Wednesday 30 March 2016

Little House Read-Along: Farmer Boy

Heeeeey everyone! I'm keeping up with tradition and writing about this month's title at the last possible moment despite having actually finished it about a week ago... But we're three months in now so it really is a tradition.

I'm kind of amazed with myself that I'm keeping up with the reading so far, and actually I'm really enjoying this whole book a month reading. I think I'm going to read all the long series I have on my TBR like this from now on!

I wasn't looking forward to wrenching myself away from Laura's world into Almanzo's this month but oh my goodness I adored this book! I think it helped that I started it when I was hungry and the first few chapters are basically all just descriptions of really big amazing sounding meals that the Wilder family have.

So, while the Ingalls family were out on the prairie, building their own house and digging wells and so on, Almanzo's father is a pretty successful farmer in New York State. Farmer Boy sticks very much with the tone of the series so far, and follows the 'things that happen throughout the year' format of the previous two books. I really love this format, because you know that you'll start off in a season and come full circle and end up back in the same season. I am so comforted by the seasonality of the books, and it's lovely to remember that this is the way that we should all be living - eating stuff when it actually grows somewhere near us, whether that's in our back garden or just locally, thinking ahead and attempting to actually support ourselves.

I'm carrying on with the 'these books make me feel lazy' theme of the previous two months, because they do. Almanzo is ten by the time the book ends and he's already training his own farm animals and helping to plant and harvest entire fields of crops!

I could critique this book (and the series in general) but honestly I just don't want to because I really enjoy them. They are such comfort reads and very motivating for me personally in terms of my 'grow all our groceries in our garden' plans and I love it.

Bring on April!

If you want more info on the read-along that's running all year or to join us for a month (or all of them!) you can find all the details here.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

Re-Readathon: Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday Challenges & Updates!

Hello everyone! Let's ignore the total lack of weekend updates from me and carry on, shall we?

Easter weekend was great - I was unexpectedly back in London with my family for the whole weekend and having time to properly hang out with everyone and catch up (as well as to have snuggles with my brother-in-law's baby nephew) was awesome. Now I'm back home with a kitchen table full of Easter egg boxes for a big robot-making project later this afternoon and some grocery and Waterstone's shopping to do! Over the weekend I read True Notebooks by Mark Salzman which was great and inspiring (like Freedom Writers but in juvenile hall). I'm glad I re-read it as it's been a loooong time since my first read. I'm following it up with Scarlett Thomas's first novel, Dead Clever, which is a detective mystery and the first in a series. I'm probably going to finish that later today though and will start Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett once I do! I'll attempt to update properly for today and tomorrow!

In the meantime, here are the challenges:

Nostalgia Challenge
This is still running and I need to come up with my own post for it! Find the details here and link up your entries on the master post

Tuesday Challenge - #wanttoread
Show us the books you'd most like to re-read - that you've re-read before and didn't get to this time around or that you've only just read for the first time but are looking forward to reading again!

Wednesday Challenge - #reread
For the last day, show us what you've read!

Don't forget to use #rereadathon and tag me (@NinjaBookSwap on twitter and @armchairbythesea on IG)

Final Update

Pages Read: some
Books Read From: Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett and We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Books Finished: The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, True Notebooks by Mark Salzman, Dead Clever by Scarlett Thomas
Snacks Consumed: Peanut butter and jam pinwheel biscuits, Easter egg, ham,egg, and chip shop chips.
Favourite re-reading moment: So many giggles in the first 30 pages of Witches Abroad. Terry Pratchett is a comedy genius.

I've read soooooo much this Re-Readathon! When we started I thought with it being Easter holidays and us going back London way for a few days that I would get hardly anything finished but no. It's been the readathon of stuff I read 5+ years ago which is awesome, and all the books I've read have ended up staying on my shelf because they are great. Probably my favourite re-read was True Notebooks, which is kind of like Freedom Writers but in juvenile hall and is just so inspiring and amazing and made me further motivated to get hold of a copy of Just Mercy and join in with Kerry's Social Justice Book Club (I know, feminist bookclub, social justice book club. All the issues!).

I'm reading Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett for the first time in ages and I'm giving myself the last day of March to finish it despite the Re-Readathon being over today. I also just picked up We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because it's super short, super inspiring and super awesome and I can probably get it finished tonight, bringing my total of finished books for the event up to five, my best Re-Readathon ever!

I'll be announcing the winners of the giveaways tomorrow morning on the blog. Thank you so much to all of you who took part in the readathon and particularly in the challenges. I never got around to entering the Nostalgia challenge but I think I'll probably run a similar one next time - look out for the next Re-Readathon around the end of summer sometime!

Saturday 26 March 2016

Re-Readathon: Saturday & Sunday Challenges and Updates

Happy Easter everyone! As I said yesterday this Easter weekend is a pretty full on one for me, so I'm scheduling this post and probably won't be around/reading all that much today or tomorrow, but please keep blogging/commenting/Instagramming/tweeting and using #rereadathon and I'll check in when I can!

Saturday Challenges

Give us a snapshot of your reading this weekend - what you're reading, where you're reading from, who/what is keeping you company. Whatever! Don't forget to tag me (@NinjaBookSwap - twitter, @armchairbythesea - IG) and use #rereadathon please!

Nostalgia Challenge
I'm sure you all know the details of this by now, but don't forget to link up your entries in the linky on the Master Post!

Saturday Update

Pages Read:
Books Read From:
Books Finished:
Snacks Consumed:
Favourite Re-Reading Moment:

Sunday Challenges

What's the book that you've made the most people read? Even if you haven't read it more than once! Tag me as above and don't forget the hashtag!

Nostalgia Challenge

Sunday Update

Pages Read:
Books Read From:
Books Finished:
Snacks Consumed:
Favourite Re-Reading Moment:

You can link up any other updates/tweets etc via the linky in the master post as well and please remember to be signed up and have filled in the form to win prizes!

Thursday 24 March 2016

Re-Readathon: Thursday and Friday Challenges & Updates

How's everyone's re-readathon going? It's going extremely well so far for me, and I'm really enjoying checking out everyone's challenge entries. Don't forget, for the Nostalgia challenge, link up via the linky in the master post, and for the Instagram/Twitter challenge use #rereadathon and tag me (@NinjaBookSwap on twitter, @armchairbythesea on Instagram) for extra entries to the giveaways (for which you must be signed up and have filled in the form).

Thursday Challenges

#childhood reread
This can be a favourite reread you first read when you were a child, or one that is a kids book. Either is fine, multiples are also fine. Tag me via the instructions above!

Nostalgia Challenge
Ongoing. Check out the details and Ellie's lovely entry. 

Thursday Update

Pages read: 100ish
Books read from: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Books Finished: The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton
Snacks consumed: little easter eggs. 
Favourite rereading moment: There were several, but it's the end of Friday now and I don't remember!

Friday Challenges

Show/tell us how you're doing so far! I've finished The Secret Seven Collection, American Gods and just started True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman. Don't forget to use #rereadathon and tag me (@NinjaBookSwap - twitter, @armchairbythesea - Instagram) 

Nostalgia Challenge
See above. 

Friday Update

Pages Read: 136
Books Read From: American Gods by Neil Gaiman and True Notebooks by Mark Salzman
Books Finished: The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton, American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Snacks Consumed: finished the chocolate fudge (sob), had a fry up for lunch (yum) and some of the boys pancakes with berries and yoghurt, also some chocolate fudge cake with ice cream and then we made hot cross buns and ate them warm with butter. Yum. 
Favourite Re-Reading Moment: Desperately trying to finish American Gods between taking turns playing board games with Benji. Extremely disjointed reading!

Today is Good Friday and it was sunny and Rhys didn't have to work til the evening, so I didn't get this done this morning for which I apologise! I'm going to put up the challenges for Saturday and Sunday tomorrow morning as well since Easter involves a big overnight church service and I'll be asleep most of Sunday! 

We spent most of today at the garden centre getting stuff for the garden, at soft play with the kids, or in the garden planting/putting our new planter together/painting misc other boxes/making the garden presentable, and so I didn't get any reading done until about 4pm. I have managed to finish American Gods though, which I'm extremely happy about. I started off remembering nothing but as I went through things started coming back to me. There were still things that I never remembered though, and that was kind of great because it was like I was rereading it and reading it for the first time, if that makes any sense? Suffice to say it's staying firmly on the keeper shelf! 

I'm following it up with a bit of nonfiction in the form of True Notebooks, which is about a guy who taught a creative writing class with high risk offenders at juvenile hall. This re-readathon is turning out to be the one in which I re-read stuff I read yeeeeears ago. My first read of True Notebooks was directly inspired by The Complete Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby, my first reading of which inspired the creation of this blog, so I first read it five years ago or  so... 

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Re-Readathon: Tuesday & Wednesday Challenges & Update

I've already decided that doing this in one big post is going to be silly, so here we are with Tuesday's challenges!

Firstly check out the challenge entries from yesterday: Jane's, Ellie's, Gemma's, Sharon's and Jade's.

If you haven't entered your #rereadathonTBR yet, you can still do that just don't forget to tag me!

Tuesday's Challenges


Today on Instagram or twitter show us your favourite reread/s of all time! Don't forget to use #rereadathon #favouritereread and tag me (@armchairbythesea on Instagram, @NinjaBookSwap on twitter, just to be confusing!) 

Nostalgia Challenge

This is ongoing throughout the readathon so please feel free to check out the details and leave your link in the link up on the master post. (I have changed this as it seemed silly everyone leaving comments when there was a linky right there)

Please also remember that for your entries to count as extra towards prizes you need to be signed up and have filled in the form with your preferences. 

Also please feel free to link up your update posts/tweets/Instagrams from Monday in the linky on the master post. 

Tuesday Update 

Pages read: 80 
Books read from: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Books Finished: The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton
Snacks Consumed: homemade cheese straws, homemade chocolate fudge. 
Favourite rereading moment: remembering how graphic American Gods can be. It's been years...

Today was the first day in three weeks that I've had the boys on my own. It was sunny and I got carried away with activities. We spring cleaned the shed, sorted stuff in the garden, took a three mile nature walk, made Easter cards, baked cheese straws... and they'd been up since 5.30! I meant to do some more reading once they were in bed but (oh the glamorous life I lead) fell asleep around 7.30 and didn't get up til 6am.

Wednesday Challenges

Show us your Re-Readathon snacks! Don't forget to use #rereadathon and tag me (@armchairbythesea) for it to count as an extra entry for prizes. You also need to be signed up and have filled in the form

Nostalgia Challenge
Pair up your favourite or current re-read with something it reminds you of! Full details here, please link up your entries through the linky in the master post with (Nostalgia Challenge) as well as your name. 

You can add your daily updates to the linky on the master post, and please don't forget to use #rereadathon on twitter when tweeting them or anything about the Re-Readathon. 

Wednesday Update

Pages read: 182
Books Read from: American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Books Finished: The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton
Snacks Consumed: Kitkat chunky, sultanas, fudge, creme egg, baked potatoes and bolognese.
Favourite rereading moment: "a town isn't a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town , but unless it's got a bookstore, it knows it's not foolin' a soul". Wise words, Hinzelmann.

I managed not to fall asleep at 7.30pm so I actually got some reading done, hurrah! The day was pretty full of playing in the garden, because it wasn't raining or freezing for the second day running and we're attempting to grow lots of stuff from seed this year, which entails a lot of compost watching and going 'why isn't is coming up yet??'. I tried to convince Ben to play skittles by himself so I could sit outside and read, but it didn't really work because I ended up being on 'stand the skittles back up again' duty. Never mind, we had fun!

I'm really enjoying American Gods so far. I first (and last) read it when I was about 17 and I actually remembered almost nothing about it besides that it was weird and there's a guy named Shadow who's been in prison in it, and that it was about Gods. It's so great, but even weirder and more graphic than I'd remembered.

I have  a new system with my 'keeper shelf' so that all the books I've reread more than once are on the top shelves and then all the other books I've put there because they're great but haven't yet reread go after that, and as I reread them I decide if they still get to stay and move them up if they do or pass them on if not. Once I finish American Gods it will join Neverwhere as the only Gaiman books that I've actually reread recently! Shocking, I know. 

Monday 21 March 2016

Re-Readathon Master Post!

It's heeeeeere! Today we kick off the 10 day re-reading extravaganza that is Re-Readathon #3 and I am so stupidly excited. So here's the stuff you need to know:

  • Re-Readathon runs from today until March 30th.
  • To win prizes you must be signed up and have filled in the giveaway form so I have your details & preferences should you win. You can sign up using your starting post/tweet/Instagram pic for the week and you can sign up throughout the event. 
  • There are challenges! You can do the challenges or not, but if you do please follow the instructions for them so that they count for extra entries to giveaways. This is the post to leave your links in the comments of for extra entries!
  • Please use #rereadathon on twitter and IG so I can keep up with you and to make it easier for everyone to chat. 
  • If you want to link up you update blog posts I'll put a linky below my TBR on this post so you can do that. 
  • Have fun!
I'm going to be trying to update this post daily, and will be tweeting at NinjaBookSwap and Instagramming at armchairbythesea. Let me know where you'll be taking part so I can make sure I'm following you! 

My starting TBR is above. I'm pretty sure I'm going to add a stupid amount of books to it as I plan a library trip to pick up some favourites that I don't own, just for inspiration purposes. I'm also pretty sure I'm going to put a graphic novel or two and at least one Discworld book on it as well!

If you want to link up blog updates please do that here! 

My readathon update format is entirely stolen from Ellie, for which I am unapologetic because she's pretty much the queen of readathon updates, plus her snacks are amazing!

If this gets too long (which I suspect it will) then I'll do separate update posts for other days, but this will still be the post to leave comments on for giveaway entries. 

Monday's Challenges

Show us your TBR for the event! If you want it to count as an extra entry for the giveaways please make sure you've filled in the form and follow the instructions below:
  • If you're participating on Instagram use #rereadathon, #rereadathonTBR and tag me (@armchairbythesea) in the comments please!
  • If you're participating on twitter, please use #rereadathon and tag me (@NinjaBookSwap)
  • If you've posted it on your blog please leave the link in the comments here. 
Nostalgia Challenge
Pair your current or favourite reread with something it reminds you of. Another book, person, place, food, smell, song, whatever. Full details here. Leave the link to where you've done the challenge in the linky above! 

Monday Update

Pages Read: 550
Books Read From: The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Books Finished: The Secret Seven Collection by Enid Blyton
Snacks Consumed: Several of those sherbert boiled sweet things someone brought into work...
Favourite re-reading moment of the day: When the Secret Seven made a treehouse for their meeting house in some random forest with planks of wood from their garden and nobody told them off for messing with health and safety. 

Today was a work day so I got in some good re-reading time on the bus and during my lunch hour. We went for breakfast before we started which we do from time to time and so I was super full and didn't need to venture out during my lunch or break which meant I powered through the Secret Seven books! Technically it's four books in one which makes me feel great about my reading so far!

We went to bed really early because the boys have been getting up at 5am ( but I got in a few pages of American Gods before falling asleep and I'm looking forward to continuing it tomorrow!

Friday 18 March 2016

Re-Readathon Challenges!

The third Re-Readathon kicks off on Monday and I am so excited! In order for us all to have as much time to read as possible I thought I'd post the challenges ahead of time so you can prepare yourselves. 


There will be two major prizes. The first is a choice of either this beautiful edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, or this gorgeous edition of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, two of my favourite re-reads ever. This giveaway will be open internationally.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Little Women

The second prize is this pile of books. They are all pre-loved and books that I have read and enjoyed recently. Due to ridiculous postage costs, this giveaway is open to UK and EU only. 

If you want to be entered to win prizes you need to do two things. Firstly be signed up to the Re-Readathon here and secondly fill in this form so that I have all your preferences and contact details should you win. You'll see that you can enter to win the entire pile of books or just select the ones you're interested in or don't already own! After that you can post challenge entries in the linky on my master post, or follow the rules specified for the Instagram challenge. Each challenge you complete will gain you an extra entry into the giveaway/s of your choice!

If you feel generous and inclined to host your own giveaway during the event, please leave the link in the comments here so I can help spread the word, and/or use #rereadathon on twitter. 

Of course, the major focus of the event is the re-reading and I want to get the chance to come and visit you all and say hi and add stuff I haven't read to my TBR and squeal over stuff we both love together. The challenges aren't designed to detract from that but just as something extra to do if you want to. I'll also be updating my master post daily (hopefully) so make sure you check it out and use #rereadathon on twitter and Instagram to chat to each other if you want to!


So, challenges!

The first thing that you can do is to link up your TBR for the event. This is also included in the Instagram challenge, but if you've already done it or want to do it through your blog or twitter then please add the link for your blog or tweet to the sign up link if you haven't already done so! If you tweet or Instagram it, please use #rereadathonTBR 

Nostalgia Challenge

This is my favourite challenge of the event I think, and I may have got a little carried away with examples, but the idea is simple. Pair up either your current or your favourite re-read with something it reminds you of. This can be a memory, a person, smell, food, place, song, another book, whatever. You can write a blog post about it, create a playlist, take a picture of yourself in an outfit you associate with the book (it's totally OK to dress up as one of the characters if you are so inclined), make a 3 course meal based on the book (OK, probably a little extreme but the option's there if you want it!), or whatever you like! The idea is to get to know a little more about why you love this book! 

For example, if I were reading The Night Circus I might make peanut butter fudge and salted caramel brownies and share the recipes here. If it were Little Women I might blog about how it's responsible for getting me into knitting and gardening. And now I have to go think up something else as my actual entry.... 

There may be an extra prize awarded for this challenge, depending how excited I am by the entries! Link up yours once you've done it in the comments of the master post! Be as creative (or not) as you like!

Instagram Challenge

In these photo obsessed days how could I not have a daily Instagram challenge running throughout the 10 days? Because I'm still technologically challenged I haven't made an image for it, but for your photos to get you extra entries to the giveaways you need to use #rereadathon plus the hashtag for that day and please tag me (@armchairbythesea) in the comments so I can find you as my phone doesn't always show me everything on hashtags!

Mon 21st #rereadathonTBR - as noted above, show us your TBR!
Tue 22nd #favouritereread - as it says on the tin, a pic of your favourite reread/s. You can tell us why you love them, or not.
Weds 23rd #snacks - Show us your re-readathon snacks! 
Thurs 24th #childhoodreread - What's your favourite reread that you first read when you were a child or which is a kids book?
Fri 25th #progressreport - What have you read (or failed to read) so far?
Sat 26th #weekendreread - a snapshot of your rereading this weekend. 
Sun 27th #bookpusher - Which book have you made the most people read?
Mon 28th #currentreread- Another update on what you're currently re-reading. 
Tue 29th #wanttoreread - Stuff you've read recently (or not) and not got round to rereading yet but want to. 
Weds 30th #reread - as in 'I've read that'. As in, the end. Show us what you've read during the event!

If you don't have Instagram you can do the challenges on Twitter but please make sure you use #rereadathon as well as the daily hashtag or it won't be entered into the giveaway!

Ok so that's it for the challenges. As mentioned above, if you want to host your own giveaway for something bookish or re-reading related then I strongly encourage that. Those who follow me on twitter will know about my love of giving people stuff! I'd also encourage everyone to check out the other participants on the sign up linky and give them a follow if you want to. 

Recap: fill in the form to be entered into the giveaways, use #rereadathon for anything you do on social media, and if you want to follow me there I'm @NinjaBookSwap on twitter or @armchairbythesea on Instagram. 

Bring on Monday!

Monday 14 March 2016

One Little Word: Exercise

I say exercise, but really there's only one kind of exercise that I really enjoy, and that's running. I love swimming too, but I'm awful at it, and I don't get the buzz from anything else the way that I do with running and associated training. I say this about something I haven't done on a regular basis in probably a decade. On and off, yes, but nothing regular. Not for a long time.

If I could only teach my daughter one thing...:

Running and I have an extremely complicated history. When I was 16 and at college I met a boy (there's almost no chance he's reading this, but just in case I hope my memory of the story is at least close to the way he remembers it) and he was a runner. I had no tendency towards exercise besides walking ridiculously long distances in avoidance of early morning buses, but he pretty much lived for it. We started dating and I started to go along with him to the track. I don't remember how it began but after a while I started to join him on early morning runs in the park we both lived near (one on each side - we'd run or cycle to each other's houses across it) and after a while, between circuit training, runs, cycling and swimming I was exercising six days out of seven. After a while it became an addiction for him and coupled with some other issues for both of us it began to feel like something enforced. If we didn't do it we felt horrible, and if we did it we felt worse. Eventually we broke up (not really because of anything running related) and I did my best to disassociate myself. I did keep my love of Neil Gaiman, the Beatles and Eddie Izzard, all of which had formed during our three years together, but I stopped running.

A couple of years later I tried to take it up again. I was living with a friends family and running seemed the best way to attempt to keep fit for free, but too many late nights and early mornings meant I was pretty much never actually motivated to go for a run and after a while I just felt guilt whenever I thought about it so I gave it up again. Jump forward a couple more years and I'd moved to Kent, got married to Rhys and had just found out I was pregnant with Benji. Panicked about my extremely sedentary lifestyle (barring all the coastal walking I did. Kent has been a very walky place for me) I attempted to go for a run, during which my pulse rate absolutely skyrocketed and stayed ridiculously high for the entire pregnancy, scaring me back to ten lengths of gentle swimming a week for the duration.

Race for Life

The first time I ran the Race for Life (a massive national event raising money for Cancer Research UK, for my non-UK readers or those who haven't heard of it) I was in the throes of this doomed relationship, and at the peak of my running ability. I proudly ran the entire 5K (in under 30 minutes) and was generally amazed with myself. I ran it again the next year with a friend (in a black t shirt, without water, on the hottest day of the year) and nearly passed out, but came back for a third year with my two younger sisters and a final time the first year Rhys and I were together, when I ran/walked it alone. After that I skipped several years due to pregnancy and/or breastfeeding/generally teeny babies, but now it's spring and I am neither pregnant nor breastfeeding and all my babies are of an age where Grandma can take care of them and so in a fit of madness I signed up once again! My local event is along a clifftop by the sea, which should hopefully be wonderful, although if the weather's bad it could be the worst thing ever, but I'm hopeful that Laura is coming to run it with me so we can at least cheer each other on!

My One Little Word for the year is Breathe and wanting to get back into regular exercise was a massive part of me choosing it. It's helping to keep me motivated - at the moment all I'm doing is these 10 minute workouts from the NHS plus the occasional short run, but I'm looking for a proper training plan to work with and hoping to start swimming again after work sometimes and I'm feeling better about myself. None of this is aimed at losing weight, just feeling better. At the moment I often feel headachey, stressed, irritable, exhausted.... all of which can be attributed to too much sugar, failure to wear my glasses as much as I should, and extreme lack of exercise, hence Race for Life. I also feel like although I've dealt with the demons of that long ago relationship a while back, my quote for the year can be very actively applied to my ongoing relationship with running...

Inhale the future, exhale the past.  

As we know from my 9 month book buying ban and fundraising project last year, during which I raised £120 for children's literacy charity Beanstalk, doing good for charity is a big motivator for me and so I'm really hoping that you'll all sponsor me however many pennies you can afford (seriously, no amount is too small!) and keep me training until July! I promise I'll post ridiculous pre and post run pictures on Instagram and Twitter, so you'll get hilarity for your money plus the feeling of knowing you helped to fund research to better cancer treatments. What more could you want than that?

Are any of you running the Race for Life this year? Has anyone got any good 5K specific training plans to recommend?

Sunday 13 March 2016

Things That Make Me Happy #....

I haven't done one of these posts in a while, but this week a lot of the things making me happy are specifically book related and also I wanted a chance to celebrate the better weather, so here we are!

1. Better Weather 
While it's still been freezing this week it's also been sunny! We've been out in the garden a bit planting seeds and generally preparing for the spring and summer. Our garden has been concreted and paved over almost entirely. Last year we managed to dig out the gravel along one side and turn it into a long bed where we planted potatoes. This year we're going to have courgettes and peppers there once the garlic comes out, and we spent yesterday making a new little flower bed towards the back of the garden and sorting out, lining and filling our new planter ready for planting all the goodness for carrot pesto from the One Pot Gourmet Gardener cookbook.

2. Ninja Book Swap

It's been the Valentine's Ninja Book Swap at the moment and I received my parcel this week from Frankie. I signed up for the swap with my 'all indie' wishlist and was so ridiculously excited that she picked me The Book Collector by Alice Thompson, which so many people have been reading and loving recently! It's published by awesome indie publishers Salt (check out my Make Mine an Indie piece on them for more info! I put Lush in my list of likes, and she reciprocated by getting me the most amazing face and body scrub. I've been using it constantly since I got it - it's sea salt, lime and avocado butter and it makes my skin smell and feel gorgeous. I'm saving the bath bomb for a special occasion, but this was an awesome Ninja Swap parcel! We're waiting for our parcel from the family swap still, so I'll talk about that in a separate post, but if you've not heard about the Ninja Book Swap and want to be involved check out our blog for details or email to get on the reminder list.

3. The Re-Readathon 

The third Re-Readathon is coming up in just over a week! I'm planning mini challenges and giveaways and stuff so look out for a scheduling type post in the next few days, but for now I've been working away at my TBR and have whittled it down to this lovely lot:

Dead Clever by Scarlett Thomas, Peter Pan by J.M Barrie, American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll with illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia fit in with the month - long Weirdathon I'm participating in, and True Notebooks by Mark Salzman and The Secret Seven Collection are just for fun! Of course I might veer completely off list and pick up something else altogether, that's the beauty of it! If you want to join us all the info and sign up post is here
4. The Classic Children's Literature Event

Classic Children's Literature Event April 2016I found out from Lynn's blog about this event being hosted by Simpler Pastimes and as you can imagine me and my spare room full of children's books were immediately in! I spend a lovely half hour yesterday pulling stuff of my shelf to compile a (ridiculous) TBR, and I'm hoping to get a copy of Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner from the library to take part in the readalong for the event. You can find all the info and declare your intention to join us reading classic children's literature during April here
This is my TBR at the moment - I can't believe I still have three unread Noel Streatfeild titles! 

In case you can't see from the blurry photo, they are On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder (the April read for Lynn's and my Little House Read-Along), Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson, New Town and The Children of Primrose Lane by Noel Streatfeild, The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett, The Phantom Tolbooth by Norton Juster, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg. 

There's lot more making me happy this week, but for now check out Ellie's gorgeous blog for other people's happy lists and to link up your own!

Saturday 12 March 2016

Make Mine an Indie: Granta Books

It may seem weird that in all these months of writing Make Mine an Indie posts I'm just now getting to Granta Books. I blame Google, really, as I've discovered all bar a few of these publishers through searching 'independent publishers UK', and Granta just haven't come up. That said, I have been aware of them, as both the magazine and the publisher, for many years and have previously owned many of their short story collections.

Granta Books

Granta Books was founded in 1989 after the success of the magazine and was originally distributed and publicized by Penguin. In 1997 they expanded and gained  a sales department as well as hugely increasing the publishing programme. In 2005 Granta Books was taken over by the publisher behind fellow member of the Independent Alliance, Portobello Books, and is known for publishing literary fiction and quality, often narrative, nonfiction.

I love that Granta's website, as well as linking to their new titles, has a regularly updated section of 'Essential Granta Books'. I find it really intriguing to see what a publisher feels are their defining publications, and I particularly like that the selection currently include This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M Homes (otherwise known as 'the doughnut book' in our house) which I read and loved several years ago.

Like Canongate, there are a lot of books on Granta's list that I've had my eye on for a while, and I could make a pretty long list of things I'm excited to read. To see all the other titles not mentioned in this post that I want to get hold of check out my indie wishlist. I really love the diversity of genres and topics covered by Granta; it really feels like I could learn a lot without having to try very hard!

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
From the Granta Website:

In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming.
Image of Do Not Say We Have NothingAs her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao's ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China's relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming - and for Marie.
Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.

Given my obsession with Chinese history I don't think the inclusion of this title on my list will shock anyone. It sounds fantastic and fascinating and I really really want to read more fiction about China this year. 

Negroland by Margo Jefferson
From the Granta Website:

Image of NegrolandThe daughter of a successful paediatrician and a fashionable socialite, Margo Jefferson spent her childhood among Chicago's black elite. She calls this society 'Negroland': 'a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty'. With privilege came expectation. Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments - the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of post-racial America - Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions.

I first heard about this book during Nonfiction November last year and then again (I believe) on Book Riot's All the Books podcast. It sounds fascinating, and I don't think I've ever read anything from quite this point of view before. One of my most highly anticipated nonfiction books to read this year I think!

The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret
From the Granta Website:

Image of The Seven Good YearsOver the last seven years Etgar Keret has had plenty of reasons to worry. His son, Lev, was born in the middle of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. His father became ill. And he has been constantly tormented by nightmarish visions of the Iranian president Ahmadinejad, anti-Semitic remarks both real and imagined, and, perhaps most worrisome of all, a dogged telemarketer who seems likely to chase him to the grave. Emerging from these darkly absurd circumstances is a series of funny, tender ruminations on everything from his three-year-old son's impending military service to the terrorist mindset behind Angry Birds.

Moving deftly between the personal and the political, the playful and the profound, The Seven Good Years takes a life-affirming look at the human need to find good in the least likely places, and the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our capricious world.

I'm currently having a little bit of an Israeli obsession, since reading The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, and I'm looking for as much as I can from this part of the world. This sounds great. 

This House is Not for Sale by E.C Osondu
From the Granta Website:

Image of This House is Not for SaleThis House is Not for Sale is a story about a house in an African neighbourhood, the Family House, owned and ruled over by the patriarchal, business-minded Grandpa - by turns benevolent and cruel - and home to his wives, children, grandchildren, and the many in his service. It tells the stories of the people who live there, of the curse placed on the house by one of its former occupants, of the evil and brutality that transpires there, and finally of its downfall.
By the acclaimed author of Voice of America, This House is Not for Sale is a brilliantly inventive debut novel which draws on the rich oral traditions of Nigeria and is full of wisdom and dark humour. From everyday violence and magic, to the voices of gossiping neighbours, here is an utterly engrossing story of an African community, its culture and traditions, and the power of storytelling.
Since I read the story in Diving Belles where the narrator is a house, I'm really interested in stories about houses and what goes on there. This sounds fascinating in a kind of macabre way, and also I'm excited about the chance to learn more about Nigeria and its folklore and culture. 
There is so much to be excited about with Granta. I strongly urge you to go over to their website or twitter and find out more!

Catch up with the Make Mine an Indie series here

Friday 11 March 2016

#feministorchestra: I Call Myself a Feminist

In case you missed it, I joined Jean's (of the Youtube channel Jean's Bookish Thoughts) new feminist book club and the first title picked was I Call Myself a Feminist: The View from Twenty-Five Women Under ThirtyFirstly, recently I have had call to explain to more than one person of my acquaintance that being a feminist doesn't mean I hate men. It doesn't mean anyone in this book hates men either, and feminism is so so so not about oppressing men. If you think that it is, please allow me to buy you a copy of this book so you can see how much it isn't.

Now that's over, I found this collection really helpful. I've identified as a feminist for years - since my early teens if not before - but I haven't really done anything about that for a long, long time, and that includes little things like calling people out on sexist 'jokes' and comments. Occasionally I raise eyebrows at colleagues who say something slightly off-colour, but that's really the limit of it. Having read this collection, I'm going to try to be more active.

Although it doesn't go into issues in depth, the pieces in this collection represent such a broad spectrum of feminism. It includes people of all sexualities and ethnicities and the articles (I've just been watching Jean's video on the book and she says - and I agree - that the pieces aren't really essays, more testimonies) involve such a range of issues that feminism interacts with that it's impossible to see feminism as being 'just a women's issue' or even as just being about equality anymore. I mean, obviously it is about equality - that's its major aim- but equality encompases such a range of areas of life and so many issues, some of which I'm fortunate enough to have never had to think about before.

I, like most other people in the Goodreads group I think, didn't love every piece in the book, but I did feel that it was a really good overview and introduction to feminism, whether you're a completely new feminist or not. It made me think about a lot of things I hadn't thought about in a long time, and I very much appreciated that. Being in the position I'm in in my life, it's easy for me to not think about the reasons why I'm a feminist too much, aside from when I'm planning getting home late at night, or what to wear when I go on a (very rare nowadays!) night out, and this collection made me remember all the other women out there less fortunate than me. There is nothing that separates me from them besides circumstance. I didn't do anything to become a white girl with a non-discriminatory job and a husband who believes in and actively supports equality and shares housework and childcare equally with me. It's just luck, and if I were being discriminated against (more than the everyday sexism I encounter, as all women do, any time I go out at night or wear anything deemed to be even slightly 'revealing') I would want people to stand with me and support me. Everyone should be equal, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, ability or anything else you can think to discriminate against. At the end of the day we are all people, and this book is a good reminder of that and of the importance of fighting for it.

I turned over a lot of pages while reading this. Although I didn't love all the articles, a lot of them really resounded, and there were none that I really hated. Favourites were Martha Mosse's piece about the problems with the term 'feminism' and the hostility that it can engender, Rosie Brighouse's piece about the Human Rights Act, which I vaguely knew was a 'good thing' but had no idea of the help and protection that it actually provides, which just goes to show how my information gathering has suffered in my post-student years!, and Reni Eddo-Lodge's final piece entitled What Can Men Do to Support Feminism?, which for me is one of the key issues in stopping gender inequalities. If we can get more men to identify as feminists and embrace all that is entailed that can surely only be a good thing.

Although I didn't love all the quotes, there was one from Margaret Atwood that I really loved, and others I thought were strong accompaniments to the articles in the collection, so although I could have done with fewer of them and more expanded essays, as I felt some of the points could have done with more depth, overall the collection for me was a resounding success and one I'd be happy to pass on to everyone who stands near me long enough!

Sunday 6 March 2016

Weirdathon: Week One Update

There's been an entire week (almost) of the Weirdathon! I've been slightly distracted by reading I Call Myself a Feminist for the Feminist Orchestra book club, but I did manage to finish a collection of beautifully weird short stories, Diving Belles by Lucy Wood, which I loved. I also started The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen, which is in reality less weird than it's first line ("It was snowing the morning I found the dead boy") lead me to believe, but still great! 

Once I finish The Vanishing Act I plan to start (finally!) The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, which I have had on my shelf for over five year and it's really time. That is unless I get distracted by my library hold, The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman, once I pick that up on Monday!

I do also have A Gathering of Shadows by V.E Schwab in for me at the library so I maaaay not get much reading done this next week, we'll see! I'm also working more than I've worked since the boys were born, which is great but also means less reading time, and Rhys has some lovely holiday time so we're out doing lots of family outings and stuff. All this to say that I'm not sure what will happen this week, but I'm really enjoying the event so far and if you haven't joined in yet you should!

Saturday 5 March 2016

Make Mine an Indie: Seren Books

It's Saturday, and that means it's time for Make Mine an Indie! In case you're new around these parts, I've made a commitment during 2016 that 9 out of 10 of the books that I buy will be either published by or bought from independent publishers and bookshops, and that 50% of what I read this year will be independently published. In order to help myself discover great titles I feature a different independent publisher on the blog each Saturday!

This week's publisher, Seren, was founded in 1981 and describe themselves as 'Wales' leading independent literary publisher'. They publish a wide variety of genres across poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and many of their titles have been shortlisted for major literary awards. They specialise in English language writing from Wales, but also publish many international authors. On their website they have a free short story every month, and you can sign up for their book club which gets you 20% off books on their website and other fun stuff! If you like poetry but aren't sure where to start with poetry collections then may I recommend Seren's blog, where they have a Friday poem each week, and just browsing through for this post I've discovered several that I really liked.

Now, as usual, some titles I'm excited about!

Boom! by Carolyn Jess-Cooke
From Seren's website:

Boom!, Carolyn Jess-Cooke
The title poem of this new collection of poems by Carolyn Jess-Cooke: ‘Boom!’ enacts the moment when the new baby arrives in the family ‘like a hand grenade’. ‘Becoming a mother changed me in every single way,’ says the author, ‘my first child – born in October 2006 – just about knocked me sideways. There were many reasons for this, but here’s the biggest one: I could not believe how public and political the (hugely personal) experience of motherhood was.’ 

A noted academic, author of a book about film and Shakespeare, and a best-selling popular novelist ‘The Guardian Angel’s Journal’ and ‘The Boy Who  Could See Demons’, Jess-Cooke found, as many parents do, that the juggling act required to raise young children and continue a professional and creative life, is both exhausting and fulfilling. 
The poems chronicle the rapturous moments, such as ‘Wakening’  where the baby is observed: ‘the seedling eyes stirred by sunlight’. There are also the tragi-comic ‘Nights’ full of ‘small elbows in the face’ and ‘assailed by colds and colic’. Jess-Cooke doesn’t flinch from the darker fears and depressions that can afflict parents. There are also pieces of pointed satirical intent and socio-political comment such as ‘Poem made from bits of Newspaper Headlines ’ and ‘The Only Dad in Playgroup’.  
Viewing motherhood from a multiplicity of artful angles, the author says, ‘Coupled with all this was the love I had for my children. It completely and utterly blew me away, how much I could love another human being.’

I read the title poem on Seren's blog while researching this post and fell in love. Motherhood is such an insane, profound, life altering thing to happen and yet we tend to blow it off, like 'oh yeah I just had a baby'. This collection sounds like it will give better voice to that feeling than I can. 

Love and Fallout by Kathryn Simmonds
From the Seren website:

Love and Fallout, Kathryn SimmondsWhen Tessa’s best friend organises a surprise TV makeover, Tessa is horrified. It’s the last thing she needs – her business is on the brink of collapse, her marriage is under strain and her daughter is more interested in beauty pageants than student politics. What’s more, the ‘Greenham Common angle’ the TV producers have devised reopens some personal history Tessa has tried to hide away. Then Angela gets in touch, Tessa’s least favourite member of the Greenham gang, and she’s drawn back into her muddy past.
Moving between the present and 1982, and set against the mass protests which touched thousands of women’s lives, Love and Fallout is a book about friendship, motherhood and the accidents that make us who we are. A hugely entertaining novel from debut novelist and award-winning poet Kathryn Simmonds.
Honestly, this just sounds like fun!

Six Pounds Eight Ounces by Rhian Elizabeth
From the Seren website:
Six Pounds Eight Ounces, Rhian ElizabethHannah King is a liar, so everyone says. That means her stories of growing up in the Rhondda, as told in Six Pounds Eight Ounces, must be treated with caution. Debut novelist Rhian Elizabeth opens Hannah’s notebook up on her own little world of crazy friends and crazy family, and a crazy school with crazy teachers who aren’t always what they seem. From dolls and sherbet lemons, to a bright student who drops out of school in favour of drink, drugs and glam rock up on an estate which feels like another planet, Hannah, it seems, has always been trouble.

Unreliable narrators, such fun! This sounds a little bit quirky and a little bit coming-of-agey. All good things!

Fountainville by Tishani Doshi
From the Seren website:
Fountainville, Tishani DoshiFountainville is a strange, lonely town on the edge of everywhere, with its own healing secrets, as revealed by Luna, assistant to Begum, the Lady of the Fountain, in this retelling of celtic Mabinogion myth by poet and novelist Tishani Doshi. Under their care the town flourishes, but when the mysterious Mr Knight arrives at their house of 24 women everything begins to change. Aided by Rafi, the giant of the woods and the all-action Leo, events begin to unravel fast for Luna and Begum.
Seren publish a series similar to Canongate's Myth series, of retellings of stories from the Mabinogion. In case you're unfamiliar (which I somehow was until I watched a thing with Cerys Matthews on the BBC a couple of years back!) the Mabinogion is Britain's earliest prose literature and is made up of eleven prose stories from the oral tradition compiled in the 12th and 13th centuries by Welsh medieval authors. This seemed like a great place to start with a series I will clearly want to read all of! Plus the covers are beautifully designed for the entire series!

In case you're interested or in need of indie inspiration, I'm making a wishlist of indie titles, feel free to check it out!
Catch up with the rest of the Make Mine an Indie series here
Find Seren on their website, Facebook, twitter or Pinterest.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

A Few of My Favourite Things: A New Series!

Welcome to my new semi-regular series where bloggers and generally bookish internet types will 
share some of their favourite things with you! The basic idea is to use this series to point you in the direction of things we love and want you to know about, and kicking it all off! If you'd like to be featured in future weeks just fill in this form and I'll be in touch!

I worked for a while on this post. It's taken several different forms, but then I decided the best way to do it was to group things together, because otherwise we could be here for days! To make a change I wanted to start with the non-bookish stuff, and particularly the miscellaneous things which don't fit into any other group and would usually be left til last, so here we go!

I love bubble baths, primarily because I can read without interruption but also because they're extremely relaxing. For this purpose Radox bubble baths and all things Lush are amazing - my three year old even calls it the 'happy shop' and loves buying people bath bombs. Their stuff is all so yummy smelling and handmade!

One of my absolute favourite things and something Rhys and I have in common is our love of exploring. I often go for walks with the boys and take turnings just to see where they go. Equally we'll often get in the car and go for a drive without having a pre-planned destination. We've discovered some brilliant stuff this way! I find the AA's short walks and walk in your county series really useful for this as we can usually find a walk relatively near to where we end up and with a pushchair it makes it easier to know what to expect from a new place.

We were also bought membership to English Heritage for Christmas by my wonderful parents. In our part of the world there are so many English Heritage sites, particularly castles, to explore. The boys love it and it's great to have an easy alternative to heading to shopping centres when the weather is gloomy. We also have an annual membership to our local wildlife park which we've had for 3 years now. We go approximately once a week and all of us love it. The boys have picked up loads about the different animals that they have and we always feel rejuvenated after a visit. Basically what I'm saying is memberships are a great thing and you should get them because having them motivated you to use them.

In the summer the Ninja Book Swap will be four. Hanna and I started it after we both didn't want to wait until Christmas to have another bookish Secret Santa and I genuinely love seeing people meet and make friendships through it, as well as all the beautiful bookish parcels exchanged. It's the success of this which has enabled all my other projects which use a love of literacy to connect people. The London Bookshop Crawl absolutely must be on this list. I am so proud of myself for organising this day! There were things that could have been better - my sense of direction for one - but I planned the route, talked to the bookshops and through the power of twitter recruited the people to come on this epic expedition with me. It was amazing to meet so many lovely people with shared interests and especially brilliant to meet some Ninja Swappers whose names I previously only knew from the sign up sheet! My favourite thing of all is the feedback that I got from the day means that it will now be an annual event, and I'm doing a similar thing in Bath over the summer!

My final favourite in this group is my newest project, Parcels of Joy which I devised as a way to make fudge and baked goods a lot without having to eat them all myself. Pretty much just an excuse to send people stuff and see their reactions, but I'm excited that lots of people have signed up to send stuff as well! I'm also taking part in my second round of the OTSP Secret Sister Project at the moment. For six months you send a parcel to someone each month while trying to keep your identity a secret and it's the most fun. The community surrounding the project is incredible and I'd highly recommend checking out the twitter hashtag (#otspsecretsister) if you're having a rubbish day!

It goes without saying that I love the blogging community, and there are loads of great events taking place all the time, but here are a few of my favourites! The 24 Hour Readathon (highlights of the year!), the Re-Readathon (my own event dedicated to re-reading, there's one later this month!), Bout of Books, Banned Books Week, Nonfiction November and at the moment I'm super excited about the Month - long Weirdathon, which is pushing me out of my comfort zone. I also just joined the #feministorchestra book club, reading its first book this month, which seems like it will be brilliant!

Along the same vein as this, I have made some great friends through blogging some of whom I've met in real life and some of whom I haven't (yet!) but all of whom are brilliant, hilarious and generally get me. Most are bloggers and you should check out their links, but these are the people I interact with outside of blogs: Laura, Katie, Hanna, Ellie and Charlotte of course, but also Ellie and Ellie, Nahree, Emma, Iris and Sarah.

The last two years I've been trying to cut down the amount of stressful clutter in my life and the One Little Word project has really helped. Last year my word was Gratitude and this year it is Breathe and I love that these words and the monthly prompts really help keep me focused on staying present and slowing down. 

Another thing that helps me is The Simple Things magazine. Rhys has just got me a subscription because who doesn't want a monthly dose of ways to unplug, reconnect, get outside and go exploring! I'm also faintly obsessed with our garden and the concept of self-sufficiency. This year we're attempting strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, sweetcorn,courgettes, peppers, garlic, leeks, apples, pears,blueberries, cherries and plums. If you have the chance to grow anything (tomatoes and peppers are easy on windowsills if you have no garden!) you should give it a go - it's surprisingly easy and so rewarding! Blackberry picking is also one of my all time favourite simple pleasures.

Finally a couple of blogs and books helping me on my simplicity journey are Be More with Less, The Minimalists, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, Hands Free Mama by Rachel Macy Stafford and The Artful Parent by Jean Van't Hul, and The Idle Traveller by Dan Kiernan. 

And I'm done! There are things I've missed (many of them!) but I'll save them for a future post. If you're still reading, I think you're awesome and I hope I've managed to point you in the direction of some great stuff you didn't know about!

A final thing that I love is giveaways, so here you have the chance to win some of my favourite things! Most of these are UK specific, but some are international.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There won't be giveaways with every post in the series, just this one because I'm obsessed!