19 December 2015

Two Wintery Tales


By complete coincidence, this year I've read two books set in Alaska. I just last night finished Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child and earlier in the year I read The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton; I would highly recommend them. Both are beautifully written and I thought both authors wonderfully described the harsh weather conditions of an Alaskan winter. It was so easy for me as the reader to imagine the wilderness of the tundra where both stories take place, I'm sure I actually shivered a couple of times!

The two stories are quite different in style. The Quality of Silence is an atmospheric thriller and quite fast paced. It has a real sense of urgency to it which I expected from the description. In contrast, The Snow Child has the much gentler pace of a fairytale and is quite whimsical in its tone. I loved the sense of magic in Eowyn Ivey's story about a childless couple who are visited by a mysterious little girl in the winter. The sense of mystery is also present in Rosamund Lupton's novel but is much more threatening - our main characters, Yasmin and Ruby, are being followed by someone unknown to them as they travel across Alaska searching for Ruby's father, presumed dead following an accident in the remote village where he worked.

Of the two, I thought The Quality of Silence had the better ending. As you would expect from a thriller, the tension gradually builds until the ending and it's always satisfying when all loose ends are tied up. With The Snow Child there is less of a definite ending and the story comes to a close more gradually. A few things are left unanswered, which might be disappointing to some, but not necessarily a bad thing. If you asked me to name my favourite reads this year, both of these wintery tales would be high up on the list!
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15 December 2015

Jolabokaflod


In Iceland, people traditionally exchange books on Christmas Eve, and then spend the rest of the night reading. It's the busiest time of year for Icelandic publishers: the majority of new books are published during the festive period for this reason, resulting in Jolabokaflod - a 'Christmas book flood.'

Anyone else contemplating a move to Iceland..?

Image via weheartit
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3 December 2015

Not In My Name


Today I want to talk about the outcome of the parliamentary debate on UK airstrikes in Syria. If you are not interested, or politics isn't your thing, feel free to give this one a miss - regularly (ish) scheduled programming will resume shortly. But this is something I feel very strongly about, and I feel that a blog is as good a place as any, even the best place, to air your views. 

Before I start, I want to say one thing - I am not an expert in politics, or the inner workings of government and foreign policy. What I am is a human being, a UK citizen who is utterly ashamed of a decision made last night by a government proclaiming to represent my views and the views of those around me. I can't promise that this will be a very eloquent post, because I am angry.

Last night, 397 MPs voted in favour of UK air strikes in Syria, essentially sanctioned the murder of innocent men, women and children, and I cannot fathom for one second how anyone can think this is the right thing to do. It makes us no better than the terrorists we are supposedly trying to fight. Nowhere have I seen a compelling argument for fighting fire with fire in this way - least of all David Cameron's remark about those opposing military action being terrorist sympathisers. Put your dummy back in, Dave. The MPs who voted against have two things you don't - a conscience, and apparently a firm grasp on what the British public stand for.

Even harder to swallow for me is the news that the outcome of the vote was met with laughter and applause. If deciding to go ahead with the air strikes is such a necessity, I would expect it to be a decision made with nothing less than solemnity, heavy hearts and even guilt. I saw something on Twitter last night which perfectly summed this up - when ISIS use these air strikes to recruit more people, they will show those scenes of clapping and laughing in the Commons. We are playing directly into their hands; this is exactly what they want. The threat of terrorism will always be present - no amount of bombing can eradicate an ideology - and of course we should stand up to terrorists. But we should be doing that by showing them that we are not the same. We stand for compassion, and we are above wishing harm upon innocent people, or people who are not innocent for that matter. Justice, maybe, but not harm. As it is, we now pose the same threat to civilians in Syria that we fear from ISIS.

I'm so scared for the future of our world if things carry on the way they are. Terrified, and so sad. Another quote I came across recently that struck a chord with me is 'we do not inherit the world from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children.' What kind of world are we creating for future generations? I'm ashamed that our government has chosen to carry out these actions that seem to be so widely opposed across the country, if my social media feeds are anything to go by (although I am very aware that these are the same feeds that led me to believe there was little support for a Tory government, yet here we are). This government certainly does not speak for me, and I'm particularly ashamed to learn that the man who received my vote in the election, Labour MP Hilary Benn, so passionately agreed with this course of action. He does not represent me.

Because I strongly believe that for every terrorist and scare-mongering MP there are thousands of people who stand for goodness and compassion, and because the outcome of the vote left me feeling so powerless, below are some suggestions for how we can help:

Use your voice: Sign petitions (I've signed this one tonight), tweet, protest if you want to, write to your MP, anything. Don't stop being angry about this and make it known that you don't feel represented by your government. They need to know.

Donate: Charities such as The British Red Cross and Oxfam need donations to provide essential food, shelter and medical care in Syria. You can even donate if you can't spare much money -the organisation Help Refugees UK has set up this Amazon wishlist of things that will help the refugees in Calais and the rest of Europe, particularly in the cold winter months.

Volunteer: There are lots of things you can actively do if you have time to give. Hand In Hand For Syria have lots of volunteering opportunities available and details of how you can apply to help.

If anyone has any other ideas, please share them here, leave links etc. as I think even if you don't have the means to donate or volunteer, spreading awareness to others is equally as important. I hope one day humanity will learn its lesson but until then, there is something to be said for trying to be the good you want to see, even in the smallest way.

#NotInMyName
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