We Got Married

We Got Married

I’ve been trying for a while to come up with a pithy blog post title or a first line that somehow sums up the past few weeks in a way that conveys how wonderful they’ve been without sounding twee. I haven’t been able to. The wedding and the honeymoon were everything we’d hoped they would be and then some.  I usually try to stick to bookish posts but I can’t seem to pass up any opportunity to chatter about my wedding and so here we are.
We chose to get married in Florence because it’s a city we love that we wanted to share with our immediate families and friends. Our wedding was small and we only invited 20 guests. We wanted to have a group of people we were close to at a quiet service and to treat them to some Italian food and wine in the sun. Our families were wonderfully supportive in the days that we were in Florence before the wedding day and were truly fabulous at the venue.  We’d chosen a villa that we could use the night before for a pizza and prosecco party so both sides of the family could get to know each other (Villa le Fontanelle, which I honestly couldn’t recommend more highly).  
After the obligatory few hours of getting ready, drinking a couple of glasses of prosecco with my mum and bridesmaids, we got married.  It was beautiful.  The chapel had just room for 20 people, we just had a violinist and a cellist for music and the weather was perfect.  Our reading was from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (which remarkably my now husband chose without realising he was straying into literary territory!): 

Once upon a time, there was a boy. He lived in a village that no longer exists, in a house that no longer exists, on the edge of a field that no longer exists, where everything was discovered, and everything was possible. A stick could be a sword, a pebble could be a diamond, a tree, a castle.

Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived in a house across the field from a girl who no longer exists. They made up a thousand games. She was queen and he was king. In the autumn light, her hair shone like a crown. They collected the world in small handfuls, and when the sky grew dark, they parted with leaves in their hair.

Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.

I happy cried a few times but I smiled a whole lot more. The food was incredible, there was plenty of wine and it was perfect. There’s nothing that I would have changed and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Enough said, I guess.  

The day after we got the train out to Sestri Levante and spent the next two weeks travelling around Italy, eating some of the most delicious food and enjoying some stunning views and time away together. I read barely anything before the wedding (unsurprisingly) and then made up for that on our honeymoon. We balanced exploring towns and trying to see everything with a few days of relaxing and reading. I was going to write about my honeymoon reads together with the wedding but I feel like I’ve rambled on enough! 
Until next time, friends 🙂

 Left to right: Sestri Levante, Cinque Terre, Lake Como
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?
Spring Cosy Reading Night: TBR and Wrap-up

Spring Cosy Reading Night: TBR and Wrap-up

I’ve got more and more into the habit of watching BookTube videos while I’m getting ready or otherwise pottering about the house recently and one of my favourite channels is Lauren’s,  Lauren and the Books.  I trust her recommendations because her reading tastes in the literary fiction world seem similar to mine and her book chats are so easy to watch.  Today’s Cosy Reading Night (mission: get cosy and read) is the third that Lauren has hosted but the first one that I’ve been free for and I couldn’t resist joining in.  Also, we’ve been out and about in the sunshine today so I haven’t done much reading and I want to get some in before it’s time to go back to work!
This evening’s readathon will run from 7pm through to 10pm British Summer Time.
TBR

Usually I’m a one book at a time girl but I’ve been reading books in the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness for what feels like FOREVER so I fancy reading a few different things now I’m done with the second instalment.  So on the reading pile, I have Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson because we recently watched the Netflix documentary 13th (which Stevenson was involved with) and want to read more about the topic.  On my Kindle, I have New World Fairy Tales by Cassandra Parkin because I want to try getting into short stories and Salt has never steered me wrong before.  Last up will be some of The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker because I want something fast-paced after dawdling through Harkness’ slightly meandering writing and this one opens with this on page 2:

Don’t stop reading.  I need you to understand what I have done“.

Consider me sold.  It’s a proof copy of a murder mystery out in July and it sounds super creepy.  Hopefully not too creepy…maybe I’ll actually read the non-fiction first, the creepy thriller second and then wrap up with some short stories so that I can actually sleep!
Alongside the books, I have some jasmine blossom tea that I’m hoping won’t be too floral and a Jo Malone Peony & Blush Suede candle. The smell of peonies just warbles spring to me so I can’t wait to snuggle up and feel the spring love.
I’ll be updating on Twitter (@LitAddictedBrit). See you in a few hours for a wrap up!

Wrap-up

Well wrapping up in the evening didn’t quite work out as I got completely wrapped up in my last book of the evening and headed off to bed to read some more!

I’ve never spent an evening and committed it to reading three different types of books and it was such a refreshing change.  Usually I’m a one book at a time kind of girl but by having three different “types” of books, I managed to use the time really productively and I had a fabulous time.

HOUR ONE (7.00pm – 8.00pm):  I started the Cosy Reading Night with Just Mercy and it was a great one to start on.  It’s one I’m going to lend to Boyfriend when I’m done because although he won’t read fiction, he will read good non-fiction and I feel as though I’m going to need to talk about this one.  I read 33 pages during the first hour.

HOUR TWO (8.00pm – 9.00pm):  The hour of The Fourth Monkey.  This book really took me by surprise!  It’s about a serial killer who seems to have been found dead after having kidnapped his next victim.  The narrative is alternating between Detective Sam Porter and diary entries from the killer.  His diary entries are so unnerving but the writing of Porter’s chapter is somehow quite light and witty and it’s so easy to read.  I flew through about 58 pages during the hour and I’m hooked.

HOUR THREE (9.00pm – 10.00pm):  I’d thought about just sticking with The Fourth Monkey for the last hour as I was enjoying it so much but then I read a particularly haunting murderer diary entry and decided to go with something a little lighter!  I read the first short story of New World Fairy Tales by Cassandra Parkin, a set of short fairytale retellings.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this too, actually (pleasant theme for the evening!).  I don’t read short stories very often but this collection is making me re-think that. It was nice to get to read a complete story and the writing was really impressive.  I’ve since read another one and it was another real winner so I’m excited to continue on.

And that was my reading night!  It was super nice to dedicate an evening to reading and to do something a little more with Sunday night than just faff about on my phone/read a bit/watch crappy TV and lament working full time!  I’ll definitely try to join the Harry Potter themed night on 26 June, even if it is mid-week 🙂
Book Thoughts: ‘Sufficient Grace’ by Amy Espeseth

Book Thoughts: ‘Sufficient Grace’ by Amy Espeseth


Overall rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Ruth and her cousin Naomi live in rural Wisconsin, part of an isolated religious community. The girls’ lives are ruled by the rhythms of nature — the harsh winters, the hunting seasons, the harvesting of crops — and by their families’ beliefs. Beneath the surface of this closed, frozen world, hidden dangers lurk.

Then Ruth learns that Naomi harbours a terrible secret. She searches for solace in the mysteries of the natural world: broken fawns, migrating birds, and the strange fish deep beneath the ice. Can the girls’ prayers for deliverance be answered?

Why I bought it:  After missing out on the first Moth Box last year, I made sure that I was quicker off the mark when the January box was released.  This was one of two books included in the beautiful box, wrapped up in tissue paper and tucked up with a branded bookmark in plenty of fun packaging.  The boxes are stunning and both books looked fabulous so if you haven’t yet tried acquiring two randomly selected, independently published books through this service, I’d really recommend you do (once I’ve had an opportunity to make sure I get myself one, obviously…).

Why I picked it up: When I bought the January box, I told myself that I couldn’t then buy the March one unless I’d read at least one of the January books. Out of the two in the box, I went for this one because the cover is stunning and it looked appropriately wintery.  And walking away from a blurb that promises “a story of lost innocence and the unfailing bond between two young women” that is “at once devastating and beautiful, and ultimately transcendent” is no mean feat.

Mid-point musings:  I tend to lean towards plot-driven novels but the writing in Sufficient Grace reminds me of how wonderful it can be to just read about a different type of life or a different environment.  I don’t know how this book manages to feel both so free and so oppressive at the same time.  There’s something about a life without the pressures of modern life that in some way seems quite appealing but the weight of living in such close confines with such a small number of people feels unbearable.  It’s a skillful writer that can convey that balance so effectively.  I hope that I’m wrong about what’s going on.

Mid-point rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Final thoughts:  
It’s hard not to write about Sufficient Grace in a way that isn’t full of clichés.  I could wheel out all sorts of over-used phrases about how raw and visceral the writing is.  About how Espeseth has taken a harsh environment and used it to highlight the trials her characters endure.  The annoying thing is, they’d all be true.  The writing in this book is absolutely stunning.  I can’t remember having read another book that gave me such a clear picture of the world characters were living in.  It’s harsh and unrelenting, describing a community that relies on nature and hunting to survive, that is so dependent on the environment and familiar with death in a way that modern communities avoid being. It doesn’t always make for easy reading (and the opening in particular might be one that’ll turn a few to vegetarianism) but it had a huge impact on me whenever I was reading and it haunts me months later. 

So come for the writing, stay for the heartbreaking story.  The story follows Ruth telling her of life among her family in an isolated rural community.  The author’s acknowledgements include an apology to any of her former isolated religious community that she might have offended in writing this novel.  Ruth’s story is Amy’s story, after a fashion, and it’s the ring of truth that makes this novel so powerful.  The way that Ruth uses religious stories and allegories to rationalise some of the terrible things that happen to her was painful to read about.  Adult readers will understand more about what’s happening to Ruth than Ruth does herself but Espeseth never overplays it.  She writes subtly and gives Ruth a voice that has just the right amount of naivety.  I wasn’t wrong about what was going on and the way that it plays out is just…devastating.  In a quiet, suppressed way.
This is a little known novel it would seem but it’s absolutely worth hunting down.

Favourite quotes:

“Reuben is pretending he wasn’t ever scared, that he hasn’t already been picturing himself slipping through the ice: sinking down, down, down into the freezing deep, his eyes peering up through the frosted water, trying to find the hole out that was his hole in”
 
“He is finished.  And now I know what I had hoped against: he is all he is, and he is not enough” [Page 251]

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Date finished:  15 February 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought via Moth Box Books
Genre: Literary fiction
Pictured Edition Published: in August 2012 by Scribe Publications

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! 
Review: ‘The Roanoke Girls’ by Amy Engel

Review: ‘The Roanoke Girls’ by Amy Engel

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful.
Rich.
Mysterious.
Everyone wants to be a Roanoke girl.

But you won’t when you know the truth.

Lane Roanoke is fifteen when she comes to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin at the Roanoke family’s rural estate following the suicide of her mother. Over one long, hot summer, Lane experiences the benefits of being one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls.


But what she doesn’t know is being a Roanoke girl carries a terrible legacy: either the girls run, or they die. For there is darkness at the heart of Roanoke, and when Lane discovers its insidious pull, she must make her choice…

I was in the mood for a thriller after pondering my way through Maus and this sounded right up my street.  I know there are a lot of them around right now but I wanted a real page-turner.  Something that might not feature the most sophisticated plot or the most elegant writing but something that would keep me gripped.  In a sense, I got what I wanted, even if what kept me turning the pages was morbid fascination and not curiosity.

The novel is set in two time periods, one where Lane is fifteen and newly arrived at the Roanoke estate and one where Lane is an adult, drawn back to Roanoke to assist with a police investigation into the disappearance of her cousin.  In doing so, she has to face down some of her own demons and brave what sent her running from her family in the first place.  Tucked in between these two narratives are snippets told from the perspective of the earlier Roanoke girls.

I enjoyed this at first.  There’s a mystique about the Roanoke family, something lurking in the family’s history of women who have either died tragically young or run away.  The writing is decent and it’s very readable.  The atmosphere is oppressive and tense and Lane’s terse exchanges with her now estranged family are such a stark contrast to the warmth in the chapters showing her teenage years that I was dying to know what had happened.  For perhaps a third, I had to keep reading.  Then I learned the secret at the heart of the Roanoke family and I wished that I hadn’t.  It is, frankly, repellent.  I have no problem with writing that pushes boundaries but, if I’m reading something challenging, I at least want to feel as though it’s handled well.  Actually, I don’t think that it was that it was handled badly, just that it wasn’t properly explored.  We’re told about why it’s believable and why nobody just did the right thing but it just doesn’t feel realistic.  It’s too extreme.  Too much. The fact that the family is rich and that they’re all beautiful and charming just makes things a bit too easy. It feels relentless and reading it was emotionally exhausting.  Harrowing.  I kept reading because I hoped that there would be balance or pay-off at the end.  There was in a way but not enough to offset the general queasiness I’d felt while reading.

It’s hard to write more about this without spoilers.  I suppose if nothing else it was powerful.  It’s a hard hitting novel that doesn’t pull its punches and it definitely had an impact on me.  The characters are varying degrees of damaged and unpleasant but the supporting characters at least are interesting to read about.  While Lane is trying to help find her cousin, she has to face up to her past and spend time with some of the people that she hurt the first time she ran away.  It fits in with her story and I quite liked the take on small town America.  If there’d perhaps been a little less emotional trauma and a little more criminal investigation, I think the net result would have stronger.  As it was, I felt like reading this was more of an ordeal than I like in my fiction!

Overall:  Grim.  If you’re actively seeking out something that will give you a pretty full on story breaking all sorts of taboos, you’ll get that with The Roanoke Girls.  If you’re not in the market for some extreme emotional manipulation and sexual abuse, this probably isn’t the book for you.  It wasn’t really the book for me, unfortunately.

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Date finished:  26 February 2017
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley – thank you, Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Thriller; Mystery
Pictured Edition Published: on 7 March 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton

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!  ðŸ™‚
Review: ‘Bird Box’ by Josh Malerman

Review: ‘Bird Box’ by Josh Malerman

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew. 

Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing. 

And we couldn’t look outside anymore.

I saw a lot about Bird Box around its release, bought it in a Kindle sale at some point and then forgot that I even owned it. Then one morning, I woke up early and couldn’t read my current physical book because it was dark and I’m kind enough that I didn’t want to bash on a lamp while Boyfriend was sleeping.  So I picked up my Kindle, flicked through the many books on there and went for this, drawn back in by the cover tagline “If you’ve seen them, it’s already too late”.
I wanted a thriller but I was very ill-prepared for just how dark this book was going to be.  Well, I suppose less how dark it was going to be than how gruesome.  The premise is fairly simple: the world is under threat from some being that, when seen by humans, makes those humans kill those around them before ultimately killing themselves.  The narrative is split between two main threads: one in the present where Malorie is alone in a house struggling to survive with two children, unable to go outside but desperate to brave it in the hope that she’ll be able to find some kind of life for her little family and one in the past that starts with news reports of the phenomenon and Malorie finding out that she’s pregnant and shows the world gradually unravelling from there.
I think what makes this book different from other dystopian fiction is that readers never find out exactly what is causing the implosion of the human race.  There are theories about what it is (including a fascinating one that there is in fact nothing at all causing the deaths other than mass hysteria and delusion) but, given that everybody who has seen it has died, nothing concrete.  It’s one of those stories that relies on readers’ imaginations to fill the gaps about what terrifying vision might be stalking the streets.  And my goodness does it work.  There are moments where characters are blindfolded and fetching water or something from outside and they’re plagued by images of what might be lurking just beyond their blindfold and the terror as they start to imagine something touching them and gradually descend into panic feels so real.  It perfectly conveys that feeling when you walk into a pitch black room and have that fleeting “But what if…?” thought and suddenly have to get a light on.
The novel also manages to touch on the social impact of strangers being forced to rely on each other to survive, the plight of being torn between the desire to help save others and saving yourself and it all feels very (worryingly) realistic.  The ending isn’t exactly definitive but it worked for me and even while it introduced a whole host of new moral quandaries, it did wrap up the story enough and didn’t feel as though Malerman had just got bored and stopped writing.
I really, really liked this book.  It was terrifying and it was brutal but it was completely gripping. I like stories that are told through flashbacks and this one uses the technique particularly well.  You know what’s coming (in a way) but I was still completely astonished when it came to the point of actually getting there.  Bird Box won’t be for everyone because it doesn’t shy away from some very raw and gory details of people’s demises (particular warning to those who especially don’t want to read about violence/death of animals).  There was a scene in particular towards the end that really freaked me out and that made me feel physically ill so even if it’s by no means a pleasant read, it is a hell of a gut-punching one.

Overall: With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I’d definitely recommend Josh Malerman’s debut. While I was reading it, I alternated between fervent hope for characters, disgust and all sorts of other over-wrought emotional states.  It was a trying time but one I’d say is worth inflicting on yourself.  It actually looks as though HarperCollins will be publishing Malerman’s second novel, Black Mad Wheel, later this year and I’ll definitely be picking up a copy when it’s out.



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Date finished:  14 January 2017
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
Genre: Dystopian fiction; thriller
Pictured Edition Published: in January 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers

Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

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?
Review: ‘Three Dark Crowns’ by Kendare Blake

Review: ‘Three Dark Crowns’ by Kendare Blake

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.
I was interested in picking up Three Dark Crowns from the moment that I first saw the plot description.  It sounded like the darker kind of fantasy that Crooked Kingdom had left me wanting more of.  I mean, really, a queen giving birth to three daughters with different but equally impressive sounding powers and a fight to the death between those sisters to see who gets to become queen?  Brutal sounding, maybe, but interesting.  Then the book cropped up on a whole host of favourites lists towards the end of 2016 and I was completely sold.  
I was disappointed.
Frankly, Three Dark Crowns is mostly boring.  I don’t use that word lightly but there’s just no other way to describe the overwhelming feeling that I had while reading; it was boredom.  The book opens with the bit of back story that you get from the blurb and introduces the three sisters: Katharine, a poisoner who is meant to be able to handle and consume the deadliest poisons without harm; Arsinoe, a naturist born to control living things; and, Mirabella, an elementalist who, you guessed it, can control the elements.  Chapters then shift between the sisters as they approach their sixteenth birthday and their respective communities gear up to help them win power by destroying their siblings. 
I think that maybe I expected something like The Hunger Games.  A bit of world building and some character development and then on with the action that people (or at least, I) came for.  The balance in Three Dark Crowns feels way off.  A solid three quarters of the book is build up, which I suppose makes it all the more insulting that the world still feels pretty flimsy.  
It turns out that not all of the sisters are as gifted as they’re expected to be and they moan about it constantly.  I get it, you’re supposed to be a badass princess with a power that will have your sisters quaking in their boots and instead, you’re powerless, styling it out and facing what you’re pretty sure is impending death.  That’s bound to be challenging.  What’s annoying (and dull) is that this applies to two out of the three sisters, making things pretty repetitive, and seemingly they and their friends have decided not to do a great deal about it.  Or at least, not to do anything constructive or sensible about it.  They could be training physically, for example, or developing a realistic alternative plan to “win”, rather than just sitting around waiting to see if they’ll develop their powers in time.  Don’t even get me started on the one who seems to adopt a strategy of “if I get it on with this strange man, maybe I can develop an allure that will make all of the men fall in love with me and protect me”.
Even the emotional side of being raised to kill your siblings that could have been interesting is dulled by the fact that only one out of the three even has memories of the others.  The other two have conveniently forgotten their early life with their sisters and so believe the spiels they’ve been given about how evil they are.  An easy dodge that just felt lazy.  And there’s insta-love.  Twice.
And THEN, infuriatingly, the last quarter or so of the book was actually good.  The princesses and their retinues all arrive at…somewhere I’ve forgotten and make the first moves in the festival that commences the year within which they’re supposed to be trying to kill each other.  The spark that’s been missing for most of the book finally turns up and the plot starts moving at a decent clip with some scheming, some posturing and some peril.  It’s interesting, appropriately gory and sinister and reveals the potential that was hiding behind the whining all along (although one “twist” was a bit obvious and underwhelming).  Despite having been utterly disinterested for most of the novel and been convinced that I’d put aside the first book and immediately scrub the series off my list as one to watch, I found myself intrigued and sure that with some fiercer editing and perhaps a wider shot at the overarching story, this story could have been something great.
Overall:  I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re particularly interested in the concept, you have a spare few hours (which is probably all this will take if you can get stuck in without being distracted…) and don’t already have a burgeoning list of series that you’re in the middle of, the last quarter makes it feel as though the series will be worth a read.  Otherwise, I’d probably wait until the next book comes out and see how the story pans out before committing…
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Date finished:  07 January 2017
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought
Genre: Fantasy fiction; YA
Pictured Edition Published: in September 2016 by Pan Macmillan
Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery