Monday, 30 November 2015

November Reads

1. The Rest Of Us Just Live Here is based on one of the most interesting concepts I've come across, certainly in YA literature. High school senior Mikey lives in small town America with his ambitious politician mother, alcoholic father, a sister in recovery from an eating disorder, and a best friend who just happens to be part-God. He's only interested in making it to prom and graduation, getting the girl he loves to notice him before she leaves for the summer, and hanging out with best friend Jared. Unfortunately, an invasion by Immortals is messing with these plans. The conceit of the book, which is brilliantly done, is that the Immortals are only bothering indie kids - the same group affected by the battle with the vampires a few years ago (cue some very funny digs at the Twilight franchise), the soul-eating ghosts a decade ago, etc etc - and so remain as a sub-plot dwelt on only briefly at the start of each chapter. As Mikey says, the indie kids "have always got some story going on that they're the heroes of. The rest of us just have to live here, hovering around the edges, left out of it all for the most part. Having said that, the indie kids do die a lot, which must suck." This is easily one of my books of the year: extremely witty, it deals with big issues - the mental health struggles of Mikey and his sister are a huge part of the plot - very well whilst remaining pacy and thrilling. If you read one book from this round-up, it needs to be this one.

2. 21 Proms was one of those YA books that I think are best left to, well, young adults themselves. A collection of short stories about prom, they were (perhaps inevitably, given the subject matter and restricted length) fairly shallow tales, almost none of which gripped my attention. The highlight for me was John Green's story, The Great American Morp, which had something of a great teen movie about it.

3. I'm afraid my love for David Levithan is quickly becoming sullied by one mediocre book after another. Another Day is the sequel to Every Day, which was the story of A, a teenage boy who wakes up every morning in a different body and who falls in love with the girlfriend of the boy in whose body he inhabits for one day. This is the girl - Rhiannon's - side of the story, but because it limits the narrative to exactly the period that was covered in the first book, we don't really learn anything new.

4. A woman is snatched from a Paris street, and Commandant Camille Verhoeven, haunted by the murder of his wife five years ago, is assigned the case. But solving it is going to be more complex than just discovering who her abductor was, and Alex is no ordinary victim. Alex is gory and gripping, packed with satisfying plot twists and very well written. I can well see why it won awards and accolades by the bucketload: very much recommended.

5. When Mr Shaitana, famous for his flamboyant parties, invites a group of detectives - a writer of crime thrillers, the head of Scotland Yard, an MI6 man, and Poirot himself -  to dinner, together with four more guests, he ends up dead. And so the detectives begin to look into the backgrounds of the other guests, about whom Shaitana had dropped hints regarding 'getting away with murder'. Cards On The Table was perfect for a dark autumn night, and marked the debut of one of my favourite Poirot characters, the crime writer Ariadne Oliver, based on Christie herself.

6. The Silent Wife has been compared to Gone Girl but it's nowhere near the quality of that book. Jodie & Todd have been a couple for 20 years when he betrays her with yet another affair. And so she decides to kill him. Written from both points of view in alternating third person present tense chapters, I just couldn't find it in me to care about either character, nor about their eventual fates.

7. I picked up Mystery In White from a secondhand bookshop recently, thinking it would be an appropriate inclusion for a Christmas gift swap parcel, and decided to give it a cheeky read first. A classic Golden Age crime novel with a ghost story element, it made for a nicely seasonal, undemanding read.

8. I've really enjoyed Sloane Crosley's non-fiction essays, so I jumped at the chance to read her first novel, The Clasp*. Three college friends now in their late 20s - Kezia, Nathaniel and Victor - are reunited at the wedding of a classmate, and Victor's encounter with the mother of the groom leads him to become obsessed with a legendary necklace. When, after losing his job, he disappears to search for the necklace, Kezia and Nathaniel team up to look for him. I have to say, The Clasp wasn't really for me; it's written in a self-consciously literary style and the plot took a long time to get going.

9. I read A Place Of Execution years ago and had luckily forgotten quite a bit about the plot. One of Val McDermid's only stand-alone crime novels, it tells the story of young and ambitious detective George Bennett, who one cold night in December 1963 is called to the isolated Derbyshire village of Scarsdale to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. The scenes in the dale are atmospheric and creepy, and it contains one of the very best 'reveals' in modern crime fiction.

10. I actually read Signs For Lost Children on holiday in October, but then forgot about it in my monthly round-up. Sarah Moss writes beautifully, imbuing her characters with real life, and I have adored every single one of her previous books. This, the sequel Bodies Of Light, finds Victorian-era doctor Ally beginning her married life to lighthouse designer Tom with a long period of separation, as she continues her challenging work in a Cornish asylum, where she is disrespected and distrusted by staff thanks to her sex, and her husband goes to Japan for more than a year to complete a commission. The descriptions of both Ally's descent into depression and of Tom's experiences in Japan - where the country is vividly rendered by Moss' use of language - are wonderful but I found it a less engaging read than any of her previous novels.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Photo An Hour: 21st November 2015

You know those days when you wonder why you ever got out of bed? Yeah, yesterday was one of those days. Instead of doing the sensible thing after working four 60+ hour weeks on the trot, and staying at home, I'd taken it upon myself to instead drive to Sheffield for a Plus Size Clothes Swap and to see Rebecca, then head on up to my mum's in Leeds for dinner.

Unfortunately, the day had other plans for me. And as a result, I did a pretty shit job of Photo An Hour, missing a grand total of five hours - oops! I'll have to be better next time. Thanks as always to Jane and Louisa for organising.

I woke up late (I'm so tired at the moment: working two jobs will do that, I guess) and it was freezing cold in the house so we lit the wood-burner.

A read of the paper (very depressing, do not recommend) and toast for breakfast.

Trying on a new dress, which I mostly love but which has a very tight and weirdly fitting waistband. Instagram and Twitter both say keep, but I'm still a bit undecided.

Deciding on a book to take with me to my mum's.

In the car, so no photograph.

Still in the car, no photograph. Around this time I was snarled up near Meadowhall, where it took me an hour to travel less than 3 miles.

Still in the car, having missed the clothes swap which was the entire point of my journey north. Feeling pretty annoyed with myself, I pressed on up the M1 and a few miles out of Sheffield my bloody hubcap flew off (luckily while I was pulling onto the hard shoulder, having been alerted that something was wrong by another driver).

Finally at my mum's! By this time I was in an extremely bad mood so a cup of tea was sorely needed.
I'd made an error choosing this book, though, I don't think Pratchett's for me.

Poking round in the fridge for something to eat. My mum and step-mum use their Scrabble fridge magnets to spell out key events each month (no idea who Clive and Jean are though).

Fitting in a little bit of blogging before dinner.

No photo as we were engrossed in Strictly.

No photo as I was busy scoffing cheese and biscuits and laughing uproariously with my mum and step-mum. My grump was over by now, and I really enjoyed my evening with them.

Heading to bed soon, but first time to read. I'm so glad I thought to pack my Kindle as well as a book, as I've already given up on The Hogfather.

Monday, 16 November 2015

When Outfit Photos Go Wrong II: Revenge Of The Camera

Outfit photography lesson 1: Beware the wind

Last year I wrote about how bad outfit photos had conquered my fear of cameras and I had cause to think about this again recently. My brother got married and, during the rehearsal on Friday evening, Thomas was roaming round with a camera snapping off shots.

Inevitably, I looked absolutely awful in every one: slouching shoulders, greasy hair, scrunched up face, boobs looking - as always - ridiculously disproportionate to the rest of my body. A couple of years ago I'd have had a breakdown after seeing them. I'd certainly have cried and demanded they were deleted, proceeding to spend the whole weekend in a deep funk, convinced I constantly looked that terrible. I'd most likely have refused to be photographed at the wedding.

But instead, I shrugged it off. So there were some bad photos of me? So what? I'd been driving for three hours, was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and the photographer was snapping candid shots. No wonder I looked a mess.

And at the wedding, I happily posed for photos: I had a handsome man on my arm and an outfit both classy and comfortable. Why would I refuse?

It's entirely thanks to photographing my outfits for this blog that my attitude has taken such a 180 (well, that and the aforementioned handsome man, it being hard to really hate your appearance when someone you love and admire tells you you look beautiful).

I've learnt that it's entirely possible to look completely unlike yourself in a photo: a shutter clicked at the wrong moment and I look utterly ridiculous; a moment later, radiant. The more photographs of me that are taken, the more forgiving I can be of the terrible ones.

So now seemed like a good time to release into the world the next batch of outfit photo outtakes, of which I have many. Particularly because, in the absence of a dry weekend in which to take photographs, I haven't managed to do an actual outfit post in months.

1. When I'm nervous, I move my hands a lot: as a result, every batch of outfit photos includes numerous ones of me with blurry limbs. This also features the dreaded double chin.
2. Thomas had probably just told me a terrible joke.
 1. Don't know what to do when you're posing? Me either, but I can tell you that awkwardly messing with your belt whilst talking constantly is never a good idea. 2. If I remember rightly, I was looking at a cat when this was taken: how that's made me look like a zombie, I don't know.

 And what do you do with your hands? Maybe pretending to slam-dunk a basketball wasn't the best idea. I know, I'll cup my boobs instead, that'll work.

And the ever-present eye problem. I always close my eyes in photos, but perhaps that's the better option if my only other one is to stare maniacally.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Gift Ideas For The Book Lover In Your Life

What do you mean, it's too early to start thinking about Christmas shopping? I've been picking up bits since January, keeping my gift spreadsheet updated all the while. But I'll accept that not everyone is as organised/weird/anal as me and you might only just be starting to think about gift buying.

Now, I'm not one for beauty gift sets, luxurious make-up palettes or sparkly jewellery. What I really want at Christmas is things that remind me of my greatest passion in life: reading. And if you, too, have a book lover for whom you need to buy a present, how about one of these ideas?

Clockwise from top left:
1. It breaks my heart that a similarly minimalist poster isn't available for Austen's far superior novel, Persuasion, but this Pride & Prejudice print from Etsy will still look lovely gracing the wall.

2. The Literary Gift Company is the obvious starting point when buying for a book lover and this cushion with a quote from Borges, on the topic of libraries, would be perfect to adorn any literary home.

3. Happen to know an opinionated, height-challenged lover of Shakespeare (*cough* me! *cough*)? Then this book page print from Etsy will be just the ticket.

4. I know I'm not the only book lover with a borderline fetish for list-making. Featuring beautifully illutstrated pages inviting the owner to list everything from their favourite dystopias to their favourite childhood reads, this Literary Listography would be the perfect gift for anyone with a librarian-like desire for order in their reading life.

5. Obviously I'm slightly biased here (I do work for them, after all), but I think the Willoughby Book Company provide the perfect solution for the readers in your life. We offer a range of bespoke subscriptions, starting at £29.99 for a 3 month package, and your giftee will then receive a carefully chosen (by me!), beautifully wrapped book at the start of every month. We're also offering 15% off everything in the run up to Christmas - just enter the code WBC15 at checkout.

6. I'm a little obsessed with badges and brooches at the moment, and Etsy is a treasure trove of book-related pins to choose from. My very favourite might be this Drink Tea & Read Books wooden brooch, with the literary owl a close second.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Autumn In Norfolk

A trip to Norfolk seems to be becoming an autumn tradition for us. Last October we spent a long weekend in Wells-next-the-Sea and a couple of weeks ago we again headed down the A47 for five days in Little Walshingham. Having just a few days off during half term before starting my new job, and with Thomas having gone straight from his PhD to a new role at the university, high on the list of our priorities was to relax.

Our cottage in Little Walsingham was perfect for the job: with no WiFi or 3G signal, we had to abandon our phones and social media addictions and just... chill. We went for long walks, explored ancient ruins, picked blackberries, met friends, played board games. Most of all, we ate a lot of food, drank a lot of tea, had many pints of local cider, read quietly in front of the fire, and slept a great deal.

Sheringham was a nice place for an afternoon's wander, a classic seaside town where it was practically obligatory to eat chips on the seafront, despite the chilly wind.

Walsingham itself is a fascinating place to visit. The village is tiny, a maze of cramped lanes lined with half-timbered Tudor buildings and traditional brick and flint cottages. A site of pilgrimage since 1061, Walsingham Abbey was destroyed in the Reformation but pilgrimages were resumed in the early 20th century and it's now a major site of pilgrimage for both Anglicans and Catholics. It was quite an experience to sit in the pub one evening (the amazing Black Lion - do visit if you're ever in the area) and listen to a table full of robe-clad, beer-drinking priests debating who their favourite pope was. It was rather like an episode of Father Ted writ large, all the more so when the 'mean girl' priest started taking the piss out of a colleague for the speed of his Mass. Thomas and I decided that a trip to Little Walsingham is the priest equivalent of Ibiza; at least, there certainly seemed to be a lot of late-night drinking going on.

The Abbey grounds are now open to the public as a large park. The ruins, although there's not much left of them, are quite spectacular and we met the sweetest cat in the adjoining woodland, with whom we of course had to make friends. The glorious sunshine on our final day there brought the early autumn colours to life, the perfect weather for a long country walk.

Our few days in Norfolk were the perfect tonic and I've returned refreshed and ready for the challenges of this half term. Little Walsingham was just right for us, too. Quiet, peaceful, and away from the bustle of North Norfolk's seaside resorts, I'd heartily recommend it if you ever decide to visit the area.