Saturday 28 June 2014

What I've Been Doing...

This is just a quick post to update those of you who are interested :-) I've been a bit absent lately, and this is the reason: 

This is the newest addition to our family, Samuel (Sam) who was born on Friday 20th June at 5.02pm. And yes, for those of you who are wondering, that does happen to be my birthday. Fun way to spend a birthday :-p Thankfully it was much shorter and much less complicated than when Benji was born, which was nice, and we only had to stay in hospital overnight, which was also nice. Less nice was then having to go back into hospital on the Monday in an ambulance, but it turned out to be a minor thing and fingers crossed all is well now! 

So, if it's quiet around here, it's because we're adjusting to life with our two gorgeous little boys, which promises to be entirely mental and I'm slightly panicked about how on earth I'm going to cope once Rhys is back at work in just under a week, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it! Anybody have any tips on what to do with a fairly demanding 20 month old while you're (constantly) breastfeeding a teeny tiny baby? 

Reading-wise, I've read loads since having him. Breastfeeding, especially the 3-4.30am shift is the perfect time to get loads of reading done, and I've finished Tell the Wolves I'm Home and Using the Plot: Tales of an Allotment Chef since - now I just need to find a spare moment to write reviews! We're currently going to be at about 8pm to have enough energy to get through the day, so it's safe to say it may be a while before regularly scheduled programming recommences! I'm also in the middle of Tout Sweet:Hanging Up My High Heels for a New Life in France by Karen Wheeler, My Year of Doing Good by Judith O'Reilly and Submarine by Joe Dunthorne, so yes, lots of reading activity going on, and eventually I will get around to some reviews I promise! Meanwhile, stick with me, I'm still reading all of your blogs even if I don't actually get to comment, and I will be back!

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Ok this is my attempt to have at least one entry into the Estella Project before the baby arrives and the whole world goes insane!! I actually picked up Travels with Charley before the reading list for this project was announced so was half way through it when it began, but it still counts! In case you haven't been reading my blog lately and seen how many times I've referenced the awesomeness of this book, let me just say flat out that I LOVED it from pretty much page one.

You guys, I have got such a list of quotes from this book, it's silly. I honestly don't know how to talk about its' awesomeness without just resorting to a list of them, but I shall try. So Travels with Charley is non-fiction, and it's about Steinbeck's journey around America with his dog, Charley. He pretty much does what Rhys and I talk about all the time, which is to get a camper van and just drive around, seeing things and visiting random places and chatting to people. Consequently the book is packed full of his observations on everything from the countryside to racism to politics and stylistically it's beautiful. 

When I read East of Eden I was amazed by the depth of Steinbeck's description, and it's no less in Travels with Charley, although it does have a more conversational tone to it. I don't know if I would have enjoyed the book as much if I didn't agree with so much of what he said, but pretty much every observation he made I was like 'YES' to. I should have taken a picture of what the book looked like before I wrote the quotes down and unfolded the pages, because I swear it was probably every other page which was folded. The book was twice as thick by the time I finished it! It also (as Laura said it would!) really really made me want to road trip across America, but that's a bit of a pipe dream for now I think, unless I go all Hideous Kinky and decide to homeschool my kids from a van, which I think would probably require Rhys to have a personality transplant! 

So anyway, really all I have to say about this book is that it was seriously great. A really relaxing, inspiring, though provoking and beautiful read and perfect for summer as it's fairly short. It's going on my list of favourites and staying firmly on my keeper shelf! 

Here are a few of the absolute best quotes from the book:

  • "For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?" (p29) - talking about Florida, but also about the need for variety in life in general. 
  • "I think today if we forbade our illiterate children to touch the wonderful things of our literature perhaps they might steal them and find secret joy" (p31) - this guy clearly understands both kids and the awesomeness of literature
  • "I had the fear that I might somewhere run out of butane gas, and how would I read in bed then?" (P42) - Oh John, this would be a fear of mine too, and totally justifies buying a kerosene lamp!
  • "Maybe everybody needs Russians. I'll be even in Russia they need Russians. Maybe they call it Americans" (p110) - everybody needs somebody to blame for their problems! So true!
  • "From start to finish I found no strangers. If I had, I might be able to report them more objectively. But these are my people and this is my country. If I found matters to criticise and deplore, they were tendencies equally present in myself" (p159)
I cut out about two pages of what I had written just to spare you a huge list of quotes, but I hope this little list will make you see why it was that I found this book so fascinating!

Wednesday 11 June 2014


This started off as a review of Travels with Charley, which I will get around to doing because it is amazing. I don't think I've turned the edges of more pages down (the way I mark memorable quotes and stuff that makes me to 'YES.THIS') ever before. So yeah, that will be a thing, but today I'm sad and so I thought I'd write a little bit here because that usually helps me feel better. If you're not fussed about my life (which is totally fine, I understand if you're just here for the books :-p) stop reading now. 

Nothing major has happened, but just to update those who don't know and want to, about eight weeks ago I got diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which initially they thought they could manage by diet alone but it turned out they couldn't so I'm currently taking medication for it. No biggie really, as all being well it should disappear once the baby's born, but as a result I'm having to be induced next week. Also fine, but I just now had a meeting to discuss my 'birth plan' with my midwife and it turns out there's some stuff which didn't seem that important to me about the experience I had when I had Benji which is super important and I should have mentioned it like weeks ago and seen consultants and loads of other crap. She had a worried face on when she was talking about it, and in my experience, midwives never ever look worried so now I'm hugely freaking out that it's going to cause massive complications when I have this baby and just generally that I'm going to die or be left in some totally debilitating condition. So cheerful, I know. Anyway, I may not blog for a while. Hopefully it will just mean I'm traumatised, not dead, and childbirth is never not at least a bit traumatic anyway. 

If you pray, prayers are appreciated, and if you don't, I appreciate you bothering to read this. 

Saturday 7 June 2014

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

This book turns up on a lot of people's wishlists for the same reason it was originally on mine, I guess, which is because it's appeared quite a bit on lists of challenged books, and even made it to number three in the ALA's top ten most frequently challenged books of 2012. In all honesty, people attempting to ban something just makes me want to read it more. I'm sure it's that way for a lot of us. 

Anyway, because of all the great posts I kept reading about it during Banned Books Week the past two years, onto my wishlist it went, and it was sent to me as part of the Halloween Ninja Book Swap last year and I've just now got around to reading it. Part of me was avoiding it because I expected it to be incredibly depressing. In case you have no idea why I'd be expecting that, here's a synopsis, taken from the back of the book:

Clay Jensen returns home to find a strange package with his name on it. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker - his classmate and first love - who committed suicide two weeks earlier. 
Hannah's voice explains there are thirteen reasons why she killed herself. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he'll find out why. 
All through the night, Clay keeps listening - and what he discovers changes his life... Forever.

So yeah, I was expecting to be really super depressed by this awful, heavy novel about how horrible people are, and it wasn't like that at all. 

Actually, what I found Thirteen Reasons Why to be was a book about how the smallest of our actions can affect others in ways we have no idea about. It's a novel about self - awareness and doing the right thing and the catastrophic consequences caused by people keeping quiet and not reaching out to each other when they have the chance. Many of the thirteen people on Hannah's list are people who didn't do things, rather than people who did. It's also a book about the power that reputation has on teenagers, and I know that when I was a teenager quite often your reputation had nothing to do with anything you'd ever actually done but was purely based on things people had said about you. The novel explores the way that an invented reputation can affect the person burdened with it, and how it's possible to be a completely different person from who everyone else thinks you are. 

I think my favourite thing about it, though, apart from the complexity of how the plot wove together, which was brilliant, was that the whole way through as he's listening to the tapes and becoming increasingly upset and frustrated with all the people (himself included) who failed to stop Hannah from killing herself, Clay keeps reiterating that it was Hannah's choice. In the end, by the time that she'd decided to kill herself, there was not much any of them could have done to stop it. If a person is having suicidal feelings there are signs you should look out for, and there are things you can do, and possibly ways to prevent it, but in this case, by the time she'd decided, she'd decided and it was her decision. For me, that's an incredibly important message to give to teenagers who may be in the situation (as I know a large number of teenagers unfortunately are) of having a friend commit suicide. Do everything in your power to help people if you can, and always try to be aware of your actions and how they can impact others, but realise that if somebody has got to the point of actually killing themselves, that's a decision that they've ultimately made on their own. 

Aside from that I'm not going to comment further on the banning issues except to say that I think it's silly to deem a novel containing these issues as 'unsuitable for age group' when the age group is (whether or not you want to believe it) dealing with issues surround sex and sexuality and suicide. Surely giving them reading material which helps them engage in ways to deal with and prevent the darker side of situations is helpful?

Anyway, I'll finish by saying that if you haven't read this, it should be on your list. It's really well written and way less depressing and more thought-provoking than I expected. Well done, Mr Asher. 

I read this book as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, a blogging event being hosted by Uncorked Thoughts. Please visit the blog, where there are all kinds of awesome posts and giveaways spotlighting mental health issues. Also, here's a helpful article on how to help a suicidal friend with the helpline number to call in the US, and here's a UK equivalent. Reading about mental health issues is, in my opinion, one of the first and most important steps we can take towards making them less stigmatised. People need help, not judgement. 


Wednesday 4 June 2014

Homeless Books in Need of Adoption!

I've been thinking about doing a big cull of my unread books for a while now but I've lacked the necessary motivation. One thing to be said for being heavily pregnant is it does tend to make you want to clean, sort, and organise, which resulted in a manic cull late last night and early this morning. Consequently I have one largeish box and two big bags of books waiting to be dropped at the charity bookshop tomorrow, but before I do that I thought I'd offer them here and on Twitter if anybody wants any?

The deal with this is that you'll need to let me know in the comments here which titles you'd like (maximum of 2 books per parcel) and then send me £2.80 via paypal ( using 'friends and family' option to cover postage. This is only within the UK - if any international people are interested I'm happy to send them but will need to work out postage costs as it will be more so please contact me here or at the above email.

Most of the titles are fairly old and almost all of the books are second hand, but in good readable condition. There's a fair bit of fantasy in there as well as various other genres, and if none of you want any my local charity bookshop will be very happy come tomorrow!

Here's what I've got (alphabetical order by author - titles link to Goodreads synopsis, as I've not read them I can't recommend!):

Monday 2 June 2014

Stuff Happened, and then It Was Next Week...

Guys, I had the best intentions to keep up my amazing blogging roll from Armchair BEA and actually post reviews and stuff. Currently, they are still sitting in my drafts... I'd give you excuses but you know them all by now. All I can say is, this is likely to be the pattern of events for some time to come while we go through getting ready to have baby #2, his arrival, and adjusting to trying to keep two small people alive as well as ourselves on a day-to-day basis. I will be here, I will be blogging, but it will be sporadic and the content may not always be as specific as I'd like! 

Anyway, this week just gone I read some stuff. I finished Alice Hoffman's Second Nature (review pending) and then, because it kept raining and my bag isn't waterproof and I really didn't want to risk taking Peter Duck out in the rain because of the epic journey it's had to reach me in the first place, I picked up Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, which Laura bought me last birthday, and I am actually falling in love. I've turned up so many pages for memorable quotes that the book is now twice as thick as it was when I started and I'm only half way through. Obviously, though, there was some kind of serendipity at work here, because this went live in the last couple of days, and Travels with Charley is on the list. 

I'm pretty sure I noticed this happening last year but it kind of passed me by. This year, through the power of Twitter, I actually contributed my suggestion to the list (The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas for those who are interested) and have printed the list off and stuck it up because I think it's so great! The idea behind the project is that various people have contributed their suggestions of one book they think you should read, and you read 1,2, or 3 of them between June 1st and September 1st and then link up your reviews through the website. For each review you link up, you are entered into a prize draw, how cool is that? Who wouldn't want to join in? You can do so here

It also ties in nicely with my own Summer Reading List Challenge where I've basically challenged people to write a list of books they would recommend to other people to read over the summer, and then write a list for themselves using books they'd like to read, plus suggestions from other people's lists. If you'd like to join in with that, you can find the details here and my own recommended reading list is here. The Estella Project means I've added a few to my own summer reading list, which now reads thus:

- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
- Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
- Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
- Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Cross Stitch (published in the US as Outlander) by Diana Gabaldon

and then possibly
- Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
- 1Q84 Parts 1,2, and 3 by Haruki Murakami
- Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs by Jeremy Mercer

I'm actually making a little pile on my shelf so I can just go and pick my next read up from there, except the Diana Gabaldon, which is coming to the library. Probably what'll happen is I'll have the baby and all my plans will go out the window, but I can try, right?

Who else has summer reading plans?