The Pages and the Miles: 10th November 2019

The Pages

You know when you have a couple of weeks where you don’t seem to be reading quite the right things and it makes everything drag a bit? I’ve had one of those fortnights.  It started out pretty well. I loosely took part in the 24 Hour Readathon a couple of weekends ago and picked up a YA title I’ve had on my shelves for about 6 years – The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. It was the second book in a zombie trilogy that I started back in 2013. I read the first one, really enjoyed it, promptly bought the next two and then ignored them. The second wasn’t quite as good as the first but it was a quick read full of zombie attacks to get your heart racing and just the right amount of philosophising about the nature of humanity and a dash of vaguely angsty romance. Not lofty literature but good fun. It was an easy 4 stars for keeping me completely entertained for 24 hours.

The ending was a cliffhanger and a half so I decided to make the most of being swept up in the momentum and immediately picked up The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan. That was when the wheels fell off. The perspective changed from the second novel and the angst increased beyond my patience levels. The new narrator has been badly scarred in an accident and spends the whole novel rambling to herself about how ugly she is and generally being an angry person pushing everyone away. There’s a terrible love triangle of sorts and the threat of zombies increases so much that it almost gets boring. I ploughed on for two weeks though and then the last 50 pages just became all kinds of ridiculous. I know that sounds stupid for a post-apocalyptic novel full of zombies but it all became farcical and far too melodramatic. 2 stars for at least having some clever moments about how all round awful people can be and hope in the face of that.

I then started on Non-Fiction November. I read very little non-fiction because reading is so important to me as a way to relax and unwind but I own a lot and I could do a better job of balancing out my fiction and non-fiction reading. I started with Conan Doyle for the Defence by Margalit Fox, all about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in the case of Oscar Slater, a Jewish immigrant imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit. Given my job, I was all up for a tale of the famous author’s wrangling with the law and the man at the heart of the scandal. In part, the book was that but I gave up after about a third so I can’t tell you how it pans out. It’s the first book I’ve DNF’d this year so it’s not something I’d usually do but the narrative and the structure just drove me crazy. It was repetitive and winding but, more irritatingly, it felt as though the author was telling me literally everything she’d learned while researching. Mentioning a person in passing? Why not tell me about the history of their surname and how they used to be called something different but changed it? Someone on a boat? Please do tell me about the ultimate fate of that boat in World War II. It was distracting and just not for me. The first book in 2019 that’s really made me think “life is too short for this book”.  Onward and upward.

Currently reading: Eat Up! Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh and The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

The Miles

I haven’t been updating on running for ages. Predominantly because I haven’t been running. I found out I was pregnant a few weeks ago, which has sapped both my energy and has had me too nauseous for even contemplating the jiggly momentum of running. I’m gradually starting to feel better and although I have bad days sometimes, I also have days where I feel mostly normal and I really want to get back to my usual routine. So from now on, this section won’t chart miles covered (because that number would be LOW) but will be somewhere to keep track of the exercise I’m managing to get in and generally the world of exercising while pregnant. Niche perhaps but the best I can do for the next few months!

Wish me luck…

Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon: TBR and Intro

It’s been ages since I’ve taken part in the Dewey’s 24 hour readathon. I need far too much sleep and will be far too busy at work on Monday to read for 24 hours but the weather is truly terrible here in Yorkshire today and just screams ‘stay inside and read’. So until later on this evening, that’s what I’m going to do! I’m out for dinner with my husband but will have plenty of time for reading before and potentially after and tomorrow morning.

My TBR is pretty simple – read The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. I started it this morning and I’m already hooked so I’m sure it’s going to be a fast-paced read perfect for a readathon. I also have a graphic novel (the third volume of Sagaand a book of short stories (The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton) on standby in case I fancy a change of pace.

As ever, I’ll start with a stopwatch and ultimately forget and end up guessing at actually how long I’ve read for our of the 24!  I’ll mostly be updating on Twitter (@SheReadsSheRuns) because updating here will take me too long.

So before I get cracking on my TBR pile, here’s the opening survey!

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

Yorkshire, England. Currently being a little less than fine and raining constantly. You can tell I’m also actually British because I’ve already mentioned the weather twice…

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

The Dead-Tossed Waves. It’s been 6 years since I read the first in the series (The Forest of Hands and Teeth – best title ever) but I fancied something action-packed and you can usually rely on zombies for that.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I’m actually going out for dinner this evening to a local vegetarian Indian restaurant and while not a snack, I am VERY much looking forward to the food interlude. The paneer starters are to die for and I’m already starving at the thought of it.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

What to tell? I’m a 33 year old lawyer (I know) living in a relatively small village in Yorkshire with my husband and two cats, Bridget and Molly. I read a lot and I love running and exercise (hence the blog title!). I’m also a massive food nerd and love messing about in the kitchen. Straight-forward stuff, really! What else? I’m super frightened of dogs, cows and birds so not what you’d call “outdoorsy”.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

I didn’t participate last time but I have before. The main thing I’m going to focus on this time is updating on Twitter rather than trying to blog and read and chat on Twitter and then just doing very little of anything. So onward to the books!

Are you taking part too? What are you planning on reading?

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.

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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?