Sunday, 10 May 2015

Gone Reading...

Image from here
After a seemingly endless time since Christmas, it's finally time for me to say that's it's holiday time.  I'm at work tomorrow and then on Tuesday morning, Boyfriend and I head off to Italy for 9 days of food, wine and cathedrals.  This will be our second trip to Italy and will see us visit Milan, Lake Garda and Bologna  We have a little bit of chill out time sandwiched in between two city breaks and I couldn't be more excited!  As with every time we've been on holiday, we've left it slightly too long and we're both a bit frayed at the edges, over-tired and desperately in need of some sun.

Luggage constraints mean that I can't take my current read (Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon), which is tremendously disappointing because I'm really enjoying it.  Still, I have tons of books on my Kindle that are just crying out to be read so I'm not exactly about to be hard done by.  My top few picks on my Kindle are so far looking like this...

A bit of fantasy, a bit of a mystery and a bit of...something else.  I obviously might arrive and decide that I don't want to read any of these and that will be just fine.  I'll mainly be bumbling around and just reading whatever I fancy at the time.  Either way, I love you all and hope you all have a super bookish fortnight!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Review: 'Relish: My Life in the Kitchen" by Lucy Knisley

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe—many of them treasured family dishes, and a few of them Lucy's original inventions.

A welcome read for anyone who ever felt more passion for a sandwich than is strictly speaking proper, Relish is a book for our time: it invites the reader to celebrate food as a connection to our bodies and a connection to the earth, rather than an enemy, a compulsion, or a consumer product.


If you’ve hung around here for long enough, you’ll know that I’m a massive food geek.  I’ve never quite worked out how to work food in with the book side of things here but if I’m not reading, I’m almost certainly either cooking, thinking about cooking or eating.  One of the main reasons I got into running is that I’m super into food and see almost every occasion as an excuse to scoff but still want to be able to fit into my clothes.  I’m a "foodie", I guess you could say.  What I am not is well-versed in the world of graphic novels.  

Before this year, I’d never read a graphic novel as an adult.  Maybe not even as a teenager.  Things might have stayed that way had it not been for Relish: My Life in the Kitchen (which we're now going to refer to as Relish because I'm lazy),  And Hanna, who bought it for me for Christmas.  It wasn't that I had anything against graphic novels, it's just that I didn't really know where to start or whether I'd like them.  It turns out that I do.  Or at least, I liked this one.

The blurb makes it seem a bit like it will be a bit pretentious and ramble on about how we should have a deep connection to our food.  It's really not.  Relish is adorable.  Lucy Knisley's love of food is infectious and reading about her experiences and memories felt comforting, somehow.  Maybe because the illustrations make the anecdotes seem more personal than they would if this was a "normal" memoir.  The drawings have an easy and relaxed feeling about them and the writing is warm and funny.  Relish covers Knisley's relationship with her food-loving parents, pivotal moments in her formative food years and various encounters of the scrumptious kind.  It's a simple theme but one that I just loved.  I whipped through it in a couple of sittings and could have kept on reading for hours.

Tucked among the tales of perfect croissants and delicious cheeses are recipes and cooking tips.  How to cook mushrooms without them becoming soggy and disgusting, for example, and how to make an indulgent spaghetti carbonara.  I haven't actually tried any of the recipes so I can't say whether Knisley's cookie recipe really will give you the perfect treat but I loved the way that they were written.  The tone is light and chatty and feels a lot like sharing recipes with a fellow food lover.  I can't wait to get hold of some of Knisley's travel memoirs and dig into some more of her culinary anecdotes.

Overall:  A perfect segue into the world of graphic novels if you're in any way into food.  If you're already a graphic novel aficionado, I don't know what to tell you other than Relish is a cute, quick read that will leave you hankering for a plate of freshly baked cookies.

Date finished: 20 January 2015
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Gifted from lovely, lovely Hanna
Genre: Graphic novel; non-fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in April 2013 by Macmillan Children's Publishing Group

Monday, 27 April 2015

War & Peace Read-along: We're FREEEEEE!

Well.  War and Peace is over. After well over 1,000 pages of historical musings, scandals and...well, war, we're FINALLY over the finish line!!  I genuinely can't quite believe it.  I was driving home from work this evening and pondering what I'd do with the couple of hours between finishing eating dinner and bed and realised that I didn't have to try and squeeze in any chapters of anything if I didn't want to!  It's crazy how used to working in reading War and Peace into my week I'd clearly got.

I actually only just managed to finish on time, crawling through the second epilogue yesterday morning (grumbling and muttering to myself the whole time).  I got behind last week but there was absolutely no chance that I was going to miss finishing with everybody else.   

The biggest THANK YOU to Hanna for pulling us all together to tackle this epic tome, for keeping reading even while feeling grim (a feat that I still think is amazing) and for posting prompts each week that made posting about our weekly trudges through Tolstoy's sometimes-less-than-exciting ramblings much less of a chore.  Hanna, you are wonderful and I owe you one.  More than one, probably. 

I feel kind of weird writing this but LET'S WRAP THIS UP!

The Read-a-long's Final Prompts!

1. Was War & Peace what you expected or did it surprise you?

The heavily war-focussed chapters over the past few weeks were what I'd expected the whole book would be like so I was surprised (and immeasurably relieved) to find that that wasn't the case.  I'd built it up in my mind to be something intimidating, confusing and hard work and it wasn't really any of those things.  Obviously it was long (so long!) and I won't pretend that I took in much of the military tactics or that I could list reams of key Russian army figures from the early nineteenth century but I found an awful lot of it engaging and not all that hard to read and follow.  Pleasant surprises all.

2. What was your favourite part?

For some reason, I'm finding this kind of hard to answer.  I actually think the First Epilogue.  I really liked the first few chapters but reading the ending of everybody's stories was just...nice.  Especially Mary's ending.  That made my heart happy.  I think it also felt so great because I'd been waiting so damn long to get back to those characters that reading about them all together and seeing how the war had affected them all made most of the drudgery that went immediately before it in some of the later books seem worth it.  Mostly.

3. Least favourite part?

That HORRENDOUS excuse for a "Second Epilogue".  If you'd asked me this question a couple of weeks ago, the hunting chapters would have won.  I would gladly have had more hunting if it had made the tedious waffle about the meaning of power and the role of historians stop.  I read a few sentences on each page properly and skimmed the rest, hoping that it would get better before I threw my Kindle through a window.  It didn't get better but the skimming saved both my Kindle and my windows so I'm comfortable with my decision.  It was horrific and painful and I deeply resented every minute of my precious Sunday that it stole.

4. Have you learned anything from War & Peace? Either Russian history, or in a more abstract, how-to-read-big-books way?

I kind of think I did.  I couldn't write an essay about Napoleon but I really feel as though I know more about the early nineteenth century in Russia than I did before we started out.  I also learnt that just because something is ludicrously long and seems like it just will not stop, it doesn't mean that you can't face it down.  Also, everything is better with book bloggers.

5. Be honest, how close did you come to giving up?

Do you know what?  I don't think I ever seriously considered giving up.  There was always enough left that I cared about (the Rostovs) that I had to know how it finished and even when I found the book hard going, ranting about it with the other read-alongers took the edge off.  The hardest part was the last few weeks and by then, there was no chance I'd have given up.  So really what I'm saying is that I never really considered giving up but that the answer may well have been very different it hadn't been for the read-along.

6. How did it feel when you FINALLY finished?

Giddy.  Drunk on relief.  Overwhelmed.  Annoyed at Tolstoy for finishing his book in such an unbelievably awful way.  Proud.  FREE.  It was a heady time.  I don't think I've really got my head round actually having finished.  The idea of reading whatever I want feels...unreal, still.  I think it will take some getting used to.

7. What's the first book you're going to pick up without Tolstoy-induced guilt?

No guilt!  I've already picked back up The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey, which I started during one of the shorter weeks and it feels so strange to be reading it without feeling as though I really should be reading something else.  I know I'm repeating myself but I feel disorientated by the freedom.  Probably because I'm reading something that I started during the read-along so it's still connected in some way to Tolstoy.  My first completely free choice will be Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. 

Hanna texted me about a week ago to say that she'd started Outlander/Cross Stitch (depending on where you are in the world) and the more I remembered how much I'd liked that one, the more I wanted to get back to the series.  And, as Hanna wisely pointed out, it's a good bridging book because it's much lighter than War and Peace without being so light that it would seem ridiculous.  I can't wait.

8. Would you recommend this book to a friend? Would you reread it? 

Much though the last few weeks felt like hard work, I'd still recommend it to a friend.  On the whole, I enjoyed it.  It was fascinating in places and there's a lot that's great about it.  I would obviously recommend it only to people that aren't easily put off by seemingly endless chapters about hunting and to people that don't get bored easily but I'd still recommend it.  But would I read it again?  No.  No, no, no, no, no.  NO.

THANK YOU, READ-ALONGERS!  We did it.  We really did it :)  Anybody fancy doing it all over again with a read-along of The Woman in White in September/October?!

Thursday, 16 April 2015

War & Peace Read-along: Week Ten, Book Thirteen

I said it when I put up the prompts and I'll say it again - I'm finding it really hard to see the book that I was enjoying so much in February in what we're reading at the moment.  Take now, for example.  I could be dragging myself through some more dreary war chapters for this week's reading (which I am so very badly behind on...) and instead I'm writing this slightly moany post about last week's reading!  I couldn't be more excited about breaking through the current drudgery and getting back to something (ANYTHING) a bit more interesting.

1)  The only bit of this week's war-themed escapades that I really took in was a small section where it got interesting and the Russians started getting ready to attack the French but then got confused because they couldn't find somebody or other so they did it the next day and botched it again because they went crazy and just started trying to beat on some French people.  Does anybody feel as though they're learning?

When I wrote that question, I'd forgotten that there was a good chapter about what Napoleon tried to implement when the French were occupying Moscow.  So if that was true, I learnt more about that. Generally, though, I feel like I was learning more earlier on when I was more engaged and the history was being relayed in gossipy tones at parties than when I was experiencing it "live".  I found the chapters about policy and tactics and whatever Kutuzov was up to unutterably dull and just switched off entirely.  I've tried to focus and keep track of which generals are where and what they're up to but I just can't.  I think the bottom line is that I feel as though I've learnt more about the global picture but I couldn't tell you much about the specifics.

2)  Clearly Tolstoy's not a Napoleon fan - as far as Tolstoy's concerned, he's lucky at best. Thoughts?

So it turns out that this might just be my view.  My reading of Tolstoy's musings on Napoleon is that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  At worst, I get the feeling that Tolstoy thinks that the French army were successful in spite of Napoleon - there's one chapter that stuck in my mind where Napoleon was trotting about and issuing orders that were ignored/not relayed and dressing up in different uniforms because he liked the adoration of the public and likes the flattering historians trotting about with him.  

3)  According to Shmoop, Pierre's only been in prison for four weeks.  And in four weeks he's decided to completely re-write his personality while shedding some pounds.  I've been surprised by how well Tolstoy has portrayed the French's treatment of their prisoners.  Maybe he's not so biased after all? [I realise that's not technically a question but I'm late so we're going with it]

Although I think Tolstoy's chapters on how everybody fighting are all people and how they're driven to fight each other for no reason that they can fully understand are interesting, I do find his writing about the Russian generals to be much more favourable than his portrayals of the French and that he is by no means a neutral storyteller.  In the end, I don't feel as though I can quite trust his version of history.  I know that he claims to be breaking apart the myths perpetuated by historians but I just feel as though there's something about his talking about "our" army that makes me feel as though he perhaps isn't doing quite the public service he suggests.

4)  This might be a ridiculous question given that some of you may not be flying by the seat of your pants and only just staying caught up (like nobody around here, obviously) but is anybody else worried that the final two books are going to be all about Napoleon trudging back across Russia and that we're only going to get back to the characters we actually care about in retrospect when we hit the Epilogues?!

PLEASE DON'T BE ALL WAR UNTIL THE EPILOGUES!  I can't say much more about Book Fourteen because I've been busy with work and bridesmaid duties (two gigs this summer - clearly I'm getting to "that age"!) and haven't managed to get into following the French convoy as they keep on marching.  I thought after the end of last week's reading, we'd be getting back to the good stuff but no. I'm genuinely worried that it's going to be a slog through to the epilogues but now that we're close to the end, I'm hoping that I can just power through.  Chances are I'm in for a big catch-up read on Sunday too because I'm busy through until Sunday morning now, which I am almost certain will be a lot like hard work...

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Book Club Chatter #2: 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' by Agatha Christie

Since January, I've managed to miss two book club meetings.  I missed the February meeting because I was too busy at work to finish "early" (at 5.15pm...) and go to the meeting.  That was a shame, actually, because the book was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and I was curious to see what other readers made of it.  From what I gathered from chatting with other book clubbers after the meeting, the feelings were really positive about the book on the whole but nobody really saw the point of the titular miniaturist.  So pretty much what I thought myself.  I missed the March meeting because I was a month into the War and Peace read-along and didn't manage to read the book (which was a bit annoying because it's one I've owned for years but not read) - The American Boy by Andrew Taylor.  I'm sure I'll read it one day.

April's pick:  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

I'll admit I was relieved when I got the email listing our next few reads and I saw that the book for April was one I'd already read.  If it hadn't been, I'd have been skipping out on April too because there's been no time for anything else while I've been facing down Tolstoy.  

Five people turned up to the meeting (including me) and I spoke to two people who couldn't make it but who'd read the book. Out of the seven of us, five really liked it and two weren't keen.  More surprisingly (to me) was the fact that two readers actually managed to guess the ending.  One other book clubber said that they had suspicions about the ending but that they didn't actually guess it.  I was completely blind-sided by the ending.  The thing I find with Agatha Christie is that I think that maybe if I really tried one day, I'd be able to fathom out the murderer but, like I said when I was defending my lack of sleuth skills, I don't think I want to.  Part of the fun of Christie's books for me is that moment where Poirot or whoever gets everybody in a room and unravels the mystery for me.  I like reading the clues but not really trying to puzzle them out and I get as much enjoyment out of being surprised as I think I would at being proven right.

The readers that thought The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was "just ok" found the mystery aspect got in the way of the portrait of English village life in the 1920s.  It wasn't Christie they didn't like per se, just crime fiction generally.  It seems that if you aren't a crime fan, this isn't going to convert you, which I found interesting because I thought that if anything could, it would be this book.  What do I know?

There were some big Christie fans among the group (both of whom declared a love for Miss Marple, which I do not get) but also some complete newbies.  It was a nice mix and meant that after we'd all done shock face over the ending and discussed why people did/didn't like it, we got onto sharing other Christie recommendations.  Obviously I sang the praises of And Then There Were None, which remains hands down my favourite Christie and probably one of my favourite books.  Others shouted (not literally) about the wonders of Murder on the Orient Express, which I read last year and also really liked, but there weren't any recommendations for stand out novels that I hadn't already read.  Boo.

May's pick: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earthby Chris Hadfield

I'm not at all sure about this pick.  I have next to no interest in space travel and the like.  I actually dislike that so much money is poured into sending people off to Mars while there are people that don't have enough to eat and that are homeless.  So do I want to read about an astronaut's adventures?  Not especially.  Also, there's a whiff of self-help in the description: "his vivid and refreshing insights in this book will teach you how to think like an astronaut, and will change, completely, the way you view life on Earth – especially your own".  Ugh.  I know that the point of a book club is to stretch yourself and read outside your comfort zone but I would never have picked this up on my own.  I guess we'll see how it goes.