Saturday 25 July 2015

2016 Project: Make Mine an Indie - Independent Publishers and Bookshops

Most of you will know about the fundraising project that I have going on this year which incorporates a book buying ban. A lot of you will also know that I swore off Amazon way back at the end of 2011 and while I've had the occasional slip up, I would say I've shopped there probably less than five times since then. So far I'm doing a hell of a lot better with my book buying ban than I thought I would. I think the £20 penalty I gave myself any time I slip up is a big motivator but so far I've only had to pay it once since I started in March which is not bad for me.

Since I'm feeling so OK about acquiring far fewer books I thought I'd try to take it a step ... further?... in 2016 and shop only in independent bookshops and from small publishers. I feel like the ban I'm on this year and the subsequently selling my books for charity is really making me think about what I keep. If I love a book, but not so much that I'm going to need to reread it anytime soon, it goes. So far I'm not missing anything. Because of this I feel like I could get by with purchasing a lot fewer books than I have in past years, and because of that it follows that I should be able to spend slightly more money on fewer books but buy them from independents and online from small publishers.

Shop Indie Bookstores

I've recently become an affiliate of  Hive in the UK which is an Amazon like website that allows you to 'shop locally online', and of IndieBound in the US which is, as it sounds, a website through which you can find local independent bookstores, so I'm happy that I now have an alternative to Goodreads and Amazon for links.

OK so now all that's out the way, I've been doing a little research into some small publishers that look interesting and I'm going to be doing a series of features on some of them and the books of theirs that I'd like to read. There's also a possibility that I'll be incorporating some of the independent bookshops I love most and/or am most excited to visit next year into this series.

Initially I'll be focusing on small publishing houses based in the UK, but I may also eventually look at U.S based ones as well, as I'm constantly hearing fun things about various American publishers! I wrote a while ago about how my browsing habits have changed since I started blogging and I no longer select books as randomly as I once did, but I'm hoping that shopping independently will help me to discover things I had no idea about - The Unknown Unknown- and explore the huge diversity of the books available.

I'd love it if you'd let me know in the comments about your favourite independent bookshops and publishers!

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Ninja Book Swap & Me

Today was a day which pretty much sucked epically. I mean, it had some really great moments (a lot, actually) but at the end of it my overall impression was of losing my temper and children misbehaving. I hate days like this - no matter how much I reassure myself that I wasn't as awful as I think I was it still feels like I've failed, however somewhere in the middle of a long debate about how long one actually needs to be on the potty for when doing nothing (45 mins is apparently totally necessary) I heard the postman arrive and deliver something which sounded distinctly parcel shaped. This was my mini Ninja Book Swap parcel and it pretty much saved the day. It also got me thinking about the swap in general.

You see we have a cycle, the swap and I. When we're in the throes of a swap and I'm spending a lot of time on twitter talking to people about it and via email trying to sort stuff out and it's generally taking over many of my waking hours I get a bit stressed by it. During the February swap this year there were a lot of postal issues, none of which were the fault of the people taking part, but all of which caused stress for various reasons to various people. Because the swap is such a joy bringer I tend to get really upset for people when their parcel is delayed or hasn't turned up and after February we had decided to drop the summer swap this year and give ourselves some time to recharge before Halloween. Then I did what I always do and I started missing the swap. I missed talking to people about it, missed the organisation, missed buying gifts and making a parcel and getting to know new people. In short, I missed all the things that stress me about it when I'm doing it! And so I decided to run a mini Ninja Swap and everything I love about the swap came flooding back to me.

I love the Ninja Book Swap. The entire premise  of creating a thoughtful parcel of books, gifts someone will like and a note and actually connecting with people you only know online or hadn't known at all before is just something I feel so positive about. No matter the stress when something isn't going to plan I know that in the end we are doing something good here. During the Meet the Ninjas project I launched to fill the intended gap between February and September this year I've heard people's testimonies of how the swap has affected them and I love that I helped that to happen. Over six full swaps so far we've only had three people try to take advantage of us, and while this may be inviting that to happen more (I really hope not) it gives me such hope to know that in a world of awfulness there really are this many amazing people who will sign up to spend their hard earned money on a beautiful parcel to send to a stranger to make their day a little bit better.

The first swap Hanna and I ever ran I think we had ten participants, at least half of whom were bloggers we already knew and had somewhat bullied into playing along. Since then we've had lovely Kayleigh take part in every single swap (besides this last mini one) and I think Ellie as well, although she may have joined us for the first Halloween swap. My memory is hazy. We've also accumulated a core of people whose names I love to see on the sign up sheet. It's fantastic with an event like this to have a body of people you know you don't have to worry about. They know what they're doing, their parcels are always incredible and they're just generally a pretty awesome bunch of people.

In light of the reason behind this post, I wanted to take a moment to note all the other swap parcels that have arrived fortuitously and helped improve days. Firstly I  have to thank Charlotte for sending me an incredible first ever swap parcel, which probably played a big part in my desire to keep the swap going! The third swap (February 2014) I signed up for two parcels, both of which were amazing. The first one from Sheli arrived just as I had got home from being out in a thunderstorm, for which I had been under dressed and was literally dripping and shivering as the postman rang the doorbell. As I opened it there was a large amount of shrieking and jumping up and down. Lovehearts and chocolate in a thunderstorm is just meant to be.

 My second parcel from that swap actually formed the beginning of a beautiful (pen)friendship. Nahree sent me this parcel which I was so amazed by that I updated Rhys during every stage of opening it, like 'oh my good it's all wrapped in different coloured tissue'... 'oh my god she's drawn little clues on each gift'... 'Rhys! Rhys! She's written me such a sweet letter'... 'She sent TEA!'. The last one got a response - he's a big tea drinker, my husband, but seriously this parcel was fantastic just because of the effort and thought that had gone into it. A little while later we started writing letters to each other and we've been penpals for about a year now.

The other parcel I got that fits this category was from Jess of Literary,etc. It was for the Halloween swap last year and I was still struggling with the concept of being a mother of two and was generally overwhelmed and then this parcel turned up all the way from the U.S.A (god knows how much it must have cost her to post it!) and made me happy for the rest of the day.

Every single parcel I've ever got for a Ninja Swap, and I think there have been eleven so far (I sign up to send and receive two for most of the swaps now) has been incredible and amazing regardless of how many books and gifts it has contained. It really isn't about that for me. I will list the books I've got from Ninja Swaps at the end of this post and you will see that it is an awesome list, but it's actually not even the most exciting thing about getting a swap parcel. The most exciting thing for me is the person who's put the parcel together for me. I particularly love it when I get a little note detailing the reasoning behind each gift, as with Nahree's and Jess's parcels above, but even if not it's always so heartwarming when you're opening a parcel that a stranger has spent their time putting together and making beautiful for you. I also really love seeing people's excitement on social media when they get their parcels, and reading their posts about their swap experiences. Literally every time, no matter how stressed I've been in my personal life or whatever by the end of the swap I've felt amazing just seeing how much happiness it's brought.

Every single Ninja Swapper who's done the swap properly makes my day better. Long may it continue.

Special mentions for a few people who help with their awesomeness (because I'm never likely to win a major award): Hanna (obviously), Esther and Miriam, Rhys, Emma, Sarah, Nahree, Kayleigh, Ellie, Ellie, Laura, Katie, Debbie, Kristen and many many other people - the list would pretty much go on forever.

Books I've Been Ninja Gifted:

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
The Outsider by Albert Camus
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Little Beach Street Cafe by Jenny Colgan
The Happy Hooker: Stitch n Bitch Crochet by Debbie Stoller
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn
A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Peter Panzerfaust: The Great Escape by Kurtis J. Weibe
The Storied Life of A.J Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The next swap will be September/October. To find out more information check out our blog or to be added to the list for a reminder email when sign up opens email Alternatively follow us on twitter @NinjaBookSwap, where I've pretty much amalgamated the swap account and my personal one and talk about a bit of everything.

Friday 17 July 2015

Fairytale Fridays: The Water-Lily.The Gold Spinners

Last Fairytale Friday I wrote about Little Red Riding Hood. As I mentioned in my discussion of Andrew Lang and his Fairy Books, I'm interested in comparing the well known fairytales with less well known ones and trying to ascertain why some have stuck and some haven't. In the interest of that I've decided to continue reading from The Blue Fairy Book (the one that contains Little Red Riding Hood) and have picked a less well known tale for this week.

All that the internet will tell me about The Water-Lily (or The Water-Lily. The Gold Spinners as Lang has called it) is that it originated in Estonia. You can read it online here. Go do that, I'll wait, and then we can talk about it.

All done?

So the concept of the story is thus: three maidens live in a forest with an old woman who makes them spin gold flax into yarn and never see or speak to men. One day while she's away a Prince stumbles across their cottage and falls in love with the youngest girl. After some events he steals her away from the cottage but on the way back to his castle the old woman (really a wicked witch in disguise) casts a spell and she falls into the river and is turned into a water-lily. After much mourning the prince asks a magician how he can restore her to human form. The magician tells him, he does it and they all live happily ever after.

After much reflection the only reason I can think of that this tale is less well known than some others is because it has been told less. According to Wikipedia it's only been included in three collections, the most well known of which is The Blue Fairy Book. Personally I really loved The Water-Lily. The Gold Spinners. It had a bit of everything I love - wicked witches, magic, transformations, people rescuing each other. I also really liked how the girls were kind of a bit pissed off about being made to constantly spin all the time but they weren't all 'oh woe is me, I must be rescued' like girls in fairytales often are. There's a bit when the girl is a water lily and she sings this little rhyme which could be taken as her waiting to be rescued but I read it more as her berating the prince for just forgetting her as soon as she wasn't immediately there any more and not doing anything to save her. Like, come on Prince! All it will take is you magically transforming into a crab, going underwater for ten days during which time your parents will have given you up for dead. What are you waiting for?

What have you read since last time? Link up below!

Saturday 11 July 2015

Three on a Theme: places I Know Little to Nothing About

Although I am not the least informed about the world we live in, I'm also not the most well informed. There are a lot of places I know little to nothing about, and what better way to address that than through reading?

In case you missed the time I did this for Hemingway, Three on a Theme is a little feature I plan to do here from time to time when I talk about three books around a similar theme (it does exactly what it says on the tin!). This time I was torn over what to call it, as two of the books feature kidnapping but I didn't have a third, and after two (technically three) pretty gruesome kidnap stories I really wasn't up for putting myself through another right away, so then I thought since both books featured places I'm really not at all familiar with, I'd use that as a theme and make my third something I'm excited to read from a place I don't know much about!

Drumroll please. Here we go!

Image result for it's what I do lynsey addario book coverIt's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario has been raved about all over the place recently. I heard it mentioned a couple of times on Kim's blog and as the books she loves tend to be great I immediately ordered it in to the library and I am so glad I did. Not easy reading by any means this memoir of Addario's life and career as a photojournalist beginning around the time of 9/11 is incredibly thought-provoking and made me think a lot about why people do what they do. She spends a lot of time in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and even Libya covering extremely dangerous situations and taking pictures of atrocities beyond my imagination, during the course of which she is kidnapped twice, involved in a bad accident and loses several friends and colleagues. How she has the inner strength to do the kind of work she does and take such phenomenal pictures is entirely beyond my understanding but, as she mentions several times throughout the book, she does it so that the public and policy makers get the whole story of what is actually happening. This is such an important and powerful book I honestly think everybody needs to read it, but brace yourself for some difficult stuff.

Purchase It's What I Do

Image result for an untamed stateThe second book is by an author I've heard raved about everywhere, mostly for her essay collection Bad Feminist but as my library didn't have that and I'm still going strong on my book buying ban I had to start with An Untamed State which I knew was about Haiti, but didn't really know much beyond that. Honestly I almost gave up a few chapters in just because going from It's What I Do to this I thought was going to be too much for me mentally. I'm glad I stuck with it though. It's the story of how a Haitian - American daughter of a rich Haitian businessman is kidnapped. Appparently Haiti is one of the 7 Countries You're Most Likely to Get Kidnapped In, but as with the Dominican Republic before I read Junot Diaz (who is not on this list because his excellence has been extolled already on this blog and I don't want to bore you, but he could be as he is an equally educative author) I knew nothing at all about it until I read An Untamed State. 

Although it's not pleasant reading it's an incredibly well written novel and it's very compelling. I kept telling people I was reading it as quickly as I could because I really didn't like the subject matter but I couldn't put it down. To me, if a book makes me read it despite myself then it's worth recommending.

Purchase An Untamed State

Image result for the lone ranger and tonto fistfight in heavenFinally for the one I haven't read yet. There were several contenders for this spot: Americanah, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, The Harmony Silk Factory, The Bone People, all of which are books about places I don't know enough about, but finally I went for The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie. I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian a year or two ago after everyone had told me to read it for about five years and I really enjoyed it. I still feel that I don't know anywhere near as much as I'd like to about Native American culture though and as I already know I like Alexie's writing, this seemed like a pretty good place to start! Anybody read it?

Purchase Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven

Given that I don't know as much as I'd like to about anywhere other than the UK, what are your recommendations of amazing books that will teach me more about places I don't know enough about?

Disclaimer: All purchase links are affiliate - if you buy a book through them I will earn a small commission. You can also get 10% off all books until July 14th using SUMMERBOOKS at checkout. You're welcome!

Monday 6 July 2015

Inspiration on Monday: The Ultimate Menu Planner

Inspiration on Monday

Inspiration on Monday is a link up hosted by Trish to encourage us to share our creative projects and things that inspire us!

Meal planning is a bone of contention in our house: we want to do it, we know that everything works better and we spend less, waste less and shop better when we do it but our previous method, of trying to pluck seven dinners out of thin air and write them on the calendar at some point on Saturday or Sunday so that we could do the grocery shopping on Sunday, our only day together as a family just wasn't working. I'd found a couple of ideas I liked on Pinterest, obviously, and particularly liked the look of this one and as we'd bought a frame for something that ended up being a little too small I thought now was as good a time as any to finally give it a go!

All the credit for the idea goes to The Thinking Closet whose image I originally pinned, and Clair Dickson whose original idea it was.

I started with a wooden frame with a plastic sheet meant to frame a poster. My original plan was to cover the frame with pretty paper and take the plastic sheet off the front, but then I remembered that I had lots of cute dinosaur material my mum gave me for Christmas so I thought I'd use that instead. My plan was almost scuppered by my staple gun running out during the attachment of the pink piece of material, but sellotape saved the day resulting in (as always with my creative projects) a bit of a botch job at the end, but it holds up so I'm happy!

I made the little box for the extra recipe cards from the bottom of a Weetabix pack covered in some pretty paper. I am planning to make a second box next time we have an empty box because the eventual plan is to have all the recipes we ever plan to use hanging out in the boxes just waiting for us!

Here's where I deviated from the original. We decided that there was no point in us just planning dinners as we just end up eating really boring breakfasts of cereal all the time and cheese sandwiches for lunch and then we forget to eat because we're so bored by the idea and then we get stressed and yell at the kids and it's just a bad plan, so I modified the concept slightly to allow three pegs per day: one for breakfast, one for lunch, one for dinner. I used superglue to attach the pegs to the frame and fabric and cut the letters for 'menu' from felt and glued them on. At this point I also had a slight panic moment when I managed to glue one finger of each hand to the same tube of glue and took a good five minutes of rinsing under the tap to get them unglued again... Suffice to say superglue and I aren't friends anymore!

After that all that was left was to make the menu cards which I cut to size from big sheets of card my father in law gave me a while back. I just used a marker to write the name of the dish on one side and a biro to write the ingredients needed on the other side. This makes it super easy to make a shopping list as you just go through all the ingredients and add what you need. It's probably my favourite thing about this menu planner.

The end product! (minus the second recipe box...)

At the moment we only have the meals for this week plus a few other breakfast ideas, but as the weeks go by we plan to add lots of old favourites and some new recipes to our boxes! I like the idea from the original post of using recipes from one box and replacing them in another box and so circulating them so you've not eating anything all the time. Overall I really love how it turned out and I'm super excited to use it. We did our first shop from it today and it seems like if all goes to plan it should be a really exciting week foodwise!

Do you menu plan? How do you do it?