Friday, 28 February 2014

Seen & heard: January & February


1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire managed not one but two difficult tasks: a sequel that surpassed the achievements of the first film, and a book adaptation that more than lived up to the source material.  I absolutely loved this film, and handily I had forgotten a lot of the plot so was genuinely on the edge of my seat a few times.  But really, what's not to like about a blockbuster franchise which has a kick-ass female protaganist tasked with saving the boy and which is on the side of the revolutionaries rising up against an oppressive capitalist state?!

2. I really enjoyed the Coen Brothers' new film, Inside Llewyn Davis, set amongst the denizens of the early 1960s New York folk scene.  The mid-century interiors & costumes were beautifully designed and I liked the cyclical nature of the narrative.  The main character, Llewyn, is essentially a bit of a dick, but I enjoyed the film all the moreso for this fact: I think I would have found his travails unbearably sad if I'd actually liked him. 

3. Nebraska follows father and son Woody and David as they drive from Montana to Nebraska in a doomed attempt to collect a million dollar prize, which Woody thinks he has won after getting a marketing letter.  The performances in this film were amazing; I mistakenly thought that Bruce Dern hadn't gained an Oscar nomination for his brilliant turn as the elderly, alcoholic and increasingly confused Woody and was preparing to rail against the ageism of Hollywood.  Then I looked it up on IMDB and realised that he had got a nod, so I promptly shut up.

4. I've had this on DVD for ages but never seen it, but it ended up being the only thing The Boy and I could agree on on a recent Friday night.  The story of middle aged lesbian couple Jules and Nic (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), whose lives are rocked by the appearance of their childrens' sperm donor dad, The Kids Are Alright was pretty good.  Definitely one I'd watch again.

5. I refuse to be embarrassed by my rewatch of Miss Congeniality 2 because although it's not a patch on the first one, it's still good fun.

6. If you haven't given Fargo a watch in a while, I can highly recommend returning to it.  Still as brilliant and funny and bleak as it was when I first saw it on release in 1996 (I had to look that up, and my first reaction was, "Oh my god, I'm so old!").


1. I'm pretty obsessed with husband-and-wife due Tennis at the moment, and especially their new Small Sound EP.  Mellow summer sounds in the vein of Best Coast and Beach House, I especially love the lead track Mean Streets.

2. I finally got round to buying Haim's Days Are Gone, and it's a lovely album of, again, summery pop tunes.  I am proper trying to convince myself that summer is just round the corner!

3. The Boy loves Bruce Springsteen whereas I am decidedly not keen.  So when I heard a track (Hunter Of Invisible Game) from his new album, High Hopes, on 6 Music and actually liked it, I thought maybe I'd been converted and decided to buy the CD for The Boy as a surprise present.  Well, turns out I still don't like Springsteen as I only really love that one song, but hey, T liked his gift.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

List #9: My best qualities

This was hard.  For everything I thought of (for example, "I'm intelligent") there was a little voice in my head going, "You're not as clever as other people always assume."  It would have been much easier to write about my worst qualities, but isn't that always the way?

1. My dress sense.  I feel like in the past six or seven years I've really figured out what suits me and what I like, and found my own style niche.

2. The ease with which I laugh (which more often than not turns into a cackle or a snort).

3. My adventurous spirit.

4. My independence and ability to spend time alone.

5. My taste in interiors.  I think I have a good eye for putting a room together.

6. My enthusiasm when I'm passionate about something.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

How I did a scary thing and survived

A list of things I really, really dislike would include - in no particular order - the following:

1. People, but especially...

2. Meeting new people

3. Socialising, or indeed...

4. Leaving the house

In a nutshell, my motto could be John Paul Sartre's, "Hell is other people".  So why, I pondered recently, had I foolishly agreed to meet up with some new people?  And not just any people: other bloggers.  Scary, intimidating, I've-admired-your-writing-from-afar bloggers.

Now, I know a lot of people love blogging precisely because you can get involved in a real life community and have meet-ups and go to exciting events and stuff.  The fact is, though, that I really like screens.  I enjoy making friends via Twitter and blog comment threads but I think the wonder of modern technology is that pathologically shy, misanthropic miseries like myself can have human contact without, y'know, coming into actual contact with humans.  So I was slightly baffled to find myself walking into town a few weekends ago to meet The Girl, blogger behind Just Me/Random Day Dreaming (I'm never sure which is it's official title!).  I was, I have to admit, very scared at this prospect.

But you know something?  It wasn't terrible.  In fact, it was rather nice.

We bonded over the book she was reading (one of the Game Of Thrones series), and talked gerbils (hers, not mine), and I enjoyed introducing her to the delights of Leicester (yes, we do have some) and spending some time hanging out and getting to know her.  It was most odd.  Was I actually enjoying meeting a new person?  Yes, yes I was.

And then I only went and did it again.

B from Make, Do & Spend had seen me mention my book group on here and got in touch about coming along.  Fortuitously, the rest of the group were all late to the meeting, so we had a bit of a chance to chat before the arrival of everyone else.  And that was cool too.  It was fun and B was super easy to talk to and again, the whole experience was not terrible.

Maybe I'm getting too over-confident about this whole socialising lark, because then I only went and organised a meet-up with Sarah and Elise in Glasgow.  We've got a while to wait for that one (until April) but as Sarah and I have been talking about meeting for what feels like years, I'm sure we can wait for seven more weeks.

And now Laura from Make Do & Mend is thinking about coming to Leicester for a visit, and you know what?  I'm actually excited!  Most strange.

I'm still most comfortable when I'm sitting behind a screen, conversing via the internet, but I'm starting to realise that perhaps forcing myself out of my comfort zone once in a while and meeting new people - especially people with whom I undeniably have tons in common - may not be a bad thing.  Maybe I'm finally becoming less of a misanthrope....?

Thursday, 20 February 2014

List #8: The things that are good about my town

I ended up in Leicester by accident.  Or, to be more precise, I ended up in Leicester because I did sod all work during my A Levels.  My first choice university was Manchester (selected on the basis that every great band played there when they toured).  Leicester was my safety net, my second option.  A city I'd visited twice for open days and hadn't minded the look of.  A city which (at the time) still had a few good venues and therefore featured regularly enough in the NME gig guide for my liking. 

And then I got my grades, and they weren't good, and Manchester University wouldn't take me but the University of Leicester would (that right there should have been a warning sign: I ended up hating my degree here).  And so, at the end of September 1996, we packed up my parents cars and drove down the M1 from Bradford to Leicester, and to my great shame it is here I have pretty much stayed ever since.

Weird, really, because most people who know me would characterise me as being pretty adventurous and open to new experiences.  Just not, it turns out, new places to live (although I have moved sixteen times in my seventeen years in Leicester, so...).

And it's not that I actively dislike Leicester.  That's kind of the problem, really.  It's hard to leave somewhere so comfortable, somewhere that fits me like a boring/cosy/secure/dull* jumper.

All of which is a needlessly long introduction to my list!  And a weird way to introduce the things I love about Leicester, which - although not exactly legion - do very much exist.  I wrote a '10 things to love about Leicester' post last August, which focused more on actual places, so I'll try not to repeat myself too much and, this time around, will talk about the more ephemeral stuff...

1. My familiarity with the place.  The fact that, walking or driving or cycling, I know my way from A to B via X, Y and Z without even thinking.

2. The brilliant bars here.  I may be biased, but I'm convinced that Leicester has cooler, nicer places to drink than many bigger cities.  My favourites are all super chill and indie without being hipster.  If you're visiting Leicester, check out Firebug, The Orange Tree and The Lansdowne as your first ports of call.

3. The ease with which you can get great vegetarian and vegan food here, which is linked in large part to number 4...

4. ... The multi-culturalism of Leicester. 

5. Walking in Bradgate Park - a huge deer park, with actual hills (rare in Leicester), on the outskirts of the city - on a clear, sunny winter's day.

6. The fact that Leicester is a small place - it can feel like everyone under a certain age knows everyone else, by face if not by name.

7. Being called "m'duck" by random shopkeepers.

8. Visiting the amazing independent cinema/digital arts centre, Phoenix Arts.  I never used to go to see films until they reopened the Phoenix in a great new location, complete with cool cafe and bar.  Now we go at least twice a month to see everything from blockbusters like Gravity to more indie fare such as Inside Llewyn Davis

9. Having other bloggers nearby: in the past two weeks I have met two whole internet people IRL!  What is coming over me?  The Girl wrote a great post about our day together in Leicester, and then last night I met up with B from Make, Do & Spend at my book group, which was super cool.

* Delete as appropriate to my mood

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Book review: How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis

Not only is it a fantastic book, it also has one of the most awesome covers ever!

I very rarely write separate book reviews nowadays, usually just relying on my monthly reading round-ups.  But sometimes a book comes along that's pretty special - that deserves its very own post - and this is definitely one of them.

My love for books about books has been stated before, and this is a book about women in books, so even better.  It's part memoir (the sections dealing with Ellis's family history and her own experiences growing up in the tiny Iraqi Jewish community in London are fascinating, and chimed well with my own experiences growing up as the daughter of immigrants), part exploration of the role of the heroine in literature, part joyous rediscovery of childhood favourites. 

Ellis is a reader who, like me, experiences her favourite characters as if they are alive: living, breathing women whose experiences go on beyond the final page.  She has no patience for authors who treat their heroines badly; her furious denouncement of Lousia M Alcott for the way she treats Jo March is a joy to read (and even better is her subsequent discovery - new to me too - that in Jo's Boys Alcott had finally given Jo the ending she deserved, as she becomes a successful writer).

It was interesting to reflect on just how many of the characters I loved in childhood - Jo March, Anne Shirley from Anne Of Green Gables, Katy Carr - were budding writers, and how that idea of a writer-heroine pervades so many novels beloved by bookish young girls.  Ellis is also brilliant when highlighting the pervasive Victorian morals which run through so many of these books.  I, too, always thought of Kate from What Katy Did as a rebel heroine, and it is only in Ellis's retelling that I remembered she spends the majority of the book crippled, atoning for her 'rebellious sin' (of going on a garden swing when she'd been told not to), becoming more and more insipid as she learns "happiness through suffering". 

The theme of suffering was writ large through much of her (and my) teenage reading too; like Ellis, I devoured Sylvia Plath's poetry and her novel, The Bell Jar, and with it the "idea that you had to suffer to be a woman."  There is a great bit where she draws the same parallels many of us troubled mid-90s girls did, between Plath and the glamourously damaged images of Courtney Love, Elizabeth Wurtzel et al.

The greatest joy of this wonderful book (apart from Ellis, quite rightly, identifying Lizzy Bennet as pretty much the uber-heroine of adult literature and the Fossil sisters, from Ballet Shoes, as the toppermost children's heroines) is that it made me want to return to all of the books that I have already read and also made me want to immediately seek out the ones I haven't.  Ellis makes a convincing case for Lace, by Shirley Conran, being close to a feminist text, and totally sold me on Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm

After finishing the book (which I devoured in one sitting), I was left wondering about the heroines Ellis had left out.  I'd love to know what she thinks of Cassandra, the heroine of Dodie Smith's  I Capture The Castle, or the vividly drawn women of Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit Of Love.

I really cannot recommend How To Be A Heroine enough.  This is a book for anyone who was once (or perhaps, like me, who still is!) a bookish, slightly odd girl, happiest to take their cues on living from the characters in novels because they feel like our friends. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

The obligatory cheesy Valentine's Day post

This time last year, I was in the Netherlands visiting The Boy.  We'd been seeing each other for almost six months but had been apart for three of those months.  I was trying to figure out how to tell him I loved him; trying to come to terms with the fact that I'd accidentally fallen head over heels with someone who lived hundreds of miles away; hoping against hope that all of the heartache of separation and the expense of travel would be worth it, that he would love me back.

Well, as long-time readers will know, everything worked out just peachy.  He moved back to the UK in September and moved in with me over Christmas.  As we were coming up to Valentine's Day, I started thinking about all the things I love about him.  And, quite apart from him being the funniest, most intelligent, geekiest, cutest person I've ever known, one of the things very near the top of the list was the fact that he puts up with me.  Because I am a bit of a nightmare to live with, frankly...

I'm incorrigibly bossy.  I'll think nothing of sitting on the sofa with T and telling him to get up and fetch something from the kitchen.  I push and pull him into positions that feel comfortable for me (during cuddling - get your minds out of the gutter!), and will brook little argument.  I may ask his opinion about something - from what to watch on TV to where to go on holiday - but we both know that it's me who'll have the final say.   And you know what?  He does it all without complaining.  In fact, he laughs: he actually thinks this is a cute trait of mine.  Lets see if he's still laughing in five years time...

I'm a tad bonkers. Mostly in a nice way, but still, I know I can be a bit too Jess-from-New-Girl at times.  Examples of this include making up a song to sing to our pancakes, making him skip through Nottingham with me, and squealing with delight because he'd bought me a packet of crisps.  I'm over-enthusiastic and hyper and silly at times, and I knew he was a keeper when he told me that, far from just putting up with my crazy, it was one of the reasons he loves me.

However, I'm not always stupidly cheery and Pollyanna-like.  I'm nightmarishly mercurial and can suddenly, and with no warning, become terribly grumpy.  Most often while trying to park my car or while cooking dinner, but sometimes completely randomly, I will become incredibly curt and probably very rude.  I can be very uptight about needing things to be done just so, and I am intolerant of him doing things that I myself do - such as leaving dirty washing lying on the bedroom floor. I guess part of the problem is that I've been living alone for a long time, so I'm used to everything being exactly as I want it to be, and that means I notice the negative more often than the positive.  For example, I detest washing up whereas he doesn't mind it.  So every day before work he washes up, leaving the kitchen nice and tidy for when I come home.  But do I focus on this lovely thing he does, day-in, day-out?  Do I heckers like.  I moan about his inability to put things away in the cupboards. 

Frankly, he is a saint and not only do I love him entirely, but I am thankful every single day that he puts up with my shit.  Although we are incredibly similar in many ways, our key difference is that, while I am so tightly wound I'm constantly in danger of unravelling, he is utterly laid back and chilled out.  I think it's this that makes us work so well, balancing each other out; me driving him on and him calming me down.

So, happy Valentine's Day to T.  If he can keep from killing me when I'm in one of my more difficult moods, may we have many more to come.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

List #7: My to-do list

The prompt for this week's list was: what's on your to do list at the moment?  Now, I love a to-do list and always use them to keep myself organised.  My trick for a successful to-do list?  Always include at least one thing you have already done, so you can tick it off straight away!  This week, however, I have achieved precisely nothing from my list thus far...

1. Finish my online application to a new 0% balance transfer credit card; it's my top tip for managing existing debt (just don't be tempted to add new spending to it!);
2. Write some long-overdue letters to friends and relations;
3. Get in touch with my old head of department to arrange for him & his wife to come round to dinner;
4. Start tackling the chaos that is the under stairs cupboard;
5. Take my books back to the library;
6. Pack my bags for a weekend at my mum's;
7. Take some photographs for blogposts;
8. Send off my car insurance documents and my remortgage application.
9. Investigate the possible leak above my front room, and if necessary find a plumber to look at it.
10. Tackle at least some of my overdue marking before we break up for half term tomorrow.

Why are to-do lists always so blooming boring?  Sometimes being a grown-up sucks.

Monday, 10 February 2014


READING a very interesting book about what makes the English so very, erm, English, and very much looking forward to losing myself in this fabulous tome - How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis - which has had universally glowing reviews and was a gift from The Boy.  Lucky me.

WATCHING endless New Girl after getting the DVD box set for Christmas.  On a more rarified note, my brother and I went to the RSC on Saturday to see Wolf Hall.  Hilary Mantel's much-garlanded novel is one of my favourites, so it was fascinating to see how it translated to the stage.  Ben Miller was particularly good as protaganist Thomas Cromwell, advisor to Henry VIII.  And finally, last night I went, with two friends, to see Rent.  This was my fourth time seeing it on stage (I must have watched the - far inferior but still brilliant - film at least another eight times) and I loved it just as much as ever.  The past few days have mostly been spent listening to the soundtrack on repeat.

GETTING exciting news of not one, but two, new babies in our social circle.  Well, in The Boy's social circle.  In The Netherlands, it's traditional for the parents to send cards announcing the birth; I love the modernist design of this one, announcing Lora's birth and designed by her art teacher father.  Also, some lovely flowers from The Boy, which have lasted and lasted and lasted.

EATING lots of plain rice, hardboiled eggs, and apples.  Sound boring?  It is, but I've been on hardcore antibiotics (see below), which have played havoc with my already sensitive digestive system, so I've been trying to eat very plain food that won't irritate my stomach.  Tonight though - 4 days post-antibiotics - I am making a soy 'chicken' red Thai curry.   Fingers crossed my tummy can take the excitement.

FEELING absolutely fucking terrible just about covers it.  I wrote a post/rant about this on Friday so won't bang on about it much more.  Ironically, though, since publishing that post my jaw and head have been almost pain-free, which has been amazing (now if my digestive system could sort itself out, I would be very happy).  Thanks, also, for all your lovely comments and texts and emails after that post; I got some very good advice as well as lots of love.
MEETING my very first, in the flesh, blogger (well, a 5 minute hello with Make Do & Mend not excepting)!  Rebecca from Random Day Dreaming came down to Leicester for the day on Saturday, and I showed her 'the sights', aka the lovely shops in The Lanes, vintage delights in Dolly Mix Vintage, and great food at The Orange Tree pub.  AND next week I will hopefully be meeting another blogger - B of Make, Do & Spend - who is joining my book group.  I tell thee, all this socialising is most unlike me.

PLANNING train trip upon train trip.  Nottingham tomorrow, London next week, Glasgow and Leeds during the Easter holidays (we are getting the sleeper train up, and I am so excited about it)... my notice board is currently covered in stacks of tickets. 

Friday, 7 February 2014

Health, or my lack thereof: a rant

I've always been a physically healthy person (the classic triumvirate of eczema, asthma and hayfever aside).  Like most teachers, I catch a cold or a flu bug pretty much every winter, but I've otherwise lived 35 years in the full bloom of health. 

Until earlier this year.

It began with a recurrence of a problem I'd been experiencing, on and off, for a few years: IBS (ok, so maybe I wasn't always in perfect health my whole life, but previously my flare-ups would last - at most - a week or two).  For those of you unfamiliar with IBS, it can affect people in different ways but for me, it has three main outcomes: feeling bloated and gassy, having an upset stomach, and extremely painful stomach cramps.  It's about as pleasant as it sounds, and leaves me feeling lethargic and sick and generally grotty.   But a flare-up once every few months was easy to deal with, because I knew it would pass quickly.

However, over the summer my stomach became more and more irritable, my digestive system rebelling from foods I'd previously enjoyed.  Beginning with cream, the list of foods I couldn't eat without becoming very ill quickly expanded to include ice-cream, cow's milk, yoghurt (most lactose-rich food, basically), red meat, and anything fried or roasted in fat.  As the escalation of my IBS coincided with my vegan boyfriend moving back to Leicester, it wasn't initially too much of an issue: it won't have escaped your notice that most of those trigger foods are verboten on a vegan diet, which is what I've mostly been eating since September (apart from cheese.  You can pry my cheese from my cold, dead hands).

But then.

As much as I tried to cut out the foods which were making me feel unwell, I still kept getting ill.  I realised I needed to also add beans, lentils, onions and wheat to the list (basically, all of the foods that are prevelant in our vegan diet.).  My list of trigger foods just kept getting longer and it felt like the more I cut out, the more sensitive my digestive system became.  I've spent pretty much the last eight months constantly feeling like crap as my IBS has become worse and worse and worse.

And then.

A little something called Temporomandibular Joint Disorder happened.  Or, in layperson's terms, inflammation and pain of the jaw joint.  Sounds relatively minor, right?  Wrong.  I'm now in my sixth month of constant pain.  I wake every morning with an ache in my jaw (despite sleeping in a mouthguard) which, over the course of the day, develops into first a headache and then, two or three days our of seven, into a migraine.  Like IBS, TJD typically flares up and then resolves itself after a short period of time.  Like my IBS, my TJD has not resolved, nor has it responded to treatment.  I might have a day or two of reduced pain - perhaps after trying a new medication, or when my stress levels are very low - before it comes back, as bad as ever.

I think if I'd spent the past few months suffering from just one or the other problem, I'd be better equipped to cope.  But the double whammy of both IBS and TJD at the same time had left me drained of energy and struggling to cope.

And then.

Last week I hurt my thumb, in the most ridiculous way possible, and got an abscess under my nail.  Cue lots of pain, incipient blood poisoning, and a course of antibiotics (which naturally came with lots of lovely side effects).  I think this was the final straw for me in terms of my health; the point at which I wondered how much more suckiness I could handle.

The thing is, I really don't think I'm that much of a negative person.  I like the odd moan now and then - who doesn't? - but I generally look on the bright side.  The past few months have really challenged that perspective, and I'm starting to feel beaten down and destroyed.  And because both the IBS and the TJD feed on stress and worry, I enter a vicious circle of pain-stress-pain. 

One of the worst things about all of this is that it has coincided with The Boy coming back to Leicester and moving in.  Instead of having a halcyon first few months together, he has had to put up with my complaints of pain, the fact that some nights my stomach is so sore I can't bear him to touch me, the constant pill-popping.  Our life together is lovely and in many ways I am the happiest I have ever been, so I sometimes feel like the universe is having a laugh at my expense, "Ok, we'll send you this awesome guy, but in return we will curse you with months of ill health, which will make it very difficult to enjoy said awesome guy."  He, of course, is endlessly patient, but sometimes I joke that he should go and find someone less broken than I.

Because that is how I feel.  Broken.  And betrayed by a body that I had always treated well, and that I've always been able to rely on.

I know - or, at least, I hope - that things will get better.  Neither condition is life-threatening.  Neither condition typically flares up for long periods of time, so with any luck this is just a fluke set of events.  But equally, neither condition is curable.  It will be up to me to find ways to live with my IBS that include eating more than plain boiled rice and apples (pretty much the only foods I can completely tolerate right now).  It will be up to me to look into relaxation techniques to try and combat the clenching and tension that has led to my jaw pain and related migraines.  But right now, all I'm trying to do is find it in me to get up every morning.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

List #6: The things that make me happy to be alive

Image via weheartit

1. When a brilliant and little-heard song shuffles onto my iPod.  Or a certain moment in a song - you know, the kind that grabs you in the guts and lifts your heart at the same time.  At the moment, I'm obsessed with a tiny, 15-second burst of Caught A Long Wind by Feist (it's the bit at 02:09, fact fans).

2. My niece, Gracie's, laughter.

3. Walking in the warm sunshine in a pretty dress and sandals.

4. Making plans to travel (I think I enjoy it more than the actual travel sometimes - less stressful!).

5. Fairy lights.

6. The smell and feel of books.  Yes, I have been known to stroke the books on my shelves.  Yes, I realise that's a completely mental thing to do.

7. Driving the last few minutes to my mum's house (but definitely not the two hour slog up the M1 prior to those minutes!).

8. St Pancras Station: I'm feeling pretty down on the UK at the moment (our current government will do that to a person), but figure that any country that can produce a building so beautiful and functional can't be all bad.

9. Having my arms around The Boy...

10. ... and feeling his arms around me.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

In pictures: John Rylands Library, Manchester

One of the highlights of our trip to Manchester a couple of weekends ago was a visit to the John Rylands Library.  How on earth I lived in Manchester for almost a year and never went there is beyond me.  How my dad, who lives in the city, had never forcibly escorted me to the place, is even more beyond me.  Suffice it to say, we loved the place. 

Imagine the most beautiful gothic cathedral, and then imagine that instead of existing to worship a god that I don't believe in, it's purpose is the worship of books.  That's basically the John Rylands Library.  Sadly, my point-and-shoot camera was not really up to the job of fully capturing the beauty and majesty of this place; you'll just have to go and see it for yourself!

Amongst the sculptures made from book pages, old printing presses (and, of course, shelf after shelf of books), there are also temporary exhibitions.  My dissertation topic was the linguistic patterns of gay male speech, so I was fascinated to see the current exhibition on Polari.  Morrissey album covers, a Polari Bible, queer fanzines from the 70s, and much else were scattered around the various rooms of the library.


Monday, 3 February 2014

January reads

1. January's book group choice, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane, was one I expected to love.  I'm a huge Neil Gaiman fan, and when I heard that he'd published a new novel I was expecting something as narratively rich and brilliant as American Gods or Neverwhere.  Sadly, I was disappointed.  Now don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic book, but it has far more in common with his children's novel The Graveyard Book than it does with his work for adults.  While The Ocean... is a magical tale, I raced through it in less than two hours and never felt truly connected to the characters.

2. I wasn't entirely taken with Burial Rites at first, and in fact almost gave up on it, but I'm so glad I perservered.  Hannah Kent's novel is based on the true story of one of the last public executions in Iceland; that of Agnes Magnúsdóttir in 1829.  Beautifully written, with tension that builds to the final, inevitable and terrible, conclusion.  My sympathies were with Agnes, but also with the family with whom she is billetted prior to her execution and the priest who is assigned to provide her with spiritual guidance.  The harsh and bleak landscapes of Iceland and the hardships of life there almost two centuries ago are perfectly captured by Kent, who first had the idea for the novel when staying in rural Iceland as a student.

3. A Trick Of The Light was a quick re-read on the train home from Liverpool.  An Inspector Gamache mystery, I enjoy the recurring idyllic pastoral setting of Quebec village Three Pines and the colourful characters who reside there, but am less keen on the also recurring theme of police corruption.  I like my murder mysteries conversely peaceful and unblemished by the 'real' world!

4. 5. & 6. I raced through the first three Flavia De Luce novels, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard.  This is more like it - murder mysteries without the complications of modern life!  Not in the least intellectually challenging, but the 11 year old heroine is a winning narrator and they make perfect reading for cold winter evenings.

7. A bit of a cheat to include this, as I didn't finish it.  But I didn't finish it because I couldn't bear to; I could see that things weren't going to end happily for poor old Eleanor and Park - madly-in-love punk-listening, graphic-novel-reading teenagers - so I decided to stop reading immediately, so now they're still together and happy in my head.  Yes, I am mad.  Shut up.

8. Goth Girl & The Ghost Of A Mouse is a hoot - full of brilliant literary and historical in-jokes and fabulous illustrations.  It's a children's book, but as we all know, most of the best fiction around at the moment is written for kids or young adults, so don't let that but you off.