The Reading List – January

book reviewsOne of my new years resolutions was to read more (I don’t know why I’m such a radical, I just is). I’m going to work my way through all those books that have been sitting there unread on my shelvesfor a shamefully long time. So there might be a few more book recommendations around here, they might not be brand new but I promise they’ll only be absolute corkers.

I managed to do three *cough* two and a half *cough* over Christmas:

The Farm – Tom Rob Smith (2015)
Daniel thinks his mum and dad have happily relocated to his mothers’ homeland, Sweden, to enjoy their retirement until one day he gets a phone call. His Dad tells Daniel that his mum isn’t well, she’s been imagining ‘terrible things’ and has been committed to an asylum for treatment. As he rushes to the airport his mum phones to tell Daniel his father is not to be trusted; she’s not mad and she’s on her way to Heathrow now to tell him the whole story.

When her plane lands, we largely hear the story unfold from his mothers’ point of view. Daniel is told of a horrifying crime and conspiracy involving his own father and must try to figure out what the real story is whilst getting to grips with whether or not he really knows his parents at all. I don’t want to say any more as my special gift is totally ruining a really good story but, written without chapters, The Farm is a pretty intense read and one I felt compelled to devour as quickly as possible just to find out who was telling the truth! That up there ^^ that’s The Farm, so unputdownable I read it whilst walking through the woods, Betty was disgusted.

As the first book I’ve picked up in months it was addictive, easy to read and quite unique. A solid four out of five stars I reckon. Loses a star because some of the characterisation is a bit thin and it does feel rushed at the end but overall a ruddy good read.

book reviewThe Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood (1986)
So, in the interests of staying spoiler free – from the book cover:

In the world of the near future, who will control women’s bodies?

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

‘Offred’ (literally ‘belonging to Fred’ ick) is fertile and as such has been forcibly separated from her husband and daughter to fulfil her role as baby making machine in the dystopian hell hole that is Gilead. Nuclear fallout means that many women can no longer reproduce and so Offred’s womb is a valuable commodity. She could refuse but she would be hanged or sent out into the nuclear wasteland to forage. The story is non-linear, told both now as Offred lives it and through regular flashbacks to the ‘time before’. It doesn’t take long to get used to the jumping about, it’s completely absorbing. Not allowed to socialise, communicate or even read in her new world, Offred finds little ways to resist and rebel against the totalitarian regime (which is based on the absolute worst bits of the Old Testament).

One of my all-time favourite novels, The Handmaid’s Tale is one I’ve read time and time again and which always leaves me with the heebie jeebies.  It was fascinating to read a work of pure fiction written in 1986, in the context of the current weirdness over the pond and all that entails for women’s rights (and indeed the rights of anyone not white, republican, middle class or male).

It’s so hard to write about a book you adore and to remain objective so if you haven’t yet read it, The Handmaid’s Tale is phenomenal. Five out of five, whenever you ask me.

Blueeyedboy – Joanne Harris (2011)
Yes, she of Chocolat fame. And no, this is not a thing like that.

Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child, timid and dull. But Blue was his mother’s favourite. And he was a murderer.

Blueyedboy is a dark and intricately plotted tale of a poisonously dysfunctional family, a blind child prodigy and a serial murderer who is not who he seems. Told through posts on badguysrock.com, this is a thriller that makes creative use of all the disguise, deception and mind games that are offered by playing out one’s life online.

I’m about half way through this so far but I’m loving it. It’s another with a gloriously unreliable narrator BB (a running theme in what I read over Christmas!) He lives with his mother and spends a lot of his life online writing murderous fiction. The whole book is written through BBs online and journal entries. So far I don’t quite know how much of what he writes is fiction, how much is fantasy and how much is him talking about the stuff he’s actually done, maybe I’ll never know and maybe I like that.  I’ve got no idea where this is going but I’d recommend it for the sheer inventiveness of the story telling. Can’t give it a score yet, the ending might be naff.

Let me know if you’ve read anything good lately? I can’t buy it til I’ve finished the hundred or so neglected books at home but it’s always good to have a list!

Follow:

A Tale of Cake and Happiness and a Guy Called Ben

Victoria Sponge

Twas the night before 2016, when all through the house…the woman was frantically roasting a beef and necking red wine like it was 1999 as her husband faffed about elsewhere making a playlist for the grown up dinner party or something. ‘Oi’ he hollered from the sofa ‘what are they bringing for pudding?’ Because you know that’s how adulting works – if I’m roasting a beef I ain’t making pudding too.

A few texts later and the ‘guests’ (hi Ma!) were not giving up their ‘joke’ about the protein pancakes. Protein. Pancakes. Like real pancakes in absolutely no way and full of protein powder. I was not about to see out 2015 with a glass of prosecco and a face full of whey powder, it was time for plan B which really was plan A because: protein. pancakes. Those are not a plan, those are a cruel and unusual punishment.

Husband vaguely recalled someone telling him about Ben’s Bakes: surprisingly a Facebook page run by a chap called Ben. Who bakes. And then delivers cake TO YOUR FRONT DOOR.

I know, I know, so many questions: is it for real? It did sound a bit like a dream I once had (and also like an episode of Secret Diary of a Call Girl I watched a long long time ago involving a splosher. Sploshing sounds fun). Could he really be delivering on New Years’ Eve? Can we afford this luxury? I mean, we want the kitchen doing some time this year and a bit of grown up work to the driveway, could we stretch to cake-to-the-door on top of that?

Facebook provided some pretty swift answers – definitely real, definitely delivering and definitely affordable. Breathe Michelle.

With a belly full of skepticism and a bit more red wine I hovered anxiously behind the front door. He’s going to show up right? What if he doesn’t show up and I have to eat weird un-pancakes? I will hunt Ben down and shove the pancakes down his throat. I wish I’d thought less violent things but I didn’t, deal with it.

Precisely when he said he would, Ben rang the bell, chucked three boxes of cakes at us, took our tenner, resisted our over excited attempts at chat and ran for it. Our GIVE US CAKE faces are something quite special to behold.

Three bits each of Victoria Sponge, Banoffee cake and Chocolate Orange brownie slice thingumies. They passed the taste test with flying colours. They also passed the all important cake for breakfast on New Years’ Day test.IMG_5819

If you live near me buy cake from Ben. A bit because it’s the best business idea I’ve heard in a while and a lot because he gives really really good cake. Find Ben’s Bakes on Facebook for all your forgotten birthday, office lull and period sugar craving needs. If you live far far away from me set up your own mobile cake delivery service, seriously, the world would be a much better place if there were more people delivering cake to your front door.

Have you ever heard of such a thing? Would you buy cake from a stranger over the internet? Have you been inspired to turn your Fiat 500 into a mobile bakery? Say yes.

This post was in no way sponsored by Ben or his bakes, just a happy happy accident that everyone should know about. Although this seems like a good time to disclose that I will do pretty much anything you want in return for a good bit of cake. 

Follow:

BEDN 5 A Book Review: You, Caroline Kepnes

I picked up Caroline Kepnes You slap bang in the middle of revision procrastination. I needed something rough and ready and utterly ludicrous to take my mind off pensions and annuities and taxes (oh my!)IMG_6606[1]

Enter You and it’s well dodge narrator Joe: a dirty great stalker. You follows Joe’s pursuit and very calculated wooing of Beck,  who is sort of awful too. Not stalker awful but she’s definitely a bit off. The characters were reminiscent of Gone Girl in that I didn’t actually like either of them much at all but, weirdly, I did find myself empathising occasionally with Stalker Joe more than I ever could with Gone Girls’ Amy. He’s intelligent and sometimes funny and that does draw you in. WHAT DOES THIS MEAN??

The story isn’t particularly unique or ground breaking, it’s a classic stalker tale – boy meets girl in a jaunty old bookshop with a weird cell in the basement, boy steals girls’ phone and hacks her emails and social media accounts, boy engineers more meetings with girl and manipulates the hell out of her until….yeah. Until.

The hook is that the story is told by Joe with all the weird mind f**kery that involves. He is, of course, completely bonkers, and watching that unfold and intensify from his perspective was toxic but a bit fascinating. Joe’s actions to protect his ‘relationship’ get more and more extreme and it’s not always a pretty read but it is engaging. You really want to see how the whole thing unfolds, and if he ever realises he’s nuts.

So, the characters? Icky.  The narrator? Compelling. The story line? Predictable and a bit ridiculous but entertaining nonetheless.

I’ve seen some reviews of You take issue with the (pretty prolific) modern tech references – Joe does his best stalking work through social media and email hacking. Actually I didn’t mind this at all, it kind of reminded me just how visible we all are online, how much of our lives we put out there (said the blogger…) and how easy it would be for someone to use that information for nefarious purposes. Creepy.

Read it if: you like the darkness, you’re a fan of an unreliable narrator, you liked the vileness of Gone Girl’s characters, you feel you should reign in the social media oversharing – You WILL do that for you.

Don’t read it if: you scare easy, you like a story with at least one pleasant character, you like shiny romance – for those who have called this a romance, yeah…no.

Have you read You?

If you’re snuggling up inside tonight instead of hanging out in the drizzle eating sausages, you could do a lot worse than this to pass the time.

Follow:

Revising for Grown Ups

imageOn a cloud of confidence after my exam triumph in June, I instantly booked myself another one. The textbook arrived today and weighs in at a whopping three centimetres thick. It’s a beast and I’m afraid of it. I’m vaguely confident I’ve assimilated some base knowledge on the job but the fear spouts from my long forgotten natural inability to revise. It’s a concern.

I don’t remember being so bad at it when I was a young ‘un and I genuinely love learning new things. I’m an obsessive type who likes to read and assimilate all of the things about any subject you stick in front of me – it’s why I know lots about Fred West, dogs anal glands and what happens to the waste on a cruise liner. So why oh why does this not extend to career enhancing knowledge? I have a theory.

When I was 16 (going on 17) there was a whole wide world out there, exams then were just a stepping stone to a new adventure. Not too much pressure. I didn’t want to be the kid who had to re-take but it wasn’t the end of the world if that were the case. (FYI I was a straight A-er, no retakes here possums. Smug face). I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, where my place would be in the world and so, being the consumer of facts that I was – a bit like Francis Dollarhyde trying to turn into the Red Dragon by eating the painting. Sort of. – any new bit of knowledge was a gift, a treat without strings attached. And at 16 (going on 17) I couldn’t get enough of that. The kind kids called me ‘geek’, the mean ones ‘an expletive-that-rhymes-with-lanky-loser’.

Now? Now any new knowledge gained is in direct enhancement of my career. A career that I’ve very recently chosen. A career that superseded the one I’d spent an inadvertent decade building. And that’s a scary prospect. The pressure of NEEDING to retain something is tricky to overcome, for my perverse little brain anyway. And when that something is fairly complex, technical information, my mind tank goes into preservation mode. It powers down and hibernates whilst my body eats all of the cake and watches Netflix of its own accord. As a master procrastinator and a card carrying grown up, it also doesn’t help that my to do list outside of learning is ridiculous.

However, this next exam is a biggie so in stark contrast to my natural leanings I’ll be knuckling down, blocking out the universe and getting on with it.

I have my post-it’s and a selection of jaunty pens, my monster revision guide and will be attempting to take my own advice which is:

DO NOT CLEAN BEHIND THE TOILET WHEN YOU HAVE THINGS TO LEARN.

The end.

Any foolproof techniques for shutting out adulting and learning stuff? I’m open to all suggestions.

Follow:

The Notebook That Changed My Life

IMG_5692

Have you ever just connected with a piece of stationery? Found a particularly good listener in a 2B? Maybe a cheeky compass that was just there for you? No? Really? Are you sure? Are you lying to yourself a bit?

You’ll be pleased to know that I’ve found the nirvana of notebooks. I genuinely believe we could be best friends, he just gets me. We met last week when the husband and I popped off to the big city for a cheeky Nandos. Incidentally our very first cheeky Nandos since the UK tried to define one for the Americans.

Our eyes met across the fields of Cath Kidston florals and it was love at first sight. How do I love this notebook? Let me count the ways:

IMG_5694

1) It allows me to rate humanity on a day to day basis. A vital factor in tracking the downfall of the human race and not committing murder on a regular basis.

2) The cover looks super stylish and denounces those who continue not to use their indicators whilst driving. Those people deserve bad bad things in life.

3) It is full to bursting with acerbic, passive aggressive quotes about people. All people.

4) It’s pocket sized and perfect for noting down those amazing blog post ideas I have whilst being a woman about town that I almost never actually write down whether I have a notebook to hand or not but there needed to be a legitimate reason to buy three notebooks in one day so…

And that’s it, I don’t need any more reasons to love it. Now if you’ll excuse me, my notebook and I need to be alone for a while.

Has a stapler ever stolen your heart?

IMG_5695 IMG_5697

Bought my Knock Knock notebook with my own hard earned cashola from John Lewis and found them on Amazon for you dear person because a spot of passive aggressive stationery should be on everyone’s wish list.

 

Follow: