Monday, 3 August 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #2

Technically, that should be "Things That Made Me Happy Last Week" but we're just going to ignore that and get stuck in. 

As always, a nod to lovely, lovely Ellie Lit Nerd.

Photo credit
1.  Charcuterie, Pinot Noir and old friends.  When I get busy, the first thing I try to do is retreat and limit my exposure to the outside world where I can.  Last Thursday, though, I ignored my inner quiet girl and went out and drank delicious wine and ate some wonderful hams, cheese and bread in one of my favourite bars in Leeds with a friend I haven't seen in about a year.  It was so, so much fun - we gossiped and giggled and I had such a nice time. My Friday morning run suffered a little but it was worth it.

2.  A weekend at home.  We had a break this weekend and actually managed to spend the whole weekend in and around our home.  I spent 5 hours cleaning the house from top to bottom and catching up on the chores I haven't had time for, we visited our local pub and our local Indian restaurant and generally relaxed.  The power of home is never to be underestimated.

3.  Finishing a book.  I bemoaned in my last post that I hadn't finished a book since the end of May.  On Saturday, that spell broke and I finished The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz.  Sure, it was a book club book that I finished about two weeks after the "meeting" but I enjoyed it and I FINISHED IT so I don't feel as though I've missed out, really.

4.  Sister time.  One of the other (many) consequences of being away a lot has been a significant lack of family time.  On Saturday, my little sister visited - we shopped and chattered away the day before going for some vegetarian Mexican street food and a cheeky glass of wine (or three).  Spending time with her was marvellous and the tostadas were a bonus. 

5.  WEDDING!  I couldn't go without mentioning the first of my bridesmaid stints.  Catering to the whims of two brides at once hasn't been easy but the day came and it was beautiful.  I cried about a hundred times and it was such a fabulous day.  The couple are our best friends and being part of their wedding (I was a bridesmaid and Boyfriend was the Best Man) was something special and made every painstakingly made wedding favour and dress-pinning session absolutely worth it.

Let's #sharethehappy!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Things That Made Me Happy This Week #1

Confession time: I haven't finished a book since we got back from Italy in May.  It's been a busy time at work and it turns out that being a bridesmaid twice over the space of one season is pretty time-consuming.  Between the hen dos, dress fittings and favour making sessions and a more than full time job, there's not been much time for anything else.  And that's without counting the half marathon training and the fact that I'm currently carrying what feels like a million "summer cold" germs and a kilo of phlegm.  I know.  Attractive.  What I'm saying is that I'm exhausted, I'm ill and I have no time to call my own and it's becoming harder and harder to take note of the moments that are happy-making.  That sounds melo-dramatic.  I'm ok.  I'm just tired and I'm begrudging of the fact that I have no time to just sit down and read a book.  Time to remind myself of the things that I have done that have made me happy.

The brain child of the ever wonderful Ellie Lit Nerd, whose blog is one of the best out there.

Bundobust, Leeds
1.  Trying out a new restaurant.  I'm a huge food geek and I love getting to try new restaurants.  This weekend, Boyfriend and I made some time to visit a craft beer and Indian street food bar in Leeds that was a lot of fun.  The food is exclusively vegetarian, which was something new for two staunch carnivores, and we had six small dishes between the two of us so that we could try as much as possible.  Delicious.

2.  Taking a moment to cook for a friend.  One of the girls for whom I am bridesmaiding is my best friend.  Sure, the wedding stuff is driving me crazy but it was nice to send the boys off to the rugby (Boyfriend is the Best Man at the upcoming nuptials) and hang out, watching Clueless and cooking and eating Mexican food.

3.  Bookish gifts.  My job may be busy and it may have played no small part in my current germy condition but on Tuesday, my boss surprised me with a copy of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee because we'd previously chatted about the impending release and I was obviously looking sorry for myself.  It was a lovely gesture and one that I really, really appreciated.  People can be good.

4.  Planning. It's my birthday in a little under a month and we have a trip to London planned and then we're going to Singapore and Malaysia in September as an advance celebration of Boyfriend's 30th birthday.  Both are finally close enough that we can see the light at the end of the wedding tunnel and start to plan the places that we want to go to and the things we want to see and do.  The September trip in particular has felt like a long time coming and I can't wait.

5.  My Midori.  I wasn't sure how I'd settle into planning and journalling and reviewing note-taking in one place but I love it.  Absolutely adore it.  One month in and I carry it everywhere and am really getting used to it as my go to accessory.  It has my diary in it, kraft pockets that I can stuff things into until I get the time to write about them, little double sided sticky things that I can use to stick in restaurant cards and cinema tickets and what-not so that I can note down things without having to write too much and the paper quality of the "real" Midori notebooks is outstanding.  Journalling helps me clear out my brain and keep my thoughts more ordered.  I get to focus more on what I'm doing and less on what I'm trying not to forget.  It's the best and I can't wait to take it on holiday with me.

Let's #sharethehappy! 

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Book Club Chatter #3: '20th Century Ghosts' by Joe Hill

I was excited about this month's book club.  I missed the meeting for An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth because I didn't manage to buy the book in time, never mind read it.  I wasn't devastated because I wasn't overly excited about it but I'm still yet to really branch out with the books that I do pick up for book club.  I think that actually it's partly that every month is a bit much for me - I'm only managing to read a book a week at the moment and I'm reluctant to have a quarter of the books that I read be picked by my book club...

June's pick:  20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

I was quite excited about this one.  We picked it a few months ago because one of the members had been given it as a gift and it was something different to the other books that we'd read.  There were a few Stephen King fans in the group and the introduction made it sound as though the stories would have a literary edge to entertain those less keen on the gory side of things (yep, ME!).

The verdict wasn't good.

Out of the 9 people that turned up (me included), only 3 people had read all of the stories all of the way through.  Nobody went so far as to say that they'd enjoyed all (or even most) of what they had read.  The lady who had suggested it actually apologised to everybody for bringing the book into our lives.  3 utterly despised it and refused to read more than a couple of stories (although one of them has quite sensitive taste and has previously complained about 'bad language' in books...).  The remaining 3 (me included) had read a good amount of the stories and were sort of ok about some but underwhelmed and disappointed overall.

I think the main problem was that Hill's short stories are either extremely disturbing (the first story in particular is awful and features eye gouging, rape and mutilation) or plain weird.  Like I said at the 'meeting', I couldn't shake the feeling that I was constantly missing something.  There was one story that I really liked (Pop Art) about a boy with an inflatable friend, a sort of balloon boy that bobs along and attends school but who can't talk and instead writes notes to express himself.  I got that it was in part about vulnerability and about the fragility of life but I'm sure there were plenty of ideas that bypassed me entirely. I hope that I was missing something, actually, because otherwise most of the stories are just bizarre.  

I've actually never been a huge fan of short stories and this collection wasn't the one to change that view.  Of the stories that I finished, I found that there were a couple that I wanted to be developed more (like the haunting tale of a ghost in an ageing cinema) and some that just felt like Hill had woken up from a bad dream, scribbled it down and thrown it into the collection (like the story of a man that wakes up half locust and goes a-rampaging).  There weren't any that felt like they encapsulated a single idea or image so perfectly that a short story was just enough.

One man's feeling was that it felt like the work of an undeveloped writer.  The beginnings of most of the stories are solid.  A few fade away, a few go off on a weird tangent but a few do start to build into something that could be great with a little more refinement.  I think that maybe I agree.  I did say that I'd recently read NOS4R2 and really loved it so there was more to Hill than this collection - I genuinely think that his skills are far better shown off in longer stories where he can play on readers' uncertainty over his characters to far greater effect.  With a full novel, you know that Hill is playing with you and that nothing is quite as it seems because you're shown enough to know that it isn't sloppy story telling but a web that he's weaving.  His short stories didn't give me (or any of my fellow book clubbers) that impression.  They just feel like he's had the start of some ideas, the beginnings of a whole host of NOS4R2s, but never quite worked them all way through.  

Part of this could also be the fact that none of us seemed to want to be scared just for the sake of it.  I'll read scary books (it turns out) but only where there's more to them than just the chills.  I don't want to read simple stories designed to terrify with the least amount of words possible or peek at snapshots of horrifying images.  I want grey areas and doubt.  Horror that creeps up on me in a dignified manner or lures me in gradually and artfully.  I don't want it shouting in my face.  If you prefer/can tolerate the shouting, 20th Century Ghosts could be more for you.

Oh, one last thing!  Interestingly, one person's complaint was that Joe Hill was over-rated and that the only reason he was published was because he was trading on his father's name.  It surprised me because I've always thought exactly the opposite.  His work could be splattered with quotes from Stephen King raving about how great his son's books are and he could use the name 'King'.  He doesn't.  Those arguments fell on deaf ears, because apparently it's Hill's fault that people just know who his father can't win 'em all, I guess.

July's pick:  The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

I'm really looking forward to this one.  Station Eleven and The Martian were both in the mix but The House of Silk was picked as the safest bit to pick everyone up after the Joe Hill disappointment.  Anybody have any views?  Please tell me that I'm not going to get let down again!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Midori Traveler's Notebook: It's HERE!

The wait is OVER!  My Midori arrived over the weekend and it is so lovely...

The pictures don't really do the whole thing justice.  The box is banded like the actual Midori and has a little note tucked in that's adorable: 
Please write down at random what you feel or what you think in the cafe you dropped into during your travel, which will surely be your precious treasure.  Besides, you may find a new feature every day, going to work, having this notebook in your hand.  It may change your life!
So cute.  I'm planning on using mine more for trying to organise myself, to house a 'normal' journal and a review notebook but I do think that when we go away in September, I'll pop in a notebook to use as a travel journal to stick in tickets and receipts and other travel paraphernalia and break out the Midori for the purpose for which it was intended.  

Anyway, the starter kit comes with a cloth bag to keep the notebok in.  Obviously there's the notebook itself - I went for black, which seems a bit less popular than the brown but is more to my taste, and the regular size, which is slightly taller than a regular paperback and slightly narrower.  There's also an alternate band (red for the black notebook and orange for the brown), which I've put on because I like the red against the black. 

Everything that the internet says about the quality is just spot on.  It's lovely :)  It doesn't smell leathery (which I think I'd find off-putting in a notebook) and it's really flexible and soft, despite being thick enough that it feels sturdy.   

I actually can't tell you much more - I had a few plain inserts ready to go (one that came with the starter kit and two that I'd ordered from Etsy) but I'm still waiting for some inserts that I've ordered to arrive before I can really get into using it much more.  I've ordered an 'official' Midori planner insert (week to view with an extra page each week for lists and the like), a folder/pocket type insert and...some other things that I can't remember anymore.  In the meantime, I'm using the plain Midori insert as a journal and another as a review notebook but they're not banded properly in because...ah, because the extra bands are also in the order that's en route!

Immediate verdict:  SO PRETTY and so much potential.

Next up:  INSERTS!  (See how swept up in this thing I'm getting?!)  

Monday, 8 June 2015

Thoughts on 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Rating: 2.5 stars

I feel as though I missed something with The Great Gatsby.  It was ok and listening to it was entertaining enough but a few months of reading War and Peace and a holiday later and I don't really have much to say about it.  So this is going to be a longer than necessary post where I try to pad out my limited views into something approaching a review.

When I mentioned to someone at work what I was listening to, they sort of lit up and started talking about how great a book it was and telling me about their favourite part.  I struggle to reconcile that kind of enthusiasm with the story that I read and that's before we even get the countless boards and groups and organisations lauding it as the greatest American novel of the 20th century.  I can appreciate that the themes say a lot about the time Fitzgerald was writing in and that it has merit as a social commentary on the various indulgences of the 1920s but as a story?  It's decidedly...blah.  I've never been one for themes and ideas over plot and characters.  It is mercifully brief, however, so I never got to the point where I was completely sick of it before it had finished.

I didn't really like any of the characters but I didn't hate them.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the lavish parties and decadent nights but Nick Carraway's general day-to-day musings were somewhat less than engaging.  Daisy and Tom are on the face of it the embodiment of the American dream notwithstanding the fact that they're completely dysfunctional as a couple.  The fact that they're completely uninspiring and actually faintly boring is actually quite an achievement, when you think about it.  There's one scene where Tom goes bananas and punches a woman in the face for being a bit annoying but other than that, they're dull.  Nick has a love interest, Jordan Baker, who was quite fun at first but seemed pretty brittle as a character and sort of wafted around on the sidelines without really being developed properly.  The overall effect was pretty underwhelming.

The only bit that I genuinely liked was the ending.  And not in a sarcastic 'I was only really pleased when it was over' way.  I just didn't see it coming and yet when I'd listened to it, it seemed the only way that the story could have ended.  It fit with the characters in a way that the rest of the story never seemed to and the final few scenes were actually quite moving, which was a pleasant surprise.

While I might not have been the biggest fan of The Great Gatsby, I do think it's sad that F. Scott Fitzgerald apparently died without knowing how much of a success the novel would eventually become.  I may not understand how it quite managed to obtain its spot on so many American teenagers' high school reading lists but I didn't hate it so much that I wanted Fitzgerald to believe himself a failure over it.

Overall:  Ach - it was alright.  I didn't hate it but I didn't love it.  I'm curious about the film and can't imagine anybody better than Leonardo di Caprio to play Jay Gatsby.  I'm glad I've 'read' it but I won't exactly be recommending it particularly widely.

Date finished: 16 January 2015
Format:  Audiobook
Source:  Borrowed from my library
Genre: Literary fiction
Pictured Edition Published:  in September 2010 by Naxos Audiobooks