and more complex than their portrayal shows. My only criticism was that there didn’t seem to be anything groundbreaking or new hidden within the pages, and I found the ending slightly abrupt!

Did Gwen like it?

Again - one I wouldn't normally choose but another I enjoyed (this is why I love Blogging Good Read!). It's more of a novelette, a short story, but is clever in the way that it subverts the readers expectations. I suspect that everyone would identify with the themes - the need to be loved, accepted, and the fear of judgement. If I was being cynical then I could say that at times it verges on the contrived, but considering it's an early effort by an author I suspect we'll hear more of in future, I enjoyed it. I should also add - it made me laugh, which is a rarity!

Gwen's selection was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hydeby Robert Louis Stevenson:

I picked this one because I realised that I've lived in Edinburgh for seven years, and I've never read Jekyll and Hyde. I realised while reading it that it isn't *actually* set in Edinburgh...!

I really enjoyed the dark and frankly unnerving tale of Jekyll and Hyde. While it could be seen to be a Victorian attempt to understand complicated mental health issues, I didn't read it that way - just as a mysterious tale. There's something deliciously gothic about it and I'm not sure it really worked during summer evenings, but it's another one that would be wonderful read aloud in the depths of winter.

Shame on me, yet another classic that I'd never read. I have now! It's strange in a way to come to something like this when you're so familiar with it from pop culture - I doubt that many people have actually read the book but everyone knows what Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde means as a term of reference. It was quite a delight to finally discover the ins and outs of the story.

I'm sure I've read somewhere that Stevenson wrote this book really quickly and I think it shows (in a good way!) - the story fairly rattles along and you're gripped from start to finish. Given the oppressive atmosphere of the setting, I don't think I'd have wanted this to be a huge tome! It's the perfect length - detailed enough to be really captivating and atmospheric but not so engrossed in the minutiae that you feel like you're going to die of old age before you finish it *cough*Dickens*cough*

What did Sarah think?

EVERYONE’S heard of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and had it thrown at them when they were experiencing a particular bad hormone swing, right? I always used to think that Dr Jekyll was the ‘evil’ one and Mr Hyde the normal guy, maybe because of the whole ‘Dr’ (Dr Frankenstein?) thing. After reading it, there is no longer any confusion – the twisted, loathsome My Hyde is not an character that will be easy to forget, or easy to confuse.

Contrary to the many film adaptations of DJ&MH, the original by Stevenson is more of a mystery novel than a sci-fi thriller, and in my opinion it reads better for it. What I especially love about nineteenth and twentieth century novels is the complete lack of modern theme, gadgets and tropes that are included in all modern crime fiction; the somewhat dusty sense of ‘the old fashioned world’ lends a creepiness and air or mystery that you just don’t get nowadays, and somehow makes the whole premise of the plot – a potion which unleashes an evil inner persona – so much more hazardous and terrible and fearful. If you already know the general gist of the story, Stevenson's original novel is an excellent read as you discover it’s so much darker and so much more philosophical than later more ‘fantastical’ adaptations let on. If you’re not aware of the plot, then it’s a definite must read – an exploration of what it means to be good and evil, about how each single person can rotate on the spectrum, about just how deep and dark human nature can be, and about the endless struggle of humanity against its own genius evolution and education.

Whilst I wouldn’t call this a ‘scary’ book it definitely taps into some derivative of fear, as a reader I was more disgusted and appalled rather than scared in the worst parts. The twist, at the time of Stevenson writing the novel, was BRILLIANT, and must have been brilliant to read, and my only disappointment was that I already knew the true nature of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde from the outset so the shock of the ending was somewhat lost on me. Still – a brilliant, clever, snaking novel, timeless in appeal and a must-read if you’ve ever explored any of the adaptations.

Thank you so much, Sarah and Gwen. I really enjoyed this month's exploration into the eerie side of things - not summery at all, but excellent nonetheless!

The books for next month's edition are Burial Ritesby Hannah Kent, This is Not a Love Storyby Keren David and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikryby Gabrielle Zevin.

Feeling Sad

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Although I've always been the soft sap who gets leaky-eyed at sporting triumphs and moments of high excitement, I've never been much of a crier. In fact, I always thought I was pretty stoic. The sort of person who if they do ever need a bit of a weepy vent, would rather go and lock themselves in a cupboard than hug it out with a friend and sob on their shoulder. I am more likely to get narky with said friend due to the embarrassment of them seeing me in a moment of weakness.

There are constant triggers. We've all got them. (This Year's Love by David Gray, FYI. Nasty, painful breakup a long time ago, still can't listen to it. Uck.) On the whole though, I am fairly tough, or so I thought until recently. I don't know what's going on with me. It's been a fairly difficult 2015 so far at work and I am very, very tired all the time, so that may explain the emotion. Might just be me going soft in my old age. Either way, open the floodgates and pass me the tissues.

Here's a list of things that have set me off in the past couple of weeks:

Hippo being walked down the street after the floods in Georgia:

(I tear up every time I think about this. It's become a running joke in work. I don't understand why it makes me sad. They are being KIND to the poor hippo and taking it back to safety.)

The Lloyds Bank advert. Although not the sad WW1 bit, the part at the end where you see just how liberating horses can actually be:

A bit in Song of the Sea where the spirit of an ancient warrior is released from a stone. Why that bit, I have no idea. The film is quite breathtakingly beautiful though so I thoroughly recommend you watch it.

24 Hours in A&E. 'Nuff said.

Sad Kermit:

The end of Labyrinth. "Should you need us..."

McGonagall at the Battle of Hogwarts:

Oscar. It hasn't stopped hurting yet.

S'alright chaps, I'm not depressed, just a touch on the gloomy side of things. Venting helps.

Bookish Delights

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Yesterday I sported a Pride & Prejudice scarf:

A bookish ring:

And some delightful book-themed earrings:

Unfortunately I can't actually tell you where any of these amazing accessories came from. Soz. They were all presents (I have excellent friends who know exactly what I will like!) and I dunno about you, but I don't like to rummage into the background of gifts I've received because that means finding out the price of them and it all seems a bit odd. I think I have a vague recollection of seeing the earrings on The Literary Gift Company's website a while ago but I may be wrong.

Anyway, a bit of googling should provide you with the answers, should you wish to follow in my literary-accessorised footsteps. I can't recommend this scarf highly enough. Not only does everyone absolutely love it (so many compliments all day!) but because it's a snood/infinity scarf type thing, one half is printed one way and the other, the other. Should you get bored in a meeting, let your eyes drift downwards and indulge in a bit of Pride & Prejudice. What could be more fun?

A New Vintage Frock

Friday, 24 July 2015

I had a bit of a trying-on session of lots of my vintage clobber last weekend. Sad times. As I bought most of them just after The Great Weight-loss Campaign and have subsequently chubbed up a bit, lots of them don't quite fit any more. Actually, lots of them never really fitted - I was hoping I'd slim down a bit more and magically get into them and, well, that never happened.

On the bright side, the fabulous Vix was in my neck of the woods at the time. All her vintage stock is so incredibly tempting that it's not really surprising that I treated myself to some new bits and bobs, is it? Then I went back the next day and bestowed a large bag of vintage goodies on her. In the spirit of decluttering, I decided to get rid of all the aforementioned stuff that never fitted, along with a load of silk scarves I never wear. Might as well let them get passed onto someone that will appreciate them!

Being the all-round excellent person she is, Vix made me take a couple more delightful vintage frocks home with me in exchange. Think we can all agree that this 70s midi is a winner, right?

As with anything midi on me, I need some extra height so I don't look too drowned by all the fabric. Enter a nice pair of sandals with enough of a heel to help out my poor stumpy legs.

My resting bitch face is strong today but I do love it, I promise! Also well done hair, you look epic here.

Dress - courtesy of Vix's amazing vintage shop
Summery wedges - Dolcis
Ring - Dorothy Perkins sale
Necklace - either Dorothy Perkins or H&M! All my jewellery comes from there...

A Blogging Good Read - July

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Hello! Joining me for this month's edition of A Blogging Good Read are Jessica from Jessica In Your Ear and Lizzie from Lizzie Dripping.

Jessica's choice was S. by J.J. Abrams & Doug Dorst:

If anyone ever asks me to recommend them a book, I always tell them to try S by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst. I wrote my dissertation for my undergraduate degree on the book and if I ever talk to anyone about it, I become very geeky and enthusiastic about it! It’s basically a book within a book, as Doug Dorst and JJ Abrams teamed up to create a normal novel as well as a love story written by two characters within the margins. I love the concept and the little touches are incredible – the book ‘Ship of Theseus’ has a library stamp and the pages are interspersed with postcards, newspaper articles and even a hand drawn map on a napkin. It’s definitely a book to ‘explore’ rather than just read and if you want to immerse yourself in the whole world, there is a huge cult online fan following. It’s definitely a unique book and I personally think it is brilliant. A word of warning, I might be rather heartbroken if my fellow book bloggers didn’t enjoy it!

This is like nothing I've ever read before. I'd never even heard of it before Jessica chose it as her pick for BGR and I was fascinated by the description when I investigated further. Even that didn't prepare for me for the actual book. It's the most mindbogglingly intricate publication I've ever seen and I can't imagine how much work must have gone into creating it. There's the book itself (The Ship of Theseus), a story told via margin notes over different timelines and all the varying inserts. Everything is utterly beautifully crafted and I honestly don't know how they managed to do it.

It's an unusual one to read. I ended up going for the swirly approach and read story and notes at the same time, going round and round and round in a joyous whirl of text and margin comments. There are multiple options though! Given the sheer volume of story on offer, I think there's something to be said for reading The Ship of Theseus first and reading Eric & Jen's story afterwards. Even the fact that their story unfolds over four different timelines (handily marked in different coloured pens) means that there's a huge amount of re-readability to S and I'm looking forward to going back and reading about them in chronological rather than page order. I'm a big fan of epistolary narratives so I found the occasionally snarky and rather charming unfolding of their relationship more engrossing than the story told in The Ship of Theseus but all elements of this book are worth diving into.

On a side note, I notice that this is available as an audiobook and I have no idea how that would work. If you're going to read it (and I strongly recommend you do so!), please invest in the paper version. It's a mini work of art.

Did Lizzie like it?

This was a book I really struggled with. The multiple narratives were interesting but I found the pages quite distracting and overwhelming in terms of the text on them. I was reading this on a Kindle, and I imagine that the text version is probably better spaced and has better contrast. I ended up reading the "main story" first and the "annotations" second. Both the narratives were good - I was more involved in the annotations- but it wasn't quite the immersive, whole book experience, that was promised in the foreword. I think I'd definitely recommend a paper copy for this book.

Lizzie picked The Awakeningby Kate Chopin:

This is a book I read for the first time a year ago and I absolutely loved. The novel focuses on a woman (Edna) who is married and has two children and yet feels that her life is lacking something. As the book continues, she explores whether she is missing love, freedom or simply just time to discover herself.

I love this book for a number of reasons. Firstly, I love the character. "The Awakening" was first written in 1899 and it presents a woman who was very forward thinking - the book was actually banned in a few circles because it was so forward thinking. Despite being nearly 120 years old, I still felt that this book spoke to me on a very base level. Secondly, Edna is struggling with something that we all struggle with - she just feels like she isn't in the right place. This is something I think we've all experienced, whether in work, academia or relationships, and Edna is very real and relatable as she explores her life. Finally, I think I quite like the fact that the book is quite dark in places and things are not always what they seem (but I'll say no more so as not to spoil it).

This is definitely a book I would recommend: it's written in a very unique way and was way ahead of it's time too.

What did Jessica think of it?

The Awakening was the final book I read. I had never come across it or the author before but it definitely reminded me of the kind of book I read during my English Lit degree. As a result, it took me a little time to really settle into it and stop feeling like I needed to be analysing and writing notes! It was shocking for the time it was published because it details a married woman who actually has feelings, and those feelings are for another man who isn't her husband. It was interested to read in this feminist context and if you enjoy your classics, this is a less well-known novel to add to your to-read list.

I know what Jessica means on this one! There is a certain whiff of English Literature set text about this but that's not a bad thing as far as I'm concerned. The good set texts I had for A level English, that is...if I ever start comparing anything to Nights at the Circus or Things Fall Apart then you'll be only too clear about exactly how much I hated those two... Ahem. Back to The Awakening. It also reminded me quite strongly of certain Persephone titles - that leisurely pace, the level of detailed description about even the most of minor of things and the appreciation that a woman actually can write a serious work of literature about the everyday lives of women. 

Unsuprisingly, I liked it a lot. Very much my cup of tea!

I went for The Miniaturistby Jessie Burton:

This is a rare case of me overcoming my natural antipathy towards award-winning books and giving it a go. While I don't entirely agree with the massive amounts of hoopla that came along with this book (seriously, it seemed like everyone was reading it at one point), I did enjoy reading it and that makes it a definite BGR candidate. The sense of place is extremely strong - open the covers of the book and bang, you're in seventeenth century Amsterdam and caught up in the mysteries surrounding Nella.

She's recently married to a trader, much older than her, and is presented with a dolls house as a wedding present. It's a miniature version of their own house, furnished in exquisite detail. Then additional items keep appearing in the post. Who's sending them? How do they know so much about the inner workings of the household? Whilst I could wish that this book went a little deeper into certain elements and fleshed out some of the characters a bit more, the setting and mystery are more than enough to sell it to me.

What did Lizzie think?

This was a book that I'd been longing to read and the opening hooked me straight away into the characters. If I'm honest though, the middle third of the book kind of lost me; it became, in my opinion, a little repetitive and confusing (a lot of characters and not a lot of information). The last third though, was wonderfully written - fast paced, intriguing and a real page turner. I guess I'm meant to feel a lot like Nella, the main character, but it was still a frustrating middle none-the-less.

How about Jessica?

The Miniaturist has been on my ‘to-read’ list since it won Waterstones Book of the Year in 2014. It’s been so hyped up that my expectations were sky-high and although it was an enjoyable read, it really didn’t enthuse me in the way I expected it to. Like the doll-house which drives the plot, I felt that the characters were all a little two-dimensional; I found it hard to truly connect with anyone in the story emotionally. I think the book had simply been too hyped up for me, as it didn’t blow me away like other ‘big reads’ of 2015. That said, I did finish it in just one train journey so it can’t have been that bad! I thought it was an intriguing concept and a plot which I haven’t encountered before but it just failed to completely grab me.

Thank you so much for taking part, Jessica and Lizzie. I loved both of your picks!

I'll be back next month and we'll be reading Coralineby Neil Gaiman, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hydeby Robert Louis Stevenson and Modern Serpents Talk Things Throughby Jamie Brindle.