Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Halloween Ninja Book Swap

Guys, the Halloween Ninja Book Swap is in the process of happening again, and I'm one of the lucky ones who's received her parcels already so I thought I'd post about it because I'm so excited! If you're still waiting for your parcel please don't worry, the deadline for sending was Saturday and parcels could be coming from anywhere in the world so may take a little while to arrive! If you'd like to find out more about the Ninja Swap, you can do so here.

I signed up to do both the original and trick or treat swaps, and the first parcel to arrive was for the original swap from lovely Leah at Uncorked Thoughts.




Such exciting stuff, I got a copy of Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, which I've heard people singing praises about for ages and I'm really excited to read. I'm saving it for a day when I need cheering up. I also got an awesome little craft kit to make your own owls, a '50 Books to Read Before you Die' bookmark (of which I've read 32), a Books are my Bag tote and some yummy chocolate plus a cool ribbon card. Thank you Leah :-) I feel so spoiled!

The other day we were out all day and came back to a missed parcel slip, so the next morning I dragged Rhys and the boys out of the house bang on nine o'clock and practically ran to the Post Office to pick it up. It turned out to be my trick or treat parcel from Jessica of Literary Etc, and I will admit to squealing a little bit while opening it! The idea of the trick or treat swap is that you give a genre you'd like to read more of and are paired up with somebody who has a favourite book in that genre. I said I'd like to read more mysteries and got not only two 'trick' mystery books but also a lovely letter detailing why she thought I'd like them and more recommendations if I do! Amazing. 

Apologies for the horrendous photo, my phone hates me today. 


At the top are the letter and little note from Jess. Underneath that are the two trick books - The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn and A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch, neither of whom I've heard of but both the books look fantastic and perfect for the wintery months ahead! Next to that are two awesome pairs of socks, one Tardis pair (which Rhys is really jealous of!) and the other Halloween themed and covered in ghosts! In the middle (as if I didn't have enough treats in this parcel already!) is my treat book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. I love the cover! And then on the right there's a gorgeous reading journal which also has a yearly planned and a space for TBR list as well as being full of loads of quotes! Finally at the bottom of the box there were two Lindt chocolate sticks - one caramel and one chocolate chip brownie and a little sachet of Ernest Hemingway Highland Select Tea which is apparently 'infused with the author's spirit and passion for life'. Love it!

I have been so lucky and am overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers this swap! Thank you so so much Jess and Leah. You are amazing :-) 

As if that wasn't enough, we also signed our boys up to send and receive a parcel. The books and gifts arrived separately from Librarian Lavender and they were so excited! 



The books are No Matter What and The Trouble with Dragons by Debi Gliori (who we love!), both of which are very sweet, beautifully illustrated books with an important underlying message, and we've read them both a few times since receiving them! The box of gifts was incredibly and included a load of cute stickers and magnetic bookmarks for me, a card,three puzzles, a soother and dummy clip, a bib, and a cardboard treasure hunt kit which is just the coolest idea ever and I'm saving it for a rainy day. Ben adores the puzzles and they were both so excited to receive their little box of happy. 

Rhys has also joined in this time but will probably be blogging about his parcel on our other blog at some point as it's not yet arrived. 

Thank you so much to all of our Ninja Swappers for making our (several) days! 




Saturday, 25 October 2014

#dickensindecember...The Decision


So I had a poll up on my sidebar for a while and people voted, quite a lot of people in fact, and The Pickwick Papers won. Only just, but win it did, so sorry Little Dorrit (a very close runner up) but on we go with Samuel and Co. Because it is longer than A Tale of Two Cities, and because the whole finishing Dickens before Christmas thing seemed to work well last year, I'm actually planning to start mid November and post on Mondays with the introductory post around November 17th and the first section the week after. We'll have to read about twelve chapters a week to make it work out over five weeks, finishing on December 22nd. I'm really hoping that some of you are going to join me with this, because I really don't think I have the motivation to attack this tome alone! Don't make me do it on my own!

Just to entice you in, here's a little bit of info which I have gleaned from the ever-reliable source of Wikipedia... 

The novel's main character, Samuel Pickwick, Esquire, is a kind and wealthy old gentleman, and the founder and perpetual president of the Pickwick Club. To extend his researches into the quaint and curious phenomena of life, he suggests that he and three other "Pickwickians" (Mr Nathaniel Winkle, Mr Augustus Snodgrass, and Mr Tracy Tupman) should make journeys to places remote from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club. Their travels throughout the English countryside by coach provide the chief theme of the novel.

With the introduction of Sam Weller in chapter 10, the book became the first real publishing phenomenon, with bootleg copies, theatrical performances, Sam Weller joke books, and other merchandise.

If you're like me and a Little Women fan you will also probably remember the chapter where they talk about the Pickwick Club. I will admit that as being my primary motivation for wanting to read this book, and if it's rubbish I'm going to have to seriously reconsider the amount of trust I put in Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy. Those who are regular readers will know how much of an impact this is likely to have on me, so for the sake of my children please readalong with me! Just so I have support if it's rubbish... 

If you're interested in reading along with me, please link up your blog (or twitter, tumblr, whatever) in the linky below so I can visit you all! Feel free to nick the button above and stick it on your blogs or whatever. Equally if you're better at graphics than I am (not hard) please feel free to make a better one and use that. Either way, see you back here in November for a schedule type thingy...




Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Books on my Beside Table #3



This is actually not my bedside table, but these are the books which have been hanging around that area lately. It's been far too long since I've done this, and since I stopped using Goodreads and still can't get on with an alternative system of cataloging what I've read I really need it to remember the stuff I've read which is less than fantastic, or to remember what was fantastic which I haven't got to reviewing yet!

Before we start, The Pickwick Papers I am not actually reading yet, but it's in the pile because it won the poll on what to read for #dickensindecember and it is loooonnnng so I'm trying to figure out how to readalong it in four or five weeks without us all going insane. There will be a sign up post going up in a week or two, join in, it will be really fun!

Quite a lot of diversity in the pile this week! Starting off with some epic fantasy in the form of a long overdue reread of David Gemmell's Waylander. As a teenager I seriously adored Gemmell and have read everything he ever wrote. I was heartbroken when he died and still can't read the final book in his Troy series without bawling my eyes out (it was finished by his wife and the ending just reads like she's saying goodbye to him and I can't handle it). When I asked facebook which of his books I should start my reread with, my friend Robb (hi Robb!) said "Start with the one about that guy who doesn't give a shit, is a bad ass but has a big heart and finds his conscience", which is funny because many (probably most) of his protagonists follow that format, but somehow they remain fantastic and worm their way into your heart. I'm only a few chapters into Waylander but I'm already remembering how much I love it.

Everyday Sexism is absolutely fantastic but it's taking me ages to read because it is so, so depressing. I promise even if you are a woman who has never been sexually assaulted in any way, you will read this and so many of the things she talked about will have happened to you and you will probably just have accepted it as normal behaviour. It literally makes my heart hurt and it makes me so angry but it's such an important book to read. Because of previously mentioned anger, the rest of the pile is specifically designed to calm me down...

The Complete Dorothy Parker was a recent impulse buy during my first child-free Waterstone's trip since Sam was born. Dorothy Parker was on the reading list for the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge I participated in a couple of years ago, and I never see her anywhere so I've been sort of off and on looking for her since then, and I always have the problem when in Waterstone's of 'what do I really want to spend £9 on?', because a lot of what I want to read I know I can get in the library or everyone's currently reading it so in a couple of months the charity shops will be full and so it feels like a waste to buy a full price copy, but as I said Dorothy Parker turns up so infrequently that I felt I had to buy it really. It's all short stories, journalism and poetry and so far it's been really enjoyable.

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg is gorgeous and I've been reading it for ages and ages because it's part memoir, part cookbook and her writing is literally delicious. If you haven't read her blog, Orangette, yet, you really should.

And finally I just started Bryan Lee O'Malley's new graphic novel, Seconds, which I made my lovely sister and her lovely boyfriend get signed for Rhys' birthday when they went to see him. I've literally read a few pages so far but it's time for a graphic novel, so that will be good.

Also I'm reading The Great Gatsby with Ellie, but it keeps going walkabout. It's one of those books I keep putting down somewhere and can then never remember where somewhere is, but I will find it in the next couple of days and I will start reading it again...

So that's what I'm reading, what are you reading? :-)


Sunday, 19 October 2014

55 Quirky Questions for Readers

It's been a long long time since I've answered a bookish questionnaire here, but I feel like changing things around a bit (see my last post) and I found this on The Literary Lollipop and thought it might help me to get back into the swing of things. My reading's felt a bit disjointed lately and I'd like to change that, plus I'm jealous of all the people who've just done the 24 hour readathon and talked nothing but books for a day, so here goes!

1. Favourite childhood book: Difficult to choose. Part of me wants to say Little Women because I literally read it until it fell to bits, but then that's also kind of my favourite adulthood book soooo I guess I'd have to go with something by Noel Streatfeild - either Ballet Shoes or The Painted Garden probably. 
2. What are you reading right now? The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Collected Dorothy Parker, and Everyday Sexism by Laura Barker.
3. What books do you have on request at the library? Us by David Nicholls
4. Bad book habit: Not taking my library books back on time ever. Taking out waaaay too many library books thus making it impossible to keep track and contributing to previously mentioned lateness. Reading too many books at once, losing track of what I'm reading and accidentally giving up on books I was really enjoying which I then find six months later and try to keep reading, only to find I've forgotten what's happened so far and have to start again!
5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Everything... *consults library account* We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (overdue & won't be able to finish as I'm halfway through and someone else wants it. Scowl), Creative Play for Your Baby: Steiner Waldorf expertise and toy projects for 3 months - 2 years (overdue), Everyday Sexism by Laura Barker, Making Peg Dolls by Margaret Bloom, The Complete Potty Training Bible, and J by Howard Jacobson. Plus How to be Both by Ali Smith waiting for me to pick it up tomorrow. Eclectic, I know.
6. Do you have an e-reader? Nope. 
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? I prefer to read one that really absorbs me at a time, but I usually end up starting a few and then carrying on with the one which absorbs me most and once that's done I'll pick up one of the others I've already started again. That, or (like at the moment with Everyday Sexism) something I'm reading is fantastic but so absolutely enraging that I have to have something else on the go to calm me down or Rhys never talks to be me because I won't stop ranting :-p 
8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? They changed a lot way back when I first started blogging because I suddenly felt all of this (imaginary) pressure to perform reading and review-wise so I was reading a lot faster and a lot less thoroughly and generally immersing myself a lot less. Now I think I'm drifting back towards how I used to read - namely for myself, mostly from my shelves but interspersed with library books and the very occasional review copy with no pressure whatsoever and absolutely wallowing in books :-) 
9.Least favourite book you read this year: I've been terrible at keeping track of my reading this year so I can actually only remember the great ones. 
10. Favourite book I’ve read this year: Eleanor and Park, Attachments or Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. 
11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? Not hugely. I'm making a big effort to read more non-fiction and more translated literature but still not pushing myself as much as I'd like to be. I was also thinking the other day that I read a lot of women. Particularly because of #readwomen2014, which is a great thing, I've been reading primarily female writers this year and I feel sort of like I actually maybe need to try to read more men? 
12. What is your reading comfort zone? Fiction (as previously mentioned, mostly Western Women but also others), Graphic Novels, non-fiction of the stunt memoir type.
13. Can you read on the bus? Yep unless I'm pregnant (not that that's a regular thing, but the two times I have been I've occasionally got nauseous reading on the bus)
14. Favourite place to read: the beach :-) 
15. What’s your policy on book lending? I mostly only lend books I've already read and have had change to put my name in, otherwise I find I never see them again and can't remember who I've lent them to to chase them up! On occasion I will lend unread books but usually only to my siblings. 
16. Do you dogear your books? Yes.
17. Do you write notes in the margins of your books? Not since University.
18. Do you break/crack the spine of your books? I try not to. 
19. What is your favourite language to read? English. I'd love to be able to read other languages but alas my linguistic ability stops with (fairly bad) GCSE German, a few words of Italian and Polish and the tiniest smattering of French.
20. What makes you love a book? Characters who feel real and do things which make sense for their character. 
21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? If I hugged it and did a happy dance when I finished it, or if it made me think about how I feel about a subject or reassess my opinions. 
22. Favourite genre: Vaguely Classic type fiction with Strong Female Protagonists (aka Little Women & Anne of Green Gables)
23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did): Poetry. I used to read a lot but haven't for years. 
24. Favourite Biography: Teach with your Heart by Erin Gruwell, Cash by Johnny Cash, Wild by Cheryl Strayed
25. Have you ever read a self-help book? (And, was it actually helpful?)I did and it was but I don't remember what it was called or who it was by. I also read Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway when I was a teenager, which was good, and Overcoming Social Anxiety when I was having CBT for depression and anxiety issues, and that helped hugely.  
26. Favourite Cookbook: The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Fizz Carr.
27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction): Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
28. Favourite reading snack: Ice cream
29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
30. How often do you agree with the critics about about a book? Aside from The Night Circus, I quite often don't agree with most people about books. I also tend not to really read critics opinions of stuff because I'm not that fussed about what they think. 
31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I don't really do it. If I don't have anything positive or constructive to say I just don't review a book. 
32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose? I think Polish.
33. Most intimidating book I’ve read: Ulysses by James Joyce. Still not finished it, but I've tried several times. 
34. Most intimidating book I’m too nervous to begin: War and Peace by Tolstoy
35. Favourite Poet: T.S Eliot or W.H Auden
36. How many books do you usually have checked out from the library at any given time? Between 5 and 20...
37. How often do you return books to the library unread? Pretty often
38. Favourite fictional character: I cannot answer this question. I've just spent ten minutes talking to my sister about how impossible this question is. Jaim Grymauch, Jo March, Scout Finch, Atticus Finch, Lincoln, Eleanor, Park, Albus Dumbledore. I could go on.
39. Favourite fictional villain: I actually can't think of any...
40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation: Something light... YA or romance
41. The longest I’ve gone without reading: Not long. Maybe a month while I was a teenager.
42. Name a book you could/would not finish: American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. Hated it. It still makes me feel angry and sick thinking about it.
43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? Everything
44. Favourite film adaptation of a novel: Lord of the Rings or The Perks of Being a Wallflower
45. Most disappointing film adaptation: Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters. Don't even get me started on how awful that was. 
46. Most money I’ve ever spent in a bookstore at one time: About £60 I think
47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? Sometimes. Mostly I prefer to be surprised though.
48. What would cause you to stop reading a book halfway through? If I'm bored or it's horrifically offensive or just makes me so angry or feel physically nauseous (see American Psycho)
49. Do you like to keep your books organized? Yes. Currently they're in alphabetical order sorted by those I've read and am keeping and the hundreds of unread books!
50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once they’ve been read? If I think I'll reread them or they were so good I'll want to tell everyone to read them and thus have a copy to lend out, I keep them. Otherwise they go.
51. Are there any books that you’ve been avoiding? 50 Shades of Grey. I don't t think I'll ever actually want to read it.
52. Name a book that made you angry: As previously mentioned American Psycho for all the wrong reasons, and Everyday Sexism for all the right ones.
53. A book I didn’t expect to like but did: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
54. A book I expected to like but didn’t: I didn't actually dislike it, just liked it a lot less than I thought I would - How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran.
55. Favourite guilt-free guilty pleasure reading: I hate the term, but chick lit. Anything about somebody's relationship ending and them doing something fabulous with their life. Love it. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

A Change of Scene

Some of you will know that I've been attempting to keep a craft blog for all my craft and home related endeavours for a while, and dismally failing. Equally you'll probably have noticed that my review format has become a lot less structured and more about my emotional response to books than a critical assessment of them. A year or two ago a lot of my favourite bloggers at the time posted about the need to incorporate more aspects of their lives into their blogs, and then proceeded to either not blog about books anymore at all, or disappeared off the face of the earth. At the time, I swore this would never be me, and it won't. I love books too much; I love blogging too much.

What I do want to do, though, is to change the blog a little bit. Realistically I don't have the time to keep two blogs, and so because I love this blog I'm just moving everything over here. I also don't necessarily want the pressure of sticking to talking about one book per post - I'd rather be able to talk about my experience of books around a theme or in relation to what was going on with my life while I read them. I will still post more formal reviews but only when I feel like writing them. Sometimes I really feel like a book I've read is so great and elicites such a strong response that it just has to have a review and that's fine. I dropped the pressure to review every book I read a long time ago but now I'm turning it down even lower and saying that the formal, structured reviews will become the exception rather than the norm.

Books will still and always be the vast majority of the content here because I love them. I am surrounded by them constantly and the other day I actually, at the age of 27, had a miniature tantrum because my husband kept talking about all the plans he has for our new house once we move in and didn't once mention my books and I just want a reading nook,dammit! *stamps foot and cries* Or a library.... But anyway! The point is that I've always posted the occassional personal post here and now I want to relate what I'm reading more to that. Therefore I want to read what I want and not put any pressure on myself or my (let's face it, now I've had two kids, very limited) reading time. We'll see how it works out.

As well as that there will be the occasional post about what I'm doing with my craft business, activities or stuff that's happened with my kids, parenting things, cookery things and anything else I feel like writing about. I'm hoping that most of you won't mind this change, and I think that it will help me to feel a lot less restricted by the blog. I've always felt like this is my place where I can be totally myself, which is why I'm so much more relaxed meeting people I've already 'met' online (*waves at Laura and the Northern lot* :-p) but honestly in a lot of ways I'm very different to who I was when I first started An Armchair by the Sea nearly four years ago. Then I was a newly engaged 23 year old who had just moved 100 miles away from all of her family and friends and was working very very part time in a town she didn't know with people who were a lot older than her. For a while this blog and you lot out there were my most instant source of connection, comfort and security aside from Rhys. Now I've been married three years, living in the same lovely area for nearly four. All the library staff know me by sight and Ben and Sam by name, I know the back routes to everywhere and although I still suck at making friends, I have a few lovely ones. I have two kids and am on the verge of buying a house and I'm sort of starting to feel like a grown up and I need the blog to reflect that. I want it to stay the place where I try out new thoughts and ideas and work out how I feel and what I think about things, and to do that I need to diversify. Books are my major love but they're not (and never really were) my only one, and I don't have the time to compartmentalize anymore!

I wonder if any of this makes any sense? As part of my redesign maybe I'll start proofreading and editing my posts again, who knows?

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Why I've Been AWOL

I've returned! Well, kind of. I've returned to tell you all about how I probably won't be really returning for a while... So yes. Basically I'm writing this post because solicitors letters make my face look like this:


In the interests of not looking like that and actually enjoying my evening I have taken a break from reading about I'm not really sure what and come to update my hundreds of internet readers (basically Laura, Ellie, Charlotte, Hanna, Yvonne, my husband and his father) on why I've not been around all that much. Basically, we're attempting to buy a house! Hence the super fun solicitor paperwork of this evening which, coupled with the even more fun mortgage paperwork of yesterday evening, has sent me running for the blog! 

We're trying not to get too excited about it as the mortgage application is still in progress and the solicitors haven't even started yet, but to be honest even if it all ends up nowhere it's still just so nice to be on the right track to somewhere of our own. Renting over the past four years in Kent has gradually worn us down a bit, first with landlord issues, then with neighbour issues and it's just time that the boys had a garden and space of their own without having to worry so much about making noise. So yes, I will undoubtedly keep you posted on the developments of this endeavour!

Aside from that we've also been taking part in the 31 Days to a Clutter Free Life Challenge at Living Well Spending Less which is brilliant (and also helpful for if and when we do move house). Each day there's a different area to focus on - for example I am currently procrastinating from finishing the kitchen cupboards while writing this post - and you go through and chuck out all the stuff you're keeping 'because it might be useful for something one day'. I've been selling lots of stuff on eBay. It's really fun and also ridiculously therapeutic and happy making to walk around a house that's not full of crap! 

The final reason I've not been posting much is that I'm doing a load of craft swap with other crafters for Christmas presents and am running stupidly behind, so I'm spending a lot of my normal reading time knitting gloves like a maniac! I am still reading though. I finished How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and remain convinced that it's pretty much just How to be a Woman posing as fiction, but it was obviously hilarious so I'm letting it pass. There will be a full review at some point soon. I'm also in the midst of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler which I'm really loving, and about to start my buddy read of The Great Gatsby with Ellie! There is reading, just not much time to write about it which to be honest seems to be the general state of things with the blogosphere at the moment! Rest assured that I am still reading lots of blogs when I find a spare second, even if I'm not commenting (because stupid phone) I am still appreciating :-) 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mr Nobody by Natalie Gordon

Apologies for the horrendous photo - my decent camera is out of action so I'm stuck with my phone and rubbish lighting!

When I read children's books for myself (aside from reading to my children, obviously) they are often classics and they are often rereads. However, although my own children are young I do find myself thinking about books to read them and recommend to them as they grow older, and I'm really glad to be able to add Mr Nobody to this list.

From the blurb:
When nine-year-old Katie's gran comes to live with the family, Katie is forced to share a room with her moody big sister, Lou. They soon discover that Gran has an imaginary, mischievous friend, Mr. Nobody. Before long, stockings are found cooking in the oven and Gran is found wandering the streets in her nightie, singing along to Elvis. 
As Gran's actions become even more peculiar, Katie begins to wonder if Mr. Nobody might actually be real. And why do her new friends, Margaret and Hugo, always appear just when she needs help? 

As a young child I have very faint memories of visiting my great grandmother in a care home. I hated it because she was always confused and had no idea who we were or why we were there, and it always smelled weird. She suffered with dementia and although she never lived with us, I related to so much of Katie's experience with her Gran in this novel.

At times, Mr. Nobody was uncomfortable to read, purely because it deals so well with its' subject. The story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Katie and her Gran Vera, and as Vera's condition escalates the story gets increasingly intense. Natalie Gordon writes really really well about the way children feel and respond. Throughout so much of the story I found myself remembering feeling very similarly as a child to the way Katie does a lot of the time.

A lot goes on in the story and although ostensibly the novel focuses on Katie and Vera, it also does a fantastic job of showing the strain that a disease like Alzheimer's can put on relationships, and how incredibly difficult it is for the people who love the sufferer to deal with. I actually found myself getting really angry with Vera at points, although obviously a) she's a fictional character and b) she can't help it, but for me the best fiction full stop, but especially children's fiction, is the books which make you care and respond. From the beginning I was so, so sad for Katie, who felt like she was being pushed out of her own home and whose stupid 'friends' started picking on her the minute her Gran showed up, without the slightest attempt at understanding, and although really I have very little experience of the disease I felt that Vera's struggle with it was really heart-wrenching and incredibly well written. Mr. Nobody is the 'person' she blames when she doesn't remember having done something, he encourages her in her paranoia and provokes her increasing hysteria and as a literary device he is incredibly effective.

I've not come across many novels which deal with Alzheimers as a subject, and I think that to do it this well and especially for children is an absolutely fantastic accomplishment. Mr. Nobody would be a great book to read with a child if you wanted a way into discussing the disease, but also aside from that, just read it because it's really worth your time.