Tuesday, 30 June 2015

June Reads: Part Two

Welcome to my second round-up for June (you can read the first here), which brings my total books read this month to eighteen.

1. The Gardener cousins have a number of things in common, the mysterious disappearance of their parents - the seed collectors of the title - while on a botany trip years earlier being just one of them. Now adults, their great aunt Oleander, guru to the stars, has died and left them each a valuable seed pod. Will it prove a deadly poison or route to enlightenment? The Seed Collectorswas a very modern comedy of manners, touching on themes as diverse as family, desire, academia, and the cult of celebrity, among others. Scarlett Thomas has always been a smart writer, scattering philosophical bon mots and jokes amongst her narratives, and for this reason I really enjoyed the novel. However, my enjoyment was marred by the fat-phobia on display, with one of the main characters, Bryony, being a frankly offensive caricature of a fat person; a glutton who cannot control her appetites, be they food, alcohol or shopping. The ending also had a rushed feeling about it which left me feeling unsatisfied, but overall I'd still recommend this beautifully written, if casually brutal, novel.

2. Station Eleven has been much garlanded with praise since its publication last year, and deservedly so. Moving between multiple points of view and times - both before, during and after a global pandemic wipes out civilization as we know it - the world Mandel creates is enchanting and believable. Largely focusing on a band of players known as Travelling Symphony, who tour Ontario on foot to perform Shakespeare to the few remaining post-pandemic survivors. Each strand of the story is skilfully woven together, with my only complaint being that I felt the book could have been longer.

3. Six days after graduating from Yale, Marina Keegan was killed in a car accident. Her creative writing professor, Anne Fadiman (whose book about books and reading, Ex Libris, is absolutely fantastic) helped to collate and edit The Opposite Of Loneliness, a collection of Keegan's writing, both fiction and non-fiction. Unfortunately, it read as what it was: a collection of fairly accomplished but not outstanding university undergraduate work.

5. Rock She Wrote is an impressively inclusive and wide-in-scope collection of writings by women about music - often (but not exclusively) music made by women too. From Pamela Des Barres on Live Through This-era Courtney Love to a fascinating look at the role of black women musicians in jazz's history, this was the perfect collection to dip in and out of. Published in 1995, it obviously therefore omits anything from the past 20 years but for fans of older music (or older music fans) it makes a great read.

6. I loved Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From The Crematorium, the tale of how the author started working in a crematorium at the tender age of 22 after a lifetime of being fascinated by death. Ranging from addressing the funeral industry's exploitation of grieving relatives, to looking at the ways in which the American and British ways of death have changed over the years, to anecdotes about the grizzly tasks expected of her at work, it's definitely not one to read over dinner but fascinating nevertheless.

7. If you follow My Sad Cat on Twitter then you'll already be familiar with the feline stars of The Good, The Bad & The Furry. Only one to read it you're truly cat-mad, I found there wasn't a great deal of new material here for someone who (like me) has read a lot of Cox's articles and follows him on Twitter, but it's still amusing. Just as in those mediums, this book really comes alive when his loud and eccentric dad comes onto the scene.

8. I needed something quick and easy to read on a school trip to Cambridge - something that would keep my attention whilst I sat at the meeting point, but not so engrossing that I couldn't keep an eye on things. Naomi & Ely's No-Kiss List follows Naomi, who's been saving herself for childhood friend and neighbour, Ely (who's gay and definitely hasn't been saving himself for Naomi), plus a cast of other characters linked to their building. It's not a patch on Cohn & Levitathan's two other collaborations, but to wile away the time in the sunshine, it did nicely.

9. The Good, The Bad & The Undead is the second in The Hollows series about a bounty-hunting witch who lives with a vampire and a pixie. High art this is not, but it's a page-turner that's perfect when I'm not in the mood for anything too serious.

* This book was kindly supplied by the publisher via Net Galley, but all 
opinions are entirely my own.
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, but just like to provide a non-Amazon source.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

What I Wore: Polka Dots (Again)

This is the dress that I just had to buy when I was on holiday, despite having bought an almost-identical one from New Look a few days before. I mean, €14 - I'd have been mad not to, right?

The cut of this is really flattering: short sleeves, a very fitted bodice going in at my narrowest point before flaring out into a full, 50s-style skirt. I love the deep back, too, which kept me nice and cool on a warm night in the pub.

Because the dress itself - both the 50s shape and the twee print - is edging towards cute, I decided to add some tough-talking accessories. My 'Bitch' necklace is one of Sugar & Vice's custom name necklaces, the colour deliberately matched with the 'Riots Not Diets' tote I picked up from Etsy this winter.

The only element in the outfit I'm not convinced by is the shoes, which is also the one thing that, fashion-wise, I tend to be fairly clueless about. Because I do a lot of urban walking, my main concern is that my shoes are comfortable, rather than stylish, which tends to mean chunky Mary Janes and brogues in winter, ballet pumps and comfortable but slightly dull sandals in summer. This pair are perfect for pounding the pavements but I don't think they quite 'go' with the rest of the look. Any suggestions on what other shoes might work gratefully received.

* Dress - C&A (the Netherlands) * 'Riots Not Diets' tote bag -  Miss Harry via Etsy * 
* Sandals - Dune (old) * 'Bitch' necklace - Sugar & Vice Designs *

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Photo An Hour: June 20th

Yesterday was the monthly Photo An Hour organised by Louisa and Jane. It was a pretty quiet and relaxed day for me. My birthday was on Friday so, after our original plan of being at the People Against Austerity demo in London fell through, Thomas and I decided to spend a day doing all of my favourite things. Namely: sleeping, eating good food, book shopping and opening presents! 

Only just out of bed. In my defence, it was my birthday yesterday and, although we didn't get home super-duper late and I wasn't super-duper drunk, it was definitely late and I was certainly drunk! So a loooooooong lie-in was in order. As soon as I was awake, I jumped into the shower to wash away any lingering vestiges of a hangover.

Waking up late means an even later breakfast: sourdough toast with marmalade. A Saturday morning read of The Guardian is an absolute must-do, too, even if the main paper is bloody depressing reading at the moment.

Listening to the radio: the Huey show on BBC 6 Music is my favourite listen of the week, and he was playing Nina Simone as I took this photo.

Deciding what to wear: it's a grey day but warm and muggy, so I need something that will keep my cool and be rain-proof (so, no jeans and ballet pumps).

Waiting for the rain to pass so we can leave the house. It may be chucking it down outside but these sunflowers bring a bit of welcome cheer to our living room.

The rain had finally stopped, so we went up to my favourite neighbourhood in Leicester, Clarendon Park. Salvador Deli is a great spot for lunch (I had a delicious toasted ciabatta filled with brie) before hitting the secondhand bookshops in the area, coming home with three books and a record.

Yesterday I was either at work or in the pub, so I saved opening most of my presents till now (I'm a big fan of delayed gratification). One of my favourite gifts was a set of feminist button badges from Thomas: three of them immediately got pinned onto my jacket.

A visit from one of our two friendly neighbourhood cats. We call this fellow Theodore, and he almost never sits still long enough to be stroked, so this was a rare treat.

Another of my ace birthday presents, from my lovely friend Emma. I've yet to decide whether it will live in my kitchen or my bedroom.

A glass of wine while I make dinner: a ginger & lime pak choi & tofu stir fry.

The evening's entertainment: introducing Thomas to the genius that is Much Ado About Nothing.

Emma Thompson as Beatrice rocks my world: her tan in this film is a summer body goal for sure.

Reading in bed before lights out: a fairly typical end to the day.

Friday, 12 June 2015

June Reads: Part One

I've once again had to split my Reads post into two due to the volume of books. To be honest, these actually aren't all June reads: numbers 1, 2, 6 & 7 were all read on my trip to Nijmegen at the very end of May (and therefore after my May Reads post had gone live). 

1. When four people - Brooklyn moms Lottie and Rose, Hollywood star Caroline, and grief-stricken Beverley - agree to share a summer let on a tiny Maine island, they don't anticipate that their longed-for summer vacation may have a wider impact on their lives. Whilst not a challenging read, Enchanted August* was an absolute joy and would make perfect sun-lounger reading this summer. I loved it.

2. Simon Vs The Homo Sapien Agenda was so good that I read it twice in one day. Simon is a junior in high school and while he doesn't have a problem with being gay, he's in no hurry to out himself. So when classmate Martin accidentally sees an email he's sent to the mysterious Blue - with whom Simon is falling in love despite having never met him - and threatens to reveal all unless Simon sets him up with a friend, Simon doesn't have much choice. From the petty jealousies and emotional turmoil to the longing and lust, Albertalli creates realistically flawed - and therefore hugely likable and sympathetic - teenagers. If you read one YA novel this month, it should be this one.

3. I love Valentine's earlier novels, so was excited to read Fire Colour One*. Teenage pyromaniac Iris has been dragged to the UK by her fame- and money-hungry mother and stepfather, and is taken to meet the father she's never really known when her mum realises he's dying... and has plenty of valuable paintings to leave to his next of kin. It might be that I read too quickly, but I never felt much connection with Iris, so it became hard to care what happened to her. Her monstrous mother, Hannah, is much more successfully realised, and seeing her get her comeuppance is extremely satisfying.

4. I'd read a blog review of Unsticky that made it sound worth a read. Grace is 23, skint thanks to a low-paid assistant job on a fashion mag, and has just been dumped on her birthday. When a suave older man rescues her, she's presented with a dilemma: is agreeing to become his paid mistress morally wrong? It's significantly better written and less objectionable, politically speaking, than Fifty Shades Of Gray, to which - with its talk of contracts and wealthy but cruel love interests - it bears a superficial resemblance. Like all of Manning's books, Unsticky was very well written, with engaging characters, however I'm really not keen on the whole 'reform an unpleasant and frankly sociopathic man' trope in romantic literature.

5. More Icelandic crime fiction with Someone To Watch Over Me (I read Sigurdadottir's most recent novel last month), and again there's a mystery with a supernatural element for Thora to solve: this time, how is the hit-and-run death of a teenage babysitter linked to a fatal fire at a residential centre for disabled young people?

6. I loved E Lockhart's When We Were Liars and thoroughly enjoyed Lauren Myracle's sections of the book she wrote with John Green and Maureen Johnson, Let It Snow, so I figured How To Be Bad would make for some light holiday reading. Three teenagers - religious Jesse, hiding a secret, Vicks, who's missing her boyfriend, and newcomer, rich girl Mel - set off on a road trip across Florida to reunite Vicks with said boyfriend and high jinks ensue. This was fine: I probably wouldn't rush to read it again but I enjoyed it.

7. The Mysterious Affair At Styles was the debut novel for Christie's popular detective Hercule Poirot. When wealthy Mrs Inglethorpe, owner of the magnificent country estate of Styles, is found dead - presumed poisoned - it is up to Poirot, with the help of old friend Captain Hastings, to solve the case.

8. I read the first 6 or 7 books in The Hollows series - which begins with Dead Witch Walking - a few years ago and for some reason decided I wanted to give them a reread. It's not great literature (I feel like I say that about a lot of the books I read!) and in fact I found some elements extremely irritating - such as constantly being told how scared of her vampire roommate protagonist Rachel, the witch of the title is, in an attempt to drum up some tension. But I think I'll probably still re-read the next couple because sometimes I just need to escape into trashy books about pixies and demons, ok?

9. Love Is The Higher Law was clearly Levithan's memorial to and meditation on 9/11. It looks at how the events of that day impacted on ordinary New Yorkers by following his three fictional teenagers - Claire, Jasper and Peter - on September 11th itself and then in the months after.

* These books were kindly supplied by the publishers via Net Galley, 
but all opinions are entirely my own.
Note: I do not use affiliate links in these posts, but like to provide a (non-Amazon) source

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

What I Wore: A Re-made Vintage Skirt

I can't figure out why the picture quality on these shots is so bad: taken on my usual Nikon camera, I haven't edited them or changed them in any way, yet they look really pixellated and blurry. Weird. Anyone got any bright ideas on what the problem might be?

Anyway, onto the outfit! This is basically my summer uniform, and one you've seen (here and here and here) many times before: printed skirt, scoop- or v-neck tee, tan belt and tan sandals. Throw in a slogan tote and I'm good to go. I'm not going to win any awards for fashion innovation in this outfit, true, but I still love it.

This skirt started life as an 80s sundress with midi-length skirt, picked up from the Sue Ryder vintage shop in Leicester. The already-elasticated waist meant that chopping off both the top and bottom of the dress was a quick and easy job, turning a dated and ill-fitting dress into a cute floral skirt. Meanwhile, this bargain H&M t-shirt is my find of the summer. I'm not sure what it is about the cut that's SO flattering, but it works.

* Black v-neck tee - H&M * Floral skirt - re-made from a vintage midi dress * 
* Belt - Peacocks (old) * Sandals - M&S (old, similar here) * Tote bag - the Netherlands *

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Guest Post: On Gender Identity

A while ago I was approached by Siobhán with a piece she'd written: would I take a read of it and advise whether it was something she should publish? I thought - and I hope you do too - that her piece was ace but her instinct was that it felt too personal to post on her own blog. I was thrilled when she agreed to posting it here instead (and you can find the link to her blog up top in my Blogs I Love tab). So, without further ado, here she is talking about gender identity...

I am 16 and sat in a bland office with an equally bland looking counsellor. We shall call her Dr Beige.

Dr Beige has just questioned my gender identity. She has suggested I really want to be or am male. I cannot get my head around this or how what I have said so far has got us to this point.

So I sit and try to go over what I have said to see if I can explain it better.

Sure I have body issues. These mean I see my breasts and hips and bum and other “womanly curves” as just excess fat that needs to be removed.

Sure I was raped by my boyfriend just 9 months ago, I tried to kill myself about 5 months later. My relationship with my sexuality is more than a little fraught.

Sure I had an eating disorder and my periods stopped and I was happy with that. To be honest many women who identify as women do not like their periods.

Sure my sexuality pre-rape was a pretty fluid thing. Sexuality is not the same as gender identity.

Sure sometimes I wish I was a boy because life seems easier that way.

I try to articulate why I feel like a woman. I have the advantage of having been born into a body that matches my gender identity and I struggle to articulate why I am female.

Dr Beige probes me further.

I don’t feel like I am a woman in the way other women in my town seem to be. I don’t feel like I am a person in that way either. I am weird. I am an outsider but I am a woman. Or at least I have never questioned that.

I do not tell anyone about this conversation. I do not know how to tell anyone about this conversation.

Every now and then I come back to it. I still feel my gender is pretty fluid. I sometimes feel like I am actually a boy with body issues who REALLY likes dresses and hench guys and skinny guys and some really fit girls and a lot of people in between. But then I also feel a connection with my body as a female body which I really appreciate and enjoy. I’m good with those two things being true at the same time. I think it is fine. I even think it is probably fairly normal.

As time goes on I meet many people who are transgender or gender queer and discover the trouble they have trying to articulate their gender identity. I think back to that bland office and Dr Beige and how difficult it was to justify my own.

I never ask anyone else to do this. I hope I never will. For those who have never been questioned on it, or have never questioned it, it can seem very obvious, something that just is. Try to put that into words though and you see how hard it is to tell someone something that feels self-evident. This is a challenge so many people face before they are able to live as themselves.I am in no way saying my experience is the same as those of my trans friends and fellow humans. I had the body to match my identity (well apart from being bigger than my brain was happy with) but not everyone has that luxury.

If I was to sit down with Dr Beige now and she told me I wanted to be a man I'd still not have concrete answers. Sometimes I would love to be  a man for all kinds of reasons, but I feel my identity is fairly rooted in my female body. I don't feel a disconnect between my body and my identity on that level. I do not always feel like a "typical" woman but I do not feel I have to, and I do not think those born into male bodies have to either. The joy of life is in the variations between people and so I am happy to be where I am on the spectrum of femininity, wherever that may be.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Weekend In Pictures

This has been one of the loveliest and most relaxing weekends I've had for a while.

On Friday I put on my new polka dot dress and met Thomas from work for 'just one drink' in The Lansdowne. Well of course, we ended up staying for dinner and then a few more drinks... and just like that, 7 hours had passed. I don't understand pub time: how can 7 hours at work draaaaaaag soooooo slooooooowly, yet the equivalent time spent in the company of my favourite person, in my favourite place, goes in the blink of an eye?

Saturday dawned bright and breezy, and we rode our bikes into Leicester to hit my favourite vintage shops (no luck, sadly) and pick up picnic supplies before riding down to the canal, where the annual Riverside Festival was going on. Beautiful boats, a floating jazz band, bunting fluttering in the wind... it was well worth a visit. After a picnic on the park, we watched my friends' band - Abandon Her - play their set before riding home across the nature reserve to have dinner and watch movies.

Thomas is madly trying to finish his thesis, so was working on Sunday. Left to my own devices, I spent a very happy day pottering in the garden, weeding and re-potting, reading and drinking tea. A weekend spent almost entirely outside has done wonders for me: I feel properly chilled out for the first time in weeks.

Highlight of our weekend, though, were the daily visits from our new feline buddy. This little cutie comes to see us most mornings and evenings and loves to explore our house. On Saturday evening, she got so comfortable that she curled up and went to sleep next to me on the sofa. It broke my heart a little to have to turf her out and hope she'd find her way home. She (we've decided she's a girl) has a love/hate relationship with the ginger & white cat who's also started hanging out in our garden. Basically, T and I have become crazy cat people who encourage a whole gang of local cats to visit us. It's sad, I know, but it makes us happy.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

A Day Trip To Amsterdam

I spent most of last week in the Netherlands with Thomas, where we were house- and cat-sitting (which - just as an aside - proved that my cat allergy is cope-able and so we'll definitely be cat owners before the end of the year: hooray!) for friends while they were on honeymoon.

Our friends live in Erlecom, a tiny village just outside the town of Nijmegen (where Thomas lived when I first met him, and where I therefore spent many, many weekends during our long distance relationship). In between the cat-cuddles at home and the many awesome friend hang-outs in Nijmegen, we made time to take a day trip to Amsterdam.

I love Amsterdam and it's always a joy to wander the streets of this beautiful and characterful city. On this trip, our priority was a visit to Katten Kabinet, a marvellously eccentric gallery/museum on Herengracht. Set up by the wealthy and cat-loving owner of the building, it's essentially a gallery of cat art: sculpture, graphic design, sketches and paintings (including a Picasso and a Rembrandt). Oh, and there are also the owner's cats wandering around (or, on the afternoon we visited, curled up asleep). What really makes it worth a visit, though, is the unique opportunity to see a perfectly restored canal house interior - complete with wood panelling, ceiling frescoes and elaborate carvings - in an area that has tended to see original features removed for the sake of modernity. 

For dinner we struck lucky with a place I'd read about on Tigerlilly Quinn. Latei is a funky little neighbourhood cafe just next to Nieuwmarkt. Full of vintage and retro goodies (with everything on display also for sale), it's a diner by day but on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening it's taken over by the Kook Kollektief, who serve delicious (and cheap) food inspired by Indonesian and other Asian cuisine. We ate a huge portion of Gado Gado with a tasty beef curry for me and a vegan one for Thomas, plus a side of fried plantains. Stuffed with food, we rolled back to the station for our train home to Nijmegen.

This mirror was not at a Janet-friendly height - I'm standing on my tippermost toes here. I've also realised that you'd be forgiven for thinking Thomas only owns one shirt: I think he wears this checked one in 90% of the pictures that land on here. I promise, he does have other clothes. His wardrobe isn't currently sacrificed on the altar of my dress addiction. Yet.