Posts tagged ‘books’

February 7, 2014

Book: The Shambling Guide to New York City.

Friday is supposed to be for my ‘Home’ posts, but it seems to be drifting in the direction of ‘Books’. However, that still seems fitting and so I’m happily going with it. In fact, the whole blog has become distinctly more book, magazine and paper orientated—whether that’s a sign of Winter hibernation or that I should just give in and write a blog about paper remains to be seen…

As I mentioned last week, I seem to have accidentally become a big fan of fantasy novels and so I found myself wandering in the fantasy section of Waterstone’s earlier this week, seeking a follow up book to The Night Circus, which I loved.

Sitting amidst all the gothic-looking fantasy novels was this book. I’ll admit that the cover quote from Scott Sigler did it for me. ‘If Buffy grew up, got therapy and found a real job, it would look like this’. I was obsessed with Buffy when I was away at agricultural college. I used to get it recorded (on VHS, no less) so that I could watch back to back episodes every time I came home. I bought all the box-sets, fan-books, action figures, magazines. I even queued to meet James Marsters but wasn’t able to stay long enough to actually see him; a fact which still makes me sad…

The Shambling Guide to New York City

Anyway, I digress. I bought Mur Lafferty’s urban fantasy novel ‘The Shambling Guide to New York City’ and, after a day, I’ve finished it. It’s brilliant. Fast-paced and contemporary, with the wry humour and wit that Buffy was great at, and a mix of comedic and slightly disturbing that only a novel containing zombies can probably manage. I love that she creates characters that I care about, even if they happen to be Death Goddesses, water sprites or vampires. It’s lots of fun and hugely engaging right from the start. I think that it would be a really good introduction to fantasy novels for those of you who might be as sceptical as I was about fantasy as a genre.

A whole series of ‘Shambling Guide’ novels set in different cities are planned with the second—set in New Orleans— to be released later this year; I already know that I will be waiting impatiently for its arrival.

What I really want to know, though, is why I’ve never heard of Mur Lafferty before? She’s ace. I’ve had a quick read of her blog and noticed that she’s a pod-caster so they’re next on my list…

February 5, 2014

Three Good Things: another paper-based edition!

Quite by accident, this week’s Three Good Things has a paper-based theme again. I think it’s because I seem to spend so much of the winter huddled inside, awaiting Spring! Here are the things that have been making me smile this week…

One: Frankie magazine

Thanks to my lovely friend Kay, I have issue 56 of Frankie to read. Even though it’s their December edition, they’re Antipodean, so there’s plenty of sunshine between the pages, as well as beautiful arts, crafts, photography. There is also a iguana, which I initially thought it was a pet. Until half of  it appeared, cooked and nestled on a plate between rice and beans. But I have decided to gloss over that page, with a shudder…

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Two: The Night Circus

I’ve just finished this novel by Erin Morgenstern and so I’m officially in mourning; a slightly empty ‘what will I do with my life now?’ feeling that appears at the end of a great book. Unfortunately, I passed it along to a friend before I remembered to photograph it for the blog.  Highly recommended.

Three: Zebra Notepaper from Rifle Paper Co. 

Because no matter how many productivity apps I have on my iPhone, I’ll always turn to pen and paper. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as crossing things off a To-Do list, and this pretty note paper from Rifle Paper Co. (bought in Waterstone’s) actually makes me want to get organised!

What are your Three Good Things this week? I’d love you to share them with me!  I will link to any Three Good Things posts you write, in next week’s edition of this series. 

January 24, 2014

Discovering fantasy novels.

Planning a trip last year, I threw a few possessions into an overnight bag without really taking too much notice of them. Toiletries, clothes, a couple of books. One of those books was a gift that I’d had sitting on my shelf for over a year. A fantasy novel. I’d been curious of the choice when given it; I’d never expressed any real interest in fantasy. In fact, I was firmly of the opinion that fantasy novels were for Other People. People with enough time to read epic series with twelve volumes, learn about other worlds, giant family dynasties and, y’know, elves and stuff.  Clearly, I was basing my understanding of fantasy on a combination of Tolkien and Robin Hobb — only one of whom I’ve read anything by, in any case.

In a period of huge life change, I decided to get over myself and give the book —and, by association, my friend– the benefit of the doubt.  The book was Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora and it changed the way I feel about fantasy novels forever. I’ve since read Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker,  the Glass Book series by G. W Dahlquist, Ben Aaronavitch’s PC Grant novels set in London, and I’m currently enthralled by The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Whether all of these books are fantasy is one matter. I’m reliably informed that Dahlquist’s books are steampunk, and I’m not sure how all of the authors would class their own works. Certainly they’re not all found in the fantasy section of Waterstone’s. Whether they’re fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk, magical, or a surreal mix of genres, it matters not. What they share is escapism from reality. One could argue that all fiction does that, and of course it does. But taking away the ‘normal’ world enhances that experience, even if the books are set on Earth, or even, in the case of Aaronovitch’s novels, in London.  It’s been something of a revelation to me. Now I’m one of the Other People, and very happy to have realised it. Whether I’ll ever get my head around Robin Hobb’s oeuvre is still in doubt, mind you…

Once I’ve finished The Night Circus, I don’t have a reading list. Now you know the kind of books I’ve been loving recently, I’d really love you to recommend a book for me!

What are you reading now? What books do you love? And what should I add to my reading list? 

January 23, 2014

Five gift ideas for Valentine’s Day.

In a couple of weeks it will be Valentine’s Day.  A day with a murky history involving the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a few executions and those pesky greetings card-makers getting us to spend our money — apparently it’s the second largest card giving day of the year after Christmas. However, even though I haven’t received a Valentine’s Day gift since a boy at school gave me a pack of Parma Violets (cue sad violin music) I’m not going to let that stop me from feeling optimistic about a day dedicated to love. 

For those of you looking for gift ideas for Valentine’s Day — or any day in which you might choose to declare your love through the medium of presents!—here are a few ideas.

One: Tattly tattoos.

Ok, so your idea of romance may not include a new tattoo (though I know a good number of people for whom a new tattoo definitely falls into ‘great gift’ territory) but these ones won’t hang around for long. Perfect for a new romance? And these pink hearts from Bekka Palmer at Tattly are glittery

Tattly sparkly heart tattoo

Image: Tattly

Two: David Austin roses.

Ah, roses. Ubiquitous on Valentine’s Day. If you’re going to buy roses, get them right. And the ones from David Austin are expensive but utterly glorious.

Three: A beautiful edition of a favourite book

For me, there’s nothing that says ‘I love you’ more than a special edition of a favourite book. Partly because books are the key to my heart but also because if someone takes the time to know what your favourite book is, they’re really rather special. For me, that would be ‘I Capture The Castle’ or a first edition Ruby Ferguson ‘Jill’ book, to help me complete my collection. The clothbound editions of classics from Penguin are also gorgeous.  I’ve chosen my favourite Austen novel, but the collection ranges from Emma to Dracula and Dante’s Inferno if you want to make some kind of point about a relationship!

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Image: Penguin

 Four: The Nutter

I’ll admit, this list is getting very personal, because I’m assuming that you might have someone in your life who cycles. And if you do, then this would make them very happy indeed. The Nutter is a cycling multi-tool from Full Windsor (crowd-funded through Kickstarter, incidentally) presented in gorgeous leather roll. It’s both beautiful and useful.  I’d love one…and then I’d love someone to teach me how to use it!

The Nutter

Image: Full Windsor

Five: Time

The gift of time together is something that money cannot buy. A special date night, a long Sunday afternoon walk, a night at the cinema or cooking dinner with a glass of wine. Put aside your phone, switch off the TV and spend some quality time together. Perfect.

Have a lovely Valentine’s Day, however you choose to spend it.

January 17, 2014

Matt Sewell Print.

As we continue the journey of making our new flat feel like home, we’ve started creating and buying art and craft pieces that feel like ‘us’. My proudly made letterpress work hangs in the sitting room, together with a new print from Matt Sewell.

I had the very good fortune to meet Matt at a book launch and signing in Colours May Vary  last year, where he signed a copy of Our Garden Birds for me to give to my mum for Christmas. With the benefit of hindsight, I should have bought one for myself as it was definitely a gift I handed over begrudgingly!

Anyway, back then, I was painfully coveting one of his giclée bird prints for our home. Since we’ve moved into this flat we’ve both become avid bird watchers. I’m going to write about this a bit more in the coming weeks but suffice to say, I’m a little surprised by how important these little birds have become to us over such a short period of time.

This month, the prints were back in stock and in a rare ‘sod it’ moment, I went ahead and bought a blue tit print. We have many little blue tits dancing on the branches outside our home and so it felt like a very fitting choice. Needless to say, my collector’s mentality now wants a row of prints along the wall but for the moment this little guy will do very nicely indeed.

Matt Sewell print

Have you bought or made any new things for your home this month? I’d love to know…

December 15, 2013

Photo of my Week

Brene Brown’s TED talk is one of my all time favourites, and one of the most widely watched TED talks of all time. This book is a fascinating and thought provoking read which I’m loving.

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July 26, 2013

Colours May Vary, Leeds.

Those of you who know me well, in real life or through the pages of this blog, will know that I have something of a magazine addiction.

Over the past few years, my magazine preferences have shifted, moving away from women’s monthlies that make false promises like ‘A Perfect Life in 10 Easy Moves’ towards more nourishing, soulful reads like Kinfolk, Cereal, Hole & Corner,  Uppercase, Another Escape and Frankie. That’s not to say the lure of the glossy doesn’t catch me – it does every so often, but if I succumb to one of them, I’m invariably disappointed.

My love of paper and of print media, as opposed to e-books, means that I like to seek out places to find the unusual, the individual and the beautiful. I’m a big fan of Magpile, I did the Guardian Masterclass in independent magazine publishing last year (watch this space…) my Pinterest account has a special board just for magazines, and you might remember that my only Christmas blog post of last year was about Stack magazine subscriptions.

I used to spend many an hour in the now-closed Leeds branch of Borders, perusing the magazines there. I was that rare type who didn’t just spend my lunch-hour standing and reading magazines that I had no intention of buying. I was the one staggering to the cash desk under a teetering pile of unusual, often imported, magazines and journals. That they didn’t survive in Leeds is not because I didn’t spend…

Thankfully, there is now a wonderful place in Leeds where I can satiate my love of magazines and print. That place is Colours May Vary.

Located in Munro House, on the outskirts of the town centre, Colours May Vary is the kind of place that is almost impossible to find; an independent retailer with the kind of relaxed and inviting vibe that doesn’t leave you feeling that you are being watched like a hawk, or always expected to buy. And that, because you feel at ease to browse, and therefore discover all manner of awesome things, is precisely one of the reasons you do buy!

PicMonkey Collage

Some of my purchases from Colours May Vary – and coffees from Laynes!

Together with the aforementioned magazines, the stock includes a great selection of art, design and children’s books, cards, gift wrap, notebooks, and an array of other carefully chosen and ever-changing items that will basically form my entire Christmas shopping this year. I know, I know, I said ‘Christmas’ in July, but I’m on a budget, which means I’ve started my shopping already. Sorry about that.

Current stock includes books, tote bags and prints from the super talented and lovely Matt Sewell, who I was fortunate enough to meet at a recent book launch there. I am currently coveting one of his prints and hoping that if I wish for one hard enough, I might be lucky enough to get one for Christmas! There, I go, mentioning Christmas again…

The customer service is wonderful, and I’ve been able on many an occasion now, to ask for a copy of a particular magazine to be put to one side to enable me to get there and buy it. It feels incredibly responsive and makes me want to sing their praises from the highest of rooftops. The collaboration with Laynes Espresso (splendid independent coffee shop near Leeds Railway Station) means that I can get a coffee and have a quick look through new issues before buying, either from Laynes, or Colours May Vary.  As you can see from the photos, I do that quite a lot!

So, if you’re in Leeds, I highly recommend that you do go to Colours May Vary. It’s a really special store that deserves every success. I’ll probably see you in there…

As an aside, after reading Issue 17 of Uppercase, I have finally booked myself onto a Letterpress Course at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop! Very excited. I’ll let you know how I get on on…

January 14, 2013

Making Space for New Dreams.

Regular blog readers will know that I’m on a long-term de-cluttering exercise, and attempting to live something of a more minimalist lifestyle. As I work my way through my house, I have got to the point where I’m nearly rid of all the clutter that doesn’t really matter to me. I’ve got rid of a giant teetering pile of books, all the clothes that I’ve kept in the mistaken belief that I’ll get thinner, taller or suddenly be able to wear low-rise skinny jeans, loads of old paperwork and everything I’ve kept ‘just in case it might be useful’ – and it’s been relatively painless, once I dealt with my book guilt. In something of a landmark moment, I’ve even finally accepted that my beloved blue Converse are more hole than trainer and let them go…

Now I’ve moved onto the more challenging things. A couple of things that I’ve recently got rid of have made me cry. Firstly an enormous, half-finished Beatrix Potter cross-stitch. I started this in the summer of 2006, when I was pregnant with my daughter. It was one of those ‘I’m going to be a perfect mummy’ kind of plans. I was going to finish it before her arrival, get it framed and smugly hang it in her bedroom. And then it all fell apart. Thirty weeks into the pregnancy,  I became really ill with pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome and she arrived far too early for me to finish it. But in all honesty, even if the pregnancy had been text-book perfect, I was unlikely to have managed it. The simple reason? I didn’t really enjoy it. It was far too big and complicated and I’m just not very good at sitting still and concentrating on one thing for that amount of time. A lesson in not trying to be someone I’m not, perhaps.

I suppose it was the first of my failures in the attempt to be a perfect parent. These days, I am definitely not a perfect parent, and far less stressed about the whole thing. But six years after I started that damn cross stitch, there it was, every time I opened the drawer in my bedroom, taunting me about my failure and giving me a giant dose of guilt. Every time I came across it, I thought fleetingly ‘I must finish that’ before hastily shutting the drawer and putting it – and the guilt – out of my mind. Not this time though. This time, I got it out of the drawer and sat thinking about it – and having a little cry – before asking for a second opinion.

Thankfully, I have the best friends in the world, and so that second opinion was a wonderful one. One that said ‘you’re not a failure for not finishing this. It was started with love, and that love still exists, even if the finished article does not’. The love that I have for my daughter, and the six years worth of things we have shared more than makes up for not having finished one lousy cross-stitch. It went into the bin and I don’t have any regrets.

The second thing that I have finally got rid of is a guide book for Mongolia. From 1999. Hmm. I was supposed to go to Mongolia for a few months through a Raleigh International scheme, but no-one told me until I’d got to the end of the application process that because I was in the final year of my degree, I was ineligible. Marvellous. Still, I have hung onto the dream since then. I long to visit Mongolia; the vast open spaces, wildlife, last vestiges of a nomadic, horse-reliant culture and the reintroduced takhi (Przewalski) horses are something I refuse to get to the end of my life without witnessing.

Hence my ancient guide book.

I know, though, that if I ever do manage to finally make it to Mongolia, I’ll need a new guide book. So why have I hung onto this one for so long? It is the misguided belief that my dream is somehow inextricably linked with it. That without the book, the chances of me finally getting to realise a long-held ambition are doomed. This is replicated across many other things that I own, and that I’ve struggled to let go of. Half finished plans, guide books for places I’ve planned to go but never visited, books bought but never read, kit for various activities and sports going dusty…

The other reason I have hung onto things is because they have links to memories; places I have been, people I have known, experiences I have had. In some cases, the memento or souvenir is rather nice. In the vast majority of cases, it’s an old bus ticket, an unused piece of equipment, an ancient t-shirt. What I have come to realise, is that I don’t need to keep all of these things in order to retain the memory. I have never forgotten my old friends, regardless of whether I have kept mementoes of things we have done together. I’ve never forgotten holidays that I have taken or adventures that I have had, whether or not I’ve kept the tickets! And, as a friend of mine pointed out a while ago, I could always take photos of things before letting them go, if I really need to.

So, it is time for me to let go of these things. To rely on my friends to help me with the invisible tentacles that each item might hold around my heart, and to help me see that my dreams and my memories are not linked to my things, but rather that they live on inside me.

In my last post, I mentioned an article by Lesley Garner that I’d found, amidst my clutter, about de-cluttering. The irony is not lost on me. This time, I’m going to quote from it a little: ‘Clearing clutter means shedding dreams. But the funny thing is, I can throw things out because I still believe in the dreams themselves. The clutter is the husk of hope that never flew. But hope itself is inexhaustible. De-cluttering is necessary because new dreams need space to grow in’.

In clearing my house of the clutter from unrealised dreams, I am not killing the dreams themselves. In clearing my house of the clutter from things in my history, I am not wiping out my memories. I am making space, both for my mind and body to live in and for my new dreams to grow in.

June 8, 2012

My New Plans.

After a year of challenge, there was no way I could just stop, so I’ve spent quite a long time thinking about what I want to do next and so quite a few things on this list are a natural progression from my 35:35 Challenge.

I’ve realised that although I enjoyed the rather haphazard nature of my last challenge, I actually need a bit more structure. I want to do a few more tangible things in my 36th year that should hopefully show definite results, so I’ve grouped my plans into four main categories and I’m going to record my progress for the year in each of them. There is obviously going to be crossover between them, but broadly speaking, they’re as follows:

Food: From Allotment gardening to Michelin starred restaurants.

Jam making. Allotment gardening. Cookery classes. Michelin starred restaurants. Street food. Apple Day. Agricultural shows. Cooking with my kids. Bee project. Exploring new food. Pop-up tea rooms and restaurants. Cheese making. Patisserie. Market shopping. Discovering new local food producers.

My main plans:

  • Cookbook Challenge. A continuing challenge to cook something from each of my 64 cookbooks and record each one on my Tumbr account.
  • Developing the ‘Leeds Cookbook Collective’ (this is a new project that I’m starting with a friend and something I’m quite excited about)

Outdoors: Being Active in the Natural Environment.

Cycling. Horse riding. Walking. Climbing. Running. Camping. Sailing. Kayaking. Teaching my kids about wildlife, nature and the seasons. Picnics in the park. Walking in the woods. Sandcastles in the summer. Snowmen in the winter.

My main plans:

  • Riding – I’m going to get back on a horse again this summer. If I enjoy it, I plan to re-learn to ride again from scratch. This is a huge undertaking, as I’ve not been in the saddle for three years and if I’m honest, I have in the way of little natural ability so it’s hard work.
  • Train for an event. Probably a walk/run/climb of some kind. I want to do this with another person. You up for it? (This is possibly the Leeds Half Marathon with @wandapops. There, I’ve said it…)
  • Get back in a kayak. Much like getting back on a horse, this is something I need to do. Preferably in calm, sunny waters!
  • Cycletta. Complete this on my new Pashley Princess. Which means I’m unlikely to beat my old time, but I’m going to enjoy it nonetheless. Come and say hello if you’re doing the Tatton Park ride too!

English Adventures: From Northumberland to Lands End.

Exploring the parts of England that I’ve never visited before. Sharing the Isle of Wight of my childhood with my children. Traditions, seasons and special events. Day trips to the seaside. Pony trekking in the Dales. Camping. Festivals. County Shows. Steam railways. 

Main Plans here:

  • A weekend away in the autumn much like our Cambridge visit. All ideas for places to visit will be very much accepted.
  • A family holiday to the Isle of Wight.
  • Making the most of weekends to visit somewhere we’ve never been before.
  • Taking the kids to Countryside Live.
Literature
Reading some of  the Classics. Penguin book collection. Vintage Vogues. Ruby Ferguson First Editions. Second hand book shopping. World Book Day with Eve. World Book Night. Leeds Big Bookend Festival. Ilkley Literature Festival.
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Main Plans here:
  • Complete my GoodReads Challenge to read 52 books in 2012.
  • Search for the missing books in my Ruby Ferguson collection.
  • Top Secret Project. This is a big project and one that is definitely Top Secret because it’s self indulgent and a bit ridiculous. Apart from the fact that I’ve already told loads of people. Mostly because I need their help. You know who you are…
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So there we are. A busy year, but one that is definitely more focused on fewer subjects in more depth than last year. I’m also feeling as though I want to spend more time at home and re-visiting things that I’ve loved for a long time, so that is definitely reflected here. There is something about this time of year that always makes me a little rose-tinted about being in England. I’m also enjoying setting goals from one birthday to the next instead of from one January to the next. It feels like a better way of recording my own life. So, the next thing to work out is how I’m going to get all of this done…
May 28, 2012

Cookbook Challenge

Recently I made the rather startling discovery that I’ve amassed a collection of 64 cookbooks. They sit on shelves in the kitchen and sitting room gathering dust, while I reach for a jar of pesto again and again.

Cookbooks are clearly something of an addiction for me. The sheer beauty of them, the gorgeous photography and styling and the promise they offer of a slightly better life, if only you try some of their recipes, draws me in time and again. Yet, I rarely cook anything different. Partly because of a lack of time, partly because my kids are stuck in a place where they refuse to try new things to eat and partly because of the ease with which I get stuck in the pasta pesto routine.

So, in an attempt to make my ownership of 64 cookbooks seem a little more sensible (and urged on by some lovely Twitter friends) I’ve started a mini-challenge, which is to cook something from each of my cookbooks. Originally, the deadline was to cook 35 new things before the end of my 35:35 challenge. However, as I’ve realised that there is a distinct possibility that  I’m going to fail in my challenge (something I’m not thrilled about, but hey, that’s life) I have now given up on that self-imposed deadline and now I’m just going to try to cook something from each of them.

To record this, I’ve set up a Tumblr account which will just have a photo each time I cook something, together with the information about the book it is from.

I’m hoping that this will re-ignite my interest in food, get the kids to try some new things, improve my diet and health a bit and make far better use of my lovely organic veg box and home grown fruit and vegetables. I’ve completed about half a dozen recipes now, and I’m really enjoying it. I’m hoping to focus my attention on things that are relatively quick to make, so I can easily cook them in the evening after work, rather than only making an effort every so often. I want this to be the start of a longer term change in my cooking and eating habits and I’m hoping it will have a positive effect on the rest of my household too!

One thing I’ve noticed though, is how many books about baking I have and how weighted in favour of a handful of authors my collection is. I seem to have every book that Nigel Slater has written, and a fair collection of Nigella, Rachel Allen and Jamie Oliver books too. However, I have not a single book about Thai, Chinese or Malaysian cookery, something I only realised after searching in vain for a Beef Rendang recipe the other day. So, perhaps once I’ve legitimised my collection by actually using it, I can start to add to it and fill the gaps – starting with a book about Asian cookery.

If you’ve got any cookbook recommendations, do let me know. I’d love to hear from fellow cookbook addicts!