The Little House Series Read-Along is happening throughout 2016! Join us for some or all of the books - find details here

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Market Research: I Need Your Help!

OK so guys let's get straight to the point. I'm launching a UK based book subscription box. Another one? I hear you say. I know, but so so so many of the subscription boxes I've come across are either US based with insane postage costs attached or YA focused, so I'm starting one that's genre-less with a focus towards titles published for adults. Also it will be mainly if not all books from independent publishers, with the idea that for most of us this makes it much less likely that the mystery book that month would be something we'd have already bought for ourselves, plus we would be supporting small publishing, which is a good thing!

I don't want to give away all my secrets, but I would plan to make it a box rather than just a book, and each box would be themed with gifts and useful things around the theme. I think I'd probably make it quarterly and at this early stage I'm thinking probably around £30 which would include shipping in the UK - worldwide shipping would be additional. What I want to know is, does this sound like something you'd be interested in? Titles would probably mostly be contemporary fiction with the occasional crime, science fiction, fantasy or graphic novel title thrown in just for fun. I've put together a little two minute poll, just so I can get an idea if anyone's interested in this concept before I throw money at it, if you could take a sec and fill it in I'd be really grateful!

If you'd like to be kept in the loop once I get the show on the road please leave me a way to contact you (email, twitter, whatever) in the comments! Thanks!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

24 Hour Readathon

The 24 Hour Readathon is upon us! If you don't know what it is check out the website or #readathon on twitter and join in the fun!

As usual of late I'm not going to be able to participate fully in this readathon due to taking care of small children and also spending time with a certain Laura but I'm going to do my best! I'll read lots to the kids during the day (kick off time for me is 1pm) - last readathon we just made a massive pile of picture books in the living room and went through it over the course of the afternoon and the boys loved it so I'm thinking something similar this time, and I have lots of graphic novels and short stories on my pile so that I can easily dip in and out and then all being well I'll start in on the reading for real once the boys are in bed.

Of course I've made a completely unrealistic TBR pile for the event, and plan to update sporadically throughout, but I'll probably be more on twitter (@NinjaBookSwap) and Instagram (@armchairbythesea) than I will here so find me there! I do plan to do lots of chatting and blog hopping - probably more than actual reading, and hopefully will get to take part in a few mini challenges as well, we'll see!

Because this is a terrible picture, here's what I've got: Moomin: the Complete Tove Janson Comic Strip Volume 2 and The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains by Neil Gaiman for when I need graphic interludes (or when my brain needs a rest), Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling, because funny nonfiction might be a good thing for the early hours of the morning, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan because I just got it and it's short stories so I can read one or some or all, and Size 14 is not Fat Either by Meg Cabot, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon and Marly's Ghost by David Levithan because I find the inclusion of YA helpful in a readathon TBR. Then I added to it and pulled out A Slip of the Keyboard because it's Pratchett and so will of course be awesome. I also borrowed A Little Prince and Vain Shadow from my sister and one is small and the other Persephone so both are pretty safe bets. Also I'm already reading On the Banks of Plum Creek for the Little House Read-Along this month, and Boy Snow Bird just for fun. I'll probably start with Kirsty Logan because I've wanted to read it ever since I read The Gracekeepers. 

Happy Readathon everyone!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Weirdathon Mini Reviews

Back in March I took part in the Weirdathon hosted by Julianne of Outlandish Lit, and although I pretty much failed at posting about it I did have a lot of fun and read some great stuff I wouldn't have necessarily picked up ordinarily. I read three books during the event and liked them all, but given the lack of focus I've had on reviewing (or even sticking to reading just one thing at a time this month!) I thought I'd do a post of mini reviews of all the weird stuff I read!

The first book I picked up for the event was also the first book I was gifted by my secret sister this round. Diving Belles by Lucy Wood is a beautiful collection of short stories, mostly based on folklore and centred around the sea. A lot of the stories are also about loss and Lucy Wood's writing style is gorgeously surreal at times. I don't think there was a story in this collection that I didn't love. The title story, where an elderly woman goes down in a diving bell to try to find her husband who mysteriously vanished from their house 35 years earlier, in a flurry of seaweed, is fantastically eerie and magical realism at its best: pushing all the boundaries of what you believe to be real. Other stories include one told from the perspective of a house, an old woman who lives in a cave on the beach, and the ghost of a wrecker who turns up in a couple's house one day and won't leave. I really loved the way that the feeling of closeness to the sea permeated through each story. That uncertainty and continual change and possibility and the secrecy; the feeling of always being about to discover something fantastic or awful and always being on the edge of potential danger, was amazing. Weird, beautiful and haunting. Read immediately.

My second book was one that I thought would be weirder than it actually turned out to be. The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen has a really great premise - young girl lives on an island with her parents and about three other people and a dog. They are happy until the day Minou's mother disappears. The first line sets the story up for great things (I've misplaced the quote but it's about a dead boy) but overall I was disappointed. The story is told through the eyes of Minou, the daughter, who refuses to believe, as everyone else does, that her mother is dead. The book is pretty much a series of flashbacks prompted by her discovery of a dead boy on the beach.

Honestly I didn't like the method used to tell the story as I felt like the dead boy was only there to prompt the telling of the story that had taken place prior to the novel beginning in which case why not just tell that story? His presence made it possible for Minou and her father to talk about her mother, but I still didn't like it.


Also, the actual reason for her mother's disappearance is soooo mundane and utterly predictable. I liked some things about this book but I felt quite let down by it in the end. I didn't realise quite how much until I came to write this!

The third book I read was The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman, and this tiny book I really enjoyed! The narrator's wife is in a bank where there is a robbery, but instead of money the thief wants the things that holds the most sentimental value for each person. After the robbery the wife starts shrinking... The novella tells the stories of all the people in the bank on that day and all the strange and surreal things that happen to them. It's a gorgeous story which functions on many levels and it's so short it would be rude not to give it a go really!

I really enjoyed this event and would love to take part again, I'm hoping it'll become an annual thing! Maybe next year I can actually post during the event, you never know.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Memoirs I Want To Read

I thought about writing an actual review today, or even just posting one of the several hundred I have written on tiny scraps of paper stuffed in my handbag, or even just a Books on my Bedside table post, but then I decided what's better when you're way behind talking about the stuff you've actually read than posting about all the other stuff you'd love to read? Right? Right.

If you didn't see it, Kim wrote an excellent post on Book Riot this week entitled 100 Must - Read Memoirs. I love memoirs, personally they're a big part of why I started reading nonfiction in the first place and I really can't get enough of good memoirs written by interesting people. There were several on this list that I've read and loved (hi, Wild Swans, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Reading Lolita in Tehran!) and several more that are sitting on my shelf upstairs waiting for me to get around to them (ahem), but for the sake of fun I decided that I'd check out some of the titles I'd never heard of which looked intriguing, and here is (of course) a list of a few that I'm particularly excited to read. Have you read any of them? Let me know where I should start!

Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston 

Their Eyes Were Watching God was one of those books people told me to read forever and I was pretty sure that it would disappoint me but it didn't. I'd like to read more about the author.

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr

I have no interest in misery memoirs, but while this is the story of Karr's troubled childhood the blurb doesn't make it seem like it wallows in the misery. It sounds kind of brilliant, actually.

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

I know nothing about Cambodia, and we all know that I hate things I know nothing about and generally try to rectify it by getting my hands on a book.... I know this will be difficult reading but a lot of important things are hard.

She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan

I'm really interested in reading more about gender recently and this is an area I know so little about, so, see above really, but hopefully less depressing.

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

This sounds kind of terrifying but also really really interesting. About Julia and her adopted brother David growing up in the racism of the 1980s American midwest and a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic...

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robinson

In case you didn't know (and I'm not sure I've mentioned it much here) I used to work with kids on the autistic spectrum, as do my sister and mum. Two of my sisters have recently been diagnosed with characteristics of Asperger's syndrome and so it's a topic that I find really fascinating. This book sounds like it will be great.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

I had to google 'mennonite' just now. True story. And I don't think you need any more than that on why I want to read this.

This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family's Heartbreak by Melissa Coleman

Melissa Coleman grew up on communes and sustainable farms in Maine, and I'm sure you can see from the title and the word 'sustainable' why I want to read this book immediately.

Do you Dream in Color?: Insights from a Girl Without Sight by Laurie Rubin

This is a book by an international opera singer who is also blind. I have read surprisingly little about blindness and this sounds like it will be memorable and uplifting as well as insightful.

I could go on and on with this list - I pretty much want to read everything on it because Kim is a genius at picking books, but I'll stop there because then there's actually a chance that I might read all or at least some of these titles and possibly even feed back my thoughts at some distant point in the future, you never know your luck!

What are your favourite memoirs?

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Top Ten Books Every Passionate Person Should Read

No, these aren't romance books, it's not that kind of passion, but today's topic for Top Ten Tuesday was difficult for me because I'm a ridiculously eclectic reader and it wasn't easy to find a theme to fit my list around. Eventually I decided that the books I love to recommend the most are the ones which get me all fired up and make me feel something and so this week you have my top ten books to feed your (my) passions!

Because I am also passionate about spreading the love for things I love I've added extra bonus bits of internet based brilliance which might also inspire you and I hope you'll find something in this post to be passionate about and share what makes you inspired in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

THE FREEDOM WRITERS DIARY by Erin Gruwell & the Freedom Writers and TRUE NOTEBOOKS by Mark Salzman

I wrote about True Notebooks the other day, but basically both these books are about the expectations (or lack thereof) for young people from certain backgrounds and how easy it is for them to be sucked into gangs, drugs, and crime in general because they feel that there is nothing else out there for them. Both books show the power of literacy and creativity to effect change on these young people, although by virtue of situation one has more of a hopeful outlook than the other. I'd also highly recommend the beautiful film of Freedom Writers with Hilary Swank and Imelda Staunton.

Other things to try: Social Justice Book Club (#sjbc)

ANIMAL, VEGETABLE, MIRACLE by Barbara Kingsolver and THE THRIFT BOOK by India Knight

Long time readers of this blog will know of my love for AVM. It's becoming an annual re-read when I need gardening motivation! For those who don't know it's novelist Barbara Kingsolver's account of how she and her family moved to Vermont and attempted to feed themselves for a year on just what they could grow themselves or buy locally. People have all sorts of issues with her tone and middle classness (totally a word) but I adore this book and find it absolutely inspiring. The Thrift Book by India Knight is a source of considerable inspiration for me whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed by the amount of money we've spent or the stuff we've bought lately. It goes through everything from thrifty food to thrifty (but good) gifts and holidays to making your own beauty products and I love it!

Other things to try: Ravelry  //  The River Cottage Family Cook Book*  //  Living Well Spending Less

WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and I AM MALALA by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb

I read We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short book based on her TED talk during a Minithon a while ago and caused at least two other people that I know of to immediately go and buy it. I literally marked up every other page because I agreed so strongly with what she was saying. This book does exactly what it says in the title; it explain to the reader why it is necessary for everyone to be a feminist, and if you know anyone who needs convincing that they should be one, this is the book to give them! And then to go with that there's nothing like a book about a girl who was actually shot because of her desire for girls to be able to get a good education to remind us all how important and relevant womens rights still are and how much there is still to be done. It's good to be reminded of how much can be achieved by people who aren't afraid to use their voices.

Other things to try: The Feminist Orchestra Book Club (#feministorchestra)


I keep promising myself that I'll review The Artful Parent on the blog, but I never get around to it. It's a beautiful, inspirational book full of information, ideas and projects for incorporating art into daily life with kids. The activities range from small project to large and use almost every conceivable material. Jean Van't Hul, founder of the blog of the same name, is great at providing ideas for workign in music, movement and nature as well as teaching kids about the work of various different artists.

I loved and was hugely inspired by Simplicity Parenting when I first read it, and we've been getting rid of toys and monitoring screen time to great effect ever since, despite being a little sceptical at first! It's really good to remember how easy it must be for kids, especially little ones, to feel overwhelmed by all the things and noises and activity of the world and that calmer and simpler can help them to be more focused.

Other things to try: Pinterest  // Tinkerlab // Nurturestore // Rainy Day Mum // Becoming Minimalist // The Minimalists // Be More with Less // The Simple Show // Slow Your Home

THE YEAR OF YES by Shonda Rhimes and THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin 

I've just started an audible trial (see below r.e Amazon, but I do love the audio books and can't really see any viable alternatives, please let me know if you know of one!) and picked The Year of Yes as my book because people kept telling me it was great and they were not wrong, although I do now have an overwhelming need to watch some Greys Anatomy. Between this and The Happiness Project I just want to take small, positive steps to making my life more fulfilled all day every day! Also, The Year of Yes is as hilarious and empowering as The Happiness Project is inspiring and empowering. So there's that.

Other things to try: Parcels of Joy (#parcelsofjoy)  // The Ninja Book Swap  // Happify  // Happier Podcast

So that's my ten books that make me the most passionate. What are yours? And what other awesome, fire starting, inspiration building resources have I missed? I'd love it if you'd let me know!
*Please note that although I strongly disagree with supporting Amazon and try not to do it, in this case I couldn't find this book anywhere else online so it was unavoidable, because it's a really great book.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Make Mine an Indie: Roost Books

Full disclosure, the publisher featured in today's Make Mine an Indie is an imprint of another (independent) publisher who will also probably be featured fully in a forthcoming installment, but for today I really wanted to focus on the imprint because they publish some of my current favourite books. Also disclaimer - if you're not into crafts, cookery, parenting or creativity in general you might want to sit this one out and come back next week!

Roost Books

So now all that's over, this week's publisher is from across the pond. I did say I'd like to mix up the geography of the publishers I featured this year so here we go. Roost Books is (as I mentioned) an imprint of Shambhala Books and was founded in 2011 as a home for their titles on crafts, cooking and creativity. I discovered them after I'd finally caved and bought my own copy of Jean Van't Hul's The Artful Parent (after loving it from the library) and The Artful Year. Of course as part of my project I checked out the status of the publisher and was super excited to discover that they identify as an indie!

From the titles published by them that I've read I probably could have told you their aim, which is to "celebrate the small actions that can fill our days with joy", and honestly their books do too because the ones I own are so beautifully designed and laid out that they make me happy just to look at. It helps that the content is also fantastic and inspiring of course! As you'll know if you've been around these parts long enough, I'm a big fan of simplicity and finding joy through arts & crafts, cookery and gardening among other things, so I really feel like I've found my spiritual home with Roost. This post was inspired by my (accidental in that I didn't know they were both published by them, not accidental buying) purchase of two more of their titles yesterday, both of which showed up in the post today and both of which are gorgeous and inspirational!

Seriously, if you're at all interested in any of the things I've mentioned that they publish you should just go over there and check them out yourselves. It should go without saying that this will be one of the weeks I will struggle to stop talking about their books. I've narrowed it down by just looking at their most recent catalogue, but the ones I already own and can strongly recommend (all kid related, so probably for those among you with kids/who teach young kids) are The Artful Parent and The Artful Year by Jean Van't Hul, Tinkerlab: A Hands - On Guide for Little Inventors by Rachelle Doorley, and The Garden Classroom by Cathy James.

Made to Play! Handmade Toys for Growing Imaginations by Joel Henriques
From the Roost Books website:

Delight young children and encourage play through unique handmade toys. From sewn and stuffed musical instruments to interlocking paper building blocks and wooden animal figurines, the projects in this book are meant to encourage open-ended play. Organized by kid-loving subjects, the toys here follow the themes of Zoo; House; Blocks, Cars & Trucks; Dress-Up; Music; and Art. Overall, the projects here are meant to stimulate imagination, build confidence through success and enjoyment, and enhance the bond between family and friends through the creation of unique, artistic handmade toys and crafts.
The thirty-five projects in this book include a variety of crafts, from drawing to sewing and light woodworking. The toys presented here are made out of wonderfully tactile materials—repurposed fabrics, wood, and paper—and invite opportunities for creative and imaginative play. Every project is easy to complete, made with accessible materials, and requires little time to make. The projects are simple enough that endless variation can come from the making of each, leaving enough room for you to make the item to suit your own personal interests.
You guys know that I used to run a business selling handmade children's toys right? Before the nightmare of CE marking entirely took over my life and made me want to cry constantly, that is. I gave it up, but I didn't give up my love of making toys for my own kids and friends kids so this sounds entirely like something I would absolutely adore. Also I hate toys that light up and make noise and don't actually encourage kids to do anything. Throw them all away and bring back the dressing up box!
Home Grown by Ben Hewitt
In this most personal of his books to date, Ben Hewitt shows us how small, mindful decisions about day-to-day life can lead to greater awareness of the world in our backyards and beyond. In telling the story of his sons’ unconventional education in the fields and forests surrounding his family’s northern Vermont farm, he demonstrates that the sparks of learning are all around us, just waiting to be discovered. No matter where we live, Home Grown reminds us that learning at any age is a lifelong process, and that the best education is never confined to a classroom.
Again, people know how much our current government's education policies make me want to scream, right? I've been seriously seriously thinking about homeschooling the boys (I probably won't, mostly because they would end up totally unsocialised if I did because I hardly ever voluntarily enter social situations with other parents, but it's a nice thought) and I love reading about people who do. This sounds awesome. 
The Green Hour by Todd Christopher
The National Wildlife Federation, on its website GreenHour.org, recommends that parents give their kids a “Green Hour” every day—a time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. Whether in the backyard, the local park, or a green space farther afield, time spent outdoors is essential to the healthy development of young minds, bodies, and spirits.
Todd Christopher, the creator of the GreenHour.org, has filled this book with activities designed to encourage discovery, creative play, and a wonder of nature. Here you'll find a range of projects, fun facts, and science lessons meant to engage and invigorate your child, as well as the practical advice for parents that makes getting outdoors easy and worry-free. With creative, science-based ideas for a variety of natural settings, getting your family's daily dose of nature just got easier.
I often feel like my dad as I stomp around our house shouting about how I want to throw the Wii away or give the TV to charity. It's not that I hate these things, I don't, but I do hugely feel the benefit on my kids when we have less screen time and more outdoor time. They're little things with masses of energy and they need somewhere to channel it, so yes yes yes to more outdoor time and more inspiration for how to incorporate that!
The Down and Dirty Guide to Camping with Kids by Helen Olsson
Whether you’re a first-time camper or a veteran backpacker befuddled by the challenges of carting a brood—and all the requisite gear—into the great outdoors, here you’ll find all the tips and tools you need to plan the perfect nature adventure with your family. Humorous and irreverent, yet always authoritative, this guide to camping with kids, from babies through pre-teens, is filled with checklists, smart tips, recipes, games, activities, and art projects. Helen Olsson, a seasoned camper and mother of three, shares lessons learned over the years of nature outings with her own family. Learn the basics of family camping, from choosing a destination and packing gear to setting up a campsite and keeping little ones safe. Create the perfect camp menu with simple and tasty recipe ideas. Discover foolproof tips and tactics for keeping kids happy and entertained while hiking. Explore nature through clever and creative camp arts and craft projects. This guide is your game plan to unplugging from the digital world and connecting your kids to nature. Whether it’s roasting marshmallows around a crackling campfire or stretching out on a camp mat to gaze at the stars, the memories you’ll be making will last a lifetime.
I don't know how much this book will be transferrable, although I imagine the basics of camping are pretty similar everywhere! We want to start camping with the boys in a few years and it would be nice to have some guidance, as my family didn't start camping until we were a lot older. 
So I think I've lived up to my promise to be completely overenthusiastic and in love with every title this week! 
Find Roost on their website, twitter, facebook and pinterest.
Catch up with the Make Mine an Indie series here.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Re-Readathon Reviews

This Re-Readathon that's just happened ended up being one where everything I read was something I hadn't read in years. Most of the titles I read either before I started the blog or in the very early days, and many never got reviewed, so I thought that since everything I read ended up staying on my keeper shelf (newly revamped so that everything has to earn its spot there by having been read more than once. If I don't want to re-read it soon, it goes) it was probably worth talking a little about them!

The first title I picked up was The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton, actually four books in one so I felt ultra accomplished before we'd even started. I finished it the first day and considering it's probably been almost twenty years since I read any of the Secret Seven books I was surprisingly enchanted with them. They're definitely a more mild kind of adventure than the Famous Five (a couple of which I read a year or two back) and sometimes it's a stretch to believe that it would have been possible for a group of fairly young children to continually stumble on planned horse thefts, train robberies and the like without the local police having any idea what was going on, but honestly the whole world that the books are set in is so alien to me that why not? I mean, I know that once upon a time children could go out to play by themselves or with friends for hours on end without their parents having to follow them around or know where they were every second of the day. This world existed, my parents and grandparents grew up in it, so if I'm suspending my disbelief enough to believe that then why not all the mysteries too? They're definitely fun! And that's the thing with Enid Blyton. Currently I'm reading The Enchanted Wood to Benji (don't worry we have a pre-name changes version) and even after so many years she absolutely manages to retain the air of magic and joy that her books always had for me as a child.

I went from that to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which was the title I was most excited to read from my TBR. Katie and I had talked about buddy reading it but in the end we just both read it separately which was totally fine. I first read American Gods when I was 17 or so and haven't actually read it since. I was actually surprised by how little I remembered about it and how much of it felt like a first read while being comfortingly familiar at the same time. In case you don't know and the title doesn't give it away, the book is about the Gods that people brought with them when they emigrated or were brought to America and the incarnations that they take today. It's also about the more modern Gods who have taken their place and who they are now doing battle with. And it's about a guy called Shadow who's just got out of prison and discovered his wife has been killed, and that he's somehow caught up in something he has no idea he's a part of. I loved this book as much as I'd remembered, although there are many more references to male anatomy than I'd remembered, but as long as you're prepared for that it's all good! The mythology is spot on and so cleverly woven in and Neil Gaiman is just pretty much the master of stories, especially weird ones. I know this is the book that divides people - if you're looking for a Gaiman you'll like, read Neverwhere, but I'm firmly in the loving American Gods camp.

A photo posted by Bex Hughes (@armchairbythesea) on

 I toyed with what to read after American Gods but eventually picked up True Notebooks: A Writer's Year in Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman, which I read way back at the beginning of the blog on the recommendation of The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, the book that kick started this whole thing! True Notebooks is kind of like Freedom Writers but if the freedom writers had only encountered Erin Gruwell after they'd committed whatever crime they were on the path to when she deterred them in the book. It's brilliant and a really inspiring look at why rehabilitation is important and how creativity can actually change people and lives. Just, really, read it.

I finished up the re-readathon with Scarlett Thomas's first novel, Dead Clever, the first in her detective series featuring Lily Pascale, English lecturer turned amateur sleuth. I loved these when I first read them and I don't love it any less now. The trilogy is set in Devon which is the holiday place of my childhood and I adore it, and because Lily is as awesome as Scarlett's heroines always are and the amount of her personal life which is intertwined with the mystery means there are nice breaks of levity between the decapitation.

So yes, all of these are books I should have talked about before on the blog. I have no idea why I haven't, except that for a book blogger I'm surprisingly remiss about actually talking about the books I love in any real depth. But there we go, you should immediately add all of these to your TBR if you haven't read them already!