Sunday, 2 July 2017

June Wrap-up and Favourites

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

What I've Been Reading

I finished a pretty whopping 7 books during June. It was a real treat to be able to spend so much time reading and relaxing and I'm very grateful that we got to start out married life in such a marvellous way! First up was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling.  In pre-wedding prep time, I wanted to read something that I'd be able to follow even while I was busy and Harry Potter was the obvious, comforting solution. Goblet of Fire has always been my favourite and that hasn't changed so far on a re-read. I cried at the end, perhaps even more likely given that I was somewhat hungover when I finished reading it. 

Next up, my Mum had impressed on me just how good the final two books in the Lunar Chronicles were so I went so far as to take out my paperbacks of Cress and Winter, both by Marissa Meyer.  I raced through Cress over a few afternoons in Sestri Levante and loved it just as much as I had the first two books in the four part series.  The last instalment I picked up when we got to Lake Como and I knew I'd have some solid reading stints by the lake.  It's a series that I've really enjoyed; they're so much fun to read and they're completely addictive.  I'll be reviewing the series as a whole soon (actually this time - I've written out a fledgling post and everything!).  In between those two, I broke out a NetGalley acquisition, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus.  It's a bit of a teen locked-room mystery.  Five students are locked in a room during detention and one is murdered.  The narrative flicks between the four remaining students as their secrets are revealed and they each try to clear their names.  It was surprisingly good!  I read a lot of Point Horror as a teenager and for some reason this reminded me of them.  I didn't see the ending coming.  Or rather, I did a little bit before the Big Reveal but not so far ahead that I felt as though it was too obvious.  A solid summer read for sure.

After finishing the Lunar Chronicles, I fancied something a bit different and went for The Power by Naomi Alderman.  What a book! It won the Bailey's Prize for Fiction so you don't need me to endorse the quality but, honestly, it's the type of book that really makes you think!  It makes some really interesting social points (even if it is a little heavy handed at times) and it's such a gripping story.  The ending absolutely stuck with me and after I finished it, I was hit with a serious book hangover.  I tried to get over that by finally finishing The Book of Shadows by Deborah Harkness.  I'd read most of it before going away and had maybe 100 pages to finish on getting back.  It wasn't my favourite series but it was ok. Good in places but just far too long. It felt a bit drawn out and laboured at times. 
On a sunny afternoon, I decided to pick up a comic volume, I Hate Fairyland, Volume 1: Madly Ever After.  It's a bubble-gum coloured, bright volume with a gruesome storyline. It's basically about a girl who gets sent to Fairyland when she's a small child but who, it turns out, is terrible at questing.  While most visitors explore the marshmallowy surroundings, find the key and go home within a day, this kid ends up spending 30 years trying to complete her mission.  She ages in her mind but not in her body. I can see that it wouldn't be for everybody but the dry sense of humour is right up my straight and I enjoyed it enough to want to hunt down Volume 2 soon.

Books of the Month: Winter by Marissa Meyer; The Power by Naomi Alderman

Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  Easily Line of Duty. Everybody's been talking about it for ages with the latest series being shown on the BBC.  It's as good as everybody says! It's about an anti-corruption department investigating dodgy police and we're half way through the third series and it is so, so good. I'm partly glad we've not watched it before so that we can binge watch!

Film of the Month:  I literally haven't watched a film all month...

Recipe of the Month:  Anything involving salami and cheese.  I ate cold cuts and cheese at least once
a day while we were away.  I kept expecting to get bored or tired of eating cold cuts and cheese but no.  I was living my best life.

Beauty Product of the Month: This pigment powder in Vanilla from MAC was part of my wedding make-up kit and it is AMAZING. It's the easiest to use as a highlighter and it's helped me maintain the look of someone who gets to spend plenty of time outside in the sunshine even though I no longer am!  

Album of the Month: Since I've been back, I've listened to Sia's album This Is Acting a lot to keep me pepped up!  Who doesn't love Sia?!

Activity of the Month: I'll save you another wedding ramble, bark out WEDDING, point over to this post and shuffle off on my way :)

And that was June!  I miss it already.  Let's hope that July is half as good!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

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

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