four years

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My blog turned four on Valentine’s day, and even though that was quite a while ago now I still wanted to (belatedly) mark the occasion. So, in honour of four happy blogging years I thought it would be nice to focus on four – pretty random – things that I’ve been loving and that have been making me happy this February…

engagement pancakes. One of my brothers recently got engaged. I got the date for pancake day wrong by two whole weeks. Those two things combined meant our celebratory family meal ended up being fajitas, with pancakes and ice cream for pudding (plus lots of prosecco). My mum has decided that engagement pancakes are now, officially, a family tradition. And I’m very much okay with that.

netflix. A heady mix of Storm Ciara, rain, more rain, Storm Dennis, feeling unwell, the trailer for The Witcher, a holiday week from work to use up, and a reading slump *shock, horror* meant I finally gave in and signed even more of my life and money away up for Netflix. So far, I have no regrets and a massive crush on Henry Cavill.

new recipes. As well as revolutionising the culinary world by inventing engagement pancakes, I’ve been busy revolutionising my taste buds by trying out new recipes. Three favourites from these baking forays are passion cake; chocolate hazelnut cake; and banana, chocolate & cardamom cake (originally from the River Cottage cookbook Fruit).

taking leaps. I’ve just put a deposit on a new (to me) car and, for someone whose blood is basically made up of neat cortisol, this has obviously involved unrelenting stomach butterflies, heart-juddering waves of panic, and hours of lying awake listing all the things that could go wrong. Things definitely could go wrong – cars will be cars will be cars – but they could also not (hopefully, please and thank you universe). Leaps of faith – in whatever form – are how we grow. They make life interesting. They go wrong and they go right. You just have to jump and see what happens. *tries to look wise and zen*

Here’s to the next four years of blogging!

Reads – The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock

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‘Providence has taken your ship and given you a mermaid instead.’

Jonah Hancock’s respectable, if somewhat boring, merchant’s life in 1780’s London is catapulted off course when the captain of one of his trading ships returns one night – after months without news of his whereabouts or the fate of Mr. Hancock’s cargo – without the ship, but with a mermaid.

A whirlwind of chaos, and a hint of magic, ensues.

The  book is full of strange twists and turns of fate, and full, too, of intriguing, infuriating, and monstrous characters that turn and twist those fates to their own purpose – with varying degrees of success. Mr. Hancock is endearing if a little dull. Angelica is impish and stubborn, but ultimately kind-hearted. Mrs. Chappell is wonderfully grotesque and pompous. Sukie is clever and strong, a small force to be reckoned with. The mermaid, or the ghost of it at least, weaves lightly through the pages too.

The writing style is beautiful. It’s quite classical, but never overbearing. In less capable hands, I think I would have found the level of detail irritating – but Imogen Hermes Gowar makes it all seem luxurious rather than laborious. Inevitably, the focus on smaller things impacts the pacing of the story and makes for a slow-burning book. I thought – by the end – that it was worth burning slowly for, but I can see how others might feel differently.

So if you, like me, find yourself being lured by the siren call of The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock – find yourself being dragged towards its story-shores, feel the pull of its popular current slip-sliding at your feet – I would say there’s no harm in answering its call…

Remi Meets the Sea

My brother and his girlfriend are down from London over the holidays with their seven month old miniature dachshund, Remi.

Remi is ADORABLE. He’s cuteness and mischief and cuddles and fabulousness on four tiny legs; with a heart of gold, the smooshiest little face, the floppiest and fluffiest ears you ever did see, and a nose that’s perfect for booping.

On Sunday, we took him to Studland beach for his first trip to the seaside.

He loved it. And it was the loveliest thing to see him discovering a whole new world; see him sallying forth into a great unknown; see his first steps on the sand; see his nose covered in it too; see him meet the sea, smell the water, paddle along the bubbly edges of it and look out at the horizon. Probably the biggest and widest horizon he’s seen so far. Poole, Bournemouth, the Isle of Wight, Old Harry Rocks, the silky silver English Channel, cloud after cloud after cloud. He took it all in his perfect, wibbly wobbly stride.

The beach was busy – but Remi’s a city dog, a seasoned pro in busyness, so he wasn’t fazed. He made lots of new furry friends and won himself lots of human admirers too.

And watching him got me feeling all philosophical.

(What can I say? I just like overthinking.)

To be fair, the end of a year and the dawn of new one always makes me reflective. What did I learn? What did I do with my life? Did I make the most of the last twelve months? What do I want to learn and do in, and how do I make the most of, the next twelve? I don’t really know how to answer those questions properly. They probably aren’t truly answerable.

All I do know is I want to be a bit like Remi meeting the sea over the next twelve months – constantly curious, open to the unknown, finding joy in the little things, and quietly confident I’ll be up to the challenge of what’s in store.

I probably won’t look quite as cute as him though.

Here’s lookin’ at you, 2020.

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fun and games
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boop, boop. making friends
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best feet forwards
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run, run as fast you can, you can’t catch me I’m a mini dachshund
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blurry and wriggly Remi cuddles
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one last look

Reads – The Golden

A few years ago, I read a vampire book at Christmas. The year after I – totally coincidentally – read another one. The year after that I – totally deliberately – read another.

And thus my yuletide vampire book tradition was born.

So far, my Christmas vampire reads have been: The Quick by Lauren Owen, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and Fevre Dream by George RR Martin. This year’s was The Golden by Lucius Shepard (which I read about here while I was researching what book to pick).

‘The gathering at Castle Banat on the evening of Friday, October 16th, 1860, had been more than three centuries in the planning…’

The Golden by Lucius Shepard. Book review. Vampire novel.

For centuries, the old vampire families of Europe have been breeding humans in an attempt to distill the most delectable blood into one line, known as ‘the Golden’. So far, so creepy. At a gathering organised to sample the blood belonging to one of the finest Golden – hosted by the formidable Patriarch of all the vampire families – the chosen Golden is found brutally murdered and drained of all her blood. The Patriarch charges newbie vampire, and former Parisian police detective, Michel Beheim with uncovering the murderer.

The book has a lot of things going for it. The writing is lush and sprawling. The whodunnit aspect is compelling and interesting. The setting is extraordinary. The characters are devious. The twists and turns of the plot are dark, psychedelic, grotesque, avant garde, bizarre, pretty darn meta, as well as charmingly gothic. It certainly didn’t feel like a standard or formulaic vampire story.

But there was one thing that I really disliked about the book, one thing that hung over it like a dark cloud.

The female characters.

Where to start? *grimaces*

In all honesty, I felt uncomfortable with the portrayal of the women throughout the book – particularly their lack of agency and Michel’s treatment of them. Michel is a bit of an arsehole. He knows he’s an arsehole and he wrestles with the fact that he’s an arsehole – with added vampire complications – throughout the entire story. I don’t know if his internal struggle makes it better or worse. It certainly makes it something. Mostly it was simply embarrassing and cringeworthy (for the character and the author) to watch unfold and, to be honest, its obviousness/standardness/unimaginativeness was almost boring, but it also felt a little bit sinister. It’s extent is debatable (I don’t actually want to debate it though because it’s Christmas and I work in retail so I’m grumpy and tired, just an fyi), but, personally, something felt icky and disappointing. Not overwhelmingly icky and disappointing, but still.

It’s very dated.

And I’m just gonna leave that very big can of worms there.

*backs away slowly*

I still liked it, still thought it was intriguing, still enjoyed the world building, etc., I just know I would have liked it more if my eyes had had less rolling to do.

My quest for the perfect vampire novel continues…

Winter Warmers

The weather outside this December has been frightful.

And as much as the fire has been delightful, sometimes keeping warm and cosy and happy in winter means more than just a temperature change.

I find these winter months difficult. I don’t like short days. I don’t like unrelentingly grey skies. I don’t like my skin turning a weird purple, red, blue colour when I misjudge how many layers I need to wear. I don’t like how easily the dreary darkness of outside creeps inside my mind. And I don’t like de-icing my car. (I really, really don’t like forgetting that I’m going to need to de-ice my car and the five minutes of panic that follows as I desperately try and make it so I can see out of the windscreen and actually get to work on time.)

So, yeah. Not a massive winter fan.

But winter is happening here in the Northern hemisphere whether I’m a fan of it or not (rude, right?) so I figured this year I’d at least try to be a bit more enthusiastic about it.

Here are some of my winter warmers:

cuppas. Cups of tea are an integral part of my life all year round, but cold weather definitely ups the cuppa stakes. Plus, winter is the perfect excuse for a cheeky hot chocolate (maybe with a splash of Bailey’s thrown in too).

people. Spending time with the people that make your heart happy is pretty much the answer to all of life’s problems, always.

stories. In whatever format – whether it’s a TV series, a film, or a book – being swept off to galaxies far, far away; parallel worlds; seventies California, etc. puts a rainy English winter in its little old place. At the moment, I’m watching and loving the adaptation of His Dark Materials on the BBC, reading and loving Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, and I’m so so looking forward to the new Star Wars film.

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twinkle, twinkle. Sparkly lights, sparkly tops, sparkly eye-shadow, sparkly hairspray, sparkly hopes and dreams, sparkly and wonderful people – sparkling, shimmering, shining, glittering stuff keeps the cold, grey darkness of December days at bay. Sparkle up your life. Jingle all the way. Let it glow let it glow let it glow.

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jack frost. Frosty mornings are pretty to look at, even if they do mean I have to de-ice my car. *supresses eye twitch* I don’t know why a little layer of ice makes the world seem magical and fairytale-esque, but it somehow does. And anything that makes the world seem more magical is worth celebrating.

furry friends. Cuddling a cat (or any pet) is one of the best medicines for curing the winter blues.

knitwear. Cocooning myself in layers of knitwear, snug as a bug in a rug, is one of my favourite things about winter and is pretty much the only thing I miss about it when it’s summer time. It’s one of life’s top comforts for me, physically and mentally. I feel safe (100% aware of how silly that sounds) as well as cosy when I’m swamped in an XXL men’s jumper.

eat, drink, be merry. Life is too short to worry about the calorie content of mince pies and mulled wine. Way, way too short. This year, I’m all in.

planning ahead/adventures. Having things to look forward to and adventures to go on – whether they’re big or teeny-tiny small – are nice distractions from the symptoms of cabin fever that can creep in at this time of year. They’re like stepping stones of hope leading all the way to spring.

Driving in Cornwall in the rain. Roadtrip to Cornwall.

starry, starry night. Winter offers some of the best night skies of the year and staring at the stars is always a good idea.

creating. Write an epic poem. Sew a shopper bag. Knit a Dr Who length scarf. Make a Christmas decoration. Bake a massive cake. Concoct a new cocktail. Build a bookshelf. Play an instrument. Invent a new board game. Paint a picture. Paint a wall. Being stuck inside is one of the best excuses to make something/catch up with projects we would all be too busy skipping dreamily through sun-drenched meadows of buttercups and daisies to get around to otherwise.

something new. Trying new things is always good for the soul, even if it’s simply testing out a new cookie recipe or reading a different genre of book – getting those little grey cells going helps keep those big grey clouds from taking over.

*stops and stares morosely at the darkness outside*

*sighs*

I think it’s definitely time for that mince pie and glass of mulled wine.

♦ What’s your favourite time of year? What are your favourite things about winter? ♦ Have you got any book/film/TV recommendations to distract from the cold weather? ♦

Yoga Fever

So. Yoga.

It’s unexpectedly become an important part of my life.

I’d been thinking about trying it for years, I’d just never plucked up the courage to attend a class – but in June, along with a friend, I finally braved the gym and had a go. I’m so glad I did.

And – although I’m only still very much a beginner and am in no way qualified to tell people how to look after their bodies – there’s still a part of me that wants to shout from the rooftops about how good I’ve found yoga to be and why I would recommend it to anyone right from the bottom of my heart.

This here blog is my rooftop.

And this here post is my shout out from the bottom of my heart.

Heart drawn on steamed up car window, with raindrops in the background. Blog post about yoga.

So, in no particular order, these are some of the reasons why I’ve come to love yoga:

  • aaand relax. Yoga is ridiculously relaxing considering it’s a form of exercise. Relaxing doesn’t come naturally to me – and I’m sure that’s something that is true for a lot of other people too (why would you relax when you can obsessively worry about illogical things instead?). So for me to be on the verge of sleep in a room full of strangers at the end of every yoga session (in savasana) is a. big. deal. I don’t know what magic is at work, but it is magic.
  • feel the burn. Okay, so yoga is relaxing. But it’s also not relaxing. It’s hard work. It takes a lot of effort to hold poses that look effortless (ahem, poses that other people make look effortless). I wibble and wobble and wince and grimace and overbalance embarrassingly often, but I can feel my muscles getting stronger with every session. No healthy pain, no gain.
  • in sync with your body. I’m very self-conscious about my body but not very conscious of my body, if that makes any sense. Yoga helps me feel more aware and accepting of my movements/my posture/my muscles/my fat/my bones/myself and that awareness feels peaceful rather than critical and judgemental (like it used to be).
  • looking after yourself. This ties in a lot with the point above. In the past, I’ve had what can only be called a hate/hate relationship with my body. I wrote about it back in the summer (not very well *grimaces* but I tried my best) so I won’t bore you with the backstory of this subject again. Basically – and I know this probably sounds like the most obvious thing in the history of the universe to most people – looking after your body feels nicer than doing things that damage it and saying things to degrade it. I mean, who even knew? Who. Even. Knew. *laughs, but mostly cries* Punishing your body, hurting your body, and deriding your body is weirdly and dangerously addictive, but it’s a habit that – slowly and steadily – can be kicked. Every body deserves to be looked after. ❤
  • focus pocus. Yoga forces you to focus on every breath you take and every move you make *don’t sing, don’t sing, don’t sing* and I’ve found that sense of focus helps me to sideline the worries (and songs) that normally flood my brain, not only during classes but outside in the actual real day-to-day world too. That focus is incredibly freeing. And weird. But good weird.
  • for everyone. Don’t be fooled by instagram. You don’t have to be young, skinny, perfectly tanned, and positioned in front a setting/rising sun to practise yoga. You can be any age, any shape, and (pretty much) anywhere.
  • excuse for a lie down. Any form of exercise that includes a lie down at the end – savasana, a.k.a. corpse pose (lovely name) – gets the thumbs up from me.
  • agency. I think this is true of any exercise, but is particularly noticeable in yoga because of the slower pace and focus on precise movements. There’s something powerful about feeling in control and feeling able to affect positive change. I know the times when I’ve felt most stressed, anxious, and/or depressed are the times when I’ve felt incapable of changing anything happening around me, or felt like my voice didn’t matter/had been taken away from me, or felt like my body was worthless and useless. That’s not to say you should blunder about being a control freak and acting like you’re the most amazing human being that’s ever lived, but giving yourself a sense of agency and dignity is (in my opinion, anyway) important for mental wellbeing. Yoga has helped me with that.

And, if nothing else, yoga helps me feel like I’m counteracting the bad posture I’ve developed from spending so much time with my shoulders hunched up while I’m reading and writing.

♦ Have you tried yoga? ♦ If you have, what did you think of it? ♦ What’s your favourite exercise? ♦

away with the fairytales

‘The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things – all manner of beasts and birds are found there.’ said J.R.R Tolkien in his essay On Fairy Stories.

And recently, one of the beasts to be found there has been me.

I’ve been venturing forth into those wide and deep and high realms on a quest for story treasures – armed with a notebook and pen to document my findings (when I remembered to be organised), and an embarrassing amount of tea to keep me going (which I always remembered because tea is life).

Here are a few of the treasures I discovered…

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman (illustrated by Colleen Doran)

‘I think of her hair as black as coal – her lips, redder than blood – her skin, snow-white.’

This book was dark, gruesome, macabre, explicit, and disturbing. And I loved it.

It’s an unsettling reimagining of the Snow White fairytale by Neil Gaiman, in graphic – sometimes very graphic *blushes* – novel form. First published in the nineties, it was rereleased earlier this year with illustrations by Colleen Doran.

The story itself is a wonderfully twisted take on the more traditional version of the tale, but it’s the illustrations that really make this book. They are stunning.

Definitely not one for the kids, though.

Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Colleen Doran, 2019 edition

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

‘He is the fear in the dark, the monster under the bed. He is a thing out of stories, and he is here in my house…’

Anna is our heroine here – an eleven-year-old Greek refugee living with her emotionally distant father in 1920s Oxford. The pair are the only members of their family to have survived an attack on their home city, and not only is Anna still grieving for the friends and family she lost in the attack, she’s also struggling to fit into her new life in England. She’s incredibly lonely, cast adrift. But she’s also adventurous, wanting to follow in the footsteps of all the great characters of Greek mythology, and that spirit of adventure draws her into a world full of supernatural dangers.

This was an unusual gem/rough diamond of a book. It’s a hard one to define. There are a few things that aren’t quite right with it – it sits uneasily across genres and target audiences, the narrative voice seems to wander about at times, the pacing feels slightly off, plus there are awkward cameos from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And, technically, all of those things put together should have made for a bad reading experience… but *throws hands up in the air* I actually really liked it.

What can I say?

It’s by no means perfect but it’s by a lot of means enchanting.

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

‘In an ancient inn on the Thames the regulars are entertaining thenmselves by telling stories when the door bursts open and in steps and injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a child.

Hours later, the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life.

Is it a miracle? Is it magic?

And who does the little girl belong to?’

This was an interesting book. I liked it a lot, especially its magical, folkloric elements.

I loved the ever-present spectre of Quietly the ferryman. ‘He appeared when you were in trouble on the water… He spoke never a word, but guided you safely to the bank so you would live another day. But if you were out of luck… it was another shore altogether he took you to…’

Ferrymen who guide souls to the otherworld are a favourite mythological figure of mine. *taps pen against nose secretively*

And all the living characters are richly drawn too. Their individual stories intertwine and twist and turn beautifully. But the plot is quite a slow-burner, a meanderer like the Thames itself, which felt a little disappointing.

Although it was certainly an enjoyable world to meander through.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield book review

♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you make of them if you have? ♦ What fairy-story realms would you recommend to a bookish explorer? ♦ The Tolkien quote at the start of the post is one of my favourite quotes on fairytales… what’s yours? ♦

Let me know in the comments!

colourful and moon lit

The last few weeks, I’ve been going stir, stir, stir crazy – stuck between going down with a cold that hijacked my entire body and being busy at work and being busy with random life stuff and the weather being unbelievably rubbish. But on Monday – finally *cries melodramatically* – I was able to get out and enjoy some autumn sunshine in the grounds of a local National Trust property.

In one of the outbuildings of the property, there was a pretty display with the question: what does autumn mean to you? and little paper leaves for people to write their answers on.

I stood in front of the display for a good couple of minutes – tapping a mini pencil against my chin, rolling a paper leaf backwards and forwards between my fingers – and thought very seriously (seriously over thought) what does autumn mean to me?

A million and one clichés came to my mind, but, dammit, I wanted something original to write, so I waited a little longer.

And waited.

Tapping, rolling. Tapping, rolling.

Apple crumble soaked in cream and sitting in front of the woodburner and too much night and not enough day and Bailey’s hot chocolate and oh my goodness golly gosh Christmas is coming and oh my goodness golly gosh my car’s MOT and ah god holy crap will it actually pass its MOT and ah god holy crap how much will it end up costing and wait you’re supposed to be thinking about autumn. *takes a deep breath* Chestnuts roasted on an open fire (ahem, in a microwave) and gold, grey, sepia and I LOVE SCARVES and baking yummy food and eating too much food and I REALLY LOVE SCARVES and making plans for the New Year and fighting off the blues.

Footsteps approached.

I panicked about how embarrassingly uncool and serious I was being and then double panicked because there were about to be people to witness my uncool seriousness, so I gave up trying to be original and clever and smug and just scribbled something about walking and crunchy, golden leaves, and tied it up to the display. I took a quick look at some of the others as I did. They all made me smile, but one in particular caught my eye.

Colourful and moon lit.

(I’m guessing it was written by a child, so I’m more than happy to ignore the spelling/grammar issues.)

Colourful and moon lit, I mused all philosophically as I shuffled back out into the sunshine, trying to look cool and unserious and like I hadn’t just spent five whole minutes thinking about what autumn meant to me as I passed the other walkers, that is exactly what autumn is.

It is full of colour. Whether it’s the glittering golds and sulky silvers of nature, or the garish, flashing rainbows of mankind, there is colour everywhere at this time of year. Sometimes you have to look a little harder, sometimes it’s literally fifty shades of grey (clouds, clouds everywhere), but there’s always colour lurking somewhere. And although autumn is also full of darkness, that darkness is made a little lighter, a little more bearable, by the moon. Sometimes that moonlight is brighter than bright, sometimes it’s fainter than faint – but it is always there.

Four words turned three weeks of stir crazy on its head.

I hope all your autumns are full of colour and moonlight.

autumn leaves in Dorset, England, November 2019.
trees of gold
paper leaves
what does autumn mean to you? leaves (‘colourful and moon lit’ leaf is in the top left corner)
November full moon and tree silhouettes.
glow in the dark

Some Summer Reads So Far

Days, weeks, and months feel like they’re blurring into one right now. I probably (definitely) say that all the time, but it feels especially true at the moment.

Books, too, seem to be blurring into one big mushy whirlpool of letters, pages, and covers. Not that I’ve been reading a superhuman number of them – far from it! – but I have definitely been struggling to capture my thoughts and feelings on most of them.

Book thoughts and feelings can be slippery, slimy, and hard to keep hold of creatures.

C’est la vie.

Although it would kind of be helpful if it wasn’t la vie.

So, over the last few days, I’ve been on the hunt – decked out in full book safari gear – for a few thoughts and feelings creatures.

Luckily, I managed to track a few down.

*

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: this book, people. This book. *clutches copy to chest* It’s utterly, utterly, utterly incredible. It’s mindbendingly weird and spellbindingly surreal. It’s magnificent and enchanting and effervescent; bitingly funny and shockingly horrific. It’s completely mesmerising.

It is, quite simply, all. the. feels.

All. The. Feels.

And seeing as I’ve run out of interesting adjectives and melodramatic uses for full stops, all I have left to recommend it is the blurb:

‘The devil comes to Moscow wearing a fancy suit. With his disorderly band of accomplices – including a demonic, gun-toting tomcat – he immediately begins to create havoc. Disappearances, destruction and death spread through the city like wildfire and Margarita discovers that her lover has vanished in the chaos. Making a bargain with the devil, she decides to try a little black magic of her own to save the man she loves…’

If you like weird and wild and anarchic, you NEED to read The Master and Margarita.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom: it’s typical, isn’t it? As soon as I write a blog post about being a slow reader, I start and finish a book in a day. I read this on a blazing hot June afternoon*, curled up on a blanket** in the garden, surrounded by buzzing bees and bumbling butterflies. It was a really, really relaxing afternoon, made even better by this endearing book. Originally published in the nineties, it’s a real-life tale following journalist Mitch Albom as he catches up with his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is slowly dying from ALS. The book flows seamlessly; it has a punchy, hook-filled, journalistic style, but somehow pulls it off in a relaxed, easy-going way. And its core message is head-over-heels heartwarming.

*June afternoon is weirdly fun to say. Or is that just me?

**which I had to adjust every fifteen minutes to keep up with the shadows cast by towels drying on the washing line because I was too lazy to go back inside and get some suncream.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: this book left me crying like an absolute baby, and left me crying like an absolute baby” is probably one of the highest forms of recommendation I can give a book. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon who, in May 2013, was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He died in March 2015. He wrote When Breath Becomes Air during the last twenty-two months of his life, as he grappled with the illness and the prospect of his imminent death. The book will break your heart. But it will also put it back together again.

‘What happened to Paul was tragic, but he was not a tragedy.’ from the book’s epilogue, by Lucy Kalanithi.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen: I’m on a quest to learn more about the weird and wonderful world of minds at the moment, and learning a little more about empathy seemed like a good place to start. Zero Degrees of Empathy provides a fascinating and easy to digest insight into the evidence and ideas surrounding empathy; how it works, its origins, its usefulness, and the problems that arise when it malfunctions within individuals and societies. I particularly enjoyed chapter two – learning about psychopaths and narcissists was fun and worrying all at the same time.

Zero Degrees of Empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen

And where better to end a blog post than on the subject of psychopaths and narcissists?

I certainly can’t think of anywhere.

♦ Have you read any of these? ♦ What did you think of them, if you have? ♦ How do you keep track of your book thoughts and feelings? ♦ Are you chaotic like me or organised like a sensible person? ♦

Reads – Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

*emerges from reading cave dazed and confused*

It’s been five weeks.

Five whole weeks.

But, yesterday, I finally finished my story turtle quest to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

It’s been an adventure.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke book review.

I feel like I have a hangover from it.

I’ve been drinking a lot of intoxicating words over the last five weeks.

Book hangovers make processing thoughts and writing reviews tricky. Which, considering this is a book review, is perhaps awkward.

But the black-out blinds are down, there’s a plate full of carbs by my side, plenty of book drugs to numb the pain, and copious cups of tea to keep me going. Plus, I have my trusty old bullet points to fall back on.

I’m definitely going to fall back on them.

There’s no other way with this level of hangover.

Overall, I loved it. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s an extraordinary story and an incredible piece of writing. There were things I really liked about the book and, inevitably, some things that I liked a lot less. These are the things that I can currently remember…

Likes:

  • The footnotes. Each one was a teeny tiny magical story within a humungous magical story, and they were so cleverly done.
  • The fantasticalness. Ugh, man. This book is beyond magical and fantastical and wonderful. It’s everything you could ask for in an alternative-history fantasy book. Everything and more.
  • The writing. It’s whimsical and witty and charming and it just made my reader’s heart all warm and happy. Susanna Clarke has skillz. (That’s the only way I can think to describe it – probably because of my lack of aforementioned* skillz.)
  • The characters. There are pantomime villains; blundering but good hearted heroes; loyal friends; secretive masters; chattering servants; a missing, ancient faerie king; magical vagabonds; plus many, many more besides. They’re all richly drawn and brim with life.
  • Regency. Regency England made magical is as good as it sounds. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to read Pride and Prejudice again without being disppointed there’s no witchcraft going on.

Dislikes:

  • The footnotes. I know, I know. How can I like them and dislike them at the same time? I just can, that’s why. *sticks out tongue* Mostly, they were brilliant. One or two, though, felt overbearing and unnecessary and made me do eye-rolls worthy of a teenager.
  • Mr Norrell. Eeek. I’m certain Susanna Clarke didn’t intend for him to be a likeable character, which is fair enough and normally doesn’t bother me, but my lack-of-like for Mr Norrell stretches to pretty intense levels. He’s proud, arrogant, pernicious, dismissive, selfish, and one of his (many) ill-judged actions – I think bibliophiles everywhere will know which one  – pushed him over into becoming an unforgivable character for me.
  • Move to Italy – the section set in Italy just felt heavy to read. Most of the novel kind of bounces along happily/unhappily from one thing to the next, but this part felt more like it was dragging its feet.
  • Length. Okay, I know. This is totally unfair and completely irrelevant. A story takes as many pages as it takes to tell it. I knoooow. My dislike is just a personal bias against longer books because I’m a slow reader. Aaaand it’s also because I’m pretty sure my wrists have developed arthritis from trying to figure out a comfortable way to hold it.

All those dislikes, though, are more than outweighed by the book’s general brilliance. It’s like a force of nature. You just have to give in to it and let yourself be swept away in all the pages, footnotes, and storylines.

It’s worth it.

Right. I think it’s time for that plate of carbs.

*aforementioned is my new favourite word even though it makes me sound like I’m 100 years old. What can I say?