Friday, 5 May 2017

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?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

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 :)

Friday, 7 April 2017

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 clich├ęs.  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]
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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

Friday, 31 March 2017

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! 

Sunday, 19 March 2017

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
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