Saturday 30 January 2016

London Bookshop Crawl: Cecil Court

Welcome to the penultimate edition of my series of posts about the shops we're visiting on the London Bookshop Crawl! This is a bit of a cheat really, since there are seven bookshops in Cecil Court, but as none of them are huge and we will be visiting them as one stop on the crawl I thought I'd post a little bit about all of them here!

In case you've not been before, Cecil Court is a pedestrianised street between Charing Cross Road and St Martin's Lane. All the shops have Victorian fronts and hanging signs and a lot of them sell rare or antiquarian books.


Mainly focusing on art books, they have monthly exhibitions focused on a particular artist or press as well as regular launches and events.


I'm the most excited to visit this shop as it specialises in children's and illustrated books from the 1800s to the present day. As the name implies, their real specialism is Lewis Carroll and so they have many and various editions of the Alice books as well as Carroll's other works and some Alice ephemera.

Travis and Emery Music Bookshop

This is Rhys' favourite shop down this road as it sells out of print, second hand and antiquarian sheet music and books about music.

Peter Ellis

Antiquarian booksellers stocking mostly first editions over a range of genres.

Watkins Books

Describing itself as an esoteric bookshop, Watkins also publishes books in the spiritual and new science genres. They also have a quarterly magazine and host regular events.

Goldsboro Books

Goldsboro aims to provide its customers with signed first editions. It was founded in 1999 and is impressively dedicated to bringing brilliant, special and often exclusive signed books to its customers. They have a Book of the Month Club, where you sign up and are sent a signed book that they think is great and has the possibility of becoming collectible each month. Many of them are exclusive to Goldsboro, and although due to the nature of what they sell it's not the cheapest, not all of the books are really expensive (signed and numbered edition of Haniya Yanagihara's A Little Life for £199.99, anyone? Probably not on this trip!). It looks like a lovely shop.

Erica's review

Stephen Poole Fine Books

Specialist in 20th Century literature, this shop has separate sections for Crime fiction and books shortlisted for literary awards as well as some signed copies.

Although I've browsed in Cecil Court before (usually killing time while Rhys went through sheet music in Travis and Emery) I've not really spent any amount of time in any of these shops. As you'll see, I've linked to Erica's review of Goldsboro Books above as she has actually been to it, and I'm hopeful that it'll be a fun stop on our crawl!

Friday 29 January 2016

Little Parcels of Joy: A Happiness Project

This week I tried again to make honey fudge. To put this into perspective, I recently made my first successful batch of fudge - peanut butter - after years of failing to get it quite right and became obsessed. Since then I've successfully made gingerbread latte fudge and black forest fudge, both of which were gorgeous, but I've failed to make honey fudge quite right either time. The failure of the story isn't the important bit. The important bit is that while I was in the process of making the fudge I thought about how much fudge I would have if it were to go right and how often now I don't bake or attempt confectionery because I don't have enough people in my immediate vicinity to eat things, and people at work start not liking you pretty soon if you ruin their diet too many times in a month.

Then I though how exciting projects like Random Acts of Kindness were back when I first started blogging, and how many connections I've made with people through things like that, Ninja Book Swap and OTSP Secret Sister, among others, and I thought wouldn't it be nice if I started a project where people would give me a little information about themselves so that I could send them secret gifts once in a while, without them knowing when they would arrive. I mean, I love expecting things in the post, but equally it's really exciting when you're not expecting anything and something lovely shows up out of the blue!

Because I'm me, I immediately (I mean immediately, like, while the fudge was still boiling) made a sign up form and announced my plan on twitter, having not at all thought through how it would work. I created the option for people to just receive stuff or to also send stuff as well. The proviso of this is that it will be entirely random, and mostly be baked goods, confectionery and occasionally bookish gifts and random little things. Nothing too expensive, nothing big, just a little parcel of joy. Does what it says on the tin! And so far, of the people that have signed up well over 75% want to send as well, which means I have to think about the logistics of how it will work.

Honestly, I'm still not sure, but here is the idea that I have: if you want to take part, fill in the form. If you just want to receive stuff, that's fine. You don't need to do anything else, but I will be in touch to check if you're OK with me passing on your address to other people on the list who want to send stuff as well as receive it.

If you want to send stuff as well then my current idea is that I will make a spreadsheet in Google Drive and share the link with those on the list. The sheet will contain just names, whether people have any allergies or dislikes, which country they are in (not full address details), and when they were last sent something. Then if you have something you'd like to send to someone you can check the sheet, figure out who you'd like to send it to (or just select a number at random, as I'll be doing!), make sure they've not just been sent something, and then give me a shout for their address details.

I know it sounds a bit convoluted but I'm not particularly happy with having people's full addresses on a public spreadsheet so I thought this way worked better!

There is no commitment with this project. If you said you'd like to send stuff too and then never have anything to send, that's ok. If you said you'd just like to receive but find yourself with the urge to send someone something, that's also ok. You can send once a week, once a month, twice a year, whenever you have something lovely you want to give to someone!

Basically there are no rules, except those of common decency. This project is designed to spread joy so please only send stuff that's nice (it should go without saying that you shouldn't send anything of an offensive nature, anything that could be dangerous, or anything that's just horrible). If you're a terrible baker, please don't bake! Do something else that you are good at - make stationery, knit something, draw a picture, whatever, and please say hi when you send stuff. Unexpected gifts are good, receiving anonymous baked goods in the post could be considered a teeny bit sinister...

I'm sure there will be teething problems and glitches from time to time, but I'm excited to start another little joy spreading project! Again, if you'd like to take part - either to send or to receive - please fill in the form which can be found here!

Wednesday 27 January 2016

London Bookshop Crawl: Daunt Books

In case you haven't seen, I'm organising a bookshop crawl in London on February 6th and I've been doing a series of features on the bookshops that we're going to be visiting. As many of them are independents it has temporarily taken the place of my Saturday Make Mine an Indie feature, and the aim is just to give a little more information about the places we'll be visiting as we'll be way too busy browsing/making each other buy all the things on the day to pay much attention to things like that I think!

Image result for daunt books logo

Today's post is about Daunt Books. Although it's now a chain of shops and its founder is the managing director of Waterstone's we are visiting the original one in Marylebone and all of its stores are in London, so. Founded in 1990, the original Daunt Books is housed in a beautiful building that was built for antiquarian booksellers Edward Francis in 1910. They have an immense amount of books which are organised by the country that they're set in, regardless of genre which seems like an incredible way to discover new things and get out of your comfort zone! In 2010 they began publishing books (which I'll talk about in another Make Mine an Indie post!), and in 2014 they launched their own book festival which will run 10th-11th March 2016 if you're interested in going!

On their website they sell book bundles and subscriptions, during which you get a book a month for a year and they also have Daunt Books bags (cotton and canvas) and mugs, so I'm clearly going to be buying one or both while we're there! They also have a very interesting blog. 

Some interesting trivia: James Daunt's name is actually Achilles James Daunt. There's no way that he wasn't going to be a bookseller really, is there? Daunt are also opening their first branch outside of London, in Saffron Walden, Essex, under the name Hart's Books. Also, Daunt Books in Marylebone has been featured as one of Time Out's 100 Best Shops in London, which is pretty cool. 

Besides the Marylebone branch, Daunt also have shops in Chelsea, Holland Park, Belsize Park, Hampstead and Cheapside. 

Here's their London Reading list to get you in the mood!

Find Daunt Books on their website, twitter, Facebook, or with us on the 6th!

Catch up on the Make Mine an Indie series here.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Dumplin by Julie Murphy

Today I'm part of the blog tour for Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, and I want to say straight up that I loved this book! I know there's been a lot of buzz about it and many of you have probably read it already, but if you haven't then please do! I actually read it twice to write this review as the first time I read it in one sitting and stayed up waaaay too late trying to finish it so my head was a bit fuzzy on details towards the end and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss anything.

Dumplin' is the story of Willowdean Dickson. She's fat and comfortable with her body. She doesn't see why she should be ashamed of the way that she is and her confidence and sass, at least in her own head, are admirable. That is until the guy she likes at work likes her back and she finds herself letting her insecurities affect her like she never has before.

I absolutely adored the layers of story in Dumplin'. Centred around the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant, which Willowdean's mother once won and now organises, it is about her issues with her mother, about how they are coping after the death of her aunt, her relationship with Bo (the boy at work) and her best friend Ellen, and how the insecurities she pretends not to have affect these relationships, and overall about what happens when she decides to enter the pageant.

I haven't read a narrator or protagonist I liked as much as Willowdean for a long, long time. I wanted to hang out with her. I loved her voice and her bravado, but I especially liked it when her vulnerability showed. There are so many lines in the book that I just loved and I think it's really important for everyone (but particularly teenagers) to see someone who describes themselves as fat being completely unapologetic about it. The book asks important questions about why it is that we feel it's OK for us to judge people we know nothing about based on their looks, and also about what it means to be beautiful and for me it was extremely refreshing to have a protagonist who wasn't your run of the mill teenage narrator.

Although it's not really the same, a lot of things about Dumplin' reminded me of My Mad Fat Diary, which is a totally brilliant thing as I adore that series. Dumplin' is full of loveable, relateable and very real characters. I always hate it when people describe books as 'having lots of heart' but this one really does and it will tug at yours!

Oh and did I say, quotable? I've turned over so many pages while reading this because of lines I just loved. and Harper have made some fantastic graphics for a few of them!

Thank you so much to Alice from Harper360 for giving me the opportunity to read this amazing book and take part in the blog tour. Please check out the other stops on the tour and find Julie Murphy on twitter @andimJULIEDisplaying Dumplin' 4.jpg

Monday 25 January 2016

#LittleHouseRAL: Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is my first review for the Little House Read-Along that Lynn and I are hosting. If you'd like to join us you still can! Check out the details and schedule here.

So I read this book waaay back at the beginning of the month; it was actually the first book I read in 2016, but of course I have been totally rubbish at actually writing this post, but here we are. It's not the end of the month yet, I still have time!

I've been so excited to kick off this read-along of a series that I have very few memories of ever having read before. People have been telling me how it's comfort reading for them and I can absolutely see that. 

The book kicks off as winter begins with Laura and her family - Ma, Pa, Mary and baby Carrie - all tucked up snug in their little house as the bears prowl and the weather rages outside the door. The house seems totally impenetrable, protected by the firelight and the sound of Pa's fiddle playing and stocked up with smoked, salted and frozen meat caught by Pa with his gun. It will probably come as no surprise that I loved the air of self-sufficiency running through this book. It provided such an interesting look into life in 1870s America; a period about which I know very little. 

It also made me think a lot about how much we take for granted in our modern lives, and how little most of us actually have to do nowadays. Our houses are heated, our food is pre-packaged, everywhere is easily accessible by car... For Laura and her family so much work and preparation went into things that seem so trivial to us, and it was a really good reminder for me.

I wonder if Mary was actually so perfect though? In every piece of children's literature I love there is always the 'perfect' child to juxtapose the 'unruly' heroine - Diana and Anne, Beth and Jo, countless of Noel Streatfeild's characters - and often I wonder if the perfection is just in the memory of the author (who often was the 'unruly' child, as is the case with Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott and Noel Streatfeild) or whether it was actually reality. I don't know if there's any way to know, but I found it interesting to wonder!

That said, I did relate to Laura a lot more than I did Mary. I particularly enjoyed the scene where she is arguing with her cousin (I think? The other Laura Ingalls anyway!) about whose baby is prettier, it gave me a little giggle, and the scene with the party was my favourite - such beautiful description, and I always love reading about the ways that people used to entertain themselves before they were transfixed by screens all day long! 

In the spirit of the read-along I decided that I would do an activity each month relating to the book we're reading that month. Because it was easier than shooting a bear, smoking our own meat, or making cheese, we decided to make and dress up paper dolls. Here they are before they were dressed:

Benji (who is three) loved dressing them up. He then took it a step further and covered the entire thing with multi coloured Quality Street wrappers and stickers and made it into a birthday card for his Grandma. Who am I to argue with such creativity? 

I loved this book and I'm really looking forward to reading the next one! Also apologies that I've not been round and commented on everyone's posts yet - sick kids this month have made everything take six times longer than it should!

Saturday 23 January 2016

London Bookshop Crawl: London Review Bookshop

It's another not really edition of Make Mine an Indie featuring another stop on our London Bookshop Crawl! It's just a couple of weeks away and honestly browsing the websites to write these posts has ramped my excitement levels up to fever pitch. When the day actually comes I may be so excited I'll have lost all ability to actually make words and will just run round waving all my bookish tote bags at people. You have been warned...

London Review Bookshop

When we voted for the shops we wanted to include in the itinerary for this event the London Review Bookshop came top, and looking at the website I can see why. It looks like it has everything I want in a bookshop; space to browse without falling over each other, amazing cake and a lot of books. I watched their short video of their customers talking about why they love the bookshop and several people said something about wanting to go to bookshops to find the thing they didn't know they wanted to read and I was there nodding along. I've steered myself away from writing any kinds of lists for the crawl as I want to surprise myself with what I'll find and I'm particularly excited about what I might find here.

The London Review Bookshop was opened by the London Review of Books in 2003 and considering it's round the corner from the British Museum and has cake it's a bit of a travesty that I've not yet been there. They stock over 20,000 titles in a massive range of subjects and aim to be "intelligent without being pompous; engaged without being partisan". Honestly, I think we're going to do very well there...

If you haven't already please, please check out their website. In the about section they have a little map of all the things they think you should do around Bloomsbury once you've visited them, and I kind of wish we could. I once did a writers walk around that area, finding blue plaques for Virginia Woolf et al and it was awesome... Another thing for another time!

Add to all of this the fact that they have their own cake shop, in which the tea is served 'in the manner that most complements its flavour'. They have an actual tea menu and it's nine pages long. I feel like I've found my spiritual home, after all this time.

As you can see, these posts are a little more biased than my Make Mine an Indie posts usually are, but that's because I've been excited about organising the bookshop crawl for so long now that it's literally getting to the point where all I can do is jump up and down and squeak about it. Also all of these bookshops look so awesome that it's impossible not to get excited about them. Honestly I think my excitement levels show how I did exactly the right thing starting this blog.

If you've been and have other good things to say about it that I've missed out please feel free to say them in the comments, and if you're on the bookshop crawl with me please be aware that you may have to physically remove me from this shop...

Find the London Review Bookshop on their website, twitter (for the book shop and the cake shop), Facebook and Instagram or with us on February 6th!

Check out my posts about other #LondonBookshopCrawl stops Orbital Comics and Persephone or catch up with the rest of the Make Mine an Indie series here.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Make Mine an Indie: London Bookshop Crawl Edition - Orbital Comics

I know that it's not Saturday, but I've been meaning for a while to do some features on the bookshops we'll be visiting on the #LondonBookshopCrawl that's coming up on February 6th (are you free? Come and join us! Email me for details!). There are a fair few bookshops on the crawl that I haven't actually visited myself yet, but I decided to start off with one that I really love, Orbital Comics.

Orbital Comics

For those who are extremely familiar with either this shop or with graphic novel shops in general, forgive me. I'm going to do a little bit of a beginners guide along with the background info for the shop as I know that people who don't frequent them can be easily intimidated by the layout of graphic novel shops and have no idea where to start. In the interest of putting everyone at ease I shall try to make that not be the case here!

Basically, Orbital is awesome! It was founded in 2002 and stocks graphic novels from mainstream publishers as well as indies and self - published stuff, comics (vintage and modern) and a range of toys, collectibles, t shirt, posters etc. They have a brilliant kids section and I genuinely think it's one of the nicest comic shops I've ever been to. As well as selling comics and related stuff, they also have a gallery where they have exhibitions of comics art which is usually for sale, host many many events with authors and illustrators of comics, and have their own podcast where they talk all things comics related, often with the awesome people who write the comics. It's a pretty big space and even when busy it's fairly unintimidating and easy to browse.

If (like me) you're slightly intimidated by the idea of single issue comics (or just can never find issue one of anything!) just steer clear of the boxes in the middle and stick to the walls (except the walls as you first come in, since they hold the recent single issue releases). However I'm reliably informed by my sister (who will be on the crawl, though she isn't on twitter) that there's no need to be afraid of the actual comics, and it's as encouraged to browse them as it is the graphic novels. If you're a graphic novel newbie just remember, it's a bookshop, we like those!

The thing that people often find difficult about this kind of shop is that titles are often organised by publisher and then alphabetically rather than by genre or just alphabetically. To help, here are some of the current most talked about graphic novel series by publisher:


Alex + Ada by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
Morning Glories by Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma, and Rodin Esquejo
ODY-C by Matt Fraction and Christian Ward
Peter Panzerfaust by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios
Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Tank Girl by Jamie Hewlett
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Plus so so many more. As you can see, Image are basically my loves. I will spend all my time there.


So this is obviously a lot of super hero stuff including (but not limited to): Avengers, Captain America, X-Men, Spider Man, Black Widow, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Hulk etc)
1602 by Neil Gaiman (really really good)
Big Hero 6 by Haruki Ueno
Captain Marvel (since 2014 this has been written by Kelly Sue DeConnick but will be being taken over by someone else soon as has previously existed for years)
Dark Tower (adaptations of the Stephen King series)
Deadpool by Andy Diggle and Steve Dillon
Ms Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Despite being the most famous Marvel are probably the publisher I have least acquaintance with as I have yet to really delve into the world of superhero comics. I will get there, so if any of you have pointers for me they'd be gratefully received!

Vertigo (an imprint of DC comics)

Fables, Jack of Fables and Fairest by Bill Willingham and others
Greek Street by Peter Milligan and Davide Gianfelice
Hellblazer by various
The Invisibles by Grant Morrison
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
Swamp Thing by Alan Moore
Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire
The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

These tend to be the three big ones, but there will be others. Lots of my favourites are published and will probably be stocked under the 'Indie and Other' label or similar including the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Seconds is also good), Castle Waiting Volumes 1 & 2 by Linda Medley, Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and the Moomin comic strips by Tove (and later Lars) Jansson.

Apologies that this turned into a bit more of a graphic novels I love and/or really want to read post but I hope it's helpful for those who have no clue where to begin, and I hope that it's got you excited to visit if you're coming on the crawl!

Find out more about Orbital at their website. Catch up on the Make Mine an Indie series here

Saturday 16 January 2016

Make Mine an Indie: Oneworld


Today's publisher for Make Mine an Indie I discovered not through my usual trawling of the internet, but through actual browsing in an actual bookshop. I was in Waterstone's a few weeks back and as per my resolution, since it's not an independent I was looking for a book published by an independent. Off the top of my head, of course, I couldn't remember the titles of anything I'd been intrigued by before in this series, so I was just picking stuff up at random and came across The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang which as well as having a beautiful cover and a Korean author (hello diversity) was also published by an independent. Obviously I bought it, and then I did a little digging about the publisher. 

Image result for oneworld publishing
Oneworld was founded in 1986 and originally focused on publishing non-fiction. Nowadays they publish a wide range of stuff and have two imprints; Rock the Boat for children's and young adult fiction, and Point Blank which specialises in crime and is launching in spring of this year. They have a commitment to great writing and editorial excellence and their fiction aims to introduce readers to different cultures or historical periods or events. I'm shocked I'd not heard of them before, and it just shows how little attention I've been paying to who publishes my books because I got My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem as part of the Nonfiction Book Swap, which is published by them and didn't even notice!

Oneworld are responsible for publishing the UK editions of the 2015 Man Booker Prize Winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James, in the course of which I am reliably assured that more than seven people die. They also published Bailey's Prize Longlisted Reasons She Goes to the Woods by Deborah Kay Davies and Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlisted (in good company with the amazing - not published by Oneworld - If I Fall, if I Die by Michael Christie) The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. I haven't read either of these but they are both on my TBR so it was exciting to learn who's getting them into my hands!

With that in mind, obviously the books that I'm interested in reading from this publisher immediately include The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly and My Life on the Road, but besides those two here are a few which have immediately caught my eye:

Preparation for the Next Life by Atticus Lish

From the Oneworld website:

In post-9/11 New York, Zou Lei is an illegal immigrant from northwest China. A Muslim with a Uighur mother and a Han soldier for a father, she’s a pariah even within the Chinese community. Forced to work fourteen-hour days and live in squalor, she nevertheless embraces the many freedoms her adopted homeland has to offer.
Damaged by three tours in Iraq, veteran Brad Skinner comes to New York with the sole intention of partying as hard as he can in order to forget what he’s seen. Impulsive and angry, Skinner’s re-entry into civilian life seems doomed. But when he meets Zou Lei they discover that new beginnings may be possible for both of them, that is if they can survive homelessness, lockup and Skinner’s post-traumatic stress disorder.
Set in the underbelly of New York, Preparation for the Next Life exposes an America as seen from the fringes of society in devastating detail and destroys the myth of the American Dream through two of the most remarkable characters in contemporary fiction. Powerful, realistic and raw, this is one of the most ambitious – and necessary – chronicles of our time.

Among the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont
From the Oneworld website:
Jack Shanley is a well-known New York artist, charming and vain, who doesn’t mean to plunge his family into crisis. His wife, Deb, gladly left behind a difficult career as a dancer to raise the two children she adores. In the ensuing years, she has mostly avoided coming face-to-face with the weaknesses of the man she married. But then an anonymously sent package arrives in the mail: a cardboard box containing sheaves of printed emails chronicling Jack’s secret life. The package is addressed to Deb, but it’s delivered into the wrong hands: her children’s.
With this vertiginous opening begins a debut that is by turns funny, wise, and indescribably moving. As the Shanleys spin apart into separate orbits, leaving New York in an attempt to regain their bearings, fifteen-year-old Simon feels the allure of adult freedoms for the first time, while eleven-year-old Kay wanders precariously into a grown-up world she can’t possibly understand. Writing with extraordinary precision, humour, and beauty, Julia Pierpont has crafted a timeless, hugely enjoyable novel about the bonds of family life – their brittleness, and their resilience.
French Concession by Xiao Bai
From the Oneworld website:
A boat arrives in Shanghai harbor to the raucous sound of firecrackers. An important official in the Nationalist Party has returned from Hong Kong, accompanied by his striking wife, Leng. An assassin suddenly appears, firing three bullets before killing himself. Leng disappears in the ensuing chaos.
Hseuh, a Franco-Chinese photographer, is captivated by Leng’s beauty. But he has his own problems: he suspects that his White Russian lover, Therese, is cheating. When Hseuh is arrested in the French Concession and forced to become a police spy, he realizes that in the seamy, devious world of Shanghai, no one is who they appear. Therese is secretly an arms dealer, supplying Shanghai’s gangs, while Leng, has her own ties to a menacing new gang, one led by a charismatic Communist whose acts of  terrorism could have a devastating impact on the entire country. Soon Hseuh is forced to play both sides, spinning his own lies in a feverish struggle to stay alive.
Unfinished Busines: Men Women Work Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter
From the Oneworld website:
When Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic article,"Why Women Still Can't Have it All"first appeared, it immediately went viral, sparking a firestorm of debate across countries and continents. Within four days, it had become the most-read article in the history of the magazine. In the following months, Slaughter became a leading voice in the discussion on work-life balance and on women's changing role in the workplace.
Now, Slaughter is here with her eagerly anticipated take on the problems we still face, and how we can finally get past them. In her pragmatic, down-to-earth style, Slaughter bursts the bubble on all the"half-truths"we tell young women about"having it all", and explains what is really necessary to get true gender equality, both in the workplace and at home. Deeply researched, and filled with all the warm, wise and funny anecdotes that first made her the most trusted and admired voice on the issue, Anne-Marie Slaughter's book is sure to change minds, ignite debate and be the topic of conversation.
The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley
From the Oneworld website:
After Ann Walmsley was mugged near her house in Hampstead, she found she was unable to walk alone down the street and it shook her belief in the fundamental goodness of people. In Canada a few years later, when her friend Carol asked her to participate in a bold new venture in a men’s medium security prison, Ann had to weigh her curiosity and desire to be of service with her anxiety and fear.
But she signed up and for eighteen months went to a remote building a few hours outside of Toronto, meeting a group of heavily tattooed book club members without the presence of guards or security cameras. There was no wine and cheese, plush furnishings, or superficial chat about jobs or recent vacations. But a book club on the inside proved to be a place to share ideas, learn about each other, and regain humanity. 
For the men, the books were rare prized possessions, and the meetings were an oasis of safety and a respite from isolation in an otherwise hostile environment. Having been judged themselves, they were quick to make judgments about the books they read. As they discussed the obstacles the characters faced, they revealed glimpses of their own struggles that were devastating and comic. From The Grapes of Wrath to The Cellist of Sarajevo, and Outliers to Infidel, the book discussions became a springboard for frank conversations about loss, anger, redemption, heroism and loneliness.

I'm sticking to four as usual for this, but I urge you to go and look through their catalogue as it's full of wonderful sounding and intriguing titles!
You can find Oneworld on their website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Catch up with the entire Make Mine an Indie series here, my indie resolution here, and if you're in need of inspiration, my mostly indie wishlist here. Follow along on twitter #MakeMineanIndie. 

Saturday 9 January 2016

Five Years

Five years ago today I posted my first post here on this blog. I'm the queen of unfinished projects so I never dreamed that I would stick with it and still be blogging five years later, but here we are.

When I started blogging I had no idea what to expect from it. I pretty much just wanted a place to keep track of my thoughts on what I was reading and to give myself something to do to distract myself from the loneliness of having just moved miles away from everyone I knew. I didn't know there was a book blogging community at all, and I definitely never imagined making actual real life friends from it, but again, here we are.

Because five years is a milestone in anything (and actually my fifth wedding anniversary will be this year too, although not until September!) I'm going to do a few posts with my top five of different things since I started blogging. I'm going to kick it off today with my top five favourite things which have occurred as a direct result of my starting this blog.

At number one.....


You're probably all sick of me going on about these girls (ladies?) by now, but I'm still amazed by the power of the internet in bringing me five amazing people who read the kind of stuff I read, love the books I love, hate the books I love but allow me to have my own opinion, will let me shout at them about the books I love (I'm sorry about Little Men, Laura), and whose recommendations I can totally trust. I am grateful to the internet gods for sending me friends who quote You've Got Mail at each other on twitter (and then send me a copy when they find out I don't have one), love Gilmore Girls as much as I do, own a ridiculous number of copies of Pride and Prejudice, would think up something as time consuming and soul sucking and joy bringing as the Ninja Book Swap and then actually organise it with me for two and a half years. Friends to bitch about Dickens and Moby Dick with and who send me books about bookshops and who love Firefly and are as sad about losing Terry Pratchett as I am. Friends to sing songs from Les Miserables with while walking down the road scaring tourists and to talk about our personal lives far too loudly in public places. Friends who are now friends, not just blogging friends. I hope you all have fun recognising yourselves in that paragraph. 

If you're not reading their blogs, you should be. Lit Addicted Brit, Booking in Heels, Book Addicted Blonde, Devouring Texts and Katie Who Can Read.  Thanks to Charlotte and Laura for taking the pictures.

Nicely leading on to number two...

Ninja Book Swap

I wrote about my feelings for the Ninja Book Swap and summed them up pretty eloquently above, but generally there is not much that I've actually done in my life (besides getting married and having my kids and getting a degree, buying a house, passing my driving test...ok there's quite a lot) that I'm prouder of than co-founding the Ninja Book Swap with Hanna. Although it's not without its problems it brings a lot of joy and I've met a lot of great people through it. Plus, who doesn't love parcels of bookish awesomeness?

Number three 

I tried to repeat this challenge with Louisa May Alcott and E Nesbit, but it never really worked the way it did that first year with Noel. A lot of that I think is due to it being the year I started the blog, during which I got married, was still living far from family and most of my friends, and hadn't yet had any kids. Rhys was still working his weird shifts and I had a lot of free time. I immersed myself in Noel Streatfeild's work; both the books I'd loved as a kid and ones which were new to me, and it was nostalgic, cathartic and just generally awesome. I'm doing it a little bit this year with Laura Ingalls Wilder for the Little House Read-Along. It's such a lovely comforting way to read, especially with children's books because there's always a consistency and familiarity to the style and characters that's just so calming. 

Number four

Being a Giver for World Book Night

In 2013 I signed up to be a giver for World Book Night and handed out (I think) 25 copies of The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. If not for blogging (and my mum) I would never have had the guts to do this but it was really rewarding and made lots of old ladies (and a couple of blokes) very happy. 

Number five

Is still to come... In February I'm organising a bookshop crawl in London with a load of other bloggers ad book loving friends. Some I have met (hi Laura, Katie and various family members!), some I know through their blogs but have never actually met in real life (Ellie and Ellie!) and some I know only from twitter, but I'm very excited to shop with you all! If you're in the area or can get there it would be great if you could join us, email ( or tweet me (@NinjaBookSwap) and I'll send you details. 

Obviously this is just the beginning. I will be posting my favourite books since I started blogging and probably favourite blogs and blog posts or something similar. There may be a giveaway, I haven't yet decided, but you should know that if you read this post, and if you've ever read any of the others, liked something on Instagram, tweeted me, emailed me, or taken part in any of my events or challenges, I am really truly grateful. I love this blog and I can't wait for the next five years!

Friday 8 January 2016

Books on my Bedside Table #5

You may have seen that the other day I posted my 2016 Goals post. As you'll be able to tell from these photos I'm already not doing too well with some of them (namely #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks). The library has been calling my name and I'm finding it hard to get out of the habit I so brilliantly formed last year of reserving things at the library instead of buying them. It was great then, but I need to stop it now! Because I've got so much great stuff that I'm reading or looking forward to at the moment, this post is really two posts; a Books on my Bedside Table for the books that I'm currently reading or have just finished, and another pile of books that have recently entered my house. I'm out of the habit of doing book haul posts as I haven't really had any for the past few months so excuse me while I get back into the swing of things!

Without further ado, this is the pile of books I'm currently reading:

The top book is Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder which I just finished for the Little House Read-Along and will be writing about in the next few days. If you haven't signed up yet and want to take part, we're doing it all year and you can sign up any time!

Underneath that is The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang. I'm only a little way through but I'm enjoying it so far and it has such a beautiful cover. For more on the reasons behind this book see the next Make Mine an Indie post coming up next week!

I finally pulled Size 12 Is Not Fat by Meg Cabot off my shelf earlier in the week and have been really enjoying it. I've owned it for years and have never read anything by Meg Cabot that isn't The Princess Diaries series when I was much younger, so it's nice to read something slightly different.

I keep getting distracted from it by The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, which I talked about in my post on Icon Books, and reserved from the library when I bought it for Heather for the Nonfiction Book Swap a while back. Karen Russell moved from London to Denmark when her husband got a job working for Lego (!!) and spent her time researching all the reasons why Denmark is the happiest country in the world. It's really interesting so far, as their way of life is very different to mine!

Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford I've actually already finished, but it's divided into twelve parts with hands free intentions for each month and as part of my One Little Word this year I'm planning to work through it a chapter at a time over the course of the year. This week I've been setting myself a time period each day (at the moment 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the afternoon) where I put away the phone, laptop etc completely and just focus on doing something with the kids. It's mostly been really nice, and means we're actually playing with all the games they got for Christmas, as well as having lots more giggles and snuggles.

I decided that it was time for a Sarah Addison Allen binge and as she has two books out that I haven't yet read and the library had them both I decided to order them in. This was only a couple of days ago and I went to pick up something else today and there they were. First Frost is the sequel to Garden Spells which I read and loved in my first year of blogging, so I've dived straight in. If you're looking for some magical (and full of magical recipes) reading I'd really recommend anything by Sarah.

My incoming pile isn't that much smaller, to be honest! We celebrate epiphany in our house, and ever since we were little kids the three kings have brought us a present on January 6th, on their way to visit baby Jesus. I've carried on this tradition in our house, because presents, and I bought myself Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig because it seems like an important book to read, and because he's great on twitter. Also it's published by an indie (Canongate). Judged by Liz De Jager arrived unsolicited from the publishers this week and is about a woman who solves supernatural crimes. It sounds pretty cool and is out January 14th from Macmillan so I'm hoping to get to that pretty soon. 

The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau I saw on Kim's Instagram and was immediately intrigued by. It seems like it will tie in well with my whole happiness/gratitude/calming down thing. Lost Lake is the other Sarah Addison Allen book I requested from the library, so I'm pretty sure I'll read it straight after First Frost, and Sweetland by Michael Crummey I've been hearing about everywhere for ages. It was in so many people's Best of 2015 posts that I just had to ask the library to get it for me! 

As you can see, five out of nine of these are my own books. Only two are books I owned prior to the start of 2016, so I'm pretty much failing at reading my own books so far, but I'm sure you'll agree that these books were too good to resist!

Tuesday 5 January 2016

2016 Goals

In 2015 I did not buy books for myself or my kids for NINE WHOLE MONTHS. Nine. I made a couple of other resolutions, one of which (read more nonfiction) I kept and the other (read more diversely) I didn't do so well with, but I stuck to my nine month long book buying ban and for that I declare myself a winner of 2015. I also gave myself a charitable motivation and raised £181 for Beanstalk who do brilliant work helping to improve kids levels of literacy. Being me, I couldn't stand to leave it at such a random figure so I've donated to push it up to £200, but if you want to throw some pennies at them I'll leave the page up until the end of the week - go here to donate as we all know literacy changes lives!

So now that I've mentioned thaaaat, here are some things I'd like to do this year. Not all of them are bookish, because there are other things of importance in my life!

Shop Indie

You may have seen my post the other day about the #MakeMineanIndie project I've set for myself this year wherein 9 out of 10 of the books I buy must be published by independent publishers or bought from independent bookshops. I've also decided that I want over 50% of what I read to be published by independents. This isn't because I am in any way opposed to big publishers or think that what they publish is less good, it's purely because I want to challenge myself. I feel like in the blogosphere, much of what is published by the big companies I'll hear about because they have bigger marketing campaigns, send out more review copies, and generally get more hype, whereas if I venture into the indie sphere there is less that will naturally cross my path. I also love that indie's often present an opportunity to feel more connected with the publishing process. I just thought that for a year it would be nice to use this platform to bring to your attention some of the brilliant people publishing things in often innovative ways, and some of the beautiful, quirky and wide ranging books that they publish. 

So far I'm doing well with this - I've bought myself two books already, both of which I bought from Waterstone's but are published independently (Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig - Canongate, and The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang - Oneworld) and am currently reading The Year of Living Danishly by Karen Russell which I got from the library but talked about in my recent Make Mine an Indie post on Icon Books. I'm also excited to visit a fair few independent bookshops on the London Bookshop Crawl in February!


You'll probably have seen that Andi of Estella's Revenge has set herself this challenge this year, and although I've kind of been doing it all last year I'm jumping in! I've got a bit (OK, a lot) of a library addiction so I'm going to try to limit the number of holds I place and actually read the 300+ books on my shelves! As far as I can see I'm in super good company with this and I'm looking forward to seeing what people actually have on their shelves!

At Least 25% Nonfiction

I hit this target this year and I want to keep it up. I have some fantastic nonfiction titles on my shelves and a huge nonfiction wishlist which I will be incorporating into my Ninja Book Swap and OTSP Secret Sister wishlists so it shouldn't be hard to do!

Continue to Attempt to Read More Diversely

I made a book map during the Travel the World in Books Readathon and was appalled by the narrowness of my reading. I'm doing the same again this year and I want it to represent way more of the world! I'm determined!

Exercise 3 Times a Week

I went for my first run in six years totally out of the blue on Sunday and although I'm still aching it made me remember all the reasons I used to put myself through it five days a week. As part of my One Little Word for this year I wanted to find ways to incorporate healthier habits into my life rather than just using the kids as a reason why I can't do things, and I think I could easily do weekly runs together with some other things a couple of times a week and get myself back on the path towards a less sedentary life!

Get Rid of Stuff

We've been moving more and more towards attempting simple living for the past year or so, but since early November we've been purging like crazy. Getting rid of all the things that make us stressed to look at and all the things we love but are never going to watch/read/use/wear again and all the stuff that's just too much. We've got rid of about four bags of toys from the boys playroom and sold a load of DVDs and books on and honestly the boys are so much more focused and we are so much less stressed without tons of extraneous stuff kicking around. I love it and I may never stop getting rid of things. There's still a lot to go though, so by the end of the year I plan to have got rid of all the stuff we don't need or love and not buy things unless they really make us excited. 

I think it's good to have it in writing so that I can remind myself of the things I said I was going to do and use it as motivation (or something). Happy 2016!

Friday 1 January 2016

#MakeMineanIndie: The Official Challenge

If you follow the blog you might have seen my vaguely weekly series wherein I feature an independent publisher every Saturday and talk a little about them and about some of their books that I'm excited to read. Originally this started in response to yet more Amazon ridiculousness, and it set me thinking. I already try to support independent bookshops where I can, but besides Persephone and a couple of others I didn't really know too much about independent publishers. The Make Mine an Indie series has definitely helped me out in that respect, and I plan to continue it sporadically throughout the year.

All of this is to say that I'm officially committing myself to at least 9 out of 10 books that I buy this year being from an independent publisher or an independent bookshop. To start myself off I bought myself a Christmas present of a subscription to And Other Stories, which means they'll send me two books later on in the year, which my subscription money will have helped to actually publish!

I'm also organising a bookshop crawl in London on February 6th, during which we'll visit mostly independent bookshops (as well as Waterstone's Piccadilly and Daunt and I'm never sure if Foyles still counts as an independent since there's more than one now?). If you're in the area or can get there please feel free to join us, just shout in the comments and I'll send you info!

I think it's really exciting to get to read things that are slightly different from the mainstream, and I love that smaller publishers often allow opportunity for the reader to feel (and be) more closely connected to the publishing process. This is particularly the case with And Other Stories and Cinnamon Press but I'm sure with other publishers too, and being a person who is passionate about books I love the idea of actually having an effect on brilliant books being published.

I love independent bookshops. The level of service and the ability to find something that's quirky and fantastic is unrivalled. Although I do like Waterstone's, I find that independent bookshops are some of my favourite places to really browse, and I'm really looking forward to doing more of that this year.

If you'd like to join me in this year of buying indie in any way I'd love to hear about it! I'm using #MakeMineanIndie for the blog series and anything related to this project, please feel free to join me!

Some useful resources:

My Make Mine an Indie blog series
The Guardian's Independent Bookshop Directory
The London Bookshop Map
The Independent Alliance

Little House Read-Along: Kick Off!

Happy New Year! It's January 1st and that means only one thing around these parts - the Little House Read-Along is finally starting! Lynn and I have been planning this for a few months and we are both so excited to read these books together and talk about them with friends. In case you missed it, we're reading a book a month throughout 2016. You can find the full schedule and details here and you're welcome to join us at any point throughout the year.

We're starting the year with Little House in the Big Woods. Lynn is hosting this month so check out her blog for the full intro post and please link up your posts/reviews/thoughts/whatever throughout the month at the link below, which will also be in Lynn's post! If you're talking about the read-along on twitter or instagram please use #littlehouseRAL so we can easily find you. 

I have never read this book before and my knowledge of the series going in is pretty minimal, but I'm looking forward to some comfort reading. My copy of the book is so old that it only cost 40p when it was brand new! I don't own the full series yet and the ones that I have are all different editions which is kind of cool. I love seeing different editions of the same book, so please feel free to let me know what edition yours is! Here's mine for this month. 

Happy reading! See you at the end of the month for my thoughts on the book!