Friday, December 27, 2013

Bargains for your Kindle

So you've been kindly gifted a Kindle for Christmas and now you're left wondering where on earth to begin... with so many bargains (hello, freebies!) it can be a tad daunting to know where to begin.  My solution to this problem was just to download anything and everything I came across - not so fab... hopefully I can use my experience for your gain!  These reads will soon get you over the initial 'nothing can compare to a real book' guilt.
And if you're experienced with your kindle - please share any gems you've come across in your travels for our fellow readers. ;)

Friday, December 20, 2013

Meet Me Under The Mistletoe

Meet Me Under The Mistletoe by Abby Clements is the story of two childhood friends: Laurie and Rachel living polar opposite lives the women, now in their mid-thirties, are counting down the days to two very different Christmases.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

Gifts For The Book Lover In Your Life

Sure, the book lover in your life would probably love a new book for Christmas but if they're anything like me then they probably already have quite a large 'to-read' list already (buying / finding / borrowing books is never a problem when you have a borderline addiction!)  But there are so many quirky gifts which book-lovers would swoon over; here are a few of my favourites.  If you have any suggestions please pop a link in the comments - there is no such thing as too many ideas when it comes to buying gifts! ;)


Thursday, December 5, 2013


Michael Longley is a poet originally from Northern Ireland.  Born in the same place, in the the same, as a certain Mr Seamus Heaney his poetry has largely been in the shadow of Heaney's.  And that's kind of a problem with poetry: so much of it is no good, so people tend to stick to the poets they have heard of, a name that they recognise and trust.  This poem, for me anyway, is a powerful tribute to not just the memory of his father but also to the innocents lost in wars before.  We always hear of the young boys shipped off oblivious to WW1; but the boy at the end of the poem is walking into the living room of presumably a neighbour.  Losing his innocence in a war fought on his streets, in people's living rooms, against his own people.  It's an unbelievably powerful poem; so even if you've never heard of Michael Longley...just trust me on this one ;)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Podcast: The Austen Project

The Austen Project is the reimagining of all six published novels by Jane Austen; with the recent release of Joanna Trollope's take on Sense and Sensibility and the announcement that Alexander McCall Smith will be reworking Emma my friends over at The Yorker and I had a little debate about whether or not Jane Austen's classic works could be successfully translated into a modern setting.  And I would love it if you would have a little listen and let me know your thoughts! ;)
Do you think that Jane Austen's work loses some of its magic in a 21st century setting?
What is it about Jane Austen and her writing which continues to capture our hearts and imaginations?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments or tweet me!
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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cog by Deanna Rodger

Lighthearted objectification?
She's a big cog, in a bigger system

Deanna Rodger shares her emotional and powerful response to Lily Allen's "Hard out Here" - whether you agree with her views on the video or not it's hard to not feel the passion behind her words delivered in such an eloquent and (dare I say powerful again?) awesome way.  Hope you enjoy!

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Ocean at the End of The Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
A short novel about a boy (based on Neil himself) who discovers that the universe is full of secrets beyond his wildest dreams. The themes of memories, love and loss are brilliantly exposed in a unknown and vast world of magic and chaos. It was tightly written novel packed with elaborate magical realism that I couldn't help but believe. The last couple chapters had me in tears and the afterglow lasted for days. Never has a book touched my heart so deeply.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

November: Current Reads

I am loving Autumn.  The leaves, the crisp air, the leaves again.  The reappearance of wooly jumpers.
I am currently reading: The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen
{it's so good! it's a suspense novel with beautiful prose and impossible to put down!}
And summoning up the courage to begin The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 
(have any of you been brave enough to wade through that beast?)
As part of my course I have been studying lots of Irish poets - 
Yeats, Louis MacNeice, Seamus Heaney...
{and been taught how to read poetry aloud, a skill which will come in endlessly handy I am sure!}

What have you been reading lately?
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Sunday, September 22, 2013

Judging Covers

How beautiful are these?
After seeing Bee's latest post, and falling head-over-heels for her edition of The Secret Garden, I investigated these 'penguin threads' editions to see if they're all as beautiful.  Turns out they are.  Hand stitched needle and thread, the illustrations were originally completed by Jillian Tamaki and continued by Rachell Sumpter.  
{Images source.}
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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Simple Question

// matu-maloa
// thisismylittle

What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.

--- T O  T H E  L I G H T H O U S E ---

 --- V I R G I N I A  W O O L F ---
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Saturday, September 14, 2013

Books Are My Bag

// Hot Key Books

TODAY (14th September) 
bookshops, publishers, literary magazines, and bookworms up and down the UK are uniting to celebrate bookshops.

I thought I would share my experience with dwindling local bookshops in a hope to spark some conversation about this problem affecting high streets up and down the country:
Turners' Bookshop was long and narrow.  You had to push the long glass door with a dark wooden frame quite hard for it to open, with a little jingle, and the lovely lady would come running down the stairs to welcome you in.  As you walked through the door, you were immediately greeted by the books for adults, which was boring and pointless (in my opinion).  Rushing through to the back I would stand and gaze at the shelf which had every. single. famous. five. book. ever.  This was my Everest.  Being able to stand there, taking in every title, memorizing the ones I had already read and the others which I still needed to buy.  It wasn't long until I was negotiating an increase in my weekly pocket money from my father to cover the cost of one Famous Five book a week.  He and I would come in every Saturday, regulars, he in the front section, and me standing staring at these perfect books.  They were sooo much better than library books - they were still shiny, the spines weren't bent, and as far as I was concerned I was the first person,ever, to read them (Enid Blyton and I had a special arrangement).  
Sadly, Turners' closed down when I was around 11 years old, so I never really got to make any use of the adult section which I always rushed through.  Now, according to the national bookshop database my nearest bookstores are supermarkets.  Supermarkets, whilst good for stocking bestsellers at low prices, are not the same as bookshops.  
Now is the perfect time to go and appreciate your favourite bookshop whilst they are still around! Go, stare at the books, maybe even buy a couple!  And be sure to pick up a 'books are my bag' bag ;)! 
For more information - here's the website and twitter feed.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe

// With Grace & Guts Tumblr

Ellen Branford is a high-powered New York attorney; engaged to the man of her dreams Ellen couldn't be happier.  This happiness, however, doesn't last too long as Ellen's grandmother is suddenly taken ill.  With her dying breath she asks Ellen to deliver a letter to an old friend in her home town in Maine for her.  She had been meaning to send the letter herself but was too scared that the letter would return unopened so instead left it.  Before Ellen could ask any questions about the recipient, content, or meaning of the letter her grandmother passed away.  Leaving Ellen with so many questions that she decides to hand deliver the letter to her grandmother's home town to try and solve some of the secrets her grandmother had been hiding for so long.

Arriving in the picturesque Maine it's not long before Ellen makes a big-splash (pun intended) across the local media when she nearly drowns only to be saved by a local hero, Roy.  Unlike real life, Roy is not an overweight man in his fifties, but rather a loveable stud (aren't they always in these books?), who is just waiting for the right woman to sweep him off his feet.  Ellen shakes off the swimming incident, determined to proceed with her investigation into her Grandmother's history.  She soon discovers the house of the mystery man her Grandmother was writing to - but there is no answer.  She decides to stay a while to see if he returns.  As she travels through Maine she discovers that her Grandmother, who taught her photography, was an avid painter.  Her paintings won prizes and gained her a place at art school yet as far as Ellen was aware, her grandmother went to Chicago University.  And it soon transpires that the roguish Roy may just be the only person who is able to help her discover the truth behind the mysteries her Grandmother left behind...

This is a wonderfully lighthearted read: full of vivid descriptions of the landscape, food, and people of Maine (I really want to visit it now!).  Ellen has a wonderful journey of self discovery as it transpires that she isn't such a New Yorker through-and-through as she had thought.  The same woman who would only eat chicken finds herself tucking into lobster with butter sauce, cider apple doughnuts, and of course plenty of blueberry muffins! The more Ellen discovers about her Grandmother's past, the more Ellen wants to allow herself to rediscover her own personal past, her creative side away from the office.  She becomes less concerned with her appearance and more concerned with her identity.  Opening herself up to the wonderful Roy, who is just standing on the sidelines, waiting to change her life for good...

This is the kind of book which will pick you up and cheer you up on a cold, damp, rainy day -- perfect for Autumn! ;)

(psst: the author, Mary Simses, preempts your cravings for blueberry muffins by including a recipe on her website [HERE] - I've yet to try them, so let me know how you get on if you do!)


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Recipe Book: Apple and Blackberry Crumble Cake

Bushes and bushes full of ripe and juicy blackberries line the fields where my mum and I walk the doggies.  It wasn't long until we came armed with some tubs, treading in among the sharp brambles trying to find some goodies, and having a bit of an 'incident' with a wasp.  Nasty things.  We soon headed home debating how to put our bounty to good use.  This cake was decided on almost immediately!

The recipe I was following, however, was really disappointing.  Confusingly laid out they had jumbled together various stages in one 'step' and hadn't bothered with separating measurements for the various stages.  After various mumbles and grumbles I decided to just go-for-it and improvise! And was rather happy with the results.  I've yet to find a better written recipe for this beauty so decided to share my own.  

This cake is composed of various stages, which can be done whenever, don't be put off by the various stages as they're relatively simple - so long as you remember to add them all together at the end! ;)

 Heat the oven to 160C/fan 140C/gas 4.  
Butter and line a 20cm springform tin with baking parchment

Peel, core, and slice each of the apples into 8 wedges
Heat 25g of butter in a large frying pan
Add 1 tbsp golden caster sugar and the apple wedges
Cook slowly until the apples are tender and golden, leave to cool.

Crumble Topping:
Melt 50g unsalted butter
Mix in 50g soft brown sugar, 1 tsp cinnamon, 75g plain flour, 50g hazelnuts
Keep mixing until it until it resembles bread crumbs, allow to cool

Cake Mixture:
Beat together 175g butter and 150g golden caster sugar until light and fluffy
Gradually mix in the three beaten eggs
Fold in 200g plain flour and 2tsp baking powder
Add the 150g creme fraiche, mix until smooth.


Spoon roughly 2/3 of the cake mixture into the tin, level, and sprinkle a layer of the crumble mixture
Top with the remaining mixture, level again
Scatter another level of the crumble mixture
Arrange the apples and blackberries on top
Finish with another layer of the crumble mixture

Bake for about one and a half hours
loosely covering the cake if you find it is browning too quickly


I added a layer of butter cream and blackberry jam, served with a dollop of creme fraiche.
My mum would have preferred I left out the jam and cream and just served with some warm custard.

Possibilities are endless!

Please share any blackberry themed recipes you enjoy - I still have lots, and they're feeling rather neglected out in the freezer!


Friday, August 30, 2013

Seamus Heaney

I came online to post some poetry here only to see the sad news that Seamus Heaney had passed away aged 74.  Considered the best Irish poet since W. B. Yeats and a strong feature on Literature syllabuses up and down the country Heaney won the 1995 Nobel Prize and took a moment to consider the jump between writing a few lines and winning a Nobel Prize.  

'I credit poetry both for being itself and for being a help, for making possible a fluid relationship...between the child gazing at the word "Stockholm" on the face of the radio dial and the man facing the faces that he meets at this most privileged moment.'

There is something unique, I feel, about not only the death of a poet but also a poet who features so heavily in children's education.  His name will be one which people will recognise and remember from their school days - his poetry will sit unassumingly on their bookshelves, and today will be read out of respect for both his career and for their old English teacher who urged them to enjoy poetry independently of English lessons. 

// Kate Mortmain

B L A C K B E R R Y  P I C K I N G 

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots
where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
we trekked and picked until the cans were full,
until the tinkling bottom had been covered
with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
the fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
that all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.

S E A M U S  H E A N E Y

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kiss me First by Lottie Moggach

Leila is a lonely young woman.  She can’t remember how she found ‘Red Pill’ but she knows it didn’t take long for her to become obsessed with the website dedicated to philosophical discussion.  Spending hours formulating her contributions to the ethical discussions on the site it isn’t long until she is noticed by the site’s founder – the enigmatic and mysterious Adrian.  They arrange to meet and discuss ‘Project Tess’: a plan which would allow a depressed woman to commit suicide without her family and friends knowing.  Tess would tell her loved ones that she had moved away to a remote Canadian island and Leila would keep up her online life: her Facebook profile, emails, even leaving pre-recorded messages for Tess’ mother.  But Leila will soon discover that there is more to a person than any amount of Facebook messages, emails, or memories can cover…

Written in the first person narrative we catch glimpses of Leila’s personality and warped perception of the world through her misunderstandings of Tess’ life.  They spend hours sending emails, talking on Skype, trying to comb over every person who was ever once significant in Tess’ life.  Spread-sheets detailing the arguments Tess has had with her mother: the topics, the dates, the fallout are composed.  Leila’s bedroom walls are decorated with a timeline of Tess’ life.  The problem being, however, is that all of the information Leila gathers is from Tess’ perspective – the events and people she remembers, and Leila has no information about those phrases Tess has forgotten: what ‘kiss me first’ means as a sign off in emails.

The marketing for the book ties in perfectly with the theme: an app which accesses your Facebook page, as you see another person type in a status for you, and (in my case) a girl I last spoke to seven years ago asking if I was okay as I seemed ‘a bit odd lately’.  We are living in a time when people you would otherwise have forgotten can access a lot of personal information via our social media accounts which whilst it may allow us to feel like we’re ‘keeping in touch’, Moggach cleverly turns this notion on its head and asks: how do we know we’re ‘keeping in touch’ with the person that we used to know?

The intense relationship which develops between Leila and Tess shows how brilliantly and deftly Moggach has created two women who jump off the page.  As Leila takes on Tess’ life she grows as a person, learning things about herself which no amount of hours on an internet forum could offer.  Moggach has spoken in interviews of the novel morphing into an unintentional thriller; which, I feel, sadly shows at the end where there has been such build up, only to have the various threads of the story thrown together at the last minute. Thankfully, however, this doesn’t stop Kiss Me First from being a fascinating and insightful read into our dependence on our online relationships.  

If you’re looking for an unputdownable book for the summer – look no further! 

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Personal Courage

Have the personal courage to explore and expand your horizons; don't stand still while everything around you is changing.  Demand excellence in yourself and in others -- and opportunities you will have are unlimited.

J A N E  A U S T E N

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Monday, July 29, 2013

The Silver Linings Playbook

I made a rookie error: I saw the film before I read the book.

I couldn't get the image of Pat being Bradley Cooper and Tiffany being (oscar winning!) Jennifer Lawrence out of my mind from then on. I can only speak from the perspective of having seen the film first - and I would definitely recommend you read the book as well.

It soon becomes apparent when reading The Silver Linings Playbook that Matthew Quick has created an imperfect and unreliable narrator in Pat Sharp. Pat has been recently released from a psychiatric hospital, the length of his stay unknown, he is desperate to repair his relationship with his estranged wife - reading the books she wanted and losing weight through drastic measures. He is a man convinced that his life is a movie being directed by God. Pat is certain that whatever has happened in the past God will ensure that he has a happy ending in his life. His estranged wife, Nikki, will come back to him once she is aware of his journey, the journey is writing down and recording so that she can read it all and understand how far he has come. This is until he meets Tiffany, recovering from the tragic death of her husband, Pat finds her very strange. Following him around town on his runs, asking awkward questions, and telling him the truth which everyone is trying to protect him from.

Despite being aware that he is unreliable in his account of past events I found that Pat was relatable: his take wasn't too extreme, he was simply trying to gloss over the bad things and focus on the positives. His family around him, doing the natural thing, and protecting him from himself and the truth yet at the same time weren't a perfect family themselves. His father struggles with the idea of an intimate and close relationship with his son and his mother struggles to be anything but a cleaning lady and cook for the men in her life. It was refreshing to read a book about mental health issues and to see how the family and people around the person affected struggle to cope and understand the illness affecting their loved one.

The film and the book are very similar, to a point... The book, in my opinion, focuses more on the mental health side of the story more than the love story. There aren't always rational reasons or excuses given for the characters' behaviour in the book which I think the film overcompensates for and loses the poignancy of certain moments as a consequence. The Silver Linings Playbook is a subtle story, well told, and an easy read - perfect for the Summer holidays because whilst it's a difficult topic it is well told and uplifting.

I don't feel that seeing the film before reading the book ruined it for me - I had the image of Pat being Bradley Cooper in my mind, which suited me fine, but if you're not a fan of Bradley's (why!??!!) then you might want to give the film a miss! ;)


Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
by Stephen Chbosky

One of my all time favourite books is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. It is a relatively new favourite which I read at first because I really wanted to see the movie, and you can’t see a film without reading the book first! So I read it and found myself engrossed. I've read it twice more since the first time, and I’m sure I’ll read it again and again.

I chose it because I think it’s just such a beautiful story. It’s one of those books which finds the wonderful in the everyday. The main character, Charlie sees the value in everything, something I wish I had done when I was at school, and I just love all his keen and refreshing observations. He is definitely one of my favourite literary characters.  The book tells the story of his high school journey, and another thing that I love about the book is that nothing particularly amazing happens to him. It is very similar to Catcher in the Rye in that respect. He struggles with a few family dramas and the suicide of his best friend, but his actual school experiences are very similar to everyone else’s, making it all the more relatable and, in my opinion, all the more emotional and heart-warming. It is so easy to imagine yourself there, and on some occasions I can actually remember myself being there! Oh the memories of telling your first crush you liked them, only to crash and burn. Such wonderful times. I think, for this reason, I feel really attached to the book and the characters. Every time I read it, I feel so invested in the details, even though I have read them all before.

I also really like that it is an epistolary novel. I don’t know why, but there is something about books that are written not in chapters, but in shorter letter form, that has always really appealed to me. (The next of my favourite books on my blog will be Bridget Jones’ Diary, sense a pattern here?)

My favourite quote was actually the tagline for the movie, I think. It is: 

“we accept the love we think we deserve.” 

It’s just one of those rare quotes that rings so true and really makes you think - something which I think the entire book does too, incidentally. I seldom find quotes that affect my way of thinking like this one did, and I love the book all the more for it.

Many thanks to
Sarah from 'Squares'
for sharing your favourite book with us!

Sarah hopes to share more book reviews, just like this one, on her blog every Sunday -- and it's Sunday today, so what are you waiting for?! ;)

Want to share your favourite book?
Click here for more details!

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Real Seriousness and Talent

Real seriousness in regard to writing being one of the two absolute necessities. 
 The other, unfortunately, is talent.
E R N E S T  H E M I N G W A Y
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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Let me start off by saying: aaaaah it's soo good!
If you have yet to encounter Gone Girl it is essentially the story of Amy's sudden disappearance on the day of her fifth anniversary.  Her husband Nick receives a phone call and rushes home to find their living room in disarray and his wife, who normally would never leave the house in such a state, is gone.  It's told through Amy's diary entries from their earlier years of marriage alongside Nick's diary entries of the days after she disappears.  It is a story of long term relationships, trust, and manipulation.  It is a bloody good story at that.

It turns out that Amy and Nick: the perfect New York couple are not so perfect after all.  Amy is the daughter of writer parents who based their bestselling children's series on her and she lives off of a tidy lump sum - which her parents then need back due to the economic downturn.  Nick loses his job in the recession as well and shortly afterwards his mother is diagnosed with Cancer forcing them to move away from their expensive Manhattan pad to a small house in Missouri.  Amy struggles to settle in - she doesn't find a new job and Nick resents her for doing nothing all day.  Their marriage is not what it used to be.  They struggle to talk to one another any more.  So when Amy goes missing - Nick is automatically the police's number one suspect.

Flynn manipulates the unreliable narrator to its best usage.  You have no idea who to trust and who to believe.  You just have to keep turning the pages in order to find out more information to develop your own opinions.  There are constant twists and turns and Flynn manages to keep several balls up in the air at once whilst writing in a literary way.  It isn't a simple thriller - she makes you think, makes you question, makes you keep reading.

My only complaint: the ending.  What was that? It wasn't what I wanted - I would be interested in seeing if you guys actually liked how she ended things!  It wasn't that the ending was badly written or sloppy...just I wanted better for them! (Sorry, I can't say more without spoilers!)
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Friday, June 7, 2013

The Saddest Poem



Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me sometimes, and I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.
Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her. 


P A B L O  N E R U D A

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Book Recommendations

What have you read lately which you have loved?

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Monday, June 3, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in our Stars tells the story of Hazel, who aged 13 is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she has a 'miracle' prescription of a drug which although it won't cure her will allow her to keep living a bit longer.  She leads a sheltered life, choosing to stay at home reading, rather than going out and making friends.  She considers herself a 'grenade'.  It would be more considerate for her to stay home and only upset her parents when she eventually dies than to upset more people.  That is - until she meets Augustus 'Gus', who shows her that she is worth the pain felt when you lose her because of all the good gained when you know her.  It is a story about cancer: its losses, hardships, and the love it allows Hazel and Augustus to gain.

I have seen so many snippets of it posted everywhere on the internet and it has been sitting on my 'to-read' list for some time now.   I found myself moved by the story: the characters and their struggle with a devastating disease was sensitively portrayed.  This was a book about cancer ignoring the cliches.  Unlike A Walk to Remember these patients have symptoms which are immediately noticeable: Hazel carries an oxygen tank with her, Augustus has a slight limp as he lost his battle with cancer.  There is no promise of a happy 'we're all cured!' ending.  They know that their time is limited: the question is how will they spend their time, and they choose to spend it falling in love.

My only problem with the book was that they seemed to be living inside of a cancer bubble: wherein their close friends have a tragic involvement with the illness and those who does not have cancer are heartless and self absorbed.  There's a sense that the endless people who write their names on a facebook wall to share their condolences do not deserve to be sad: they're all faceless names, who disappeared shortly after they left school.  Whilst I know this wasn't necessarily the focus of the story - I felt like this could have been a good opportunity to show how devastating it can be for the community when a child suffers from cancer.  That community was confined to the hospital, a cancer support group, and their immediate families in this novel, and it just felt a bit too insular.  Especially when the outsiders are negatively portrayed.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

A reading list for an aspiring author: by Ernest Hemingway

Arnold Samuelson, an adventurous 22 year old, wanted to see his country and after college packed up, and hitchhiked his way across from Minnesota to California.  He read a short story by Hemingway, 'One Trip Across', a short story which would later become part of Hemingway's fourth novel To Have and Have Not.  Samuelson was smitten.  He was so impressed that he decided to travel across to Key West to meet Hemingway and ask him for advice. 
'What do you want?' said Hemingway.
After an awkward moment Samuelson explained: 
'I read your story 'One Trip Across' in Cosmopolitan. I liked it so much I came down to have a talk with you.'
The two men arranged a meeting to 'chew the fat' the next morning.  Hemingway offered Samuelson some invaluable writing advice:
The most important thing I’ve learned about writing is never write too much at a time, never pump yourself dry. Leave a little for the next day. The main thing is to know when to stop. Don’t wait till you’ve written yourself out. When you’re still going good and you come to an interesting place and you know what’s going to happen next, that’s the time to stop. Then leave it alone and don’t think about it; let your subconscious mind do the work. The next morning, when you’ve had a good sleep and you’re feeling fresh, rewrite what you wrote the day before. When you come to the interesting place and you know what is going to happen next, go on from there and stop at another high point of interest. That way, when you get through, your stuff is full of interesting places and when you write a novel you never get stuck and you make it interesting as you go along.
Hemingway advised Samuelson to avoid contemporary writers and instead to focus on the dead ones who have passed the test of time.  He wrote Samuelson a list.
The Blue Hotel and The Open Boat by Stephen Crane
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Red and the Black by Stendhal
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
Anna Karenina and War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell by George Moore
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Oxford Book of English Verse
The Enormous Room by E.E. Cummings
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago by W.H. Hudson
The American by Henry James
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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger


When I saw that Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveller's Wife, had released a new book - this wasn't quite what I was expecting.  I had blindly ordered a copy based purely on my love of her previous work and when this landed on my doorstep I wasn't sure what to expect.  I certainly wasn't expecting to fall in love.

Raven Girl tells the story of a postman who falls in love with a raven.  The unlikely couple fall in love and conceive a child - a woman trapped in the body of a raven.  It is a story of change, of the raven girl never quite being happy as a girl or as a raven.  The story is told through images and words as you get swept away with Niffenegger's story telling.  The images are beautiful and tell a story just as strong, if not stronger than her words.  
It is an adult fairytale, with suspense, action, love, twists and turns.  It is beautifully told and portrayed. 
It was such a pleasant surprise.
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Monday, April 29, 2013

'Is the spring coming?'

“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...” 
F R A N C I S  H O D G S O N  B U R N E T T

All images from Meg Fee's blog as a reminder to you, dear reader, that you should be following it, if you're not already, that is... ;)
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Monday, April 1, 2013

How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti

With a nomination for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a place on the New York Times’ “Notable books of 2012” list you would be forgiven for thinking that How Should A Person Be? must have exclusively 5* reviews under its belt. On the contrary it's a divisive book with no mediocre reviews: it’s either wonderful or dreadful, and nothing in-between.

Sheila, a twenty-something playwright, has been commissioned to write a feminist play. Except that she can’t. Still recovering from her recent divorce, she leaps into intense relationships: her first female best -friend Margaux, and Israel, the most beautiful man in the city. She finds herself unable to write about characters anymore and instead uses her real life relationships as inspiration. Transcripts of conversations, emails, letters, and anecdotes replace the play she is commissioned to write and instead form the book you are reading as Sheila searches for the answer to the question which has plagued her life: how should a person be?

In choosing to write with a mixture of transcripts, emails, and prose the line between a self-conscious fiction and reality becomes increasingly blurred. These are real people whom Heti has written about; Margaux, her best friend, is Margaux Williamson – a Toronto based artist. The truthful quality of the book, however, does not derive from the characters being real people, but rather from the subject matter. We are lucky enough to be living in an era which allows women to write openly and honestly about their experiences of being a woman; something which Heti has longed for since her youth.

Aged sixteen Heti, inspired by Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, began making zines; she wanted her writing to directly contradict the cookie-cutter stories in teen magazines at the time, to prove that “We CAN be political, we CAN be intelligent and edgy and emotional without the requisite angst, etc.” Heti met with a publicist at Random House and began work on a book which would collect the writing from girls all over North America; it was rejected by her publishers, Heti says because it was too risqué, as a lot of the submissions dealt with sexual violence which the girls had encountered. This would prove to be an invaluable experience for Heti, however, as she feels she would not have been able to write How Should A Person Be? without reading about the sex relations, feminism, and body image issues which those girls had experienced.

The cover, unsurprisingly, features a quote from Girls creator Lena Dunham, who calls the book an “amazing meta-fiction”; presumably because reviewers repeatedly liken it to Dunham’s creation. There are similarities, of course, Hannah is trying to be a writer just like Sheila; they’re both narcissistic and generally not particularly likeable characters as such. But for me it’s more like a reality TV programme as your curiosity overwhelms you, you feel the need to keep reading this thoughtfully engendered reality. The words you read might be fake but the people are all real.

This was originally posted on The Yorker; you are more than welcome to read my other articles there, which can all be found here.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sylvia Plath appearances in popular culture

Sylvia Plath: poet, wife, daughter, mother, student, author.

For some reason it's mostly teenage girls who can appreciate her writing?  Maybe because of the fascination with her personal life, her tragic life, which detracts from the significance and worth of her work.  Maybe because of a silly idea that her work isn't relevant or meaningful to anybody else?

Any mention of her in the press is due to a family tragedy, more gossip, more secrets being turned into books.  So even if it is only teenage girls appreciating her work on screen - at least someone is - and hopefully one day that'll because they know nothing about her personal life and just adore her poetry.  It is, after all, the same respect we award most authors.

Sabrina the teenage witch

The Simpsons

Ryan Adams

Gilmore Girls

Annie Hall

Ten Things I hate about you 

Please note: Boys are allowed to read The Bell Jar as well.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

English Lessons: The Death of Poetry?

I post poems here all the time.  Following the recent article in The Independent about the high culture which we introduce young children to; I recalled a conversation I had had with my fellow English students - who all hated poetry.  Largely because of the experiences that they had with poetry in English lessons.
English lessons are often the first contact-point people have with poetry.  An enormous responsibility is then put upon teachers, exam boards, and schools to choose the right syllabus.  A syllabus which will give its students a rounded view of what poetry, and indeed literature, entails.  My own experience of English lessons, however, largely consisted of teachers teaching what they were interested in.  Until I met Mrs Clegg - who would start lessons with poems, often crying whilst reading them, but it made you even more determined to love the poem - to feel as strongly about it as she did.

"I don't really like poetry..." is often followed by an admission that the only poetry someone has encountered has been that which they did at school.  There seems to be a mistaken conception that the poetry on a school syllabus is there to give you a taster of 'the best' poetry.  If you find nothing you like, therefore, among the best poems you must not like poetry at all, right?  I remember we had one teacher who was finishing her training and spent the best part of a month analysing the poem "Limbo" by Edward Kamau Braithwaite.  We did the poem to death.  I still remember the poem today - and not in a good way.  That poem is nowhere near what I would regard to be 'the best' poetry and I am lucky enough to have had alternative experiences with poetry, to not leave the classroom thinking all poetry was like that.  

My mother's generation, however, were learning Coleridge, Tennyson, Keats in their English lessons.  And by 'learning' I mean reciting the poems until many years later - they still know them all off-by-heart.  There are anthologies published entitled Poems we learnt at School - presumably because they bring back fond memories.  I still cringe remembering the English essays in which I would liken the sonnet form to a bomb.  Small but powerful.  My mother was shocked at the poems, or lack of, which I was learning in school and sat me down with a copy of The Nations Favourite Poems and we went through them all.  It is these poems, which I didn't dissect to death, over-analyse  just sat and read through with my mother which I remember with fondness.

I think there's so much confusion about how you should treat poetry, let alone teach it.  

Are you supposed to read it aloud or in your head?  
How much of the imagery is supposed to be analysed?
What purpose does a poem have?
What significance does the form of the poem have on the overall impact?

And it is killing any enjoyment children could gain from poetry.

I just wish we could give children a chance to truly enjoy poetry before killing any enjoyment with over-analysis.  Just read a poem - don't think about it, just enjoy it, for what it is - a poem.  

Here's some of my favourite poems which I've previously posted.

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