Tag Archives: books

WBN 11: American Gods

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

It’s a really good job I love Neil Gaiman’s writing – if it wasn’t my cup of tea, this challenge would be a complete nightmare. This is the third of the five on this list, and it’s by far the most ambitious and impressive so far. It’s an absolutely massive book, almost the American equivalent of Neverwhere in the way that it takes an average person and plunges them into an underworld they never knew existed.

Gaiman has written the story of the gods that followed their pilgrims to America, and then languished, forgotten and unworshipped. The Norse gods are the stars of the show, but some of the obscure Russian gods are by turns hilariously or ethereally diverting. The main character, Shadow, is unapologetically severe and aloof, but all the same he proves himself to be a man worthy of our attention. Despite the daunting length of the book, and the epic journey that Shadow takes, I remained engaged and interested in the sprawling narrative.



Filed under Books, World Book Night challenge

WBN 34: The Island

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

I found The Island to be an unexpectedly sweet novel. Although it’s essentially a beach read, the story of a young woman bent on discovering more about her secretive mother’s past, and the parallel story of said mother’s great grandmother’s tragic life, I found it quite absorbing and deeper than I expected. The titular island is not the blissful desert island you might expect, but instead the site of a colony, where lepers are sent to die. This brings with it a whole new set of expectations – a miserable pit of a place with depressed, dying inhabitants – but Hislop gently introduces us to a vibrant, democratic community packed with residents trying to better their lives and fighting for respect from the mainland community.

I lacked much empathy with the main present day character, Alexis – she struck me as a little self-centred – but once her journey took her to the site of the island and the story of her family, I became much more engaged. As with most of these Mediterranean love stories, there is a myriad of outlandish characters with similar, unfamiliar names, and the story spans several decades, which at times had me scanning back through the pages to remind myself who was who. However, I loved the way the narrative was hung around the women of the community, and the way each of them staked a firm claim on my attention.

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Things I didn’t say to Margaret Atwood

I’m in a queue. It’s a long queue, but a relaxed one. I’ve bumped into some old school friends, and we’re catching up. A kindly lady is handing out cake from Betty’s. I can’t really concentrate on any of this, though, because Margaret Atwood is at the front of said queue.

I never thought I would get a chance to meet this amazing woman, given that she lives 3400 miles away and seems a bit too busy to pop round for a cup of tea. But miraculously, she squeezes Ilkley Literature Festival into her timetable; miraculously, we get two of the gold dust tickets; miraculously, I don’t have to work.

As I get closer to the front of the queue, I find my hands shaking and my mouth becoming dry. Silly, really, because she’s just a person. Just a dazzlingly intelligent, slyly witty, fearlessly whole person.

In just a few sentences, how could I ever get across the impact that she has had on me?

How could I explain how I felt as a rather sheltered 17 year old catapulted into the vivid, seedy, unfamiliar world of Oryx and Crake?

How to help her see the 8 year old who read a children’s version of the Odyssey again and again, and wondered about careful, clever Penelope? And then the 19 year old discovering The Penelopiad in Borders on a drizzly Saturday, and feeling like it was written just for her?

The first time I read The Handmaid’s Tale, I felt broken. The first time I read Alias Grace, I read it right through the night and into a grey dawn. The first time I read Cat’s Eye, I started to untangle a decade’s worth of feelings about my teenage self. Could Margaret Atwood understand that? Was Margaret Atwood too close to Margaret Atwood’s work and too far from me to understand how intimately, how perfectly, how individually I related to her writing?

As a nervously feminist young woman, Atwood’s writing would alternatively nudge me down my path and call me, fiercely, from my hiding places. It pushed me and pulled me and nurtured me and challenged me.

And now here she is, not looking at me but at my well thumbed books, looking quite harried, actually, with a glint in her eye, and all the words are dying in my throat. We pose for a picture and she looks archly down the lens while I sport an expression my mum will later describe as the same one I used to wear when I realised Santa had been.

Too soon, it’s all over. All I’ve said is a hurried ‘thank you’. She has signed my books with the same message she wrote in everyone else’s books, and she has let me stand next to her despite the evident obsession in my eyes, and she still doesn’t know that she shaped the person I am today.

But, to my immense surprise, that feels okay. It was enough. It was wonderful. I’m happy.

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30by30: The Goals

straight branches with bark on laid to from a wood fence

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Here are my 30 goals to complete by my 30th birthday. They’re varied, challenging, fun, exciting, and – hopefully – achievable over the next two years. Goals in bold have been completed…

Paris with Ant
DisneyWorld Florida
See the Northern Lights
Take an overnight trip alone
Be a home tourist for a week

Read War and Peace
Finish my World Book Night challenge
Read ten non-fiction books
Take part in a readathon

Health and Fitness:
Run 5k without stopping
Give blood successfully
Go to ten yoga classes
Learn to meditate
Have ten personal trainer sessions

Food and Drink:
Bake perfect macarons
Learn to perfectly poach an egg
Find the best burger in Leeds
Have a champagne afternoon tea in Leeds
Go to the Cadbury’s Factory

New experiences:
Knit a piece of clothing
Join a choir
Learn the ukulele
DIY Christmas using blogs
See the English National Ballet
Win a pub quiz
Have a big 30th birthday party
Explore my square mile
Blog every day for a month
Make 100 hats for The Big Knit
Shop local for one month

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Filed under 30by30, Life

WBN 53: The Secret History

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

This has been sat on my shelf for months – perhaps years – but for some reason I’ve never quite been in the mood to pick it up. I knew little about it, and have never had anyone recommend it to me, so it came as a surprise that it was so gripping and so readable. Tartt takes a basic thriller type plotline and deftly snips away at it, turning it completely on its head. In the opening pages we read of a murder: we know who is killed, by whom, and where. What we don’t know is why, or what happens next, which is what the novel addresses.

This is one of the most immersive books I’ve read in some time; even when at work or running errands I found the characters and the events running through my mind, trying to work out what was going to happen next. The elitist group of classics students at the centre of this scandal are intriguing characters, and despite the bizarre, dangerous path they travel, their actions remain believable and interesting.

Pick this up if you’d like to try a thriller with a healthy dose of intellect and a hard streak of psychological drama.

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WBN 9: Rebecca

I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.

Rebecca is the story of a young servant girl named Rebecca, who is taken on at a large country home and travels there in a carriage. Once there she encounters a violent housekeeper and starts to uncover a secret… Oh no, wait, that’s just what I very confidently thought it was about before I read it. Where I get these ideas from I have no idea but somehow these preconceptions lodge themselves in my mind and stay there as vague impressions.

In actual fact, Rebecca is about a nameless young woman who is working as a lady’s companion until she meets and is wooed by Max de Winter, a wealthy bachelor. After a whirlwind romance, they are married and after their honeymoon, go to live in Max’s country home, Manderley. As soon as the new Mrs de Winter arrives, she feels out of her depth: the housekeeper Mrs Danvers is intimidating and unfriendly, and somehow Rebecca, Max’s first wife, is still making her presence felt.

I really loved the way du Maurier developed her characters. Although this storyline could have come off as melodramatic and unrealistic, it was believable and in fact felt almost inevitable. Whilst some women would have stalked into Manderley, sacked the housekeeper with the attitude and chased any lingering presences away, the Mrs de Winter-to-be that we meet over the first few chapters could never have done so, couldn’t have done anything other than what du Maurier writes. Whilst some women would have looked the other way faced with a slightly controlling man clearly not over his dead wife, the shy and socially gauche lady’s companion who has never been in love is completely thrown by his attentions.

This comes highly recommended from me – it’s definitely a book I’ll be re-reading. I’ve also picked up a sequel, Rebecca’s Tale, by another author that is high up on my to read list, now!

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Chapel A: New Kids on the Block

This weekend was the Chapel Allerton Arts Festival, and whilst work kept me from catching much of it, I did pop into Chapel A today to see what was going on. I didn’t go into the actual festival as I’d eaten and jazz isn’t particularly my bag, but there were a couple of shops I have been meaning to visit. Also, there was a book stall selling 5 books for £1 and that’s just not an offer I would ever let go.

First stop was George & Joseph, a new cheesemongers that’s recently landed on Regent Street. They only opened on Friday, and this is their first permanent home – they’ve been doing farmer’s markets and the like previously. The shop is so pretty with pale green frontage and shelves packed with cheesy paraphernalia, but the stars of the show are in a chilled cabinet and labelled so you can get a good look at them all.

I loved examining all the different options, but I have to admit I knew when I walked in what I was after – a nice soft goat’s cheese, as I had a hankering for a big goat’s cheese salad. Although George & Joseph specialise in Yorkshire cheeses, the one I plumped for was the Fivemiletown log, from the Fivemiletown creamery in Ireland.

I couldn’t wait to try it, and sampled a tiny bit when I got in. It’s absolutely perfect – pulsing with flavour, really tangy but with a creamy texture so that it melts like butter. It was gorgeous and I’m sure it won’t be long until I’m back at George & Joseph to purchase something else – I’ve got my eye on their Yorkshire hampers as Christmas gifts.

Next up was Chirpy, a design and gift store that isn’t new at all, but I’ve tried to visit three times since they opened almost a year ago and been thwarted by summer holidays or trade fairs or by not checking the opening times before I set off!

It was well worth the wait, and I’ve already fallen in love with about ten framed prints and all the notebooks, along with some amazing little nail transfers and several mugs. I limited myself to a little card and gift to send to my Envelope Club recipient this month, but more on that in another post. Everything is made by independent UK makers and designers, and it’s the kind of stuff you can buy as a gift feeling confident you’ve got something a bit different but really stylish.

I spent about half an hour in there just browsing and kept finding new treasures hidden on a low shelf or in a dresser drawer; it really is such a lovely pace to browse and I felt so welcome in the shop, left to my own devices. (Don’t you hate it when you’re the only one in a small shop and you’re being watched the whole time? Totally didn’t have to worry about that.)

If you’re interested in crafts, keep an eye on Chirpy’s twitter page for info about workshops, where you can learn skills like decoupage and jewellery making.

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That’s right, all this lot for a quid!

These gems might become two of my favourite local shops from now on. What are your local must-visits? And have you grabbed any book bargains lately?

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Three Good Things

There’s a lot to be said for a good dose of healthy optimism. For stopping, looking around and giving thanks. For biting your tongue when you want to moan or criticise, and saying something nice instead.

I am lucky to know people who are much better at these things than I am! Back in 2011 I followed Tessa’s blog with interest as she celebrated a year of gratitude, taking time every day to name the things, big and small, that she was grateful for. Over the last few months, @WoodsieGirl, who I follow on Twitter, has been starting every Monday with 5 cheerful thoughts or pictures, using the hashtag #mondaycheer. It’s been spreading to others in my timeline which is great, and if I miss it on a Monday I always go looking for it later.

Now Liz at Margot and Barbara has started a regular series called Three Good Things, where once a week she shares three good things from her life. It’s a gorgeous idea; I love how mindful and positive it is.

Check out her post here.

When I first decided to share my own three things, I really struggled to come up with three. Which just goes to show, of course, how much I need to do this! Clearly I am taking too much for granted!

1. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


This is the book I’m reading at the moment and I’m absolutely flying through it! It’s a good doorstop of a book that’s funny and horrifying and moving all at once.

2. The weather, and good friends to share it with

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Last week my work schedule was quite hectic, and I found myself feeling a bit tired and tightly wound. On Friday afternoon my friend Lauren suggested sitting on some grass near Kirkstall Abbey and relaxing with drinks and snacks, and it was perfect! Not only did I discover passionfruit Rekorderlig, now my official drink of the summer, but we had a lovely catchup and a good gossip with the sun on our backs and a bag of cookies between us.

3. My house plant


I don’t know what it’s called or what care it needs but what I do know is that it’s just flowered! Three lovely flowers when my mum’s just has one, despite being twice the size! I’ve never had any garden success before, really, so I’m going to chalk this up as a massive achievement, of which I actually feel really proud!

Share your own three things on your blog, or in the comments on Liz’s post.

Update: Plenty of other bloggers have taken this challenge up too!

Kirsty at Hello Kirsty

dakegra at espressococo

A Hell of a Woman

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Leeds&me on tour: London

A couple of weekends ago I finally made it down to London to see my bestie Amy who’s at medical school there. It’s been a while since I saw her, and even longer since I’ve been to the Big Smoke, so we had a lot to do in two short days! We lazed on Clapham Common, ate great food at Bodean’s, avoided Wimbledon which was just down the road, gobbled crepes, walked along the Thames and even got a quick glimpse of Big Ben.

Ever since I saw this post on For Books’ Sake I’ve been dying to visit the Persephone bookshop in London. Persephone publish unloved, forgotten titles of the twentieth century, mainly written by women, and they sell them almost exclusively in their own shop. Each book has a matte silvery blue cover, lined with a different vintage print for each title, and you get a matching bookmark, too. Seriously, this place is like my spiritual home!

The books are £12 each and we’d just narrowed our selections down to 2 each when we spotted a small sign saying they were 3 for £30. Another book for half the price…rude not to! Then we’d finally picked a third one when the sales lady told us because we’d bought two or more books we could have a free cookbook! I picked one called Plats du Jour, which claimed to offer simple French and Italian dishes, and it’s already provided us with much hilarity. About the section on fungi: “This chapter has been written for people who combine an experimental approach to cooking with an interest in natural history.” For a salsa verde recipe: “Reduce the following ingredients to a molecular state using a heavy chopping knife or mezzaluna.” On poultry: “It should not be forgotten that a platter of oysters is the best prelude to roast goose.”

Next up was Covent Garden for crepes and gelato (from the amazing Venchi, which we fell in love with in Italy last year), a short break in St James’ Park then off to the Tate Modern, where I remembered how much I like Magritte and Picasso, and how much fun it is to flick my eyes across a row of masterpieces and instantly dismiss three of them because I don’t like the colours. You can do things like that in a place like the Tate Modern: there are so many incredible paintings, you can pretend they’re ten a penny and look down your nose at a few!

The gallery shop is always a bump back to earth, though, when I realise I can’t even afford the reproductions 🙂

Looking at the pictures I took, I was really drawn to steampunky cogs and wheels and interlocking geometrics.  Perhaps this means I like a sense of order and tidiness? (If this is true, it’s in my mind only, and definitely not in my house!)

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This lady is an opera singer who was performing in the lower courtyard at Covent Garden when we were there. She was amazing, and the acoustics were surprisingly good! The only downside was the man collecting donations for her – I assume he was on some kind of commission because he was very pushy and quite rude to some people who were just walking past and really not listening to her at all! I understand that the lady was there to make a living but as someone who also gets by thanks to tips, I accept that not everyone can afford to tip or feels comfortable doing so. Anyway the music was gorgeous, have a look at the singer’s website here.

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Waterstones Haul, or Celebrating Payday

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When I need retail therapy, I don’t go to Topshop or Harvey Nicks, I get myself to a bookshop. The bigger, the better, and the Leeds branch of Waterstones is perfect! I had a voucher for £5 off so I thought: sod it, I’ll go wild, and spent £42.

Antoine Laurain, The President’s Hat
I bought this after BookElfLeeds tweeted that it was perfect if you loved Amelie. Which I do! I’m hoping this will be fun, light and readable, and I’m also hoping it brings back memories of one of my favourite cities, Paris. That’s just what I need with this grim weather we have just now!

Roger and Charlie Mortimer, Dear Lupin
I grabbed this on a bit of a whim. There were tables of it everywhere, with little recommendation notes, and I needed something to partner a buy one, get one half price deal!

Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now and Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak
I bought these because I recently read and loved The Hunger Games, and had a hankering for some more YA fiction. This post at Aerogramme drew my attention to these two both featuring strong young girls, a massive pro for me.

Mohsin Hamid, How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
I couldn’t resist picking this up, even though I generally don’t buy too many hardbacks (for storage as well as price reasons!) because I absolutely loved The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and have been meaning to read more of his. I’ve realised that I’ve enjoyed a lot of books by Indian and Asian authors of late, so I’m now making a conscious effort to explore more of them.

I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into these over the next week!


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