Monday, 31 August 2015

August Reads: Part Two

1. Burial Rites was the final book for Alex's Blogging Good Read, so keep an eye on her blog for my thoughts.

2. I bought The Inconvenient Indian in Canada as I wanted to educate myself as to the history and politics of the Native American/First Nations experience both there and in the USA. Written by the award-winning author Thomas King, who is himself Cherokee, it was, despite the subject matter, a witty and enjoyably told tale of the endless horror, exploitation and mistreatment that American Indians have endured - and continue to endure - in the centuries since European conquest. Essential reading.

3. I really loved Jennifer Weiner's first few novels and because of that she's an author who, despite now generally writing about things - motherhood, usually - that I'm really not interested in, I'll always read. Who Do You Lovefollows Andy, an aspiring runner and the biracial son of an impoverished single mother, and Rachel, who was born with a heart defect and suffers her wealthy Jewish parents' over-protectiveness. They meet in a hospital waiting room at the age of 8, re-connect by coincidence on a school field trip at 16, and subsequently move in and out of each other's lives. I liked the conceit of dropping in on both characters across the years (chapter headings - 1997, 2001 - signal to the reader where we are in their lives) and, as always with Weiner's books, it's engagingly written, such that I really invested in the characters and their love story. However, there's some pretty terrible fat phobia at one point in the novel (all the more disappointing as Weiner's first few novels were notable for featuring plus size heroines) and it's also a lot more sexually graphic than her previous books - the post-Fifty Shades... effect, perhaps? - which isn't in itself an issue for me, but some of the sex is pretty terribly written.

4. I found The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants for 99p in a charity shop, so I wasn't too bothered when it turned out to be not very memorable. It follows four best friends - soccer-mad Bridget, artist Lena, fiery Carmen and Tibby, unhappy at being left at home while her friends travel - over the course of one summer. They find a pair of pants that miraculously fit all of their diverse figures (although TBH they don't sound terrible diverse, all being some variation on slim/skinny/sporty) and send them between each other with the promise that good things will happen when wearing the pants. Erm, except generally the pants seem to bring them terrible luck. This was fine but, as I said, it didn't exactly set my world on fire, and I'm frankly baffled as to how it's managed to generate a well-known film plus four sequels.

5. & 6. Now this was more like it: a smart, sweet YA romance, everything I wanted The Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants to be. To All The Boys I've Loved Before is the story of high school junior Lara Jean, and what happens when love letters she's written to her crushes over the years accidentally get posted. I loved this book - loved the character of Lara Jean, loved her cheeky little sister Kitty, loved Peter, the guy Lara Jean ends up pretending to date in order to style out the embarrassment of the letters. It's not revolutionary as far as YA goes, but it's very well written and I cared a lot about what happened to the characters. Between this and its sequel P.S I Still Love YouHan looks at issues as varied as growing up biracial, losing a parent, the stud/slut dichotomy of teenage sexual standards, and yet it never feels like an 'issues' book. Instead, the issues are dealt with in a really naturalistic way: sometimes shit happens in Lara Jean's life, as it does in anyone's. In contrast to books 4 & 7, though, it never feels like stuff is crammed in for the sake of it. In case it wasn't clear already, I massively loved these books and would thoroughly recommend them.

7. Mira has missed almost a year of school and is now starting afresh at the exclusive St Francis Prep. Jeremy, a long-time student there, is still emotionally scarred from his treatment at the hands of bullies last year. And Sebby, Mira's best friend, has pretty much stopped going to school all together, a fact he's trying to hide from his uber-religious foster mom. Fans Of The Impossible Lifefollows them over the course of the school year but suffers from splitting the narrative in three directions, so I never entirely believed in or empathised with any of the characters. The topics of mental health, sexuality, drug abuse and the foster care system are likewise kind of rushed through: it would have benefited from more focus on one or two elements rather than an attempt to deal with everything in one book. That said, it's well written (although I could have done without the third person present tense chapters, which felt like a writer's workshop exercise) and it would definitely appeal to teenagers experiencing some of the problems Mira, Jeremy and Sebby face.

8. Oh my gosh, how on earth did I get to the age of 37 without ever having read 84 Charing Cross Road?! This is simply one of the loveliest books ever, and goes straight onto my list of favourites. A collection of letters written between 1949 and 1969 from New York screenwriter Helene Hanff to a London bookseller (and their replies), it's a must-read for any book lover. Hanff is delighfully rude, forthright, but generous to a fault, and the development of the friendships between her and her London-based correspondents is just wonderful to follow.

9. The Duchess Of Bloomsbury Street was Hanff's follow-up to 84 Charing Cross Road, and tells the story of her long-awaited visit to London in 1971. Again, well worth a read.

10. Speaking of book lovers, Judging A Book By Its Lover was a bargain find in Toronto, costing me about $2. A collection of pieces about books and readers, from potted guides to cult authors (so you discuss their books at dinner parties without having read them) to humourous essays about her childhood love of reading, it was a pleasant diversion but probably not a book I'd read again.

* These books was kindly provided by the publishers via Net Galley, in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Photo An Hour: Saturday 29th August

Yesterday was Jane and Louisa's monthly Photo An Hour. Thomas and I are up my mum & step-mum's this weekend, so my day panned out a little differently than usual.

Up bright an early today. It was Thomas's birthday on Saturday - 29 on the 29th! - so he opened his cards first thing while leaving gifts for later in the day (I've obviously been a bad influence; you may remember from June's photo an hour that I didn't open my gifts until the day after my birthday!).

My usual morning routine when I'm staying at my mum's: a toasted bagel, a cup of tea, and a read of Saga Magazine. Honestly, it's a better read than most mainstream women's mags!

Thomas was playing at an anti-fascist football tournament in Leeds today (hence why we're staying at my mum's), so I needed to check the map for our route before setting off to take him.

Back home briefly before mum and I set off for a day out. I love the agapanthus in her front garden.

Just arrived in Haworth (home of the Bronte sisters), and I couldn't resist taking a picture of this footpath sign. I know I'm a child, but Penistone is never not funny.

Walking down the cobbled main street of Haworth (full post to follow).

Heading back to the car park, which is next to the Bronte Parsonage Museum. If you've never been, do go - it's fascinating - but as we've visited before, we gave it a miss this time.

My mum has been deaf for most of my adult life, so when I took an interest in her haul of ace 60s & 70s vinyl, she suggested some of it could go home with me. Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel, The Beatles and Carole King are just a few of the gems I picked up.

Time for tea. I liked how the textures of wood, china mug and rug contrasted in this image.

I somehow managed to miss the 5.30 picture - I think I was driving back to Leeds at the time to collect Thomas. Here he is, sweaty and tired, in his shirt for FC Kolektivo Victoria (the team he plays with in Leicester) having just finished the final match of the day.

Another #photoanhour disaster: my picture for 7.30 disappeared (it was a picture of the paneer massala I had for my dinner) so I took a bonus picture of some pretty clouds... and now that has also disappeared from my phone! So here's a third one I took, of the even prettier clouds at sunset.

Time for presents and cake!

One of Thomas's favourite gifts. M nickname for him is "bear," because he's huge and hairy (seriously, he'd be such a hit at a bear bar, should he ever decide to date men). Having spent so long in the Netherlands, he also rides his bike everywhere. So of course, what else could I get him but a print of a bear riding a bike? Edited to add that you can buy the print here.

Almost time for bed: pyjamas on, book in hand.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Our Summer Travels: Toronto

After a six hour bus journey from Montreal, we rocked up at our hostel in downtown Toronto feeling hungry, tired, and even more hungry. A short exploratory walk north along Spadina led us to the awesome Sneaky Dee's on College, where cold cider and beer, and heaps of vegan Tex-Mex, could be had for very few dollars. Dim, dark, with tattooed bartenders and graffiti-covered loos, this place was heaven to us and we felt right at home: for me, the scuzzier somewhere is, the more comfortable I generally feel! A legacy of my misspent youth frequenting the dodgier rock clubs and bars of Bradford and Leicester.

And speaking of feeling right at home... Not for us pounding the pavements of the generic, sky-scraper-ed downtown area, with its obvious desire to be the Manhattan of the north. Rather, we spent the majority of our two days in Toronto hanging out in the dive bars, vegan food eateries*, secondhand bookstores and vintage clothes shops of the funky Kensington Market district. Imagine crossing The Lanes in Brighton with a less tourist-clogged Camden Market, throw in a dash of Manchester's Northern Quarter, and that's Kensington Market. Obviously, we loved it.

* Vegan pizza! Vegan soulfood! Vegan cake! Vegan burritos! Thomas was in actual vegan heaven.

Even amid the hustle and bustle of downtown, you know you're in Toronto, rather than A.N.Other generic North American city, by the streetcar lines that crisscross the sky. There are also some beautiful historic buildings tucked away amongst the skyscrapers, such as you might stumble upon in London. We were particularly taken with the fact that you could just walk right into the Canadian Supreme Court building, a neo-classical beauty of a building surrounded by an intricate cast-iron fence. Even more strange was the fact that the security guards keenly pointed us in the direction of the exhibition down the hall, which we assumed would be about the history of the Canadian courts system or some such and which turned out, instead, to be about said fence. Yep, an entire exhibition about a fence (it's how I'm able to confidently tell you that it's cast-iron not wrought, because thanks to the exhibition I now know the difference). We also loved the Gallery of Inuit Art, bizarrely located in the reception and mezzanine area of the TD Bank building but very much worth a visit.

All-in-all, we found ourselves utterly charmed by Canada's biggest city: it may not have the beauty of Montreal, but it's definitely worth a visit.

Monday, 24 August 2015

My Canada Book Haul

My absolute favourite thing about visiting North America has to be book shopping. Not only do I adore the binding of US and Canadian books (so floppy!) but, although fiction tends to be widely published across the Atlantic, non-fiction is often more localised and there's always a ton of good stuff that I can't find in the UK. Not to mention, bookshops are just infinitely more interesting to browse when a large number of the titles are completely new to me.

Both Montreal and Toronto were blessed with numerous bookshops, secondhand and new. In Montreal I've already written about my love for Drawn & Quarterly, which is well worth a visit should you ever find yourself in the city. In Toronto, She Said Boom on College St was a small but exceptionally varied secondhand book and record store, filled with excellent stock of both fiction and non-fiction. On Queen West was Type Books (pictured above), a stunning space full of well-selected books and magazines. We visited on our last morning, by which time we had no room left for books in our luggage, yet still ended up buying four titles between us.

My total book haul was a not-too-shabby eight (pretty much all I could cram into my already over-full backpack, basically, plus a couple that had to go into my carry-on). From feminist cartoons to fat non-fiction, I got it all.

The books I was looking for
I enjoyed Michelle Tea's novel, Valencia, and read all of her columns about trying to conceive on xojane, so I'd had my eyes peeled for her memoir since it came out last year. I had no luck finding it in the UK, but Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal came up trumps.

The Infinite Moment Of Us is a YA romance. I'd read an extract in the UK-published anthology Love Hurts, but then struggled to track down a copy anywhere in this country but Amazon (boo). So I was thrilled to find it on our last day in Type Books.

The cartoons
While in Drawn & Quarterly I wanted to get something from their extensive graphic novel and comics section, and as soon as I saw this - The Big Feminist But: Comics About Women, Men and the IFs, ANDs & BUTs of Feminism - I knew it would be coming home with me. An extensive anthology featuring work by a range of artists, I can't wait to dive in.

A Bunch Of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy was, ironically enough given the subject matter - consumerism and spending - an impulse buy after I picked up a copy at the till in Type Books.

The Canadian book
I'd had some interesting chats with my Canadian uncle and one of my cousins about the First Nations in Canada and how reparations have failed to be made for the exploitation and theft of their land, so when I saw this new release for a bargain price in She Said Boom it seemed the perfect way to educate myself about the issues. Written by a Native American author, it comes garlanded with praise and I'm very much looking forward to reading this.

The bargain non-fiction
BMV Books in Toronto is a four floor behemoth of used and remainder books, and it was there I stumbled upon these three bargains, which together cost be about £6. Judging A Book By Its Lover is an example of a genre I always enjoy: books about books and reading. Scoot Over Skinny: The Fat Non-Fiction Anthology was super cheap and, with essays by David Sedaris among others, I thought it might be a fun read. Record Collecting For Girls appealed to the music fan in me. Who knows whether they'll be any cop, but at that price, it's worth the risk.

Friday, 21 August 2015

What I Wore: That 70s Show

This is an outfit I put together last summer after finding my dream button-down chambray skirt in a charity shop. Imagine my delight, then, when at the beginning of spring 2015 the 1970s revival was being touted by fashion pages up and down the land? Finally, I was ahead of the curve!

This outfit is something I wore a lot in Copenhagen last August, and it came into its own again in Canada. It's such a cool (literally cool, as in not-hot: I don't have notions above my station about my metaphorical coolness!) outfit to wear when sightseeing in a city. The t-shirt is a very thin cotton that's a joy to wear on hot days, and the skirt - once teamed with cycling shorts underneath to combat chub rub - is comfortable to wear when pounding the pavements.

This is, though, a sucky outfit post in that you can't buy anything from it: charity shop finds, past seasons stock, and a ring from my travels in South Africa. Oh yeah, and I cut my head off the lead photo because my hair and face were so bad in it!

By the by, if anyone knows where I can get a similar pair of sandals to these old Dune ones please tell me! I absolutely love them but after two summers wear they're starting to break and I need them in my life.

* Striped t-shirt: Zara (not online) * Skirt: Charity shop * Belt: Charity shop * 
* Sandals: Dune (old) * Ring: Shop in Cape Town *

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Our Summer Travels: Montreal

And so, from Iceland we travelled on to Canada. A surprise upgrade on the flight from Reykjavik was a bonus, a nightmare experience with Air Canada on our connecting flight to Ottawa less so. We spent a short time in the city before travelling to my family reunion in the Ontario countryside: I'll write more about that soon (at the moment I'm still processing the whole experience!). And from there we went to Montreal, at the heart of French-speaking Quebec.

Montreal was amazing: totally and utterly our kind of place. Awesome vegan food, good local cider (thank you French influence!), amazing street art, cosy bookshops, and a very winning combination of European and North American sensibilities, which seem to result in a completely unique city.

To me, this is the ultimate Montreal image: beautiful old architecture mixed with anarchist graffiti. The Catholic churches in the Old Town and surrounding areas are just stunning, and I loved the juxtaposition of Parisian-style buildings, towering spires, and huge skyscrapers.

As lovely as the Old Town was, though, my favourite neighbourhoods were the hip Plateau Mount Royal and the slightly grungier Mile End, both to the north of the city. The vegan food here was so good: Thomas was in raptures over the vegan crispy duck at Chu Chai. I adored both the cider and the huge veggie nachos at Lola Rosa, while I think T would quite happily marry their vegan poutine. Honestly, we barely scratched the surface of vegan Montreal and are already planning our next visit.

Also in the area, we came out of Drawn & Quarterly a good few dollars lighter. Specialising in graphic novels but with a superb fiction and non-fiction selection too, this English-language bookshop was a real highlight.

On Sunday we stumbled upon Under Pressure, an international festival of street art taking place in the Centreville. With sound systems booming, skate ramps set up in the street, entire buildings being used as canvases, and artists working everywhere, it was quite a sight. A couple of pints in a nearby rock bar (I'm happy anywhere painted black and covered in graffiti) made for a happy afternoon.

It honestly broke my heart a little to leave Montreal, as I feel that our four days there barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer. If you get the chance, go go go!