Holiday Reads: September 2019

Right. I’ve overthought my ‘return’ to blogging regularly for long enough and it’s time to just get writing. I could start by blathering on about all the things that have distracted me and all the reasons I haven’t been blogging but that would be a waste of everybody’s time so instead we’re starting the best way I know how – with books.

For the last two weeks of September, my husband and I hopped our way across four Greek islands – Naxos, Santorini, Syros and Mykonos. I’m planning a ‘She Roams’ post to chat a bit more about the different islands, drop in a few tips that we picked up along the way and generally wax lyrical about how fantastic it all was. For now, suffice to say it was absolutely delightful. Much delicious food was eaten, local wine was drunk and, handily for this post, books were read!

On the flight out, I finished Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kowaguchi. Apparently this was a hugely popular book when originally released in Japan and I hope that it gets the same level of love over here now that it’s been translated into English. It’s a bit of a strange one on the face of it – in a cafe in Tokyo, customers can travel back in time. They can only travel back within the cafe (and so can only ‘visit’ people who have also been to the cafe), nothing that happens in the past will change the future and they can only stay in the past for as long as it takes for their cup of coffee to go cold. I suppose it might sound like it’s going to be quirky and all style and no substance but it absolutely isn’t. It’s sparsely written but beautiful. The exploration of what you could use time travel for if you knew it wouldn’t change anything was perfect – you might not be able to change your present, but you might just change your outlook on a situation and improve your future, for example. I cried on the plane. Twice. 100% recommended and I might write about it a bit more soon because I’m still thinking about it a few weeks on.

I often use holidays to delve into my Kindle back catalogue and pick out random books I’ve had for years. First up on that list was Nemesis by Brendan Reichs. If I’m perfectly honest, I can’t really decide what I thought about this one. It follows Min, a teenager who ha been stalked and murdered by a mysterious stranger every other year on her birthday since she was eight, only to wake up unharmed in a field a little while later. What I can say is that it’s very action-packed – there’s the frequent murders, a local government conspiracy, the impending destruction of Earth by a meteor, general teenage angst and a Lord of the Flies style climax. The plot barrels on relentlessly and it’s an easy read but it’s a bit…well, a bit much. I might pick up the next in the trilogy because I’m intrigued enough about what Reichs is up to but I’m not in a rush. Cautiously recommended to fans of Lost.

Next up, Troy by Adele Geras. I’ve had it for years and I figured what better time to read about Troy and Ancient Greek gods than while I was in Greece occasionally visiting Ancient Greek ruins. Sadly, it was a bit of a let down. I liked the fact that it’s told from the perspective of those within Troy, rather than the usual Greek take, but it was unbelievably repetitive. There are about five central characters, all of whom seem to be in love with one of the others who in turn loves someone else. There are regular visits from gods who give a character (and readers) spoilers for what’s coming up, before ensuring that the characters promptly forget what they’ve heard. It happened at least 10 times and it became super annoying. It isn’t dreadful but I wasn’t impressed. If you want to read about Ancient Greece, go for either of Madeline Miller’s books instead!

After Troy, I wanted a bit of a banker and something fun. Enter Moonlight and Mechanicals by Cindy Spencer Pape. I won’t say a lot about this. It’s the fourth in a loosely linked ‘series’ following various members of the Order of the Knights of the Round Table in a steampunk Victorian London that also happens to feature werewolves, vampires and the like. They might not be top drawer literature but they are a great diversion from the real world and they definitely meet the fun brief. There’s always a strong romance thread and a mystery/investigation of sorts and this was one of my favourites so far on both fronts. I actually would tell you to pick them up if you like your romance a little more adult!

For the second week, I wanted to get stuck into something long that I wouldn’t normally have the time to get into. With the release of the final book fast approaching, I boldly took the plunge into the Thomas Cromwell trilogy with Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Given that it’s sort of a global phenomenon at this point, I won’t labour on about this but, surprise surprise, I loved it. It’s huge and detailed and oh so rich and worth waiting seven years for. I did a Tudor History A-Level (I know, niche) so the events are familiar to me but the colour that Mantel adds is just incredible. I wasn’t prepared for how readable, accessible and funny it would be. I’m glad I read it while I was away because it gave me the time I needed to really get absorbed into Tudor England and Cromwell’s political wranglings. I will obviously be picking up Bring Up the Bodies so I’m all caught up for 2020’s finale.

And that was my holiday reading! Tell me what you’ve been reading lately! Let’s catch up friends.

N.E.W.T.s Readathon: August 2019

I’m very excited about it being August. It’s my birthday month but, more importantly, it’s also the month of the N.E.W.T.s Readathon 2019! I *loved* the O.W.L.s version earlier this year so I can’t wait to get stuck back into the prompts to hopefully chase down my chosen career of Hogwarts Professor of Potions.

As with the O.W.L.s, there’s an amazing introductory video with all of the detail you could want at Book Roast HERE. The list of prompts is as fantastic as I’d hoped and I had so much fun just picking out my TBR! You can only do a N.E.W.T in something that you have an O.W.L. in, and if your goal is to get Outstanding for example, you have to run through Acceptable and Exceeded Expectations first. To teach Potions, I’ll need an O in Potions (obviously), an E in Defence Against the Dark Arts and an A in two other subjects. That’s 7 books, which is a bit of a stretch for my usual reading habits. Still, exams are meant to be challenging! 🙂

Potions

Acceptable: Polyjuice potion – Read your friend’s favourite book: I don’t have any of my friends’ favourite books that I haven’t read so I’m following the intro video’s advice and going with a favourite of what seems like the whole of the fantasy reading world and finally picking up The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin. I’ve been reading this since the 1st and I’m about half way through and I love it.

Exceeded Expectations: House ingredients – Read a book with a cover in the colour of your Hogwarts House: I’m a Ravenclaw so it’s a blue cover needed for me. I’ve gone with Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens because the series looks like it’ll be super fun. Strictly not the right shade of blue but I’m making my peace with that.

Outstanding: Book that starts with a Prologue: I’m trying to read more translated fiction so I’ve chosen White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen. At 136 pages, I’m hoping it’ll help me along the way to reading 7 books in the month! It also sounds like a really moving book about a famine in 1860s Finland.

Defence Against the Dark Arts

Acceptable: Book that’s black under the dust jacket: I actually have very few books that even have dust jackets because I’m not a hardback book fan. I do have Sleeping Giants by Sylvia Neuven though and fortunately (as it’s the only book I have that fits the brief) it comes highly recommended.

Exceeded Expectations: Gilderoy’s memory charm – the first book you remembered from your TBR: Thank goodness the first book I remembered wasn’t a whopper of a tome! Instead it was Nine Man’s Murder by Eric Keith. I love me a locked room mystery and I think that this is one such mystery. I’m excited to finally get to it.

Muggle Studies

Acceptable: Cover that includes an actual photo element: I’ve gone one better and picked out The Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs, the final instalment in the series of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and packed full of creepy old photographs!

Herbology

Acceptable: Mandrake! Quick, put your headphones on! Listen to an audiobook (or if not, a book with a green cover): I’m going through more of a podcast phase at the moment and I’m not fancying audiobooks but I have had The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth on my shelves for a few years and it has a mostly green cover.

Drop me a link to your TBR if you’re joining in too! I’ll be updating on progress here and on Twitter at @SheReadsSheRuns.

Favourite Books of the Year So Far: 2019

I love the middle of the year on the bookish internet! I love seeing people’s lists of favourite reads so far and I love stat chat. I’m also curious to say which of the books I currently think of as my favourites now are still on the list at the end of the year. I actually wrote most of this post a few weeks ago, to actually coincide with the mid-point of the year but work’s been bonkers ever since so it’s a ‘better late than never’ deal today and all of the stats and whatnot are as they were as at 30th June.

I feel like I’ve had a brilliant reading year so far. I’ve been really enjoying working on reading off my shelves and reducing the number of unread books I own. I’ve only bought 28 books so far this year and I’ve borrowed 5 from the library . Now that might actually still sound like quite a lot but at the same point in 2018 I’d already acquired a ridiculous 142 books. A number that’s so stupid, I’m almost embarrassed to write it.

So far in 2019, I’ve read 40 books and 13,517 pages. I’m really pleased with how much I’ve enjoyed the books I’ve been picking up – my average star rating out of 5 for the year is 3.7. There have been more 2 star reads than I’d like but nothing I completely hated. I am a bit disappointed with the diversity of my choices, though. Of the 40 books I’ve read, 21 were written by authors from the US and 14 were written by authors from the UK. I’d hoped for far more than 5 books written by authors from countries and cultures that I’m less familiar with. Something to focus on for the remaining 5 months of the year.

On to the favourites! I’ve picked out my top 5 from the year so far, and even spent far too long putting them in reverse order of preference…

5) The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

This sat on my shelves for a completely ridiculous eight and a half years before I picked it up on holiday in June. My heart still hurts at the memory of what Waters put the characters I loved through. The novel runs backwards, with sections focusing on four characters in 1947, 1944 and 1941. The writing is beautiful without being overdone but it is 100% Waters’ characters that have secured this a spot on my favourites list. I was frustrated by them, rooting for them and completely heartbroken with them. It’s also interesting to get a picture of London and women at home during the war and how their social status was starting to change. There are also chapters featuring characters who have conscientiously objected to the war, which is another interesting angle that I don’t think I’ve read about before. It’s a bit of a chunkster at over 500 pages but definitely one that’s worth the time you’ll invest in it.

4) My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I listened to this on audiobook back in April, after it had secured its place on the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist but before it then made its way on to the shortlist. I enjoyed it at the time – the audiobook is fantastically well done and the plot is a real gripper – and it’s grown on me more and more since. I’m sure everybody knows this by now but it’s the story of a Nigerian woman, Korede, who finds herself cleaning up after the deaths of multiple men at her sister’s hand. When her sister meets the man that Korede loves, Korede is forced to look at who her sister is and to consider how far she’ll go to protect her sister and the man she loves. I particularly loved how the novel tackles the relationship between sisters and family dynamics; how Korede’s fierce protective instinct is challenged and pushed. The ending too was a real sucker punch. If you like a crime novel that offers something a little bit different, you want this in your life.

3) Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I used to read a lot of YA fantasy. I haven’t read anything like as much this year (74% of my reading has been ‘adult’) but the ones I have read have all been really good. This one in particular was absolutely fantastic. The series’ heyday was back in the early 2010s so I’m hugely late to the party but glad I finally did make it. The series is about a huge war between angels and ‘revenants’/demons. The writing is far better than you usually find in YA fiction. I mean, just look at the blurb for heaven’s sake:

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mothers’ arms to take their turn in the killing and dying.

Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness.

This was not that world.

The themes are pretty damn dark too. There’s death and necromancy and torture and some truly awful characters. Even the romantic plot at the centre, which can so oftenrender YA fiction predictable or inject a thread that is too sickly sweet, is gloomier and more complicated. It’s just absolutely brilliant. I read this over a couple of sunny afternoons in April and I can’t wait to get to the final instalment.

2) The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

The second historical fiction on this list, and the fourth book I read this year. The fact that this has clung onto its spot for so long should say a lot about The Wicked Cometh. It’s a real gothic treat that I obviously recommend that you pick up but would maybe say ought to be savoured in autumn/winter. It’s set in the gritty streets of 1830s London, following Hester White as she tries to work her way out of poverty. It touches on some of the real dark side of medical treatment and progress of that time and it’s not for the faint hearted. As you’d hope with a gothic, gloomy historical fiction, the atmosphere is incredible – one of those books where you can just feel the fog and grime seeping off the pages. There’s some LGBTQ+ representation that is just beautifully done, and an ending that made me weep. I’m sad that it didn’t get the exposure it deserves so if you do like historical fiction, please do take a punt on this. You won’t regret it!

1) Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Taking the top spot at the middle of the year is Exit West, another of my June holiday reads. I can’t really sum it up any better than I did in my June wrap up:  It’s the story of Nadia and Saeed, starting off in an unnamed, war-torn country. As Nadia and Saeed meet, their country is being subjected to air strikes and an increasingly strict religious military regime. The writing is just stunning. Sparse and simple but absolutely flooring. I know that people say this a lot but I really do feel like Exit West is such an important book. It recounts Nadia and Saeed’s decision to leave their home, their reluctance and the pain it causes them, following them as they struggle to find a new country to call home. The challenges they face in their potential new communities were disappointingly familiar but what really struck me was how well Hamid relays the small struggles that his characters face. The simple pleasure of a hot shower in a private room with a soft towel. The grief of thinking you’ve found a home only to be forced to move on again. The power of the smell of familiar cooking when you’re far from what you know. It’s beautiful and crushing and should be required reading. I have Hamid’s earlier novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and I’ll be getting to it later this year definitely.

Monthly TBR: July 2019

I first picked out a monthly TBR in June. Rather than being a pain, I found something oddly comforting about having a small pile of books to pick from for my first few reads. It was easy and I liked feeling as though I’d achieved goals just by working through that small stack.

I’m sticking with the same categories this month: one ‘diverse’ read, one book I’ve had for longer than five years and one random choice.

July’s pile looks like this:

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul – This is translated from Danish and published by Peirene Press. I have a huge stash of Peirene novels and I’ve loved the ones I’ve read so far so hopefully this will be another winner. Halland is found murdered and if the blurb is to be believed, we have a small town murder mystery that is also a story of a wife’s grief following the death of her husband. Very excited about this one.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight – My “random” choice!  I’ve actually read 100 pages or so of this one already and colour me INTRIGUED. As it opens, Catherine receives a thriller novel that she is convinced is about her and an event in her past that she was convinced was a secret. The interesting bit is that there are a few chapters told from the perspective of the character who has delivered the novel to Catherine but who seemingly didn’t originally write it. It’s readable and I really want to find out what’s going on!

Sixty One Nails by Mike Shevdon – I bought this in June 2012. I’ve had it so long I actually can’t remember where I heard about it or why I bought it…having a look at it again, though, it looks like an ‘alternate London with the fae’. It’s a bit of a chunkster and the start of a series so the inevitable gamble is that I love it and then “have to” buy the rest of the series but I’m hoping it’ll be worth it!

What books are on your reading horizons for July? Are you trying to read to particular goals in 2019 or just going with your whims?

Reading Wrap-up: June 2019

June was an absolute stonker of a reading month! We were on holiday in Italy for 10 days in June so between time travelling and many a lazy afternoon reading in the sun, I read 9 books with a total of 2,900 pages. Because of my delight of a reading spreadsheet, I happen to know that June’s reading makes up 23% of my total reading for the year so far. Not too shabby!

Not only that, I absolutely smashed my June TBR and I bagged a five star read.

First up was one of my four star reads – Haverscroft by S. A. Harrison. I am an absolute sucker for a gothic ghost story and this one did not disappoint! Part of me wishes I’d had the patience to save it for autumn/winter but at the same time I’m delighted that I got to read Haverscroft as soon as possible. Not only is it a corker of a creepy ghost story, it has a fascinating family dynamic at the heart and (one of my other favourite things) an unreliable narrator. I’m hoping to write a full review soon but in the meantime, know that you need this!

I also finished up Unwind by Neal Shusterman. I’ve heard such good things about Neal Shusterman and had somehow managed to end up owning 7 of his books without actually having read any. For my first, Unwind was really something. It’s the start of a four book dystopian series, set in a world where abortion has become illegal so that all children are given the opportunity to prove themselves. Parents can subsequently change their mind and have their child “unwound”, with their bodies being donated to medicine. It’s a dark premise but it’s so well plotted! The start of this one is a little slow but when it gets going, it’s so, so good. There’s a scene towards the end that completely shook me. Thinking about it now gives me chills. I’m so glad I have the rest of the series waiting for me on my Kindle! Definitely recommended.

I then started on my June TBR. Sadly, my first pick was a real bust – The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey. I loved the beginning and was so sure I’d give it five stars. It’s set in the 15th century and follows Father Reve in the four days following the accidental death/suicide/murder of a member of his parish, starting on the fourth day and winding back to the night of the death. I love me a twisty timeline but this just didn’t work for me. The narrative dawdles along through Reve hearing confession of various members of his congregation and often spirals off into random religion-focussed tangents. I didn’t mind that per se but when I’d read the ending, I really did. It’s obvious why Harvey couldn’t reveal the ‘twists’ earlier on but once I knew them, it really cut across everything I’d read before. And not in an “oh that makes so much more sense now” way. Just a way that was irritating…2 stars.

Fortunately the next two from my June TBR were much better! I’ve owned The Night Watch by Sarah Waters since 2011 and I have been missing out by neglecting it. Yet another narrative told backwards but in much chunkier sections, following four characters in 1947, 1944 and 1941. It’s absolutely beautiful. Set against the backdrop of post-war/wartime, it’s an unusually quiet story. I’m usually one for a solid plot but this character study wormed its way into my heart and then broke it. The characters were so well drawn that I could have sworn that I really knew them. The slow reveal of how they have ended up where they have is perfection. I also have Tipping the Velvet on my shelves and I can’t wait for there to be more Sarah Waters in my future.

And now. My first five star read since April: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. It’s a short book but my goodness is it powerful. It’s the story of Nadia and Saeed, starting off in an unnamed, war-torn country. As Nadia and Saeed meet, their country is being subjected to air strikes and an increasingly strict religious military regime. The writing is just stunning. Sparse and simple but absolutely flooring. I know that people say this a lot but I really do feel like Exit West is such an important book. It recounts Nadia and Saeed’s decision to leave their home, their reluctance and the pain it causes them, following them as they struggle to find a new country to call home. The challenges they face in their potential new communities were disappointingly familiar but what really struck me was how well Hamid relays the small struggles that his characters face. The simple pleasure of a hot shower in a private room with a soft towel. The grief of thinking you’ve found a home only to be forced to move on again. The power of the smell of familiar cooking when you’re far from what you know. It’s beautiful and crushing and should be required reading.

After the gut punch of Exit West, I went for something a little more light-hearted – The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman. If you want something fun and quirky that will keep you turning the pages, you could do a lot worse than this series. It follows a group of librarians who are tasked with travelling to alternative versions of our world to retrieve books and return them to the Invisible Library. It’s a bit silly but the dialogue is sharp and funny, the characters are awesome and reading it just brought a smile to my face. If you’re a book lover and you like a good riot of a plot, get your hands on this one.

When we finally arrived home after a day of travelling, my brain was a bit frazzled and I sought refuge in one of my favourite comic book series, Fables, picking up Volume 3: Storybook Love. If you haven’t heard of this series (which is probably super unlikely if you’re into comics), it’s the stories of Snow White, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty and a whole host of other fairytale characters as they live in modern day New York in exile from their own world. This one was a bit more brutal than earlier instalments but still had the wit and charm. If you’re a comic fan and you like fairytales, go and pick up the first volume. If you’ve already done that, you don’t need me telling you to carry on!

And last but more or less not least, The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle. Something about this vampire story set in an Amish community appealed to me for years before I bought it. I picked it up just over a year ago but finally decided I fancied it. It was…not what I’d hoped. There’s a lot of religious chat and it’s all a bit heavy handed. Teenage girl wants to rebel against the strict rules of her religion and does so by acting out and skulking around but never actually talking to anyone. It’s interesting enough and I didn’t struggle to finish it but in the end it was all a bit superficial. Everybody broods, nobody communicates properly and romantic relationships are almost exclusively riddled with teenage angst. It’s fine and I’d recommend it if you’re a die-hard vampire fan but otherwise, maybe just walk on by.

How were your reading months? Share your favourites in the comments!

Flashback to a Favourite: ‘The Ballroom’ by Anna Hope

Flashback to a Favourite is a regular feature where I look back at books I’ve previously given 5 stars and chat about whether the love has wained or lives on.

Where love is your only escape…
 
1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful. For one bright evening every week they come together and dance. When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change two lives forever. Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, The Ballroom is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

Thoughts in 2019: Remembering the beauty that is The Ballroom makes my heart hurt a bit. Anna Hope writes stunning historical fiction. Character focused historical fiction that worms its way into your heart until you genuinely believe that you know how it felt to be a disadvantaged woman stuck in an asylum in the early 20th century or a woman grieving over her son in post-WWII England. It’s been three years since I read The Ballroom and I can still remember the characters vividly and just how much I wept over the ending. It’s a real corker and it’s clear that my love for this book has absolutely stood the test of time. While pulling this post together, I found out that Hope has another novel out in July this year. I will absolutely be picking that up and I would whole-heartedly recommend that you read both The Ballroom and Wake in the meantime. Both are incredible and deserving of a lot more love.

Thoughts in 2016: Wake by Anna Hope was one of my favourite books of 2014.  I remember being amazed at how a story that was so quiet could be so impactive; how Hope could tell a story of the lives of three women over the course of five days and manage to say so much about post-war Britain.  The Ballroom manages to do just the same thing.  Through Ella and John’s story, Hope manages to weave a commentary on the treatment (or lack of treatment) of mental health in the early 20th century without it weighing too heavily on the plot or leaving it feeling laboured.

The novel follows Ella, a young woman incarcerated in Sharston Asylum after breaking a window at the factory where she worked out of frustration and a desire to see daylight for a change, and John, locked up after losing his family, his job and becoming homeless and destitute.  There are other ‘residents’ who have what would still be regarded as mental health problems by today’s standards (Ella’s friend, Clem, for example, whose experiences are particularly harrowing) but Ella and John are just two young people who have fallen on hard times and are regarded by society as unstable or inferior.  Every week, the better behaved inmates are treated to a dance.  A bright spot in their routines where they get to socialise with members of the opposite sex and dance.  Ella and John’s meeting is adorable and the progress of their relationship from that moment on made my heart hurt.  Their story isn’t melodramatic.  It’s gentle and achingly realistic and I was entirely taken in by it.

I just love the way that Anna Hope writes characters.  The way that they grow and change subtly until they’re someone entirely different from who you thought they were.  Alongside Ella and John’s narrative is one of a young doctor, Charles Farrer.  Dr Farrer starts as a young idealistic doctor, determined to prove to the medical community that sterilisation isn’t the way to prevent the “spread” of mental health problems, that those who fall under the rather flaky 1911 idea of what constitutes mental ‘deficiency’ are quite capable of productivity.  Events then tease out his vulnerabilities and frustrations and twist them (and him), really shining a light on the hypocrisy and imbalance perpetuating asylums of that era.  Gradual and utterly believable.

The combination of the oppression of Sharston Asylum itself and of the soaring temperature creates an increasingly frazzled atmosphere. There’s an ever-increasing sense of urgency and the characters become progressively more fraught and almost desperate.  Towards the end of the novel, I was gripping my book so hard it hurt and I was just willing both the characters I loved and the characters I hated to get the endings they deserved.  I closed the novel in tears.  Admittedly, that’s not necessarily something new for me but the ending of The Ballroom was a real sucker punch.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 18 December 2015
Format: Paperback (Advanced Reader’s Copy)
Source: Received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review – thanks, Doubleday!
Pictured Edition Published: on 11 February 2016 by Doubleday

My Latest Obsession: Roasting Stuff

I love cooking and I love having freshly cooked meals every evening but if I’m pressed for time (which I mostly am during the week because work) I often end up falling back on a fairly small list of dishes that I know I can whip up quickly. Stir fries, pasta dishes and one pot quick stews abound. All fine but it was getting a bit boring. We recently made a change from being full on carnivores to only eating meat on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening. That slimmed an already fairly strained repertoire down even further and I starting hunting for inspiration.

Enter Rukmini Iyer.

You’ve probably heard of her recipe books by now but, if you haven’t, she now has three books out: The Roasting Tin, The Green Roasting Tin and, as of last week, The Quick Roasting Tin.

I’m in love. The concept is super simple – all three books are full of dishes that you can roast in the oven in one tin. You chop up a few ingredients or (at the most) roll out a bit of pre-made pastry, bung all your ingredients into a tin, pop said tin into the oven and then move on about your life for however long it takes for your magical tin of goodness to be done. GENIUS.

The original The Roasting Tin includes a range of meat, fish and veggie dishes with some fruit and pudding dishes in there for good measure. There are quick roasts for mid-week treats and slower dishes for when you have more time at the weekend but maybe want to spend time with guests instead of stirring or just want to catch up on Netflix or a book while your dinner quietly cooks in the background. The real revelation for me in this one was orzo! Teeny tiny rice-shaped pasta that you can cook in the oven? The dream. The orzo with chilli and garlic roasted broccoli, lemon, parmesan and walnuts is delicious. On my ‘to cook SOON’ list is filipino-style garlic pork pot roast because it sounds divine and takes like 10 minutes to get into the oven and I bet would give killer leftovers.

When we shifted to being more-vegetarian-than-not, The Green Roasting Tin was a no-brainer. It has not disappointed. Half is vegan and half is vegetarian and each section is then split into quick, medium and slow cook recipes. There are all different kinds of curries in this one, which I’m a huge fan of. And oh my goodness the gratins! The leek and Puy lentil gratin with crunchy feta topping is out of this world. For a super quick mid-week treat (20 minutes from start to plate), there’s also an amazing lime and coriander mushrooms with pak choi and asparagus.

Now I may be speaking too soon given that I’ve only had it a few days but I think the latest arrival, The Quick Roasting Tin, might be my favourite one. All of the dishes take 10 minutes or less to prep and 30 minutes or less to roast. Perfect! The sections could have been written just for me: work night dinners, family favourites, make ahead lunchboxes, date night, feed a crowd, weekend cooking and sweets. I haven’t had chance to make anything from this one yet but I’m dying to try out the oven-baked nigella-spiced whole tomato dhal and the sesame crusted tuna with soy and ginger, courgettes and pak choi.

All of the ingredients lists are easy to find in even quite small supermarkets and the instructions are (as you might expect) really straight-forward. I’m obsessed. I can’t think of anyone who I wouldn’t recommend one of these to. I’ve already sent copies to members of my family.

Get yourself some roasting in your life!

Monthly TBR: June 2019

I had loads of goals for this year of reading. I wanted to read more diversely and to complete the PopSugar reading challenge. I’m not doing a great job of either so far this year. Of the 32 books I’ve read this year, 18 have been written by American authors and 10 have been written by British ones. A tragic 4 books by authors from other countries. 3 books have been written by non-white authors.

I also wanted to read some of the older books on my shelves. Of the books I’ve read, they’ve been on my shelves for an average of 21 months. Not appalling but I’ve had some books about 8 years so it could be better.

To try and tackle some of that, I’m going to give monthly TBRs a try! Picking one diverse read, one book I’ve had for longer than 5 years and one random choice. I only read about 5-6 books a month so I’m saving a bit of space for free choices.

First up:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – This is my more diverse read for June. It has the added bonus of having been recommended by Michelle Obama in an article I read, which also means it meets the ‘Book recommended by  a celebrity who you admire’ prompt for the PopSugar challenge.

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters – I’ve had this since January 2011. I couldn’t even tell you why I haven’t read it yet because it sounds right up my street. Historical fiction told in reverse chronological order. Lauren from Lauren and the Books also read it recently and loved it, which is another kick up the bum.

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey – I wanted to get to this so badly that I bought the hardback not long after this was released. Then I forgot about it. No more! Another topsy turvy timeline but this time with a crime at the centre. It seemed to get rave reviews when it was released so I’m excited to give it a try.

And that’s it for this month! What do you have planned? Any favourites on this pile?

Reading Wrap-Up: May 2019

May was a bit of a funny reading month. I’d remembered it as all quite positive (not least because I did a lot of reading while we were on holiday in Italy) but then looking at my reading spreadsheet (yes, I know), I only read 5 books and the quality was a bit hit and miss!

First up was The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, which I only gave 2 stars out of 5. I picked it up because I’m trying to make a real effort to read the books that I’ve had for years this year. It’s about a young child, Carmel, who is kidnapped while at a storytelling festival with her mum but believes her kidnapper when he tells her that her mother is dead and that he is her grandfather and so has no idea that she ought to be trying to get home. It’s all quite tense early on and I was flying through it. As the story went on though, I started struggling. Carmel gets dragged into a world of religious healings and the novel becomes less about Carmel being missing and more about her exploitation by her ‘grandfather’. It was frustrating to read, repetitive and only really skimmed the surface of what was going on. The ending came out of nowhere and wasn’t the ‘pay off’ I wanted. All a bit meh.

While I was on holiday, I moved onto The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I love a bit of time travel, this was short and another that I’ve had on my Kindle since 2014. It was fine. 3 star fine. The version I read was only 124 pages so it was a bit bish-bash-bosh light touch for me. A man makes a time machine, nips thousands of years into the future, finds some friendly inhabitants and some not-so-friendly inhabitants and some peril and then zips home again. Boom. Job done. Worth a try but not amazing.

After those two, I was desperate for something strong and turned to a favourite author – Brandon Sanderson. I read the first book in his Mistborn trilogy way back in 2015 so reading The Well of Ascension was long overdue. I had to read a catch-up online because we get straight back into the action in this second instalment but I easily settled back into the world and the characters. I love the magic systems that Sanderson creates and the one in this trilogy is no exception. It’s all based around consuming metals, with different metals giving those who can consume them different powers. The scope of the trilogy is…well, epic. This middle book was wonderful and I loved the ending. I only gave it 4 stars because there were times it was dawdling along. There’s a lot of politics and manoeuvring and it could easily have been 100 pages shorter but I really enjoyed it and I will absolutely be finishing the trilogy. Hopefully soon but who can say?

While trucking through the 781 page Sanderson there was an afternoon where I wanted a bit of a quick fix so I picked up Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. I really, really enjoyed it. Also a solid 4 stars. It’s a fairly short graphic novel about a teenage girl, Anya, who falls into a hole one day and encounters the ghost of a girl who had previously fallen in and died. Let’s ignore the fact that someone died falling into a hole and nobody thought to cover it up and move on! Anya’s relationship with the ghost moves into dark territory and that’s all appropriately creepy and brilliant. What’s more impressive though is how the novel also manages to capture so well what it’s like being a teenage girl. The insecurities about your weight and how you look, trying to work out who you are and tackling idiot adolescent boys. Add in the fact that Anya is a Russian immigrant and struggles with being from a different culture and there’s a whole lot packed into the relatively few pages. Definitely recommended.

Last up was The Devil’s Dice by Roz Watkins. I loved this one too! Not quite 5 stars but a very high 4 stars. I got this in a Books and Beer subscription box earlier this year. Sadly the accompanying beers are long since gone but the book was worth the wait I inflicted on it. I love a good crime novel anyway and this one just felt so British and comforting to read (you know, for a book about murder). It had so much personality and the writing was fantastic. The novel is written in the first person from the perspective of DI Meg Dalton and the tone is wry and darkly funny. When the novel opens, a local patent attorney is found dead in a cave. A centuries old carving of the grim reaper and the victim’s own initials is found on the wall behind him. There are century old mysteries alongside the present danger and there are plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end. If you like a contemporary crime novel, you could do a lot worse!

And that was my May! A mixed bag but picked up at the end. What have you been reading recently?

Magical Readathon: O.W.L.s Wrap Up

Better two weeks late than never? I really enjoyed the O.W.L.s Readathon so even if it is super late, I wanted to wrap up so that I could pick back up with the N.E.W.T.s in August!

In the end, I passed 8 O.W.L.s, which I’m super pleased with! Exceeded Expectations isn’t too shabby 🙂 I had to change up my TBR mid-month as my original pile proved a little ambitious but even so I’m happy with what I read, not least because there were books I picked up that I really enjoyed that I’d had on my shelves for years.

Potions – Read a sequel – Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I flipping loved this one. I read the first book in the trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, last year and liked it but was a bit lukewarm about the romance thread. The series features some pretty kick-ass angels and a war between them and the chimaera (the ‘demons’ of the world).  I really like that Taylor is playing around with good and evil and all of the grey areas in between and her world building is just incredible. Surprisingly for a middle book in a trilogy, this was actually stronger than the first and I can’t wait to see how the series wraps up soon.

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Read a book with a title beginning with ‘R’ – Reckless by Cornelia Funke

This was a bit of an odd one. I’ve had it on my shelves for about 4 years without realising that it’s translated fiction, fitting this read neatly into my goal to read more translated fiction this year. In some ways, this was beautiful – it has a whimsical fairytale feel to it, set in a world reached through a mirror that is full of fairies and other magical creatures. The plot was a little bit too runaway for me in the end though. It follows Jacob trying to find a cure for his cursed brother and it barrels wildly through encounters with man-eating creatures, jealous fairies, dragons and cottages belonging to carnivorous witches. It’s easy reading and fun in a way but just a bit off the wall.

History of Magic – Read a book published at least 10 years ago – Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Another one that I really enjoyed! I actually wrote a full review of this one so won’t say too much here. It made me cry and I can absolutely see why it’s generally regarded as a sci-fi classic.

Charms – Read an adult novel – The Missing Girl by Shirley Jackson

This was where I went off script. I’m not usually a short story fan but I am a Shirley Jackson fan so thought it was worth a shot. There are three short stories in this Penguin Modern mini and I kind of liked two and think I was missing something on the other.  At less than 60 pages, it’s probably handy if you want to try out Jackson’s style but I wasn’t blown away.

Divination – Read a book set in the future – Red Clocks by  Leni Zumas

I was expecting more from this than I ended up getting, unfortunately. It’s set in a future where abortions have become illegal and women are arrested for either having one, performing one or even attempting to have or perform one. The novel follows a few different characters – a pregnant teenager, a miserable wife, a woman who is desperate to have a baby and a woman who performs abortions (among other things). I liked some narratives more than others, which meant that there were whole sections that I eventually just stopped enjoying. The wife in particular drove me bonkers. It makes some fascinating points about what it is to be a woman and what defines what a woman is but it’s a little bit off as a novel.

Herbology – Read a book with a plant on the cover – The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This was a huge book in 2016 and everybody seemed to love it. Now I really liked it a lot but I didn’t quite love it. The writing is gorgeous and the characters are excellently developed and balanced but (and I do hate to say this) it was a bit dry in places. It felt just a bit too long to me. Cara, a newly widowed young woman, moves to the country and meets William, a pastor in a small village congregation. The story of their relationship is charming and I’m always there for a story of women in Victorian England trying to live independently. It’s not one for you if you’re all about pace and action but it’s absolutely worth a read.

Transfiguration – Read a book with sprayed edges or a red cover – Feminists Don’t Wear Pink: Essays by various women collated by Scarlett Curtis

The older I get, the more I find myself identifying as a feminist. This book (with delightfully pink end sprayed edges) is a collection of essays, poems and other writings from a whole host of women about what being a feminist means to them. There are some that are hilarious, some that are so inspiring and others that are moving. I read it throughout the month, picking it up for half an hour here or there, and every time I picked it up, I found myself feeling uplifted and really positive. It’s a great collection and one I think should be required reading for young girls and women.

Muggle Studies – Contemporary – Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

This wasn’t on my original TBR but I borrowed it from the library and it fits into this prompt so bonus! I haven’t read a poetry collection since I was about 17 but I heard a lot about this one last year and I was curious to give one a try. I wasn’t prepared for how genuinely emotional I’d find reading it. Danez Smith is a gay black man who is HIV positive and his writing is unflinchingly direct, raw and hugely impactive. It’s absolutely for adult readers but I’d really recommend it if you’re not usually a poetry reader but fancy giving some a try.

What have you been reading recently? Let’s chat in the comments!