Category: monthly review

Month in Numbers: January

As I seem to do every year, I’m changing up how I do my monthly reviews in 2018.  Last year I did a monthly favourites post but this year I’m tracking more of my reading using Sophie from Portal in the Pages’ spreadsheet and I’m actually doing a couple of reading challenges this year, I wanted to look more at my reading/book buying stats.  I’m sure the categories will change month on month depending on what looks interesting!

Books Read

I had a pretty good reading month in January!  I read 7 books in total and a respectable 2,306pages.  This might be in part owing to the fact that I read 3 graphic novels over the month but either way, I’m happy with those totals.  As my nifty spreadsheet tells me, that’s an average of 74 pages read per day and an average of one book finished every 4 days.  I read one 2 star read (As I Descended by Robin Talley) and one 5 star read (Saga: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan).  At an average rating of 3.7 out of 5 stars, I’ll call the month a success.

The most interesting thing I’ve noticed is that of the 7 books I’ve read, 6 were written by women.  I never consciously pay attention to much about authors when I’m picking what to read next and definitely focus more on the plot and what I’m in the mood for.  It’s curious then that I seem to be going for so many more female authors.  We’ll see how that pans out.

I’m also quite surprised that I haven’t actually read any fantasy during January.  Each year in wrapping up the year, I’ve assumed that fantasy is my most read genre.  Perhaps I’ve been wrong!  In January, I read 3 graphic novels, 2 crime/thriller novels, 1 horror novel and 1 historical fiction:

7)  See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (4 stars)

6)  Saga: Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (5 stars)

5)  Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (4 stars)

4)  The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave (4 stars)

3)  Thornhill by Pam Smy (3 stars)

2)  Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. Talbot (4 stars)

1)  As I Descended by Robin Talley (2 stars)

Books Acquired

Now here’s where things unravel.  I apparently acquired 25 books during January.  Oops?  So that means that the number of books that I have in my house unread has gone up by 18 in the month of January!  It’s weird seeing the amount of money that I spend on books gradually creeping up over the weeks.  £82.66 in January, it would seem!  I definitely wouldn’t go so far as to say that seeing the figures is changing my behaviour but maybe it will over the course of the year.  I’ve used the library a fair bit and got a couple of books from NetGalley so I’m only at an average spend of £3.31 per book.

Book I acquired in January that I’m most looking forward to: The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

Challenge Update

Science Fiction v Fantasy Bingo:  I’ve read two books for this during January:

Haunted – Thornhill by Pam Smy

This is totally going to happen one day – The Memory Chamber by Holly Cave

TBR Pile Challenge:  None read so far…

Beat the Backlist:  The average time that the books I’ve read have spent on my TBR is 6 months.  Of the 7 books I read, only 2 have been books that I’ve acquired since the start of 2018.  So solidly above my goal of 50% so far!

November Wrap-up and Favourites

November Wrap-up and Favourites

I’d planned to arrive back on the blog with some reviews and then I’ve seen yet another unexpected upturn in the hours I’ve been spending at work and so here we are with a slightly more chatty favourites post. I could go back over a few months too and pick out some favourites from each month but I’m going for the easy option and just looking back over November.

I have a lot of unread books at the moment – my GoodReads TBR shelf has just reached 450 books. I know that some people find that off-putting or stressful but I find it really exciting! I’ve been enjoying buying books that I either fancy right now or that have been published by companies that I want to show some support to. We’re off over Christmas and I’m planning on hunkering down and getting through some then! Good times 🙂

The Books

Turns out I only finished three books in November! I’m a bit surprised by that but then I suppose we were away for a busy long weekend and I’ve recently bought a couple of new 3DS games that I’ve been playing a bit so I guess that’s one of those things.

First up was a bit of a hangover from Hallowe’en, Hollow Pike by Juno Dawson (originally published under the name James Dawson). I really enjoy Juno’s writing style. I think in part it’s because she was brought up not far from where I live and it makes a real (pleasant) change to read slang and speech that is undoubtedly northern and very familiar. I wasn’t 100% sold on the witchy plot but it was a lot of fun. When I saw my Dad in October, he was reading The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd and really recommended it. It was a bargainous £1.99 so I snatched it up and read it straight away. It’s a fictional story based around a real relationship between Descartes and a Dutch maid, Helena. The writing is beautiful and I highlighted so many passages. While the relationship between Descartes and Helena is interesting, it was Helena’s development that really stole my heart. I cried in public over this book and that says it all, really. Last up was my first Ruth Rendell, The Secret House of Death. I’ve written bits of a review of it so I’ll be writing more on this soon but it took me a while to get through this and I was underwhelmed.

Book of the Month: The Words in my Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd

Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month: I’ll be honest – Designated Survivor. It’s a Netflix series about a man who survives a terrorist attack that kills the President of the United States and most of the Cabinet and is the “designated survivor”, automatically becoming the next President. It’s not spectacularly unique but it’s really entertaining and has some interesting characters so it’s earned its spot here as far as I’m concerned.

Film of the Month: I finally watched La La Land in November and I mostly enjoyed it. It’s a default film of the month because it’s the only film I watched. I really loved the ending and I adore Emma Stone so maybe it would have been the best even with competition. Who knows?

Recipe of the Month: Beef and ale stew with dumplings! I kind of freestyled this so I haven’t got anywhere to point to but it’s been wintery and cold and that calls for stew and home-made dumplings. Ooh, actually though, I can tell you that if you like dumplings but don’t want to mess with suet, this Jamie Oliver recipe is super easy,comforting and has never failed me.

Beauty Product of the Month: Lush’s Bûche de Noël cleanser. I swear by Lush’s facial cleansers and this one is made of satsumas, cranberries and I think it has brandy in it too so it smells so festive and it’s delightful. I definitely want to get another pot before it disappears in January!

Image credit: https://goo.gl/images/nqFE8D

Activity of the Month: We went to Lithuania for Husband’s birthday in November and it was such a good trip! Vilnius is beautiful and absolutely packed full of cosy bars and pubs and restaurants. It was flipping freezing and it snowed while we were there but it was fabulous all the same. We went to some really interesting museums (a former KGB Headquarters was so disturbing and haunting and a Holocaust memorial that was incredibly moving among others) and got a local bus out to the most stunning castle I have ever seen in real life. If you get the chance to travel to Vilnius, absolutely do go – it’s less touristy than other European locations, much more reasonably priced and so much fun. And Trakai is wonderful even when it’s freezing (there’s a chocolate shop/cafe on the way that does great coffee if you need warming up and gooey chocolatey cookies that are to die for).

And that was November! It’s been perhaps not as book-filled as I’d like but we had a lot of fun so that’ll do me. Now roll on Christmas!

June Wrap-up and Favourites

June Wrap-up and Favourites

June was extraordinary. We got married, spent three weeks in Italy exploring, eating and drinking delicious wine and it was truly incredible. Since I’ve been back at work, I’ve been insanely busy but I’ve barely had time to think during the week. Hopefully things will be settling back down soon but for the time being, it’s looking likely that reading time is going to be a little sparse.  Still, let’s look back at what I did manage to read back when I was living the Italian dream!
What I’ve Been Reading

I finished a pretty whopping 7 books during June. It was a real treat to be able to spend so much time reading and relaxing and I’m very grateful that we got to start out married life in such a marvellous way! First up was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.  In pre-wedding prep time, I wanted to read something that I’d be able to follow even while I was busy and Harry Potter was the obvious, comforting solution. Goblet of Fire has always been my favourite and that hasn’t changed so far on a re-read. I cried at the end, perhaps even more likely given that I was somewhat hungover when I finished reading it. 
Next up, my Mum had impressed on me just how good the final two books in the Lunar Chronicles were so I went so far as to take out my paperbacks of Cress and Winter, both by Marissa Meyer.  I raced through Cress over a few afternoons in Sestri Levante and loved it just as much as I had the first two books in the four part series.  The last instalment I picked up when we got to Lake Como and I knew I’d have some solid reading stints by the lake.  It’s a series that I’ve really enjoyed; they’re so much fun to read and they’re completely addictive.  I’ll be reviewing the series as a whole soon (actually this time – I’ve written out a fledgling post and everything!).  In between those two, I broke out a NetGalley acquisition, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus.  It’s a bit of a teen locked-room mystery.  Five students are locked in a room during detention and one is murdered.  The narrative flicks between the four remaining students as their secrets are revealed and they each try to clear their names.  It was surprisingly good!  I read a lot of Point Horror as a teenager and for some reason this reminded me of them.  I didn’t see the ending coming.  Or rather, I did a little bit before the Big Reveal but not so far ahead that I felt as though it was too obvious.  A solid summer read for sure.
After finishing the Lunar Chronicles, I fancied something a bit different and went for The Power by Naomi Alderman.  What a book! It won the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction so you don’t need me to endorse the quality but, honestly, it’s the type of book that really makes you think!  It makes some really interesting social points (even if it is a little heavy handed at times) and it’s such a gripping story.  The ending absolutely stuck with me and after I finished it, I was hit with a serious book hangover.  I tried to get over that by finally finishing The Book of Shadows by Deborah Harkness.  I’d read most of it before going away and had maybe 100 pages to finish on getting back.  It wasn’t my favourite series but it was ok. Good in places but just far too long. It felt a bit drawn out and laboured at times. 
On a sunny afternoon, I decided to pick up a comic volume, I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1: Madly Ever After.  It’s a bubble-gum coloured, bright volume with a gruesome storyline. It’s basically about a girl who gets sent to Fairyland when she’s a small child but who, it turns out, is terrible at questing.  While most visitors explore the marshmallowy surroundings, find the key and go home within a day, this kid ends up spending 30 years trying to complete her mission.  She ages in her mind but not in her body. I can see that it wouldn’t be for everybody but the dry sense of humour is right up my straight and I enjoyed it enough to want to hunt down Volume 2 soon.
Books of the Month: Winter by Marissa Meyer; The Power by Naomi Alderman
Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  Easily Line of Duty. Everybody’s been talking about it for ages with the latest series being shown on the BBC.  It’s as good as everybody says! It’s about an anti-corruption department investigating dodgy police and we’re half way through the third series and it is so, so good. I’m partly glad we’ve not watched it before so that we can binge watch!
Film of the Month:  I literally haven’t watched a film all month…
Recipe of the Month:  Anything involving salami and cheese.  I ate cold cuts and cheese at least once

a day while we were away.  I kept expecting to get bored or tired of eating cold cuts and cheese but no.  I was living my best life.

Beauty Product of the Month: This pigment powder in Vanilla from MAC was part of my wedding make-up kit and it is AMAZING. It’s the easiest to use as a highlighter and it’s helped me maintain the look of someone who gets to spend plenty of time outside in the sunshine even though I no longer am!  
Album of the Month: Since I’ve been back, I’ve listened to Sia’s album This Is Acting a lot to keep me pepped up!  Who doesn’t love Sia?!
Activity of the Month: I’ll save you another wedding ramble, bark out WEDDING, point over to this post and shuffle off on my way 🙂
And that was June!  I miss it already.  Let’s hope that July is half as good!
April Wrap-up and Favourites

April Wrap-up and Favourites

Hey, guess what?  Planning a wedding while working full time is all kinds of busy.  I’ve read very little and I’ve written even less. Well, I’ve written more than I’ve published and I have found not sticking to such a rigid reviewing format a bit freeing but I still haven’t written much. I have sent many emails and spent many hours preparing the perfect set of wedding playlists. I’m honestly finding it pretty difficult to even believe that it’s May. This year has FLOWN by. It seems like no time at all has passed since it was the beginning of the year and I was starting a countdown of months and now it’s about three weeks until I fly to Italy to get married and that, my friends, is insane.
ANYway, onto the books and whatnot.
What I’ve Been Reading

Ok, so not many.  Three to be precise.  I mean, two of them had pretty whopping page counts but even so, three is even less than I’d thought.  I actually finally got round to starting the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness.  I was a bit ambivalent about the first in places but the second was actually pretty great!  I’m planning on picking up the final book in May while I still have some momentum (and because people at work keep telling me to!).  I’m curious to see how the trilogy ends because it’s shaping up to be pretty epic.  
After finishing the second, I fancied something a bit shorter and I picked up a short story collection during the Cosy Reading Night and, despite not having got much from short stories in the past, really enjoyed it!  The collection, New World Fairy Tales by Cassandra Parkin is a set of fairytale retellings that stick to the darker tone of the more adult Grimm fairytales than the Disney variety.  I spread them out a little bit and read them over a few days.  The writing style varies in each story as the fictional interviewer meets new people. It’s pulled off seamlessly and the overall effect was really memorable.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for more of Parkin’s writing. 
Book of the Month:  New World Fairy Tales by Cassandra Parkin
Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  The fifth series of Suits came out recently on Netflix and even pacing ourselves we flew through it.  The fact that I spent many meetings telling people that no, in fact my job is nothing like Suits notwithstanding, I love this series.  Not least because Harvey Specter is delightful.  This series wasn’t exactly my favourite so far but having episodes I haven’t yet seen back in the world was a treat.
Film of the Month:  I was all geared up to say that I hadn’t watched any films this month.  I haven’t watched any new films perhaps but I have re-watched Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as part of my best friend and mine’s efforts to re-read and re-watch all of the series before we see the play in August.  So that’s my favourite by default (even though that’s really playing it down because I flipping love the series, obviously).
Recipe of the Month:  I’ve previously rambled about Rick Stein’s Long Weekend book and have recently been loving a clam and prawn dish that’s apparently local to Cadiz.  It’s super easy and basically involves cooking garlic and parsley and some rice and cooking it in fish stock before loading it up with parsley.  I’ve made it probably three times and its been equally delicious every time.  If you want to give it a try, you can find the recipe here.
Beauty Product of the Month:  I had a Guinot facial a few weeks ago as part of my pre-wedding preparations and it was the nicest.  I’ve been using a Guinot Radiance Renewal cream ever since that’s so soothing and really does make my skin brighter.  It’s pricey but it smells incredible and I love it.
Album of the Month:  I’ve liked James Bay’s singles but have never actually listened to his album, Chaos and the Calm.  His voice is so nice to listen to but also surprisingly peppy.  I feel like I need to get to know the album better, hence this paragraph being a little brief and nonsensical, but I figured it was worth a mention at least!
Activity of the Month: My hen party was in April and it was perfection.  My sister and best friend did an incredible job of picking out a weekend that was just what I wanted (I didn’t know anything about it).  We stayed in Helmsley and we played silly games, we went to a spa for a few hours, we chatted about all sorts, we ate in a restaurant I’ve wanted to eat at for years (that absolutely lived up to what I wanted), we had afternoon tea, we made bath bombs and we watched a couple of films.  I may have suffered from a couple of hangovers but it was honestly the best treat and I can’t wait to get to repay the people who put it all together at the wedding!  Soppy but true 🙂
I’d love to say that May will hold more reading for me but I doubt it!  June, however, will see us spend two weeks on our honeymoon and I very much intend to spend that relaxing, eating and reading so if May isn’t exactly page-filled, I have high hopes for June!  How is your Spring time shaping up?
March Wrap-up and Favourites

March Wrap-up and Favourites

I’ve been trying to work out this month why in a time when I’m perhaps more interested in books and writing than ever, my blog is quieter.  I know that in part it’s because I’ve had limited free time recently and I’ve had to make a choice between reading the books or writing about books but it doesn’t feel like that’s it.  Over the past couple of days (literally), it’s occurred to me that it’s more that my approach to writing about books just doesn’t seem to quite work for me at the moment.  It gives me the chance to explore the books that I want to write about in detail but with others, it makes me feel constrained.  I think for the next month, I’m going to try a few new ways of talking about the books that I’ve loved and see if that helps!
General musings aside, it’s been a completely crazy month.  Work has been insanely busy even by its usual standards and we’ve had quite a few hectic weekends socially.  We did then get to spend a few days in Italy finalising our wedding plans so it wasn’t all rushing about and giving legal advice!
What I’ve Been Reading

When I sat down to write this, I was set to write about how many books I’d got through.  It turns out, I actually haven’t read that many!  Especially when you consider that one of them was a novella that I downloaded and read in the car on the way home from the airport earlier this week.  Anyway, first up was Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.  This is a series that I feel as though I should hate but I find myself completely taken by it.  They’re science fiction takes on fairytales (sort of) but with an overarching story that’s sort of a battle between the Lunars living on the Moon and the humans down on Earth.  It’s edgier than I’d thought it would be and this instalment was even better than Cinder.  I’m glad I already own the final two books in the series.  
Next up was Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes.  I borrowed this from the library and I’m glad.  I loved The Shining Girls when I read it a few years ago for its blend of murder mystery and the supernatural but this time around I was just baffled.  I really enjoyed some elements of it and the writing was fantastic but I just feel as though I didn’t get the main plot.  Or rather, maybe I did get it but I just felt as though it was a bit abstract/surreal for my tastes.
When we were prepping for holiday, I wanted something from my Kindle because I prefer it when I’m travelling and so I started the second book in the St Mary’s series, A Symphony of Echoes.  The series follows a department of historians who bumble about travelling through time. The books can be erratic and crash about a bit but they’re so much fun that it’s hard to care!  On the way home from the airport, I followed this up with the “2.5” novella, When A Child is Born.  It took maybe half an hour and it was a cute story that did a neat job of looking at the butterfly effect.  Not award winning literature perhaps but so entertaining.
Book of the Month:  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  Making a Murderer.  Somehow I never got round to watching this Netflix series when it first came out but that was clearly ridiculous because it’s right up my street. I love documentaries about the legal system and this one looks at how it arguably failed Steven Avery.  It’s very well put together and both Boyfriend and I are really enjoying it.
Film of the Month:  The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.  This wonderfully weird fantastical film was completely bizarre but absolutely fascinating.  What was most interesting was that it was intended to star Heath Ledger as a slightly shifty character but filming was interrupted when Ledger sadly died.  The way that the film has subsequently been put together is so clever and it’s almost worth watching for that creative feat alone.  I’ll warn you, though, it’s a weird one!
Recipe of the Month:  This is a bit of a cheat but one of the course on our wedding menu is the absolute best plate of food I’ve eaten all month and it beats what I’ve made for myself hands down.  Our pasta course is a potato ravioli with veal ragu and crispy bacon and asparagus and it is divine.  I was already excited but knowing what food treats we have in store for our guests is something else!
Beauty Product of the Month:  My absolute favourite perfume is the Jo Malone Peony and Blush Suede.  I have a set of products in the scent to use on the run up to the wedding and a candle for when I need a little pick-me-up.  The smell is so fresh and light and just screams Spring and it is hands down my favourite thing right now.
Album of the Month:  I rediscovered Paolo Nutini’s Caustic Love this month and I’d forgotten how much I love it.  It’s the perfect blend between songs that you have to sing along to loudly and songs with a political edge.  The song Iron Sky features an excerpt from a Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator and it’s incredibly powerful.  If you missed this album when it was released a few years ago, it’s absolutely worth giving a try.

Activity of the Month:  Obviously, our trip to Florence.  We planned our wedding, we ate the most delicious food, we travelled around Tuscany and we drank many glasses of chianti.  Lucca and Arezzo are beautiful (not as beautiful as Florence, obviously, but beautiful in their own ways) and the whole trip was a perfect little prelude to our wedding trip in about 8 weeks (i,e, SOON!).
I hope all of you had wonderful months of March and are enjoying the first hints of Spring.  Let me know what you’re reading! 
February Wrap-up and Favourites

February Wrap-up and Favourites

I knew it had been a while since I’d written anything vaguely book-related but I didn’t realise it had been nearly six weeks!  February and what’s already gone of March has been so busy.  It turns out that working pretty solid 50-60 hour weeks, planning a wedding, trying to maintain a semblance of a social life and finding time to actually read some books doesn’t leave a great deal of time for writing about books.  We’re away in Italy soon for some wedding planning so a break is in sight but I’ll only be vaguely hanging on here for a while, I think!
What I’ve Been Reading

For a month that was so full of other stuff, I actually managed to get a fair amount read.  First on my list was Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan.  I wrote a bit about this in my last wrap-up but the first time I read this as a teenager, I remember being bored by this instalment in the Wheel of Time series.  This second read through had me wondering why!  I didn’t give it the five stars I gave the three preceding books but it was still a solid 4 stars.  After that, I received my first Moth Box in January (which I’ll talk about properly another time, hopefully) and picked out one of the books to read straight away.  I went for Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth, which is the story of a young girl in a small religious community in rural Wisconsin and how she copes when she learns a secret about her best friend.  The writing was stunning and I loved the book, perhaps all the more for knowing that it wasn’t one that I ever would have picked out on my own.  I’ve ordered another box for March and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in it.  
THEN I finally read the devastating Maus by Art Speigelman.  It’s a graphic novel account of the author’s father’s life and experiences as a Jewish man during the Second World War and it’s every bit as hard-hitting as it sounds.  I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to finally get to it! An easy 5 stars.
Last up were two books that I don’t think could have been more different if I’d intentionally gone out to pick up polar opposites.  Cinder by Marissa Meyer, a relatively frivolous cyborg retelling of Cinderella, and then The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel, a new thriller.  I liked the fairytale retelling a surprising amount and was supremely grossed out by the thriller, to the point that I just can’t recommend it.  A bit of a rough end to the month’s otherwise great reading!
Book of the Month:  Maus by Art Spiegelman
Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  Medici: Masters of Florence is this month’s winner.  It’s about the rise of the Medici family in Florence and the history of the city.  I’ll admit that we started watching it because it’s set in Florence and that’s where we’re getting married this year but we continued watching because it’s actually rather good.  It stars Richard Madden of GoT fame and Dustin Hoffman so it’s not quite as small fry as it sounds. 
Film of the Month:  I haven’t been to the cinema in a while and I actually can’t think of a single film I watched during February!  What a bust.  Actually, I did watch a naff Kate Hudson romcom one night while Boyfriend was out but it was not good and I’m not naming that even if it is by default my favourite of the month.
Recipe of the Month:  We’ve been watching Gino d’Acampo’s Italian Escape series recently (seeing a theme?) and I’ve made this dish of pasta shells with guanciale, potatoes and tomatoes a few times in recent weeks (except with serrano instead of guanciale).  It’s easy, properly comforting because it has both pasta and potato and it’s delicious.
Beauty Product of the Month:  I have quite greasy skin naturally and most moisturisers just destroy my skin and have me breaking out all over.  Lush’s Vanishing Cream is now an absolute staple in my routine.  It smells like lavender, which I love, and it’s super light so it’ll soak in quickly and leaves no grease.  Perfection.
Album of the Month:  I was eagerly awaiting the release of Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s album, Human, and I was not disappointed.  As I learned last month, I have no clue how to write about music but I do know that I love his voice and how the album is a mix of styles, some hip hop, some soul and some more…rocky tracks?  I don’t know but I do know that if you liked the single Human, you’ll probably really like the album so I’d recommend giving it a try.  It’s the kind of album that you put on and happily listen to all the way through without realising where the time’s gone!
Image credit
Activity of the Month:  A new item that I’ve largely created just to say how much I loved the London Bookshop Crawl.  Bex has been running it for a while but February was the first time I could make it. Hanna and I got the train down to London in the morning, shopped all day and rested our feet on the way back up and compared purchase notes.  I bought about 10 books and I’ve so far read one so that’s something! My stand out shop of the day was easily Persephone Books, which was adorable and crammed full of unique-sounding books from lady writers of old.  If you ever get chance to go, do!  I also loved getting the chance to meet bloggers who I’ve been chatting to for years (like Katie and Ellie BookWorm), even if I didn’t get to chat to all of them as much as I’d have liked!
And that (finally) was February!  March has continued on with a similar theme of being terribly busy but it’s starting to clear a little bit.  Sort of…tell me about books to distract me!  🙂
January Wrap-up and Favourites

January Wrap-up and Favourites

I think last year was the first year that I’ve posted a wrap-up for every month. They may not have been “on time” (they were definitely not on time) but they were there and that’s something.  This year, I’ve decided to do something a little bit different.  Alongside a bit of a reading wrap-up and recapping blog stuff, I’m going to mix in a Favourites section with books, films, TV, music, food and that kind of thing depending on what I’ve been up to in the month!  
As with last year, I don’t have any “goals” in reading other than getting back on track with my Classics Club list.  I’d like to say that I’ll read more books than I acquire but I’m very much in a book buying mood at the moment so who knows?
What I’ve Been Reading
I finished 4 books in January and, with one notable exception, they were pretty good!  The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson was one I saw on Ellie’s blog and bought straight away.  It may not have been super literary but it was so much fun!  A Suffragette archaeologist comes across what she is sure is a map and decides to boldly go where no females have gone before and see if she can find a lost ancient city.  It’s pretty much non-stop action and a really good distraction of a book. I read and reviewed Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake and was disappointed.  I picked up a short story collection by Sophie Hanna next, The Visitor’s Book and Other Ghost Stories.  It was a super short little volume that I read in a couple of hours so I didn’t feel as though I could give it more than three stars but the stories are weird and definitely haunting (especially The Visitor’s Book!) and it’s worth a read, even if I wouldn’t quite recommend buying it.  Then I finished Bird Box by Josh Malerman and freaked myself out thoroughly.  A dystopian tale of a world where humans are being menaced by something so terrible that just seeing it once drives you out of your mind and spells your doom.  Very dark but I was totally gripped and horrified so it was definitely…an experience!
The rest of the month, I’ve been happily making my way through the 1,000 pages of The Shadow Rising, the fourth book in the Wheel of Time series.  I remembered not really loving it as a teenager but this second reading has been a completely different experience.  I love the characters and I’m really appreciating the back story and gradual plot development this time around!  I have about 400 pages to go so I’m planning on finishing it up this coming weekend.
Book of the Month:  Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  The Crown.  We finally decided to give this a try one evening and I love it.  I’m in no way a royalist so I wasn’t sure what I’d make of it but it focuses on the historical and political context and developments of the reign of Elizabeth II and it’s so well done that I can’t help but love it.
Film of the Month: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  This is actually a bit of a cheat since I saw it technically at the VERY END of December but I don’t think I’ve watched any other films in January so I’m counting it.  I think I cried about five times in the cinema (thank goodness for 3D glasses) and I adored this story.
Recipe of the Month: Flamenco eggs with serrano ham and tomatoes from Rick Stein’s Long Weekends.  The series that accompanied this book was a hot contender for favourite since it focuses on different European cities and their food cultures, which is something I’m always going to be bowled over by. I’ll settle for giving it a nod here with this recipe that you can find recreated here.  It’s basically serrano ham in a Spanish style sauce, topped with eggs and chorizo and it sounds a bit lacklustre but really it’s the perfect Sunday brunch dish.
Beauty Product of the Month: Avon Matte Lipstick in ‘Red Supreme’.  I can be a bit of a make-up snob but I decided to give this lipstick a try because it looked like the kind of deep red colour I fancied giving a try and came with a relatively modest £5 price tag (at the time) that made “giving it a try” not too much of a gamble.  I love it.  The colour’s gorgeous and it stayed on all day with only a couple of minor top-ups.  I’ll definitely be mixing in a couple of other colours from this line among my usual MAC favourites.
Album of the Month:  First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold.  I’d never heard anything by these Swedish siblings until Apple Music mixed the song My Silver Lining into a playlist I was listening to while working.  I don’t really know how to go about describing music but it sounds like a blend of pop and folk music to me and I love their voices, their lyrics and how their music makes me feel like Spring is just around the corner.
And they were the highlights of my January!  Tell me all about the highlights of yours.  Anything I missed and need to get caught up on?
November Wrap-Up

November Wrap-Up

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November has been super busy at work but I have had an excellent reading month. Work’s been hectic and looks set to continue on that way for the rest of December but we’ve had a couple of quiet weekends that have been pleasantly chilly before the onslaught of Christmas parties and other festive activities so I’ve spent a good few hours curled up under a blanket reading. I’m super excited about Christmas and all of the merriment that comes with the season. I love Christmas! I love the decorations, the smell of mulled wine, getting to eat pigs in blankets on a regular basis, buying gifts for family members, socialising and just the general cheeriness. It’s just my favourite 🙂
The Books
White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (5*) – I think I was texting Hanna when she pointed out that I seemed to be on a bit of  good run with books. She was so right! I picked this one up on Hallowe’en while I was tucked up in the back of my house, reading by lamplight so that I wouldn’t be bothered by trick or treat people and it is absolutely stunning.  The writing is incredible. I wrote so many quotes into my review notebook and I’ve yet to figure out how to review it without just typing out huge chunks of it.  The story follows a family who have lived in the same house for generations, a house that is very possessive over its inhabitants.  There are the odd excerpt from the perspective of the house and they’re chilling.  I’ll be writing about this soon hopefully but know for the time being that I loved it.  One of my favourite books of the year.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (5*) – Why have I left it so long before re-reading this series?!  I’m so enjoying being reunited with this set of characters.  I’ve been surprised about how much I remembered about the series but there have also been plenty of moments that I’d either forgotten or hadn’t appreciated when I was younger/when I didn’t know where the story was heading. 
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (4*) – Surprisingly, I’ve already reviewed this one so I won’t say too much more about this one.  I really like the series and I’ve already got the last one in the trilogy, Library of Souls, lined up to get stuck into soon.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (3.5*) – The hashtag being used on Twitter for this book is #WTFthatending and I was intrigued enough that I requested a copy on NetGalley. It’s a twisted sort of psychological thriller focussing on a psychiatrist, his wife and his secretary and it is so unbelievably addictive.  I sat down to read it last Sunday and flew through the whole thing in a day. I had to know what was going on. It was such a fun reading experience and I had a great day with the book (and I am so glad that I didn’t have any plans). #WTFthatending indeed.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell (4*) – It’s been a while since I picked up a Rainbow Rowell book. I’ve had this out from the library for months and I just didn’t feel compelled to pick it up. I did finally get to it when I’d run out of renewal options from the library and I’m so glad I did.  Actually, late November was the perfect time to read it. This one sees Georgie and her husband Neal facing challenges in their marriage. It’s a bit more grown up feeling than Rowell’s other novels that I’ve read but I loved it for showing how “proper”, non-romantic-comedy relationships take work and shouldn’t be taken for granted.  Rowell also writes engaging dialogue like nobody else I’ve ever read and I love her books.
The Other Stuff

I’ve got back into the gym this month and have been alternating between circuits classes, spinning and yoga. I’ve joined a local, independently owned gym. It’s more expensive than the big chains but I feel better supporting a business run by a lovely couple so I’m happy to commit the extra few pounds a month.  The spinning and the circuits I already knew I’d love because they’re hard classes that I can do without putting too much pressure on my dodgy hip.  The yoga was completely new to me. I’m perhaps the clumsiest person I know and my balance is not so great. I thought I’d give yoga a go because it’s something new and the class I go to is at 7.30am and I fancied a bit of relaxation as a start to the day once a week. I am terrible at a lot of the poses but after four classes, I do feel as though I’m starting to improve so I’m really going to try hard to stick it out and keep trying.
It was also Boyfriend’s birthday in November so we did plenty of eating out and celebrating. We took a trip to one of James Martin’s restaurants and had a night out in Manchester with friends and it was a lot of fun!
Looking back, it was actually a jolly good month!
Hope you all had super Novembers and are enjoying the run up to Christmas! I’ve been trying to keep an eye out for Christmas mysteries and had some great recommendations on Twitter but if you have any particularly good’uns, let me know in the comments please 🙂

October Wrap-up

I feel as though October was a really good month for reading.  I’ve rolled into November really excited about the books that I’m reading and about the books that I have on ‘Read Sooner Rather Than Later’ pile, which has made me more excited about chatting about books, both on here and on Twitter. I love that with the arrival of Autumn, it’s much easier to “excuse” time under a blanket with a good book!  Over the course of the month, I read 8 books, which for me is pretty damn good!  It was boosted by the Readathon and the fact that I had a long haul flight and plenty of time sat around in airports for the first couple of days of the month.

The Books

Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (4*) – I love this series.  I’ve just realised that I actually posted this in my last wrap-up, which is stupid because I definitely finished it on the way home, which was in October…ANYway, the fact that I love this series remains true.  It’s the only series that I’m currently reading where I specifically pre-order the next instalment so I can get to it as soon as possible.  This year, I saved it for a couple of weeks so that I could really get into it while I was travelling on holiday and it was absolutely the right decision.  I loved getting to spend time with these characters again, even if there were elements that I wasn’t 100% sure about.  I can’t wait to see how the series ends next year (book 6 is the end, right?).  Find my spoiler free review here.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (5*) – another one that ridiculously made it into last month’s wrap-up…oops!  Still, it was great and I’m going to get to Chamber of Secrets soon.

Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (2*) – the first volume of the Sandman comic series.  I was not a fan.  When I finished the last issue, I was hugely annoyed.  Some miscreants try to capture Death and inadvertently capture sibling Dream instead.  Great idea.  I was totally sold.  The execution was…haphazard.  The issues that focused on Dream and his explorations of the world of dreams and his interactions with Death I really enjoyed.  There were a couple of issues, though, that were SUPER DARK.  One was particularly terrible and I very nearly didn’t get past it (some bad guy holed up in a diner making people cut each other up and…I don’t know, I skimmed a lot of it because it was gross).  I read an interview with Gaiman in the back of my edition, though, where he picked out those I didn’t like and highlighted them as those that he felt were weaker so I’m persuaded enough to pick up the second volume in the hope that it focuses more on what worked and less on what I, to put it bluntly, hated.  I don’t think I’ll talk about this one again because thinking about it does not make me happy.  Tell me if you’ve read other volumes and think I need to just give it another go before I psyche myself out.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (5*) – I adored this book.  It was just the right book to pick up when I was feeling sad about leaving Japan and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.  I’m trying to write a review to articulate how much I loved it and it’s proving tricky.

Bodies of Water by V. H. Leslie (4*) – a real little beauty of a book.  A small but nigh on perfectly formed gothic ghost story about a woman who moves into a flat built in what was a Victorian Water Treatment facility.  Another one I’ll review soon.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (4*) – I read this during the Readathon a couple of weekends ago and it was the perfect choice for the event.  Pictures to keep my eyes from going square from all the words and a story that was just the right amount of charmingly weird.  I’m glad I already have Hollow City to get to soon!

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley (3*) – Knisley’s graphic novels have such a warm feeling to them. I love the way she writes and draws about her travels and this one had a really nice, introspective feel to it.  It was shorter than I was expecting but I liked it all the same.  A nice way to round off the readathon.

Dust and Shadow by Lyndsay Faye (4*) – oh, this book.  This book.  I loved Jane Steele by the same author and after this, I’ll absolutely be buying up everything she’s written.  This one was Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson investigating the crimes of Jack the Ripper and it was just fantastic.  Faye got the tone of the Sherlock Holmes down perfectly, it was gloomy and atmospheric and so tense.  Another one I’ll just have to review soon!

The Other Stuff

I’ve been a bit more active on the blog this month, mainly because I’ve been really driven to talk about what I’m reading.  I really enjoyed the Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon this year and I’m really hoping I’ll be able to take part next April. I posted a series of mini reviews of some of my (relatively) recent library picks and wrote a full review of a book I really enjoyed over the summer but never got round to writing about, The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs.

It’s actually been quite a quiet month generally.  After we got home, we were jetlagged and had some quiet time and then I had a wisdom tooth and some of my jaw bone removed, which was a bit more difficult than expected and took me longer to recover than I’d hoped.  November looks busier because we’re celebrating Boyfriend’s birthday but the nights are drawing in so I still foresee plenty of reading!

Oh, and I finally got round to treating myself to a Prudence and the Crow subscription.   It’s £15 a month and promises to include a vintage book chosen based on the favourites/likes/dislikes/hates that I put into my opening questionnaire together with a few other goodies.  It’s a good price point, the website is just lovely and because it’s vintage books, I’m not too worried about cross-over with books I already own.  I’ll post about my first box around about the middle of the month but it looks fantastic and I’m really excited 🙂

How was October for you all? Anything you’re particularly excited for in November? Tell me everything!

August/September Wrap-Up

August and September have both been busy for various reasons and neither allowed me particularly intensive periods of reading.  Around my birthday in August, we were away in Florence for a wedding planning trip and then we were seeing a lot of friends and family.  In September, we had a few busy weekends and then were on holiday for a couple of weeks and (not unexpectedly) the only time I really had to read while we were away was while we were travelling between locations.  So all in all between the two months, I read a not-so-grand total of 7 books, which is actually more than I was expecting.  I’d thought that I’d read quite a mixed bag of genres but when I look at the books, it turns out that that’s not strictly true.  The vast majority had a sci-fi/fantasy slant, although they weren’t all the same type of sci-fi/fantasy book…
The Books

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone (3*) – a spider-based dystopian novel that is easy to read and has plenty of action but feels as though it has something missing.  I’ve actually written a mini review that features this and will be up over the next few days or so I won’t ramble too much about it here.

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (3*) – a bit disappointing if I’m being honest.  I’m trying to read the Sherlock Holmes stories in vaguely chronological order and I’m still in quite the early days (very early days) of the characters and I’m finding that the stories have a different feel to some of the later ones that I read way back when I was in school.  They’re entertaining enough but the character development is a bit iffy (this one had some particularly poorly elaborated/set up developments for Dr Watson) and I’m looking forward to getting past them and into more established territory.
One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor (4*) – I started this while I was slightly floundering through Leviathan Wakes because it seemed like a lighter read and I loved it.  Hanna read it too and reviewed it – I totally agree with her review but I’m going to try and scribble out some of my own thoughts soon too.  In the meantime, it’s about a time travelling historical research organisation and it’s just so much fun.  I have the second one to read soon.
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (3*) – this felt like it took me forever to read.  I don’t usually read space opera but for some reason I fancied trying some and I crawled through my first effort.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m just not used to the style or the themes or just because this one is part of a longer series and so is a bit more back-story heavy than others might be but it was a bit like hard work.  Another one I’ve written most of a review for and will be chatting about soon.
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (4*) – I reviewed this earlier in the month and it was pretty damn good.  The perfect gripping follow-up to the much laboured-over sci-fi.
Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas (4*) – I very rarely pre-order books but I did pre-order this one and it was great.  A spoiler-free brief review will be going up soon because I do have some thoughts on how the series is panning out.  I enjoyed this book and I swept through the pages generally but it wasn’t perfect and I have some reservations about some of the character development.  Not so much that they’d put me off finishing the series (I need to know how this story ends) but ones that took the extra star from what was otherwise another great part of a tremendous series.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stoneby J.K. Rowling (5*) – I’ve never re-read this before and I *loved* it.  Obviously I knew what I was in for but reading this so long after having initially read it (about 17 years ago) was so much fun.  The story’s so heart-warming and re-reading the beginning of the friendship of Harry, Ron and Hermione was far sweeter than I remembered.  I think if anything I was surprised by how short it was and how quickly I flew through it.  I’ll be setting some time aside for the rest of the series soon, definitely.
Aaaand that’s it! 
The Other Stuff
In the non-bookish world, we managed to pick a venue and photographer for our wedding and I’ve chosen bridesmaids dresses, all of which is tremendously exciting.  It’s still a bit unreal that we’ll be getting married in about 8 months time but we’ve got our Save the Date cards out so it’s starting to come together!
The biggest event was Hong Kong/Japan, which I’ve been looking forward to for ages.  Hong Kong was a heck of a lot of fun.  We walked for miles around the city and ate so much delicious Chinese food and tried some local craft beers and it was brilliant.  We stayed on Hong Kong Island and explored Kowloon and the New Territories too.  A blend of cultures and a fascinating place to explore.  And then there was Japan.  I’ve been wanting to go to Japan for absolutely years and oh man did it live up to my expectations!!  It’s an incredible country and Tokyo is one of the best cities we’ve ever visited.  Shiny new skyscrapers next to beautifully ornate old temples.  Stunning, peaceful gardens and parks bang in the middle of business districts and other commercial areas.  Quaint, traditional restaurants and bars in the glitziest of shopping districts.  It’s stunning and immaculate and I took hundreds of pictures.  The people were all super friendly and so helpful.  We didn’t struggle half as much as we feared we might and I know that most of that is because the people were so gracious and patient when we were trying to communicate in the very few Japanese words that we were able to pick up.  Visiting Fuji Hakone National Park was something really special too and the traditional dinner that we had that night was absolutely stunning both visually and in taste.  I know how fortunate that we are to be able to travel and experience countries like Japan so I spent the whole time feeling super grateful and just revelling in everything.  We’re hoping to go back to Japan soon to visit some other places and see even more!  If you’ve ever thought about going but weren’t 100% sure, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I hope you all had superb Augusts and Septembers and that your Octobers aren’t yet too gloomy!