Wednesday 28 January 2015

The Chase Your Dreams Swap

Some of you may know I'm a bit of a swap obsessive - and while we're on that track, sign up for the Ninja Book Swap opens in a few days, email to get a reminder once it does! Anyway, when I saw that the lovely Mia was organising a swap especially to help one another to pursue our goals in 2015 I had to join in!

I sent my parcel to Claire, and today I received mine from her and it was incredible. Claire, thank you so much! There's a little note in the post on its way to you because you really made my day :-)

The hand you can see at the top of the picture was Benji desperately trying to start opening things despite having been told they weren't for him! How beautiful is this parcel? I loved the way everything was so prettily (and individually!) wrapped! 

You really can't see all the lovelies in the box properly, again because Benji could barely be restrained from helpfully rearranging everything so I'm sorry it's a bit of a mishmash! Claire included loads of things to help me in my #yearofmaking goals towards learning to crochet and getting better at patchwork, as well as a couple of bookish bits. Here's what was in the package:

From top left to right:

* Two beautiful pieces of material one of which is vintage Liberty. Exciting!

* A crochet hook which is slightly toothbrush shaped but looks like it will be super comfortable

* To feed the addiction to craft magazines she didn't even know I have (because I'm still in denial myself), Pretty Patches magazine

Bottom left - right:

* A boxed and absolutely gorgeous 'Once Upon a Time' bookmark. I love it! 

* Some beautiful postcards which would make great bookmarks

* A really cute little pin cushion which is brilliant as the only one I currently have is absolutely giant and not very portable. 

It's honestly as if she knew me, and every gift was tied with pretty ribbon and a lovely little label about what things were. To be fair, I did this with her gifts as well, but much less prettily! 

Mia, please run this swap again next year!

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Three on a Theme: Hemingway's Wives


Originally I was going to write this post just about The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which was  our January pick for my online book group which I must say is full of lovely, eclectic readers who always suggest things I'd never heard of but which sound fantastic. Then I decided I wanted to post (as I said I wanted to do a while back and then never did) three books around the same theme, namely Ernest Hemingway and particularly his first marriage. 

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

It makes sense to talk about the one that I've actually read first. Honestly, I had very similar feelings to Hanna on this one, except that I know far less than she does about Hemingway and so hated him a lot less. I liked the feeling of fluidity throughout the book - it helped me come to terms with what happens towards the end, but I was incredibly annoyed with Hadley at various points throughout the book. She was such a pushover! I got quite angry in my notes at one point, there's a whole paragraph in capitals, underlined multiple times. I don't want to put in anything that will spoil this gorgeous, immersive book for anyone but there was a bit towards the end where she just should have stopped putting up with all the crap she was putting up with, grown a spine, given him a slap (at the very least) and walked out, but she didn't. Such disappointment. That said, McLain can't rewrite history, and with the story she had she did an amazing job 

The only downside of it (if it can be called that) is because it's the story of the Hemingway's time in Paris rubbing shoulders with people like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford and the Fitzgerald's, it totally reignited my desire to read tons of Jazz Age books, as if my wishlist needs to be any longer!

 Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

It's actually a total coincidence that I have these three books on hand. Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood has been on my wishlist for a while and I happened to have a leftover (??!) book token I'd forgotten about to spend, so after The Paris Wife was picked and while I was waiting for it to come in at the library, I was browsing Waterstone's during an unexpectedly childfree half hour and Mrs Hemingway was staring out at me with it's arresting bright blue cover from one of their strategically placed little tables. I carried it around the shop with me for a bit, and then Rhys and the boys came back so I just decided to buy it. I'm glad I did now as it's about all four of his wives and so should compliment The Paris Wife quite nicely. It will be interesting to see another take on his story.  

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway 

How better to finish off my little Hemingway binge than with the memoir of the man himself, featuring his Paris years with Hadley, covered in The Paris Wife? Previously my only Hemingway experience has been A Farewell to Arms which I had to read in Uni and thought it was ok. This is a teeny tiny little volume which was published posthumously from his manuscripts and notes. I picked it up in a charity shop for peanuts ages ago and I've left it out while we're packing to move just in case I feel like picking it up. 

Have you read any of these books? Any other great Hemingway recommendations I should check out? 

Friday 23 January 2015

Why Gratitude? A Personal Post

I wrote a while back about my One Little Word project. Each month in the class we are given prompts and I've been doing a bit of scrapbooking, a bit of journaling and some other activities as well, but one of the prompts was to think about the reason why we chose our word. When it came down to it I knew I wanted to write more about it than I could fit into my tiny little notebook and so I sat down and wrote and I thought I would share it with those of you who are interested. If you're just here for the bookish stuff, feel free to check in in a few days!

Why Gratitude?

Because my most common gripe is ‘they never say thank you’. If somebody thanks me for something it immediately makes my day that little bit better, regardless of how small the thing I’m being thanked for. I would like to be the kind of person who makes people’s days better rather than people dreading it when they see me coming because they see me as a whinging time suck who will just bring them down. I know people like this – I don’t want to be them.

As a teenager I suffered from depression, and I still suffer with social anxiety, although it’s a lot less acute than it used to be. I struggle to believe that I am the kind of person people want to have around, and there are days when I know I’m not the kind of person I’d want to be around, let alone anyone who didn’t have to be around me! Some days I can hear myself and all I can hear is complaining and I have to catch myself and play the ‘just being glad’ game. If this wasn’t proof of the relevance of books in my life, I don’t know what is! (For those who don’t know, the game is from Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter and basically involves turning every negative situation into a positive one. It’s awesome). 

Image Credit

My word is gratitude and I feel like it’s the most important word I could have chosen this year. Yes there are many other contenders: simplify, love, calm, adventure being just a few, but in the end gratitude is so much bigger than all of those (except maybe love), because it encompasses them all. If I am grateful for what I have and grateful for my skills I think it will help me to be more responsible with my spending and purchasing. If I am actively grateful (meaning I show my gratitude effectively) to those I love it means they will feel that I love them rather than just hearing the words. If I am grateful for the things I have, I will waste less time worrying about what I don’t have or the things which could possibly go wrong in the future. One of the things I’ve already thought a lot about is the importance of being grateful for the present moment and actually being present in it rather than wasting it thinking about all the things which may or may not happen at vaguely unspecified times in the future. If I am grateful for the opportunities presented to me, I am much more likely to say yes to the promise of adventures. My word chose me I think, because whenever I think about it and what it means I literally feel like everything inside me relaxes and all the stress drains away. This is what I need. How many beautiful things in my life do I not see because I’m too busy complaining about something else?

When I act on my word and think about it during the day, when I bite my tongue to keep my instant (usually not very nice) response back and think about the situation before responding to it, I already feel calmer and more peaceful. I won’t say I feel like  a different person because that would require some actual evidence of change and I think 23 days in is a bit early for that, but I feel positive about the direction that this project is taking me in. I feel like it’s empowering me and giving me the tools to actually enact change in myself and I’m hopeful that by the end of the year I will have made the beginnings of a real change and taken the first steps on the road towards a more grateful and less bitter self.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Top Ten Graphic Novels I Can't Wait to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where we list ten bookish things around a theme. The theme is different each week and this week is a freebie! I've been working on a post about the Panels Read Harder Challenge which is taking forever because I have soooo much I want to say about comics and graphic novels and so I thought kind of as a teaser for that (and because I don't think I ever have), I'd list the top ten graphic novels I can't wait to read. Here goes!

1. Castle Waiting by Linda Medley   I don't remember where the original recommendation came from but I'm pretty sure it was somewhere in the blogosphere. Castle Waiting has been on my wishlist for years and since I sneakily managed to slightly trick Rhys into buying it when we were in Foyles a few weeks ago, it's got to be number one on the list!

2. Peter Panzerfaust: The Great Escape by Kurtis J. Wiebe   a friend from work told me about this a while ago (like, over 9 months, the last time I was actually at work) and I immediately added it to my mental tbr. Peter Pan as a Resistance fighter in Occupied France? Yes please! 

3. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan   Pretty much just because I've been seeing it everywhere around the blogosphere lately.. Incidentally, I really dislike the word blogosphere. Not sure why, it just seems.... really pretentious. Anyway! It's also been following me every time I've been to a comic book shop recently. Must actually get hold of the first volume and see what the fuss is about. 

4. Fairest by Bill Willingham  I'm still in the midst of Willingham's Fables series - basically every fairytale character you could imagine put in the context of our world and often with huge twists on the stories we know and love. Fairest is his new series, focusing purely on the female fables. What's not to love? 

5. Blankets by Craig Thompson  This is actually likely to be the next graphic novel I read as it's on its way into my library. Again, it's been on my wishlist since just after I read Persepolis I think and I'm excited. 

6. Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle  A travelogue about Delisle's time in Burma with his family, this sounds fascinating and has the added advantages of being nonfiction, about a country I know little to nothing about, and not originally written in English. Ticking all the boxes here!

7. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore  The appearance of this book on his list is a little bit fortuitous (it was 50p at a car boot sale), a little bit being made to feel inadequate about the amount of Alan Moore I've read (my brother and the Comics exhibition we went to a while back at the British Library). I know Alan Moore is amazing and yet I still don't go out of my way to seek out more. Foolish girl, this must be rectified! 

8. Supurbia by Grace Randolph  I keep seeing this around as 'the Desperate Housewives of superheroes' and although I hate to admit it I did, for a while, have a little bit of an addiction to Desperate Housewives...

9. Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson Again, I've been hearing about this one everywhere and in all honesty it does sound incredible! I've been seriously lax about my superhero comic book reading and I plan to change that this year! 

10. The Invisibles by Grant Morrison   I only discovered that this was a thing when researching for the Read Harder challenge but it sounds intriguing! 

Because I'm trying as hard as I can to stay away from Amazon and all the people they own (no, it's not easy and I'm not always succeeding!) links go to reviews by other bloggers. Where there are no links you'll just have to google for yourselves! :-) 

So that's my list, I know there are loads of others I need to read! What are your favourites? I'm always looking for recommendations!

Sunday 18 January 2015

Currently 18/01/2015

It's been a while since I did a 'Currently' and as I've now taken three evenings to not even half finish the post I'm writing about the Panels Read Harder Challenge (it's coming this week I promise!) I thought this would be a good way to get back on track with what's going on!

Time and Place 7:24pm in the armchair

Reading I just finished The Paris Wife by Paula McLain for our online book group. I really enjoyed it - it was very thought provoking reading and provided a lot of information about Ernest Hemingway, about whom I knew very little prior to reading this. I'll be talking about it in more detail after book group 'meets' at the end of the month! I'm now reading The Winter of Our Disconnect by Susan Maushart, which is nonfiction about how she turned off all of her family's technology for six months. I really like it so far, and it's strengthening my resolutions about cutting down on screen time.

Watching We just finished the second season of Once Upon a Time, so while we're waiting for season 3 to arrive we're starting up on season 2 of Mr Selfridge in preparation for its return later in the month!

Listening We've actually turned off the TV recently and had quite a few evenings listening to music and reading. Rhys has been reading Castle Waiting by Linda Medley, which I may have slightly somewhat used my wiles to make him think he wanted to buy when we were in Foyles a couple of weeks ago. It worked, though, and we've been listening to various things while he's been reading it, Paolo Nutini's newish album Caustic Love, and the OST for Guardians of the Galaxy among them. I've also just discovered Books on the Nightstand, so I've been listening to that when I get time as well as catching up with many episodes of the Bookrageous podcast. If any of you have any recommendations for great podcasts, I'd love to hear them!

Recommending Not sure if this counts, but Hanna and I are in the preliminary stages of planning the Spring Ninja Book Swap, so I've been back on twitter chatting to everyone I can find! I love running this event and if you've not joined in yet I honest recommend that you do! Come find us on twitter @NinjaBookSwap

Loving My #yearofmaking project! I will post about this on a monthly basis and give updates as I have yet to actually finish anything, but I have several projects lying around waiting to be lined. Basically all that's stopping me from having been ridiculously productive is my fear of the sewing machine...

I'm also really enjoying my One Little Word project so far. I'm finding it great just to keep my word in mind as much as possible on a daily basis. I think it's already making me slightly more chilled and more generous!

Making On Friday I made clementine marmalade because on Thursday we went to the farm shop and they had massive bags of clementines for 50p which were kind of already a bit squishy. I haven't tried it yet, but it smelled amazing so I'm excited to! I'm also going to gift a couple of jars to my grandmas who are coming down with my mum on Thursday to babysit for Rhys and I while he has an appointment.

Anticipating Still moving house. The estate agent says we should be exchanging by the end of this week so who knows what that actually means in real time? Maybe I'll have time to finish making the draught excluder I'm knitting for the back door. I just want to move now so we can get on with all the things we're planning.... painting bookcases, making a music room, building a window seat with book storage in it, making the boys a reading corner in their room, building raised beds for the garden and planting loads of fruit and veg, having a climbing frame. The list goes on. Come on, house!

How's everybody's week been? What are you looking forward to?

Wednesday 14 January 2015

Drown by Junot Diaz

Guys, I suck. Having made my resolution to read more diversely in 2015 in order to challenge myself outside of my comfort zone and push myself to read outside my own experience, the first diverse author I picked up is one I knew damn well I would like, having read (and loved, on differing levels) both of the other books he's published. Basically to improve my experience of reading more widely, I picked the 'safe' option.

That said, Drown is definitely worth the time, although to quote my sister (who's the one who first introduced me to Diaz and is currently reading This Is How You Lose Her) 'I forgot how much sex and Spanish there is'. She had to read Drown in her A Level English class where apparently having to talk about all the sex with her entire class and teacher was fairly uncomfortable. I empathise. I had to constantly refer to the Spanish glossary in the back of the book but I actually really liked that - it reinforced the foreignness of the character's background.

Drown is actually Diaz's first published work and, like This is How You Lose Her, it's also short stories. All of the stories feature Yunior, the character Diaz also writes about in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her. Having now read Drown I really want to go back and read his other two books, as when I first read Oscar Wao I thought it was actually about Oscar, which given how the author has written two other books about Yunior, the seemingly supporting character, it would appear not to be. I'd also like to see how Drown and This Is How You Lose Her fill in different parts of Yunior's life. In all honesty I felt throughout the stories that this was autobiographical, which isn't a bad thing. All of the stories read like stories - they don't read like somebody writing about something which happened to them as such, they just feel very true. The voice is very authentic. I don't know if that makes sense, I'm having some difficulty expressing what I mean about it but I think that Junot Diaz has a voice that's really rare to find, where I can read things which are totally foreign to me and feel connected to them, and that was one of my favourite things about reading this.

In essence, Drown is a collection of short stories focusing on the life of a child growing up without a father that he can rely on and about the experience of first abandonment and then being Dominican in America. The stories are very much about Dominican identity and although a lot of them have quite brutal subject matter they were all beautifully written and strung together more like a slightly disjointed novel than a traditional short story collection.

If you're not convinced by my slightly incoherent rambling, be convinced by him winning the Pullitzer for Oscar Wao, or by any of the other multitude of awards he's won, or by his activism, or by the extreme shortness of Drown and This is How You Lose Her. They're both so small they're not much of a time investment and it will be worth it, I promise.

Saturday 10 January 2015


Ok I kind of just wanted to use that as a title. Obviously, I am not four. This blog, however, has somehow managed to stay alive for four whole years and I am amazed. Four years ago today I posted my first book review (of V for Vendetta, since you ask) not really knowing what to expect from a book blog and definitely not knowing there was a whole world of book blogging out there!

When I started off I was engaged, employed in an incredibly part time capacity and recently moved 100 miles away from all my family and friends to an area I knew nothing about. Now I am married, a mother of two, about to buy a house just up the road from the place we've been living for over four years, and am still part time employed (having been full time employed in the interim) but running a business alongside many other projects!

Along the way I've met some incredible people, discovered some amazing blogs and am just generally over the moon to be part of this community. I honestly can't believe we've got this far and I still love blogging!

Highlights of the past four years have been; reading a lot of Noel Streatfeild, participating in many months of RAK (and thus meeting Hanna and Ellie!), hosting the Telling Tales Challenge for two years, joining The Classics Club, having a quote from my review (even if it was a bit of a lame one!) featured in the paperback of Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness, libraries, Banned Books Week, Banned Books Week, Banned Books Week, being a Giver for World Book Night 2013, posting about the importance of bedtime stories in my life, the inception of the Ninja Book Swap, going to the Roald Dahl Museum, going to see (and hear) Neil Gaiman read Fortunately, the Milk, meeting up with Ellie, Hanna, Laura and Charlotte in Leeds (this gets bolded because really, it's the best thing on this list and we must do it again soon please!), discovering Rainbow Rowell, hunting for book benches, Nonfiction November and gaining an international penpal (hi Nahree!).

I won't get overly sentimental. I've made some amazing friends through blogging without whom my life would be much more lonely and rubbish. Thank you everyone who has ever left a comment here, and particularly those of you who have left lovely ones when I've needed them. Thanks to those I interact with on twitter and who I'm continuing to harass through the Ninja Book Swap. Thanks most of all to Ellie, Laura, Charlotte and Katie for being amazing and supportive friends to geek out about all kinds of things, book related and not, with, and thanks to Hanna for being my partner in crime and Ninja Book Swap co-founder and not hating me for sending her six or seven one sentence emails when I could have waited a day and sent it all as one.

And now I'm shutting up and heading off to plot for the next four years!

Wednesday 7 January 2015

One Little Word

Recently I have a lot to thank Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness for: first Nonfiction November and the increased love of nonfiction that has led to, then the format for the 'currently' posts which are making it easier to keep up with the blog, and now One Little Word.

Ae olw2015 bannerinsideclass

I've been uming and ahing about whether to actually sign up for the class and do this 'properly' or just to do it unofficially. I've known what my word would be ever since I first read about it on Kim's blog, but today I finally caved and signed up and I think it's going to be really good.  My #yearofmaking project is already encouraging me to be more creative this year and I think One Little Word will tie in really well with that.

Over the last few years we've had a few rough patches and especially over the last year I could really feel myself getting down about things, but instead of dealing with it I've been projecting it onto the world around me. On a daily basis I can hear myself constantly whingeing and griping about every single thing and getting unreasonably angry about little things. Some days it feels like all I do is complain, so it was easy to pick my word for this year: Gratitude.

Throughout all that's happened to us since we got married over three years ago, I've been able to hold onto how lucky we are to have all the things that we have in spite of what was happening; we have each other, our kids, a place to live, a wonderfully supportive and ever-expanding extended family and disposable income (although I need to do better with controlling it!). We are buying a house of our own and I am learning to drive through the incredible generosity and support of friends. We are so,so lucky. I have nothing to complain about,and so in 2015 I want to spend time with gratitude.

Because I'm not really a scrapbooker, although I do have an unreasonable love of collage and taking awful photos (must work on improving that this year), I'm going to do this through a mixture of a small notebook, Instagram and this blog. I said a while back that I wanted to post more non-book related things here and this and my #yearofmaking are the start of that. I think that my word will help me with the sense of overwhelm I've been feeling about the amount of things we have conflicted with my love of acquistion. Hopefully with a feeling of gratitude I'll be able to be happier with what I have and less always on the lookout for more. We shall see.

Gratitude (n) the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness

Image credit

Friday 2 January 2015

The Other Shakespeare by Lea Rachel

I accepted a copy of The Other Shakespeare for review consideration and it's the first time I've done so in quite a while. As the first book I finished in 2015 I was slightly resentful of it for stopping me from starting the year reading something totally random from my shelves, but actually I found myself really quickly totally engrossed by the plot.

The Other Shakespeare basically questions what would have happened if Shakespeare had been born a woman. It follows the fictional sister of William, Judith Shakespeare, created by Virginia Woolf in A Room of One's Own (which I'm going to read this year!) in her quest for education and ultimately to be a writer and shows the difficulties and massive restrictions society places on her because of her gender, and on the whole I thought it did this very well.

Straight off the bat I'm going to tell you the couple of little things I didn't like about this reading experience. The first is a minor thing and is grammatical. I don't know about my fellow Brits, but I have very very rarely heard a British person use the word 'gotten'. Generally we say 'got', yet Judith and other characters in this novel use 'gotten' on a fairly regular basis and it irked me, as did the incredibly regular use of 'ok', first in common use in mid 19th century America, not 16th century Britain. These are little things but they regularly jolted me out of the narrative and reminded me that what I was reading was fiction and it was a shame. The second I won't go into detail about because I don't want to spoil the book for you, but there's a violent act which takes place and to me it seemed a little gratuitous. I wasn't sure that it was necessary and I don't really enjoy unnecessary violence in novels.

So now that's out of the way, I actually really liked this novel. The story was strong and well written previously mentioned grammar issues aside, and the characters, Judith and her mother Mary especially, were very well drawn. I really found myself rooting for Judith and hoping that despite all the odds she'd find a way to succeed, and I was seriously annoyed with her family for being so unsupportive and constantly telling her to basically get back in the kitchen! I think it's the mark of a good book when it makes you feel, and this book made me angry with how things were for women back then. It really made me feel the injustice, and it also made me actively want to read Virginia Woolf to find out more about the character. I don't think anything else has ever made me feel that before (Virginia Woolf and I have a difficult relationship), so well done to Lea Rachel! Another cool thing which I didn't manage to pick up on because I'm not that smart, is that throughout the text there are Shakespeare quotes (at least one per chapter) and Virginia Woolf reference and the author has made it like a little game or competition almost to find them all. I like it when books have something extra about them!

The Other Shakespeare left me wishing that one of the possible Shakespeare theories could have been that actually he was a she - that Judith had been real and had found a way to succeed despite everything!

Thursday 1 January 2015

The Bookshop Book by Jen Campbell

What a book to end the year on! I finished reading The Bookshop Book the day before New Years Eve and I absolutely loved it. Charlotte gifted it to me entirely randomly during our Secret Santa and the gorgeous cover and its' amazing subject matter meant I had to start reading it pretty much immediately. The end of the year was a fantastic time to finish it as now I feel like I have justification for wanting to visit as many bookshops as possible this year. After reading about so many amazing bookshops throughout the world, I also decided to extend my 'read 5, buy 1' resolution slightly and make it 'read 5, buy 1 from an independent bookshop'. They're incredible places and especially in Kent we really don't have enough of them left! 

The Bookshop Book is written by Jen Campbell, author of that book you might have heard everyone raving about a while back, Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops and is also, according to its cover, the Official Book of Books are my Bag 2014. I will admit to still not really understanding how Books Are My Bag operates despite now owning their official book and one of the Tracy Emin tote bags (which is awesome). If anybody wants to enlighten me, please be my guest! It basically is a book about various amazing independent bookshops throughout the world, all with different defining characteristics and quirkiness. Throughout the book there are also many interviews with authors from that part of the world talking about their favourite bookshops and what their dream bookshop would be like. I pretty much just immersed myself in the book and was happily wandering along when there, on page 36, I discovered Ellie talking about her (now ex) bookshop! You can imagine how excited I was - there was much squealing and explaining to Rhys in a very high-pitched manner and generally feeling a little bit like I knew somebody famous. 

A favourite discovery thanks to The Bookshop Book is The London Bookshop Map which I will now be using as inspiration pretty much every time I visit the city. Laura and I already have tentative plans in place for when she finishes her course! 

Honestly, if you're at all interested in books (and if you're not, why are you wasting your time here?!) you should probably read this book.