26 June 2017

What Harry Potter means to me

I couldn't let the 20th (!) anniversary of my favourite ever story pass by without a blog post, could I?  On this day in 1997, J.K. Rowling introduced us to Harry Potter, the boy wizard, and I know that I'm not alone in being so grateful that she did.


The impact that Harry Potter has had on my life is undeniable.  Anyone who knows me should be able to tell you that I kind of have to really love something to want to display it around my house, so the fact that immediately on walking into my flat you are greeted by 4 wands on the wall and a case containing the Marauder's Map says it all.  But whilst the merchandise is cool to have, my love for these stories goes much deeper.

Unlike many, I don't credit the Harry Potter series with introducing me to reading - I was already a well established bookworm when The Philosopher's Stone came out when I was 6, but it did provide me with a lot of other milestones in my life as a reader.  This was the first series I can remember being aware of as a series, actively looking for sequels and making sure to read them in order, eagerly waiting for those not yet released and being so excited to get my hands on them.  It was for Deathly Hallows that I went to my first ever midnight book release, something which was relatively unheard of before and I was so happy when my dad said he would take me! We queued outside WHSmith in Leeds (I remember feeling really smug that we were quite near the front!).

It's the first time I can remember feeling part of a reading community too.  As a young reader, I can't say I was aware of this as something missing from my reading experience - I just knew that I loved books, and would read as much as I could.  But now people were talking about Harry Potter at school, racing to be the first one to read up to a certain chapter, playing wizards in the playground.  When we were older, we would pass time by quizzing each other on our knowledge of the wizarding world.  So whilst I don't say that Harry Potter started me reading in the first place, I do credit it with nurturing my enjoyment of sharing books and stories with other people.


I love Harry Potter for a lot of the same reasons as everybody else - the writing is so clever, and Hogwarts is home to my favourite characters and all the magic and adventure that I still look for in novels as an adult, but the reason these stories hold such a special place in my heart is the lessons I have taken away from them.  Harry Potter taught me that nobody is perfect and to look for the good in everybody - even the Slytherins.  Hermione taught me to stand up for what is important to me, Dumbledore taught me to look for the light in dark times, Neville taught me to dust myself down and try again next time, and Ron taught me not to let the muggles get me down.  And there are so many other valuable messages to take away that will always be relevant to society - love, kindness, peace, the value of family and friendship, and tolerance and respect for others.

"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."


Even at the age of 26, I still turn to Harry Potter for comfort and apply its messages to my life, and I believe I will for as long as I live.  I always tell myself to 'be more Gryffindor' and put on my red and gold stripes when I have to be brave, and I always make sure to cast my Patronus charm and eat a bit of chocolate when I'm feeling down.  I really have to say a big thank you to J.K. Rowling for that, because those are two things in particular that have got me through some tough times over the past few years.



It's testament to how special these books are that they are still so popular 20 years on, and finding new readers all the time - because they are so relevant, and I think even in another 20 years, young readers will still be able to find something to take away from these characters.  And we're so lucky that we're still being treated to parts of the story we haven't heard before!  That's something really unique to the Harry Potter universe, and I really appreciate the amount of effort J.K. Rowling puts in to keep the magic alive.

"Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic."


Happy anniversary, Harry!
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24 June 2017

Recently Read

 



The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen - ★★★★
As soon as I read the blurb for this one, I was in.  Kit is a phenomenaut which means she can project her consciousness into animal bodies.  Over the course of the story, she becomes a bat, a spider, a tiger, and an elephant to name just a few and we get to experience this with her.  Kit uses her ability as part of a research project hoping to help humans better understand and protect animals, but the company she works for want to start using phenomenautism for some more sinister things.  If you're in the market for some good science fiction, give this a go!

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick - ★★★★
The Comet Seekers is a beautiful story following the lives of the two main characters Roisin and Francois.  In a similar way to One Day by David Nicholls, we catch up with each of them only at certain points in their timelines, when a comet is visible in the sky (hence the title) slowly finding out how their stories overlap.  I loved the writing and the themes of love and hope, and it's also such a beautifully designed book.

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld - ★★★
I read this fairly short book in a day and I really liked it, but didn't think it was amazing.  The Enchanted is told from the point of view of a prisoner on death row and is about the observations he makes about the world around him.  Quite a thought-provoking and interesting look at the death penalty and what drives people to commit horrible crimes, but I didn't feel overly connected to any of the characters in the way needed to make it a really emotional read - possibly just down to the time I was reading, but I give this one three stars.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden - ★★★★★
Such a beautiful book and one I'm so glad I finally got around to!  Arthur Golden describes the world of the geishas so vividly and it was such an absorbing, interesting read.  Perfect historical fiction.

Despite The Falling Snow by Shamim Sarif - ★★★★
I had never read anything set in Cold War Russia before but I loved it as this story's backdrop.  It was slightly less spy novel and a bit more romance than I imagined but I would choose both of these things in a book anyway so I really enjoyed it all the same.  I never felt the romance was overdone, just the perfect amount, and I was so swept up in Katya and Alexander's back story and their world.  I'm considering having everyone call me Hollyushka from now on.  So gorgeous.
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8 June 2017

All The Good Things

Using your best handwriting on the first page of a blank notebook
Squeezing hands with grandparents
Walking through crunchy leaves in Autumn
Curling up with a book when it's raining outside
Finding new music that you love straight away
Reading aloud to yourself sometimes when there's no one else home
Parking at the runway lookout with fish and chips to watch the planes
Seeing office workers having picnics with their families at lunchtime
 Solo dance parties while doing the washing up
Putting the world to rights with old friends
The first night in a fresh bed
That first cup of tea in the morning
Sunday afternoon naps
Laying in the grass making daisy chains
The feeling of leaving work on a Friday knowing you have next week off!

This list is inspired by Clare Fisher's new book All The Good Things as today is my stop on the blog tour! All The Good things is out now in hardback and don't forget to have a look at the other blog tour posts below for reviews and author content :)


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29 May 2017

Some mini reviews...

For someone who started a blog to talk about books, reviews are few and far between around these parts!  You'd be forgiven for thinking I hardly do any reading at all, but to be honest I just find it quite difficult to find the time to sit and write full length reviews.   I actually am almost always to be found reading, especially on my lunch at work.  Today I'm going to look back on some of things I've read recently with some mini reviews.


The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter |  
People seem to love Angela Carter but I didn't really gel with this.  It was a good story, in places, but quite dark and needlessly so a lot of the time, to me anyway.  I'm not going to be seeking out any more of her work any time soon.



Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur  
This is probably the first poetry collection I've sat and read cover to cover and I loved it.  Rupi's poems are so simple but so moving and effective.  There were so many lines that stuck out for me and had me nodding in agreement and I absolutely adored her style, I can see myself coming back to this regularly.



Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell  
Karen Russell has one of the best imaginations, I loved this short story collection as much if not more than her first book, St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  My favourite story was the one about the US presidents reincarnated as horses - how do you come up with that? Genius.


We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche 
I haven't given this one a rating because it seemed odd to, but I really liked it.  I've been wanting to read it for a while.  It's nothing new to anyone already engaged with feminism but it's a powerful argument.  It's based on a full length TED talk given by the author and since finishing I've been meaning to look that up.  This would be a great introduction for anyone making their first steps into understanding feminism.

That's all for now!  I think I will stick to this format for most things and write the lengthier posts for books that really give me a lot to say.

Thanks for reading!
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7 May 2017

The Good People


The Good People is set in County Kerry, Ireland, in 1825. Nóra Leahy has lost her husband and her daughter in the same year and now finds herself caring for her four year old grandson.  But Micheál is not the happy, healthy boy she remembers.  He can no longer walk, or speak, and there are rumours in the village that his deformities are evidence of other-wordly interference, bringing bad luck.  Desperate to find out what is wrong, Nóra and her maid Mary seek out Nance Roche, who is said to have the knowledge of the Good People, old magic, and remedies. Nance believes that Micheál has been replaced with a fairy changeling, and together the three women set out to restore him to the child Nóra remembers.
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3 May 2017

Something nice that happened in April

Ok, so I've been really bad at making a note of good things that have been happening and so I can't write a monthly silver linings post like I have been doing.  I will make more of an effort this month, but I can remember at least one good thing that happened in April, right at the beginning.


I took Emily to Betty's!  Finally.  I bought her a voucher for afternoon tea last year for her birthday, because she said she'd never been, and I really had to change that.  So on 1st April the three of us (Alice came too) trundled up to Ilkley on the train to the Betty's tea room on the high street.

We went in the morning because we wanted to beat the queues, and I was so tempted to try something from the breakfast menu, but in the end we all went for afternoon tea anyway and it's probably the best decision I've made for a while.  The sandwiches, scones and desserts were yummy as ever and all washed down with a pot of Bettys breakfast tea.



Afterwards we stopped off at the cafe shop and I bought Easter biscuits, lebkuchen butterflies... and a book.  Yes, I went to Betty's and left with a book.  I can't help it!  I'm looking forward to reading the short stories.

Now Emily can call herself a true Yorkshire lass!

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17 April 2017

Taking Stock



Ahh bank holidays.  Can every weekend be four days long please?  I'm serious, the extra two days of time to do my own thing have got me feeling the calmest about going back to work that I have for a few weekends now.  I think I take a little more time to recalibrate after a week at work than some!

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15 April 2017

Easter Saturday


I'll be honest, I like mini eggs for their pastel colours almost as much as I do for the chocolate.  I've also realised while looking for the above photo that I do not have any in the house at the moment - I really need to change that before tomorrow!

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5 April 2017

The Power


It doesn't matter that she shouldn't, that she never would. What matters is that she could, if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.

The Power was a very interesting one to read so soon after reading The Handmaid's Tale. While Margaret Atwood imagines a future of subjugation for women, Naomi Alderman completely turns this on its head. Instead, she asks what would happen if women had physical power over men.

It starts in the distant future with a letter from a male author to Naomi Alderman introducing his work. This then forms the majority of the book. He has written a book looking back at our time now, which has become known as the cataclysm era. Women have begun to be born with the ability to produce electric shocks from their bodies. Young women can awaken the power in older women, and the world starts to change as women begin to fight back and assert their physical dominance.  Now it's men who are afraid for their safety, advised not to walk alone at night.

This is already a powerful idea, but the main theme of the book is that power corrupts, no matter who it belongs to.  Alderman hammers this point home throughout the book, with many scenes that are nothing short of disturbing. We see many women abusing their new status in society and men having their rights stripped away. Travel is restricted, with curfews and enforced female supervision; on the other end of the spectrum there is rape and male gential mutilation.  It's not easy reading, but very powerful. 

The story is told through the experience of four different people. Each one has a different perspective, together creating the big picture of a world run by women.  Some parts were more engaging than others and not all the plot developments were great. In general, it was more the concept of the novel that made this such a great read.

The conversation between the two authors was a very clever framing device. The novel ends with more correspondence between them. He comments on the horrific events he has written about, and states his disbelief that it would be this way if men were more dominant. Men would never inflict these kinds of horrors on women, would they?  In fact, he has written his historical account to argue for the dismantling of the current power structure, to create a more equal society. This is, of course, exactly what feminism has been fighting for all along.

The Power has made the shortlist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2017. It stands a great chance of winning! By imagining a world run by women, Naomi Alderman shines a light on the many inequalities women face today, from gender-based violence to sexism in the workplace. Great eye-opening speculative fiction, definitely not easy to forget.
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2 April 2017

March Silver Linings

This time last year I would have commented on how fast the year is going, but I think I'm getting used to the fact that adult life just moves at this pace.  The routine of a work week just seems to make time fly - not because I'm having fun, but before you know it you've done another week and then the weekends just whizz by too!

Here are some good things that happened in March:

International Women's Day. I've always identified as a feminist but this is something I've become much more passionate about over the the past couple of years. I suppose I can thank Donald Trump for that? It made so happy to see everyone's posts on social media on March 8th celebrating the women in their lives and all our collective achievements. Women are brave, strong, independent, feisty, funny, loving and I'm so proud to be one.

Emily's wedding. My best friend got married this month and it was such a beautiful day! Everything looked amazing and we all had so much fun dancing, singing, playing in the photobooth, crying at speeches (me) and just generally being part of the day.




Birthdays! It was Paul's birthday and my sister Rowan's birthday in March and both were lovely.  For Paul's we went to Showcase cinema in Birstall, Leeds to watch Lego Batman and to try their new reclining seats! So good, even if the film wasn't particularly. For Rowan's I spent the day hanging out at mum's house, just chatting.  I love spending time with my family, we always laugh a lot and my heart always feel so full afterwards.

Moves like Grandma. My sister was looking through the Facebook page for my Grandma's care home when she found a video they had posted of the residents having a dance and sing-along to old songs.  My Grandma features quite heavily in it and she looks like she was having so much fun dancing, with some fancy footwork to match!  We're all missing her a lot so it was lovely to see.

Annual leave. Paul and I both had a week off work around his birthday and I'm sure I won't need to tell you how nice it is to not have to get up!  I hadn't had any time off since Christmas so it was much needed.  We just pottered around, I did a lot of reading and just generally relaxing.

Beauty and the Beast.  I finally got to see Beauty and the Beast on the 31st and I absolutely loved it.  I think will write a separate post on my thoughts in full but I was so happy!

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29 March 2017

Recent Book Post


I've recently received three book parcels from the lovely people of Penguin Viking Books! I thought I'd show you what I got.

The sun is shining, the sea is blue, the children have disappeared... is the tagline for Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy. This sounds like it will definitely be one to put in the beach bag this summer! All the Good Things by Clare Fisher is about prisoner Beth, encouraged by her counsellor to make a list of all the good things in her life.  And finally, Blood Sisters by Jane Corry. The proof gives nothing away other than these four lines: Three little girls. One good. One bad. One dead. Sounds like the perfect thriller!

Click on the links to take a closer look at these titles on Goodreads and while you're there, let's be friends!

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25 March 2017

Wishlist: Little People, Big Dreams




I spied one or two of the titles in the Little People, Big Dreams range in a bookshop this week, and the first thing I did when I got home was look up the full collection.  I thought some of you might like them too!  How cute are they?  Each little hardback is a short, illustrated biography of a different influential woman.  At the moment the collection consists of Marie Curie, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Earhart, Agatha Christie, and Maya Angelou, with the others pictured above due to be released in September this year.

As I'm all for anything celebrating strong women and a sucker for beautiful children's books, I'm hoping to collect the full set!
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13 March 2017

Silver Linings - February

Yay for me keeping this going for more than the first month, we're doing well!  February was kind of a mixed bag for me and I haven't been feeling the most positive BUT I've still managed to pick out some sparkly silver linings.

Finding Squirrel Nutkin.  For Christmas Paul got me the collector's book so I can hopefully find a full set of the Beatrix Potter coins.  I only had Peter Rabbit for ages, so I was pretty (irrationally) excited to find Mr Nutkin in my change at the restaurant.



Reuniting with my old work colleagues. Early on in February my friends from my last job had a work night out to say goodbye to a few people who are moving on and I went too! It was lovely to see them all, I miss being at work with people who really know me.

Book giving day. Instead of buying Valentine's gifts, in recent years Paul and I have adopted Book Giving Day as an alternative.  This year he bought me the illustrated Winnie the Pooh from the Folio Society and it is BEAUTIFUL...




Emily's hen do.  My best friend's hen do was this month in Manchester and it was a lovely day filled with fun and laughter, photo challenges, afternoon tea, cocktail making and yummy pizza.  It was so good to see some ladies I haven't seen for a while and catch up, plus it's the first hen do I've ever been on! #TeamBride





Homemade burgers.  Our friends Jonnie and Laura invited us round for tea and we haven't seem them for ages, so it was really nice to catch up.  Jonnie made these amazing burgers, as good if not better than eating out!  I'm not just saying that on the off chance that he's reading, honest.

Free books.  As well as book presents I also got some free books this month courtesy of the Radio Times, who around Christmas were running a promotion for three Sherlock Holmes compilations when you collected three tokens in consecutive issues. So old school but worth the effort for a nice surprise when they arrived - Penguin English Library editions too, my shelf is happy.

My favourite things this month:
Gilmore Girls
Woodwick Spiced Blackberry Candle
Lush Rosy Cheeks fresh face mask
 
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7 March 2017

The Handmaid's Tale


I finished reading The Handmaid's Tale at the beginning of February and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

Let's start with what it's about, in case you don't know.  The Handmaid's Tale is set in an America not too far into the future except it's not America any more. Following a military coup and collapse of the government, its now known as Gilead.  Nuclear catastrophe means that many women are unable to reproduce and so fertile women, like our main character Offred, are passed around wealthy families as 'handmaids' with the sole purpose of producing a child for them to raise. The penalty for refusal is death and the rights of all women, not just handmaids, are extremely restricted.

The story moves between the present day Gilead and 'the time before.'  The fact that Offred can remember her life before the new regime brings it so close to home.  Some of the most upsetting parts are the ways in which Offred's rights are taken away from her, and how it is portrayed as justifiable and the right thing to do.  There are so many specific parts of this book that will stay with me for a long time to come, but one in particular that I keep coming back to is when Offred goes home to her partner after having her bank card declined, one of the first actions the new regime takes in the stripping away of women's rights.  She tells him what happened and she realises that yes, he's understanding and agrees that it's wrong, but he's not outraged, or immediately willing to do anything about it. She suspects that he doesn't mind because it's not happening to him, or maybe he even quite likes it that way.  It's only a very small part of the book, a few sentences, but that passage was so powerful to me.
 
The best and worst thing about The Handmaid's Tale is how completely plausible many of the events seem.  The whole thing is absolutely horrifying but so believable.  Margaret Atwood has talked about how she deliberately didn't include anything that humans had not already done to each other in some way, and much of the book is scarily reminiscent of things you hear about in the news today.  A right wing government, blaming Islamic groups for terrorism, suspending human rights under the guise of protecting the people; women reduced to their reproductive status... Reading in the context of everything that is happening in the world today gave me the chills, and really made me think about the ways in which this kind of oppression can be allowed to happen - the gradual chipping away of rights, the role of the media as a distraction, and fear as a means of control.  At times it almost reads like a prophecy - some of the things happening in Gilead are not a million miles away from the treatment of women in society today, and that is terrifying.

This was my first Atwood but it won't be my last.  I can see why she is known as a master storyteller! I was completely absorbed into Offred's world.  The Handmaid's Tale is accessible but so thought-provoking, and definitely one of the best dystopias I have read.  I appreciated the epilogue written from the point of view of a future historian for providing me with some of the background to the rise of the regime - I had questions about this all the way through and epilogue gave that little bit more insight into some of the policies of the regime and the events leading up to the society we meet Offred in.  Offred herself is quite a passive narrator and you might expect her to have a bit more fight in her, but this isn't a story about overthrowing a regime - Offred is a reminder of just how easy it is to become accepting of injustice.
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31 January 2017

Silver Linings - January


I was a little reluctant to write this post. It's something I've been planning on doing all through January and I've saved up little moments to include for the whole month, but it seems so trivial compared to the quite frankly horrifying things happening on the other side of the Atlantic, and of course around the world. But, maybe it's more important than ever now to hold on to the good things in life. Here are my January silver linings.

A beautiful sunrise. As you can see from the photo, the first day back at work after Christmas wasn't all bad. At least there was a pretty sky!

Dinner at Buca di Pizza. Paul's dad's birthday is in early January and we all got together for a birthday meal. The food here is so good, we were all spoilt for choice, and I definitely want to go back to try one of the other pizzas. In the end I went for the Hickory Pig - bbq pulled pork. Yum.

Taking on more responsibility at work. We've recently had a bit of a shuffle around at work as one of the girls is going on maternity leave soon, and I'm now responsible for a lot more of the recruitment. It's quite a lot more work but I like to be kept busy, and it's nice to know they thought I could handle it after only being there for 3 months.

First gym class of the year. I got right back into the swings of things at the gym... in the second week of January. The classes were all full in the first week, and I'm not just saying that, I swear. It felt good to get that first class of the year all done and dusted, even if my thighs were practically screaming the next day.

Seeing my best friend in her wedding dress. My oldest friend is getting married in a couple of months, and she invited me along to her dress fitting one Saturday this month, followed by tea and cake in a little cafe in Otley. I could so easily have cried when I saw the dress, but I held it together. Safe to say she is going to look like a princess and I can't wait for the big day. I don't think it will be so easy to hold back the tears then though!

Chatting with Dad. After the dress fitting I went to see my dad; he was moving house and I offered to help carry some things but we ended up just chatting all afternoon and it was the best. We need to do that more often, especially if there are more hot cross buns.

Fish and chips at the end of the runway on Grandma's birthday. We lost our lovely Grandma just before Christmas. We used to visit her every Sunday and we have done for years, and one of her favourite things to do was drive up to the runway lookout at the airport to watch the planes. So that's what we did on her birthday, January 15th. It was bittersweet, not to have her with us, but it was nice for us to be there on her birthday talking about our memories. I hope I will always remember the last time we took her, in summer when it was warm enough to get out of the car - she applauded every time one took off, making everyone around us smile. <3

An unexpected trip to London. My dad had some tickets to London that he couldn't use, so a couple of weekends ago me and Paul jumped on the train for a day trip. It was so nice to spend time together, and of course get our Shake Shack fix... We also stopped by the Platform 93/4 shop in King's Cross and I came home with baby Hedwig.

 



Speaking of Harry Potter... I have started my re-read for the 20th anniversary and it was long overdue. I'm so happy to be back at Hogwarts!

Tea at Wildwood in Ilkley. Good food and great company. I haven't been over to Ilkley in forever and it was nice to go somewhere different, and also to feel happy enough with my face/hair/everything to take my first selfie in months, if not years. A nice little confidence boost - although thank heavens for Instagram filters!




My favourite things this month:
The Moana and La La Land soundtracks
Lush Rose Jam shower gel
Lush Sleepy body lotion
Soap and Glory Hand Food handcream
M&S leggings

See you next month for more silver linings!
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27 January 2017

Books I really want to get to in 2017

According to Goodreads I currently have 35 unread books sitting on my shelf at home. Out of the 35 there are some that I'm more excited to read than others, including a few that I have been meaning to get to for years. Today I thought I'd make a list of the books I absolutely, definitely, 100% will read in 2017.


The Handmaid's Tale 

The Handmaid's Tale. A cautionary tale set in a dystopian society in the not so distant future, where women have been stripped of all their rights and the most fertile are forced to reproduce for wealthy families. This has been on my radar for the longest time, but given recent events across the pond it feels even more important to read it as soon as possible. Oxford Student says this should have been my first read of 2017 - I opted for something a little brighter, but I will definitely be reading this very soon.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell 

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. If you've been following the blog for a while you will have seen me mention this book before. It was recently adapted for a BBC television series - I didn't watch but it definitely brought the novel to my attention. It's a chunky book at over 1000 pages but I have been wanting to challenge myself to finish a really long book for a while - since this one involves magicians and history, I thought that I couldn't go too wrong!

 
The Many Selves of Katherine North
The Many Selves of Katherine North. This was only released last year but I was intrigued when I read the synopsis, and I'm hoping to get to it soon just for that reason. The main character Kit is a phenomenaut, which means that she has the ability to project her consciousness into the bodies of animals. Some books you see across nearly every book blog but I haven't seen that much about this one so far, though it has a 3.75 star rating on Goodreads and some good reviews. I'll report back!



Memoirs of a Geisha 


Memoirs of a Geisha. Now this has been on my list for yonks - back when I started using Goodreads in about 2011/2012 it was one of the first books I added to my TBR list and shamefully I have only just picked up a copy in January, using some of my Christmas book money. I'm so excited to read this! I love getting lost in a good historical fiction and as this is a time period and culture that I don't know much about I think it will be really interesting too.

The Comet Seekers 
 The Comet Seekers. Another one that was only released last year! The Comet Seekers has been described as One Day meets The Time Traveler's Wife - I think that would have convinced me enough on its own but the story sounds so lovely too. Like One Day we meet the two main characters only on one day of the year, when a comet crosses their skies. I'll definitely be reading this one soon.

Bonus book...

 
All Quiet on the Western Front


All Quiet on the Western Front. Unlike the books above, I don't yet own a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front, but it has been on my list for ages. I feel like I should read it in November when it will be particularly poignant, but so far November has passed by without me picking up a copy. 2017 will be the year!
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15 January 2017

Quiet #NonFictionNovember2016

We're just about halfway through January so obviously, I thought now would be a good time to sit down and write my review for Non-Fiction November, 2016.

This was the first time I have taken part in this reading challenge which is hosted by Olive and Gemma on Booktube to encourage people to read more nonfiction than they normally would - if you don't normally read nonfiction, try to pick up one book; if you normally read two, try to get to three, and so on.  I can't remember the last time I read any non-fiction before this so my aim was just to finish one title, and the book I chose was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

I am definitely an introvert so this book was such an interesting read for me. It talks about what is known as the Extrovert Ideal meaning that extroversion and the traits that come with it are often seen as more socially desirable than introversion and this affects the way many things are set up - most workplaces now are open plan to encourage collaboration for example, with few people having their own offices and cubicles. In classrooms too, children now often sit in school in groups rather than individually.  This isn't a bad thing but not necessarily the types of environments best suited to everyone.  The book goes into much more detail about this and the other ways that the Extrovert Ideal plays out in society but basically so much of it had me nodding along in agreement. Unfortunately I'm an introvert so I'm not very likely to start suggesting new office layouts to my manager!

I learned a lot through reading Quiet that was directly relevant to me. Probably the most interesting was learning about the different levels of stimulation that introverts and extroverts need and the importance of 'restorative niches' to introverts - that is, the time you take to yourself to recover after doing something such as going to a big party. The book talks about how this is actually a form of recovery, as for introverts continuous overstimulation can be very stressful and actually harmful to health and that's why we often plan more time in between social engagements. There were other parts too, but in general I felt like I finished with a lot of helpful insight.

There was a chapter I think everyone would find interesting - the author covers the history of scientific research into introversion, neurology as well as sociological and social psychological influences. There was even a chapter for parents of introverted children to help them understand how to bring out the best in them and I think the whole book would be really valuable reading for teachers, parents, people managers, and even friends of introverts.
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7 January 2017

Thoughts for 2017





If I had to pick a word to describe 2016, it would be progress.

I think progress can be hard to measure when you're living through it. There were times last year when I didn't think I was making any progress at all - moments of rock bottom confidence which caused me to spend lunchtimes in hiding and shed many, many tears. But as I've spent time reflecting, I've realised that many of the low points were confined to the early months and as the year went on, things got better. I still have some way to go before I feel 100%, but I'm feeling much more positive going into 2017 than I was this time last year.

2016 was the year that I finally found and settled into a permanent job. When I left university I was still in my part time job at the cinema and then I had two temporary jobs after deciding it was time to leave. Whilst I wasn't unhappy in my last job, there are obvious security issues that come with a temporary role and I'm so happy that I've found something permanent. There's something about it that feels much more grown up and stable. It's only been a couple of months, but I'm enjoying it so far!

Last year also saw me push myself out of my comfort zone and take some action towards feeling better about myself. I was offered a place on a 30 day exercise programme at my local gym, and although I was cautious at first, it was probably one of the best things I did in 2016. Going to classes meant I was held more accountable and probably did more exercise since September than I have done in whole years previously. Group exercise was scary at first and I still sometimes have to push past that to turn up to class, but I feel proud of myself for taking those steps towards my goals. More generally, I learned a lot this year about putting myself first and not worrying so much about what people think - being honest about how I'm feeling did cause a rift in one particular friendship, but the majority of people that I have been open with have been so supportive, and I'm going forward into 2017 with the knowledge that those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.

I'm calling 2017 my investment year. I'm going to carry on investing my time at the gym towards a healthier and happier me - I've got a 12 month membership already paid for through employee benefits at work so there is no excuse, and I want my money's worth! I'm going to try and make it to at least three classes a week, and I'm hoping that this time next year I can write a post telling you that I feel the best I've ever felt.

My hope is that this will also mean I'm ready to get married. My self esteem issues have stood in the way, but I hope by investing time in exercising and looking after myself I will be able to kick this into touch. Paul and I will also be investing financially, with a set plan in place for how much we would like to set aside each month. Even if we don't get married for another couple of years, it will put my mind at ease knowing we are making preparations.

I'll also be investing more time and thought into self-care. Stress is never good but it has taken its toll on me in some dramatic ways over the past couple of years, and I've learned the importance of looking after yourself. Even just simple things like remembering to take my make up off after work, and take time to really do it slowly instead of scrubbing my face to death - I'll be trying to be as kind to myself, my mind and my body as I can be.



I hope anybody reading this will be safe, happy and healthy in 2017! x

Images from here and here.
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