A Blogging Good Read - October

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Hello! Joining me for Blogging Good Read this week is AJ from Writer's Block and Broken Lenses. Unfortunately our third person wasn't able to take part this month but we read her book anyway, so carry on to see what they all were and what we thought of them.

AJ picked The Martianby Andy Weir:

My boyfriend doesn't read but this is possibly one of the only books he has gone out and bought off his own accord. After hearing his feedback I recommended it for this. The Martian (as some of you may know because of the film) is about an astronaut being stranded on Mars. Any other person would probably just give up and wait to die. Not Mark Watney. Despite circumstance (and the occasional explosion), Mark Watney has a surprisingly positive attitude on his situation and doesn't give up.

What I love most about this book is how it read like a film script, if that makes any sense? It was tense in all the right places and as I was approaching the end of the book, I had to keep putting it down so I could breathe and calm down. It's just brilliant. Even if you're not into science and stuff. Read it.

I vaguely knew that a film version of The Martian was about to be released when I read this - good timing as I always prefer to read the book first! Other than that, I knew virtually nothing about it and was totally blown away by how inventive and enthralling it was. As you might imagine with a plot featuring someone stranded on Mars and battling to stay alive, there's a lot of science involved but I can honestly say that it's never done in a boring way. You're always utterly fascinated as to what engineering or botanical jiggery-pokery Mark is going to come up with to solve the next problem.

Not only does it do the virtually impossible for me and make science genuinely interesting, this book manages to be really funny too. Mark is such a great protagonist: brave, resourceful, clever but a wee bit narky and feisty and sweary enough to be just the sort of person I like. The format of the book (told mostly in mission reports to start, then branching out to share the story from Earth and also touching occasionally on his colleagues in space) could run the risk of getting a bit tedious but even when Mark is essentially reporting on himself for long stretches, it's still told in such a way that keeps you completely hooked.

ps - ignore the quote on the cover. Gravity was awfully dull. This is brilliant.

I chose H is for Hawkby Helen Macdonald:

I missed out on hearing much about this book when it was first released but Becks was engrossed in it earlier in the year and she's always a good book barometer, so I pounced on a copy when I saw it in a charity shop. It's not an easy read, being as it is about the dual topics of training a hawk and mourning the loss of your father. I haven't experienced either of those things but the author really makes you feel the pain and bafflement of both of them. It's shockingly visceral in its grief but so beautifully written that my overwhelming feeling when reading it wasn't sadness, it was a sort of hopeful admiration that one person can feel that deeply yet be so eloquent in the way they share it with the world.

I'm always especially fond of books which feature something you don't really think you care about, then end up completely intrigued by. The Martian had me hooked on space exploits and this book plunged me deep into the mysteries of hawking and the natural world of the fens. I found it absolutely compelling.

What did AJ think?

I tried desperately hard to like this book. It's the first book in a while that I have had to force myself to read. I really didn't enjoy it.I couldn't connect to the character in anyway as it felt like she had absolutely no personality whatsoever, nothing to engage me and want me to read and MY GOD WAS IT SLOW. 

It's probably because I'm more of a fantasy girl and prefer the works of T.H White rather than rambling, what sounds like hatred, of his work and his life. In fact the character's attitude to White generally upset me.

I honestly couldn't finish this book. I had heard good things but was so disappointed that I stopped making myself try to read it. It felt too much like a chore rather than reading for pleasure.

Our final pick for the month was Carsickby John Waters:

This book has a simple enough premise: John Waters hitchhikes from Baltimore to San Francisco. Or so I thought until I read the last page of the intro, after which point it launches into two fictional novellas about the fantasy good rides and bad rides he could take on the journey. I got through about four of the former before coming to the conclusion that his fiction isn't my cup of tea and happily moved onto the final section which was about the actual journey itself and was much more interesting! I'd have preferred for the whole book to be a travelogue rather than this odd mish-mash of fiction and fact but it would have been a short book in that case as I don't think it could realistically have been stretched out any further. Anyway, that's how he chose to write it and I'm probably in the minority when it comes to not liking the format.

Did AJ enjoy it?

I hate being that person who doesn't enjoy certain books just because they're not what I would normally read but this is a memoir and automatically my brain switched off. I have multiple memoirs and biographies at home but the majority of them have been left unread (except fo How to be a Woman by Cailtlin Moran). 

I know of John Waters as a director but never knew about his plans to hitch hike across America let alone that he had written a book about it. This was the only swaying point to encourage me to read Car Sick.This didn't read like other memoirs I have tried and genuinely made me laugh. Compared to H is for Hawk this was a much more compelling read.

Thanks AJ!

Next month we'll be reading Adorkableby Sarra Manning, Cold Graniteby Stuart Macbride and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry Augustby Claire North.

A Bit More Knitting

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Operation Get Less Shit At Knitting continues.

After the successful snood, I tried out a much more complicated scarf stitch pattern thing (I'm totally down with all the knitting lingo) which has gone quite bizarrely wonky. Yup, still shit at knitting.

Check out the slant on that!

I know I went wrong right at the very beginning because I was doing it on a train and people kept distracting me, but I recovered that and I don't think it was enough to cause such epic slantiness. Ho hum. Maybe it'll sort itself out when I eventually finish it.

(nb - old women LOVE young(ish) knitters, don't they? Actual quote: "It's so nice to see lovely young girls like you knitting." Bahahaha. Thanks lady. I will take the young compliment and run merrily into the distance with it.)

Anyway, Project Wonky Scarf is on hold for the time being. It's taught me how to do slip stitches and passing stitches over and digging up a stitch from the loop and all that jazz. I'll finish it at some point. 

I decided to do something quick and easy to boost my spirits in the meantime, dug out the special needs needles and lovely chunky wool and whizzed my way through this chunky drop stitch cowl pattern. It was so quick and easy to do.

It's pink so it's obviously not for me but you've got to model your creations, haven't you?

New skill added to the list: drop stitches. I'll definitely make it again but will probably play around a bit and make it thinner and longer as it does seem perhaps a smidge too wide and short. It's cute though!

Never one to massively overface myself with a project or anything, I've now started work on a Weasley jumper as a Christmas present. Current status: stocking stitching my life away.

Gasp...I'm Wearing Something That's Nearly Pink

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Oh hey, what's this? An outfit post, in the new house? Woohoo!

Now admittedly it's not the best photography in the world as I still have to get to grips with the lighting - the green chandelier I absolutely *had* to have in the library is amazing but doesn't cast the most consistent glow in the world! But hey, how much better are LOADS OF BOOKS than a boring plain white wall? Pshaw, stylish bloggers, books will always win!

Actual house blog posts will follow at some point in the future. I know I moved in last November but I am a) extremely untidy and b) a world champion procrastinator so there are still plenty of bits that need fixing and/or tidying before I can record them for posterity on t'blog.

I felt rather sassy today though, so wanted to snap some outfit pics, dodgy lighting and all. My wardrobe has been somewhat lacking in #wardrobezoo recently and a horse print top is always a very welcome addition to the clan. It's verging on being pink but I won't hold that against it!

Love a good long top!
Shirt - from Char
Cardi - Hawkshead
Skirt - H&M
Heels - Dorothy Perkins
Ring - MerCurios

A Blogging Good Read - September

Monday, 7 September 2015

Welcome to September's edition of A Blogging Good Read. Aren't we rattling through the year?!

Joining me this month are Gemma from Avise La Fin and Janet from Words That Can Only Be Your Own. What did we read?

Up first is Gemma's pick, Burial Ritesby Hannah Kent:

I have always been a fan of historical fiction and, because of that, I’ve been recommended this book many times! I bought it a little while ago so when I was asked for my BGR choice I thought it was the perfect excuse to get reading it. The story is set in Iceland in 1829 and follows Agnes, a woman who is sentenced to death for the murder of her lover. While she is awaiting execution she is sent to live with Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters, who are understandably none too impressed at the prospect of living with a violent murderess…

Life is hard on the farm in rural Iceland and every day presents a challenge for survival. Jón’s wife is battling ill health and I began to feel like Agnes wasn’t the only character in this book awaiting death. Through the tough farm work she and Agnes form an unlikely bond and slowly Agnes starts to unravel the events of the night that led to the death of her lover.

I actually found this book quite slow, but I was intrigued by Agnes. She’s never really had a home, nor really felt or experienced love and I was waiting for these things to happen to her in the story. She is originally portrayed as a monster and it was interesting to see how my opinion of her would gradually change the more I read. I won’t give anything away, but what I will say is that this book is based on the real life events, which, to me, makes it a fascinating read.

Yet again, I'm very happy that I started BGR. This is another of those books that I'd never have gone near in the library or a bookshop, gloomy Icelandic historical fiction not being my preferred genre. But blimey, this book is really good. More fool me for being the sort of person who'd overlook it at first glance.

It's the most evocative thing I've read in a long time. I've never been to Iceland and I obviously wasn't alive during the 1800s but this absolutely catapults you back in place and time until you can virtually feel the damp of the farmer's cottage and the dirt encrusted on everyone. I managed to completely miss the fact that it was based on a true story though - good one, Alex!

Did Janet enjoy it?

I visited Iceland in July, so it was absolutely perfect timing to read Burial Rites while I was there. I loved the detail that Kent gives of what day-to-day life was like for peasant farmers in rural Iceland, and she evokes a sense of the landscape perfectly. I had an enormous amount of sympathy for the character of Agnes, and although I knew the outcome was inevitable – the novel is, after all, based on the true story of the last executions in Iceland – I still found myself desperately hoping that things would turn out differently.

Janet went for This is Not a Love Storyby Keren David:

I didn't know much about this book when I bought it, attracted by its cover and by the fact that it's set in Amsterdam (my partner lived in the Netherlands when we first met and we still visit there a lot). This Is Not A Love Story tells the tale, in dual first person narration, of two London teenagers - Theo and Kitty - who, for various reasons, end up at a college in Amsterdam for their A-Levels. The book begins the morning-after-the-night-before. There’s been a big party, Theo and Kitty have apparently argued, and Kitty is missing. From there, we’re told in flashback how the two of them ended up in Amsterdam and at the party, and the story continues beyond that once the ‘mystery’ (spoiler alert: it’s not much of one) is solved.

For me, the biggest problem with the book was that the third character, Ethan, (who befriends both Theo and Kitty, leading to all sorts of cliched romantic strife) is by far the most interesting of the bunch, yet we don't see anything from his point of view. Kitty, meanwhile, is introduced to the reader during Theo’s opening chapter as confident, vivacious, fascinating, a budding internet sensation... but turns out to be, in her own chapters, extremely dull and predictable, which is a fault of the writing not the character.

The plot was at its best when dealing with the unique pressures of being teenage and Jewish, and I found the musings on Jewish faith, identity and modern life fascinating; the sections when characters discuss the Holocaust - or the Shoah, to give it its Hebrew name - were the strongest in the book. However, the rest just didn't do it for me, with far too many issues crammed in and no time to really get to know or empathise with the characters. I also found it bizarre that a major plot point hinges on the reader being able to understand the phrase Ik hou van jou. Luckily, it's one of the few phrases in Dutch I do know, but I find it unlikely that the same could be said for most readers.

Did Gemma like it?

I’m not sure this is my kind of book. It’s not that it’s YA fiction (it is, isn’t it?), it’s that I found it… clichéd? I’m not sure that’s the right word. A teenage girl moves to Amsterdam with her mother, reinvents her image, posts pictures of her new amazing life on Instagram for all of her followers to see and be jealous of, meets two boys; the good boy and the bad boy (although both equally tormented by previous experiences). She also has a possible heart condition, so you know, could potentially drop dead at any second. At one point she compares herself to Anne Frank; I am sure there is some deeper meaning other than the fact that they are both Jewish and live in Amsterdam, but I didn’t get it. This one isn’t for me, but I can see teenage girls would probably relate to a lot of the issues raised in this book. But, sadly, I’m not a teenager anymore. Actually, I’m not that sad…

I feel a slight sense of guilt here as Janet had a shortlist of three when she was picking her BGR book and I steered her towards this as I thought it sounded interesting. Uh oh! There was a certain amount to like about it - I definitely enjoyed the perspectives into the Jewish faith and the expat lifestyle as they're not something I've read much about, and Ethan and Theo are interesting characters. However it was ultimately a rather disappointing read that promised a lot and never quite delivered on any of it.

I found the insertion of all the social media stuff a little forced too. Perhaps I'm just an old fogey but the way it was written didn't seem to ring at all true with a character of that age and it wasn't consistent - there were constant mentions of Kitty being this budding Instagram celeb at the start of the book and then it was basically forgotten about after that. It irked me more than it should have done but then again, if the book had been better written overall, I probably wouldn't have noticed it as much,

I picked The Storied Life of A.J. Fikryby Gabrielle Zevin:
(although my version is the cover below, when it was originally released as The Collected Works of A.J Fikry)

This is a slightly random choice but my BGR books are always books that entertained me and this did so. I found it on a shelf at my mum's house, started reading it for lack of anything better to do and really enjoyed myself. It's not an award-winning super work of literature but I was very pleasantly surprised by it at the time and I enjoyed my reread of it this time around as well.

Our title character runs a failing bookshop on an island. His wife dies, his most treasured possession, a first edition of Tamerlane by Edgar Allen Poe, is stolen and someone leaves a baby on the doorstep of the shop. This all happens fairly early on and the rest of the book is an entertaining whirl through a lot of books and the next 18 or so years. It's not as gloomy as the first couple of sentences of this paragraph make it sound - far from it - and there's a delightful amount of loving description of books and how important they are to people. I should add that I really don't like books featuring plot moppets but Maya is a character in her own right here and the relationships between her and the older characters are touching rather than cloying.

What did Janet think of it?

The Storied Life Of AJ Fikry isn’t a book I’d rush to read again, but I liked it nevertheless. I do think it lacked depth – there was a lot of reliance on telling the reader what kind of person protagonist A.J was, rather than taking the time to show us – and the plot was enormously predictable. I also felt it rushed through events quite quickly, taking us from Maya’s babyhood to her high school years in a breathless procession of chapters. However, any book that is so in thrall to the power of books and literature is ok by me.

Over to Gemma:

When I first started reading this book I thought it was going to be chick lit, I foresaw a romantic involvement and assumed there would be little else. I wasn’t terribly enthused after the first chapter, but, I’m pleased to say that I got it entirely wrong. What proceeded was actually quite a moving tale of a new (somewhat unexpected) father as he discovers how to live again after the death of his wife. It was a nice book, sad in places, funny in others. There was a slight mystery; a rare book of Poe poems goes missing at the start and if I’m honest I forgot all about it until it’s mentioned again towards the end! I guess since it takes place over, I think about 18 years, there is a lot to cram in! A nice story and one I’d thoroughly recommend.

Thanks so much to Gemma and Janet for their reviews this month.

The book choices for next month are an eclectic bunch! We've got The Martianby Andy Weir, H is for Hawkby Helen Macdonald and Carsickby John Waters.

The Reason I Don't Do Daily Outfit Posts

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Pretty simple really. Most of the time I do not sport nice frocks, elegant heels or interesting/blogworthy outfits.

Most of the time I wear jeggings and slightly ratty Converse:

Cosy jumpers:

No accessories whatsoever:

No makeup. Oh and I don't brush my hair that much either:

I wear odd socks though. Gotta keep that personal brand strong:

The Summer Party

Monday, 31 August 2015

Last Friday saw the work summer party arrive. Planned by moi and my ever-awesome pal and colleague Catherine, it was a bit of a new venture for us. We have our respective Christmas parties for staff and volunteers but this was a chance to have a great big mid-year thank you for all our fabulous team and get all the staff and volunteers together in one place. We had a cracking year in 2014 and this year is shaping up to be even better (fingers tightly crossed for the next four months, obvs) so it definitely seemed like party time.

Look at that lovely lot! Volunteer management is not the easiest thing in the world but it's very good fun at times like these. The amount of conversations I had about petticoats was fantastic!

We had a photographer there to record the evening which was amazing (only partly because he captured the funniest photo ever of my boss) but on the unfun side, I loathe all the photos of me and have basically been looking through them in absolute horror about how much my arms look like ham shanks. 

Note to self, don't stand between a glam babe of a professional singer and a glam babe who's the pretty brunette at work.

Oh well. My new dress is nice, right? And petticoats and snazzy green heels always make me feel spiffy, even if the pics don't reflect that.

We even had our own bakeoff competition but I was so busy hostessing and compering that I didn't get any cake. WAAHHHHHHH. This is most unfair.

I made one, mostly so that the fellow special-needs-food people could have something to eat, but I didn't get any of that either. Instead I got to do some tidying up and then get changed out of my party frock and go and scrub the loos with Catherine. Oh, it's a glamorous life...

Sparkly frog shoes one minute, scruffy Converse the next...

Dress - Lady V London
Petticoat - Vivien of Holloway
Party shoes - Irregular Choice

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.