The Blurt Foundation BuddyBox

If you've not heard of the Blurt Foundation, I'll get you up to speed: they're dedicated to providing support and information for those affected by depression, whether people themselves with depression, or family and friends. They have a site full of articles about depression and anxiety, coping mechanisms, how to speak to people going through these things, and much more. They describe themselves as 'the knowing nod', the one that shows someone is listening and understands what you're saying.

Subscription boxes are at an all-time high right now, and Blurt have their own BuddyBox to throw into the mix. Each month you can have a box sent to yourself or a loved one filled with wonderful self-care goodies. This can be edibles, crafts, and other nice things to keep you calm and feeling just that little bit better. For £21.50 a month you will receive 5+ items, but there is also a cheaper alternative available for £12 containing three full-sized items if you just want a trial or you're on a budget. I decided to give the Lite BuddyBox a go, and you can see below the kind of thing you get inside.

The Blurt Foundation BuddyBox

The box contains multiple postcards. One explains what the box is for, which is important if you're sending the box to someone else, and another gives you all the social media links you need to share the contents of your box with the world. Every month Blurt will pick someone who has shared their box on social media and send them a free one the following month. Above you can also see a postcard (with two people hugging) especially to fill out and leave someone for a stranger to find. Finally we have the 'You're fintastic' postcard which lives on my pinboard, and a sticker sheet which serves as the first item in the box. I've already shared these out among my family. We're sticker fiends.

The Blurt Foundation BuddyBox

The remaining two items I received were this adorable Coconut Water Fibre Face Mask from OH K - a company that specialises in Korean beauty. I used this mask the next day and it was quite the experience! It's a sheet mask, which I have never used before, coated in a very strongly-smelling coconut treatment. You leave it on for 15-20 minutes, which is quite the feat as it slipped down my face and into my mouth far too many times I count. The experience was hilariously fun, however, and I did very much enjoy smelling so much like piƱa colada. You can see in my first photo an adorable tin mug that was also included, which was oddly just what I was needing in my bedroom for the bedside table. It perfectly fits the theme of the box (the seaside!) and makes me feel a little like a sailor or fisherman when I use it.

All in all this was a really successful trial run for me and the BuddyBox. I'll probably order another one in the future, and maybe for a friend as £11 seems quite reasonable for three lovely gifts! Fingers crossed I get food next time...

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Book review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

It has taken me way too long to write this review, considering the fact I started reading this book in May and have prompted another friend to read it since (spoiler: we both bloody loved it). I don't remember ever buying Bitter Greens but I know it was there on my Kindle app when I needed it the most (craving more retellings after finishing The Lunar Chronicles).

Bitter Greens (2013, Allison & Busby) is a fairy tale retelling by Kate Forsyth, focusing and building upon the story of Rapunzel. And, never fear, we're in good retelling territory here. There's enough original, witty, and clever content here to shake a stick at. There's also witches.

The story is told from three different perspectives over time. The first is Charlotte-Rose, a novelist (in reality the first person to ever write down the story that is what we know today as Rapunzel) who is banned from Versailles by Louis XIV and sent to a convent. There she meets a Sister who tells the story of Margherita, a young girl hidden in a tower by a witch after her father steals bitter greens from her garden. It's Margherita's tale that forms the second narrative and the main retelling of the Rapunzel story in this book. The final entwined narrative is that of Selena Leonelli, a red-headed courtesan and artist's muse living in Venice. We follow as readers these three women through the tragedies of their lives and witness in the end how they are all braided together, happily or not.

Bitter Greens is an incredibly slow-paced book, but to me that was part of its beauty. The entire journey is sleepy and dream-like (often nightmare-like), taking place in Venice, Paris, Versailles. Forsyth presents you with all of the information you need to know about these cities and their cultures, painting them in your mind like a true artist. After the first chapter I didn't even care that this was a fairy tale retelling; I just wanted to know what was going to happen next. Why was Charlotte-Rose being sent to a convent? What did she do? Was she fairly treated? Does she deserve this? I was completely engrossed in her world.

To anyone wanting to read Bitter Greens, I must warn you that this is not a book for children or young teenagers. Scattered throughout are dozens of sex scenes (historical fiction seems to be unable to function without them these days), but also scenes of sexual violence, rape, and drug abuse. This is most certainly a fairy tale for adults. If you're easily affected by this sort of content, I don't think this book is for you. I did find myself flinching at times, but I imagine the things depicted are very, very real for many women now, and in the past.

This was a five-star read for me, and one that is going to stay with me for a long time. It cleverly weaves realistic historical narratives with fairy tale and witchcraft (witch stories are the best stories), with an added dollop of amazing characterisation and beautiful language.

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The summer spirit is truly upon us at work, especially when it comes to the Summer Book Swap. After hauling in a few books my shelves could do without, I browsed the other donations and picked up some eagerly that have been on my reading list for a while. Two turned to three, turned to five. Oops. The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern, Vintage, 2012) was thrust into my hands by a colleague, even though I definitely would have picked it up on my own accord. I've been excited to read this slow-burning magic masterpiece and now I finally have the chance. The internet seemed to go crazy for it a few years back. Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel, Picador, 2015) came through the post after a friend recommended it to me (again, it was already on the list!), so that's another book soon to be read. The Taxidermist's Daughter (Kate Mosse, Orion, 2015) was a bit of a spontaneous choice on my part as I had no idea what it was about and had only seen it in passing. From the blurb it promises to be a dark and spooky read, maybe one to save for later in the year.


The final three books from the book swap are:

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman (Sceptre, 2014) - I remember this book receiving a lot of praise last year after its English re-release. Ove is a grumpy old man getting on in his solitary world when a young family move in next door and shake things up. I think 'heart-warming' is the best way to describe this.

The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith (Sphere, 2013) - This is the first time I've ever come close to reading anything non-Potter of J.K's, but I'm looking for some exciting crime and mystery to read, so I couldn't turn this down. 

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende (Black Swan, 1986) - I will readily admit this was influenced a lot by the slightly uneasy but very pink cover. It looks like something you would find in a holiday hotel room or in a country pub, discarded by its previous owner. It reminds me a lot of my edition of Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood. Reviews call it 'one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the twentieth century', telling the story of three generations of the Trueba family.

M x
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Book review: Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

Book review: Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele

* Icon Books kindly sent me a copy of Queer for review, but my opinions below are just that: my opinions! *

'Activist-academic Megan-John Barker and cartoonist Julia Scheele illuminate the histories of queer thought and LGBTQ+ action in this groundbreaking non-fiction graphic novel. A kaleidoscope of characters from the diverse worlds of pop culture, film, activism and academics guide us on a journey through the ideas, people and events that have shaped queer theory. From identity politics and gender roles to privilege and exclusion, Queer explores how we came to view sex, gender and sexuality in the ways that we do, and how culture can shift out perspective of what's 'normal'.'
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This review will begin with two thank-yous for Icon Books. The first: thank you for sending me a copy of Queer: A Graphic History for review! The second: thank you for your 'Introducing' series. Without it, I certainly would not have done as well in either my degrees. Shout-out to Introducing Freud - A Graphic Guide. Never has death drive made so much sense.

Icon Books specialise in non-fiction and publish on a range of subjects including science, politics, psychology, and philosophy. Their books are academic and thought-provoking, sometimes introducing subjects to readers for the first time, but also sometimes serving as a space to expand on knowledge already gained. In simple words: some of their books are really easy to read and some of their books are a bit more complicated. As I mentioned before, their 'Introducing' series is a very good one if you're interested in a subject (maybe a type of critical theory, a religion, a philosopher) and don't really know where to start. Think of them as primers.

I would say that Queer: A Graphic History is one of the more advanced of their publications. I've studied queer theory before during my postgraduate studies, but a lot of this was very new to me still and took several reads to wrap my head around. But this is fine, because learning is fun, right? This book details queer theory from its precursors and beginnings through to its uses and applications today. It's full of sources, quotations, and suggestions for further reading: a very good summary of primary texts for those looking for a comprehensive background to the subject. I wish this had been around when I was writing my dissertation because it includes all of the people I was writing about (Adrienne Rich, Teresa de Lauretis, Monique Wittig), but oh so many more too!

For those who haven't yet been introduced to queer theory, it's a type of post-structuralist critical theory that looks at existing texts through a 'queer lens' ('queer' being a sort of umbrella term for people who are not straight or cis-gendered), but also questions what 'queer' is. Like a lot of critical theory, it sounds pretty complicated. A lot of queer theory discusses and deconstructs gender, gender norms, sexuality, what is classed as 'normal' and 'other', as well as how race, disability, religion, and cultural background feed into all of this. It basically covers all bases of society and looks at how these 'norms' we're so used to are imposed unnecessarily, especially the use of binaries (male/female, straight/gay, cis/trans, white/black, good/evil, right/wrong, able/disabled.) A much more elegant and comprehensive explanation can be found in this book, or anywhere online if you do a quick search. I certainly don't claim to be an expert!

More on the book itself: I would call Queer: A Graphic History a real must-have for anyone studying or interested in learning more about queer theory. It's comprehensive, clearly-written, and a lot of fun! Icon's graphic guides are wonderful for taking critical theories, breaking them down into manageable chunks, and providing helpful imagery to aid your understanding. Illustrations provide refuse from the huge blocks of text we can get used to when studying. Another aspect I loved about this book was the application of queer theory onto popular culture, branching away from traditional discussions by showing how these things are actually used by people everyday on the internet when they read between the lines of their favourite shows and create fan/slash fiction. Critical theory put into a contemporary context = <3 

Queer: A Graphic History will be published by Icon Books in September for the UK and November for the US, RRP £11.99/$17.95. You can follow Meg-John and Julia on Twitter at @megjohnbarker and @juliascheele.

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